Tuesday, June 13th, 2000
Somebody raised the bar, I thought. After a coupla seconds Paulie appeared above me and started laughin’, and I knew I’d fallen off my stool. My head hurt real bad for a while. I sat there on the wooden floor in a daze, and then I saw my pint glass was still in my hand so I started to laugh. I hadn’t spilled any at all. But the laugh came out all wheezy, and I ended up coughin’ for a bit. All around the room guys were clappin’ and whoopin’ it up. Nobody at TJ’s was ever afraid to make fun of a guy.
Paulie says, real loud so everybody can hear, “Hey Jim, Jimbo, what are you doin’ down there? Lookin’ for your contact lens? Need some help, bro?” It was a pretty good jab, and everybody in the bar laughed. Scottie and Rick stopped their pool game to come over and get in on the joke. They were all pointin’ at me and pretendin’ to fall down off other stools at the bar. The guys all laughed again, including Paulie. I’m not such good buddies with Scottie and Rick, so that kinda pissed me off.
”Fuck you guys,” I yelled out. I took a sip of my beer and put it on the floor and tried to get up. I didn’t feel wicked drunk or anything. Then things started to get real weird, and I felt lightheaded. I suddenly remembered one time that I was with Cheryl and we were drinking at the Charlie Horse in Quincy. Her contact lens fell out somewhere by the payphone, and we crawled around lookin’ for it. On the karaoke stage by the bar these girls were singin’ Sweet Caroline. And for the rest of that night I kept introducin’ Cheryl to my friends as “Old One-Eye”, just to watch her giggle. That was maybe a year ago.
So there in TJ’s, all that hit me like a ton a bricks, and I stumbled and couldn’t get up. Paulie reaches down to help me, but I just sit there lookin’ around the bar. TJ’s was pretty packed for a Tuesday night, and folks looked like they were having a good time. Almost all of us there were regulars and lived in Buzzard’s Bay. It’s a clean, good-sized bar, but with the summer comes all kinds of rich Cape Cod tourists, and a lot of the time that sucks. I realized I hadn’t thought about Cheryl for a while. We used to go to TJ’s together a lot with her sister Liz and my friend Weebs.
The neon sign above the booth in the corner has been on the fritz forever. I stared at it for a few seconds. Then Paulie pulled me all the way up onto my stool again, and everybody went back to what they were doin’. He patted me on the back a few times. A real familiar song came on, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I was pretty dizzy, looking around tryin’ to hear the song. Behind the pool tables I saw Scottie’s little brother Steve leaning on the bathroom door. He was sharin’ a cigarette with this dark-haired chick in a hooded sweatshirt who I never saw before. She was wicked pretty, but didn’t look like a ditz or anything. She had a pink barrette in her hair, the kind young girls have. I noticed that whenever Steve made this chick laugh she’d press her hand against his arm.
”Shit, man…,” I started to say, but the words caught in my throat, and I felt like I was gonna puke or something. I swung around real fast and hit Paulie on the shoulder, but he didn’t look at me. He was talking to some girl he met at work. I whacked him harder. I looked out at the neon sign in the corner again. It flickered red and blue, all out of focus. Finally, Paulie turned around..
”Damn, Jimbo, are you tryin’ to break my arm? What’s up, dude?” He smiled at me, but then his faced changed and he looked scared or worried.
”Get me the fuck outta here, Paulie,” I mumbled, tryin’ to stand up. I think my hands were shaking. My beer was still sittin’ on the floor, and I almost kicked it over on purpose.
”What’s the matter with you, man? Are you gonna be sick?”
”I gotta get the fuck outta here.” I said it louder this time, and slid out of my seat. Suddenly it hit me that the song playing was More Than a Feeling, by Boston.
”All right man, let’s go outside. Relax, bro,” he says, really concerned. Paulie and I have been best buds since middle school, so he watches out for me. He pulled a twenty out of his wallet and set it on the bar, then grabbed my arm so I wouldn’t fall over.
”This song fuckin’ sucks,” I yelled at whoever was by the jukebox. “Boston fuckin’ sucks! Put on some real music!” Paulie dragged me away from the stools and tables.
”Chill out, dude,” he says. “What’s up with you?”
”Boston sucks! Oh, fuck. For real, Paulie, I think I’m gonna puke.”
”You barely drank anything, man! What’s going on? Let’s go out the back door. Let’s go get scorpion bowls at Way Ho or something.” We walked past the pool tables, and Scottie and Rick followed us outside, carrying their beers. They were behind us, chucklin’. They mighta been talkin’ shit about me, but I couldn’t hear them very good.
It was a little cold out. I sat down on the hood of Paulie’s Fiero, at the edge of the parkin’ lot. I held my head in my hands, starin’ down at the ground.
Rick says, “Hope he doesn’t puke on your car.”
”Rick, I’ll kick you in the dick, so help me god.” I says.
”Jim, what’s your deal, bro?” Paulie says, standin’ by the car with his arms crossed. He stared down at me. Scottie and Rick started makin’ puke sounds, all hunched over, and Paulie laughed a little. I didn’t know what to do so I just said what was on my mind.
”It’s that girl inside with Steve, who had the barrettes. She kinda looked like Cheryl.”
For a few seconds nobody spoke or moved. I looked up at Paulie, who was makin’ this funny face at Scottie. Rick had his hand over his mouth. Then all three of them just started to crack up. And right there in front of me they all laughed and howled like it was the funniest thing they ever heard. I felt nauseous. I looked down at the ground again. Over on the dirt by the big green TJ”s Bar and Grill sign there was a wooden cart and some scarecrow-lookin’ things and some fake ducks. I focused on one of the ducks, waiting for my stomach to settle.
”Oh, ooh, she kinda looked like Cheryl,” Rick says, in a high-pitched girly voice. Paulie and Scottie were in hysterics.
”Fuck you,” I yelled.
”Seriously, bro. Don’t be such a fuckin’ wuss,” Paulie says, “You haven’t seen Cheryl in like eight months. Now do you wanna come get scorpion bowls with us, or what?”
I kept lookin’ at that white wooden duck. It sat perfectly still, stuck in the ground near a telephone pole and those stupid scarecrows, a few yards from the big sign. All that junk has been there for as long as I can remember. I stood up and turned around, then looked at Paulie. He was still snickerin’ because of what I said. Scottie and Rick were practicin’ air guitar, hummin’ along with the end of the crappy Boston song.
”Yeah, I guess so,” I says. “Let’s go.”
2:10 AM |