Memories (Out of Sequence): Too Much to Drink

Now, boys, you may have suspected that women have a secret language, a sort of code made up of nudges, raised eyebrows, pursed lips and eye rolls, that they employ when they go out in groups in the evening. If you have ever suspected this you would be half right, half because in my experience only a portion of women actually understand this language. However, in my life I’ve been fortunate to know two women highly fluent in this language.

The day was overcast and the sky was a uniform gray as evening approached. We exited the subway and headed east, as did everyone who emerged from the station with us. Behind us was the downtown business district. Even today, the business district is a ghost town on weekends and evenings. Back in the late eighties it was even more deserted, if that can be believed. We, like the few other figures on the street, were headed to the old seaport, which had been renovated a few years earlier and now housed some restaurants and bars. A shopping mall had been built onto a pier. My friend, Luscious, and I were headed there to hear David Johansen in his Buster Poindexter phase. We got there early with the intention of getting a bite to eat accompanied by a sufficient quantity of beer to render ourselves comfortable.

Walking along the cobblestones of the half-dozen historically preserved blocks with their touristically inoffensive establishments Luscious said to me, “I’m remembering why we never come down here.” Finally, at the last block, we shrugged and walked inside a place that served overpriced burgers. A table full of guys waved us over, bought us a couple of beers and offered to share their bar food. After about a half an hour or so, the guys were getting a bit too comfortable, smiling more broadly and asking more questions. Luscious nudged my heel with her toe; it was time to go.

We emerged once again into the light. We hadn’t had nearly enough beer, but now it was too late to find another place, if there even was one nearby. We headed over to the open area of the pier. A stage was set up at the far end. We were early and a loose group was milling about.

I guess it was a good performance. Luscious had never seen David Johansen perform. I had, back when he was performing under his own name. If I had to name a handful of moments that have shaped my taste in music, seeing Johansen perform when I was fourteen or fifteen would be one of them. My expectations that night nearly a decade later were far too high. After the show, I was antsy in the way one is when one is pleased but not fully satisfied. When Luscious said to me, “Let’s see if we can find a bar,” I nodded my assent.

Seeing as we had already walked by, and passed, most of the places along the street, she suggested we wander into the shopping mall built on the pier. We were barely five feet inside the door when we were hailed by a man with a lilt to his voice. Did we know, perhaps, if there was a pub or something of that nature nearby? We informed the man and his friends that we did not know but we ourselves were in search of just that. Another good-naturedly informed us that yet another one of their number was getting married the next day and they were looking to celebrate. Would we care to join them?

I hesitated. My stereotypes of male behavior included some very, very bad behavior on the eves of weddings. Luscious, with her unerring ability to sense free beer, locked her arm in mine, forcing me a few steps forward. “Shall we look for a place together then?” she said genially. Without my six-foot tall back-up, I would have never gone forward.

Soon we spied a restaurant that had a bar. One of the men expressed pleasure that the place appeared to serve Guinness. Still unsure, I muttered under my breath quietly so that only Luscious could hear, “I thought you hated Guinness.”

“But I like free.” She whispered in my ear.

The men, it turned out, were four Irishmen and an American of Irish parents who was a relative of the bridegroom. The men bought beers all around. And more. And more. Enough that I began to decline. Luscious patted me on the head, “Little person,” she teased as she continued to accept more drinks. We were I quite thoroughly sloshed when the bridegroom asked with the sincerity of the truly drunk, “Should I get married tomorrow?”

Luscious, as only I knew, was a true romantic deep down. “Are you in love?” She asked with a breezy expectation of hearing an affirmative response.

“She’s a nice girl.”

“Then you shouldn’t get married,” Luscious said decisively.

“But he has to,” the American one insisted.

Luscious and I had had enough girl-to-girl conversations about love, men and marriage that I knew that, to her, marrying without love was on par with matricide. “Clearly,” she said, her typical imperiousness enhanced by inebriation, “he doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of getting married or he wouldn’t have brought it up! Why on earth would he have to get married if he doesn’t want to.”

“Because he needs to stay in the U.S.” the American man said, continuing their exchange. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the quietest one, who had stopped drinking along with me, glaring at the American.

“Why would he need to stay in the U.S.?” Luscious challenged.

“Because he’s in the IRA and can’t go back because he’s wanted there.”

The quiet one clapped a hand on the American’s shoulder. He looked me in the eye and smiled, “He’s such a joker.”

I forced a laugh and, for the second time that night, I felt a toe kick my heel. “Well, I think I’ve had far too much to drink,” I said on cue.

“Yes,” the quiet one said, “I think we’ve all had too much.”

“I could have another,” the American said.

“Well, we really should leave you all to celebrate alone,” Luscious said linking her arm in mine again and pulling me onto my feet. “I really need to get her home.” We left quickly. I can’t recall that we even took the time to say thank you.

When we got out on the street, Luscious and I agreed that it wasn’t the claim that was scary, it was the denial. We found a cab easily, which was a nice change of pace, especially considering how utterly smashed we both were. We sunk into the seat. “I hate Guinness,” she said. Considering how much beer she had poured down her gullet that night, I don’t think the brand mattered. She rolled down the window. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she said softly.

The cab swerved over to the curb and came to a screeching halt. “Not in my cab! Out! Out!”

We stumbled out of the cab near City Hall. Luscious didn’t get sick. In all the time I knew her, I never saw her get sick, although I’ve never seen anyone else drink quite the way she could. “Walk with me a little,” she said leaning on me. This was something of a roll reversal for us.

“Will you always be my friend?” She pleaded, stroking my hair like I was a pet. “I need you.”

We sat down on a bench and she hugged me and stroked me and held my hand. “You’re so important to me. I feel like you’re a part of me in a way. Even when you’re not around I find myself thinking of you. Something happens and I think to myself, what would the Kid say about this.”

She continued to squeeze my hand and get sloppy and sentimental. I let her talk until she was worn out, then got us another cab. From that night on, our friendship was altered. As long as she was sober, she would act as if we were just friends, but after enough liquor, she would begin to get oddly affectionate.

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