Segments 3: When a Third World Came West

When I was at college I lived with a handful of roommates who’d done ecstasy on a regular basis  while I stayed in my room smoking, and getting high off my own stuff, to Kate Bush and the closest thing that came to alternative on the radio stations.  In this particular year of college I’d scratched out in my options for a roommate the opposite of what I’d done before.  I asked for someone who didn’t care if their room was a wreck, who smoked, who stayed up late, and who was friendly.  But I wound up becoming more of a recluse for it all in the end.  I really couldn’t stand to be around my roommate, Kim, and I started going off campus more and more to drink at the bars, meet a handful of interesting people, and get some relief and space.  I liked experiences that made you think and that got your mind off of stuff that was too pressing.  So when I went to the Red Velvet Bar with Robbie, I made sure that I brought extra money with me because it was just one of those nights where I wanted to let go or feel loose and not have my head pinned on things that were too much to bear or think about.

I looked around at the corroded metal frames and mediocre paintings, the two walls, and back behind me to see if I could hear the shrieks of Robbie’s discontent beyond the door’s curtain.  “Just one.” He bit at the metal foil with his teeth cursing the plastic that wouldn’t open by his nubby fingers.  He teared at the package as one would react to their head screaming for an Advil, pushing away bottles of different prescriptions in the dark for the right one.  He got one out and the tips of his tongue were spotted with blood, but he licked the end of his index finger anyway and put the pill on it so it would stick and not drop to the ground. “That’s twenty.”  I opened the clasp on my purse while I was still sober, pulled away a twenty from a billfold I’d had since I was fifteen and thanked him before swallowing.  He mumbled under his breath, standing there I thought, wondering where that girl had gone.  Since I hadn’t been talkative during our introduction, the silence between us became awkward as I tried to pull up something to say after giving him the money.  I started to hear a bunch of glasses, noise, the tuner on a radio going up some where to turn up the music.  I figured the bartender would be in here soon or the busser, picking up extra bar cloths, lemons, cocktail napkins, or Tequila salt. I swallowed the pill and walked back through the curtain towards Robbie’s brood who had come in and who were sitting at the front of the entrance, by the window with the bar’s name printed in bronze, in hyped up Gunguh big lettering.  I wanted to go to the bathroom, rinse my face with cold water, see if I felt anything, but Robbie got in the way, glancing at me and shouting out and waving me over from the opposite end, “Hey, where you been?  Come here.”  I waved back, called out, trying to keep my voice low, acting glad and surprised, faking it, to see him.  Robbie shook his head and got distracted from a Mexican woman with a big purple hat and a sunhat chattering with his friend near him.           When I first met him, Robbie was dancing in the middle of a stage at a club around the corner holding a fake cigarette that he’d made between his teeth.  Twenty minutes after, I was sitting on his lap in a booth full of people just like tonight, drinking tequila shots and feeling connected with all his strangers.  He pulled a red straw now, from his plastic cup and drank something that looked like ginger ale all the way straight down and got jumpy sliding past the crowd that had muddled the view of the bartender, who was now serving ten or fifteen new guests.    I turned around and walked down the hall and left into the bathroom.

By the time I’d sat down next to them Robbie he had had two drinks and was complaining loudly, probably for attention, about how this bar was overrated and how they charged seven dollars for Absolute where as a different club down the street, charged only five.  I rolled my eyes in the other direction and ordered a beer that a nice looking guy with a white button down shirt had ordered, three stools away from me.  Thirty minutes later and four more people showed up who knew Robbie’s friends.  I didn’t really go out of my way to introduce myself or make myself known, and plus in addition, I hadn’t felt a thing.  I got up passed the stool and fumbled trying not to bump into Robbie and his roommate.  “Where ya going?” He asked.  “Just to the machine,” I said.   “To get some more cash out.  I thought I had more but I didn’t.  Be right back.”

“I got cash.  Besides, you just had a drink; stay.”

“Uh I’m gonna need some for later…just in case.” I smiled at him and walked out towards the exit and into the muggy air.

“We’ll be here,” I heard him shout.

I hurried past the bar and walked out into the dark and down the curb step looking right for oncoming traffic.  After a few cars passed by I headed for the other side of the street.


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