“You wanna go across the street?”
I wedged the heels of my hands into my eye sockets and rubbed, hard, spreading a half dozen strains of Swine Flu across both my corneas. “Yeah,” I said. “What the hell.”
“It might be a little more crowded over there,” said my guy friend. “Do you mind?”
“I don’t give a fuck,” I replied, pulling a ten off the stack of bills I’d left on the bar. “I like going out the back over there when I need a break. It’s quieter.”
“You’ll need a break from these people.”
“Ah, whatever man. I don’t give a fuck about anything tonight. I’ll just sit and listen.”
I let him lead the way across the street. We slid between two parked cars, me following him, and stopped on the opposite sidewalk. The grocery store where I’d worked the deli counter as a kid had installed new front doors. I wondered what the fuck was wrong with the old ones. I resisted the urge to spit on the sidewalk because I wasn’t sure why I wanted to do that. I liked working the deli counter. When people fucked with me, I’d thicken up their slices. Be a rude shit to your deli guy and you’ll end up with ham steaks in wax paper, or worse. I never took the “or worse” road, but I know guys who did.
Inside, he introduced me to about a half dozen people. Three of them had cigarettes behind one ear. Two of the three shook hands and excused themselves to go out back. That left one guy with a cigarette behind his ear. I knew him once, years ago, but I’d never seen him with a cigarette behind his ear. I figured there’d been a downturn. You don’t wear a cigarette behind your ear if you’re still in the game.
“Hey Tim,” I said. “How you been?”
“Not bad,” he replied, fishing for his lighter. “How you been, man? I’m gonna go out back for a cigarette.”
“Good seein’ you.”
I turned to my guy friend and tapped him on the elbow with the back of my hand. Four times. “Get me a fuckin’ Sam Adams, man. Please.”
“You need money?”
“No,” he replied. “I got it.”
I shadowed him to the bar, not wanting any engagement with the rest of the crowd he’d come there to meet. I stared at myself in the mirror behind the bar. Talk about a rotten fucking time. I took my first sip of Sam before the head went anywhere. There’s a kind of sucking action there. Then I took another. Quickly. Half the pint was gone before my guy friend pocketed his change.
“What’s this mean?” asked my guy friend, running a finger over a tattoo of Japanese characters on the arm of one of the girls who’d had a cigarette behind her ear.
“This one means beautiful,” she said, her finger on one, “and the other one means girl. Beautiful girl.”
“You sure about that?” I asked, looking at the tattoo, then looking at her. Nicotine was in the air.
“Yeah,” she replied. “I looked it up in a book and brought it in with me.”
“Oh.” I took another long sip of Sam Adams. I was down to about a quarter of a glass left. “I thought it said, ‘I like moose cock.’”
“No, my tattoo artist is a girl.”