Lynda invites me to a pub crawl along Brickell. It’s $28 and you get six drink tickets, each for a different bar.
She says, “Oh and I’ve got this friend Carol who’s coming. I think you’ll get along.”
This is over text.
I get a little overzealous right away and wanna know everything about her. Hobby, job, photo…
“Actually,” she says, “nevermind.”
The crawl starts at seven and it’s walking distance from Bob and Lynda’s apartment so I meet them there first, at around 6:40. They’re having a quick dinner of ramen with pork but Bob left it in the microwave too long so they’re huffing through each bite, mouths agape, croaking about how hot it is but devouring it anyway and I wanna ask about this Carol person but it’s kind of a tense subject (Lynda and I traded words this morning) so I don’t.
They’re moving to another apartment in the same building so everything’s in boxes. Bob’s cleaning up after the ramen and says, “I packed up all the liquor today but,” he pulls a bottle outta nowhere, “I knew you were coming…”
I pour a glass and we talk for a while before heading out at 7:20 to the first bar, Fido’s, where organizers are waiting for us at the door with pins and beaded necklaces and they hand us our drink tickets on a tearsheet.
When we get into the bar I’m one of the few people not wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, which is the theme, and I feel weird about it. Bob and Lynda are appropriately clad in sweaters she made herself and, dressed to blend in, they lead the way to the group we’re meeting up with, there’s about ten of us altogether, and after saying hello to Bob’s two sisters, and the men at their sides, I see Carol in a corner. She’s tall with shoulder-length dark hair and very red lipstick, pretty, but I don’t say hello to her. She’s the only person I don’t say hello to.
Bob and I get the bartender’s attention and trade our first tickets for beers and step aside to a corner where he tells me that Carol is a writer. Some kinda blog. He points her out in the crowd and I say, “Yeah I saw her,” and he asks if I said hello.
He blinks. “Are you going to?”
Bob and I are side-by-side during most of the exodus from Fido’s to the next bar, Batch, but at some point we get separated and then he’s up walking and talking with Carol a few paces ahead.
I hear him say, as he holds the door for her, “Alex is a writer, too, actually.”
The bartender at Batch tells us our tickets are only good for drinks from the well. It’s fine. They’ve got little plastic cups stacked on the bar for us. I get a whisky on ice and stand aside with Bob and Lynda.
There’s a party behind us where people in office clothes are making toasts and doing shots and they’ve got a half-eaten platter of sliders that Bob keeps looking at. It’s off on a sidetable and they aren’t paying attention to it.
Bob looks around.
“Should I steal one?”
His brother-in-law is standing with us and says he’s considering the same thing.
“Yeah.” Bob nods. “I think I’m gonna steal one.”
I step up to the bar and order an IPA at full price and go up to the group within our group, three women chatting at the bar (Carol among them), and, taking a little plastic cup from the stack on the bar, I ask if anybody wants to share this pint with me.
“I’m not gonna drink the whole thing.” (A lie.)
Bob’s older sister agrees to a cupful.
Carol demurs. I shake her hand — “Didn’t say hi at the last bar, sorry, I’m Alex” — and go back to Lynda. I don’t see Bob so I assume he’s stolen a sandwich and gone away to eat it. Lynda explains to me that Shy Extrovert is an actual scientific term and that she’s one of them: gregarious among friends, shy among strangers.
The next bar is noisy and the bar tender tells us our tickets are only good for well drinks. I get a whisky and stand on the patio with Bob and Lynda and Carol, and Bob’s younger sister. We’re talking about celebrities we’re embarrassed to have crushes on.
Bob’s distracted. Keeps looking over his shoulder.
There’s a hookah bar.
He looks at me.
“I think I want a hookah.”
He looks again. Then back to me.
“Would you throw down for a hookah?”
I tell the group that one of my embarrassing celebrity crushes is Frances McDormand and Lynda’s eyes widen and she takes a loud declarative breath through her nose and says, “I would fuck Frances McDormand.”
Carol says her weird crush is Doug from House of Cards, who happens to be my favorite character on the show, and we banter about it for a while until Bob’s little sister says with so much pep that her embarrassing crush is a very gorgeous man named Alexander Skarsgard, and we gently explain to her again the premise of the question.
Our friend Max shows up two hours late. Embroidered on his shirt is a picture of two people fucking.
“It’s the closest thing I had to a Christmas sweater.”
Carol and I talk a little more and I don’t remember what it was about but she’s an authoritative speaker and eloquent. Grabs something a person says and touches their shoulder in an appreciative way and then rephrases the thing they said so that it’s now a topic of its own, and then she submits that topic to the group, and what ensues on both occasions is a discussion that she gently leads. Everyone gets to speak. If someone’s quiet, she prompts them.
She’s good at this. Leadership vibes. Probably throws a good party.
Suddenly the booze hits me while we’re on the patio, and the river is right there, so I step away from the group and sit on the seawall(?) and let my feet dangle and at first I’m enjoying the view and the smell but then I start thinking about all the work I’ve put off ’til tomorrow and start panicking about whether this was super reckless of me, to’ve come out tonight, if I shouldn’t have maybe spent the evening at Starbucks doing work, or at home checking a couple movies off the List.
Eventually I put it aside and join the crowd again and we leave together for the next place.
The fourth bar is another patio and it looks kinda Mexican themed but apparently it’s an Italian restaurant. The bar tender tells us our tickets are only good for well drinks and disappears when I ask the price of a Corona.
Bob’s beside me and we’re talking but then he’s distracted, looking around at the servers and the things they carry.
“I think I want a pizza.”
He looks at me.
“If I get a pizza will you have some?”
The bartender comes back with a smile and tells me a Corona is $9.
(why am i so angry?)
Bob gives me his drink (vodka soda), says he’s not gonna finish it, and we all sit at a long picnic table and eat from the two pizzas he’s ordered. Max orders a separate pie for himself and leans over it and eats with such speed and conviction that his shirt pops and folds and thereby gives amorous flight to the lovers stitched in coitus on his chest.
Across the table I ask Carol about her job but it’s hard to hear her answers. The patio around us is alive and the music is nice and the night does feel kinda young, it’s only like eleven fifteen, but it also feels — and maybe this is just the vibe in our group — like things are winding down.
At Blackbird the bartender tells us our tickets are only good for well drinks so I get a PBR instead, then another, and I go off to a corner with Max and Bob and Lynda and dance like a man who shouldn’t dance. I see a really pretty woman by herself and after a few minutes I muster the courage to go talk to her.
I walk over and say hello and she says hi and the dude beside her waves at me with a blank face and says, “I’m her boyfriend.”
None of us says anything.
I look at the woman. “Yeah I came here to flirt with you.”
Her head’s tilted down and she’s touching her eyebrow and looking away.
I look at the boyfriend.
“Which now…I won’t?”
I walk back to Bob and tell him what happened and he laughs, claps my shoulder and commends the effort, and then we smell weed and Bob looks up and soon afterward we leave.
At the final bar I hand my drink ticket to somebody else cuz it’s time to stop. I run into two old friends and trade enthusiastic hellos but for some reason also feel tired when I see them, bummed, and looking back (as I’m writing this post a day later) I’m wondering if something happened to bum me out so hard. My memory of the night’s patchy at this point.
“Hey where’s Bob?”
Bob went home. I ask repeatedly where he’s gone and people repeatedly tell me.
“Bob went home.”
Lynda’s the one to suggest we go to Burger King afterward and it’s a good idea cuz apparently we’re all hungry.
At some point after paying for our food at Burger King I’m standing at the counter alone with Carol, we’re waiting to get our orders, and there’s a tension between us that I don’t know the source of but also feels hard to deny. I’m drunk. Finally I decide to break the silence by mentioning that guy who’s eaten a Big Mac every day for like thirty years.
Carol’s arms are folded and she’s nodding in a way that looks like if you could find the perfect gif to define “tolerance”.
I’m almost finished with the story when she gets her food and says to me, walking away, “Sounds like that guy’s really going for it.”
I sit with Lynda at the more crowded of the two tables we’re occupying (Carol’s at the other). It’s a little after midnight. I’m eating my burger and fries but not saying anything cuz I’ve passed the threshold of being uncomfortably drunk. Worrying I did something to offend Carol. Wondering if I’m also the drunkest of our group. Am I being sloppy with my food? Did I offend anyone else?
Everybody finishes eating and I’m quick and maybe a little curt about saying goodbye just to Lynda, and maybe one other person, and then hustling to the door and the sidewalk and then I cross the street and trot the four blocks home in an anxious haste. When I get there I go up to the apartment and drop to the floor and play with the dogs in an I-too-am-canine way that only happens when I’m like this.
I get up on the couch at some point and open YouTube on the TV. Fall asleep there.
A little while after that I have a dream I’m stepping in a hole and wake up gasping. Looking at the screen I see Dick Cavett interviewing Alfred Hitchcock.
Turn it off.
Pick up Mango and go to bed. Off with the jeans and shirt. Shut the lamp. Get under the covers and the dog coils up into a ball at my hip. I lay a hand on him. Prop my head up on pillows and look out the window toward the skyline. Mostly dark and dotted with lights. I start thinking that there coulda maybe been somebody beside me right now if only I’d done something different tonight. Just can’t figure what that different thing mighta been.
Maybe not getting wasted.