Last call and the bar tender’s telling you about this older married couple who keep coming by on weeknights and chatting her up, inviting her out, boasting of their money and of the luxuries they’ll bestow, of their yacht and two sports cars and lavish meals each night.
Manager pulls her away for a moment. Some problem with the register. While she’s over there trying to fix it the manager comes back to where you’re sitting and, after a quick and heavy pour, hands you an egregious amount of whisky and with arms folded he leans back against the liquor display. Tells you with a smirk and a hard stare to “Go on, drink it all, one gulp. Come on. Something to put on your blog.”
A girl who’s stood you up three times before gets in touch to say she’s back from out of town. She asks if you’d like to go for a drink on Saturday and, since you’ve never passed a stove you didn’t touch, plans are made.
To your surprise and delight, she shows up. The two of you meet at a bookstore and then cross the street for a drink, small talk along the way, and meanwhile, like a match dropped into oil, your anxiety ignites to something apocalyptic and vast so that, once seated, you pull down two beers in quick succession to quell it.
Conversation at that point is going pretty well, fluent as it was when the two of you first went out six months earlier. So it appears that the booze has worked, which is great, except that it’s kind of a double-edged success in that, having been soothed by the second beer, you feel emboldened to have a third. Elixir of good conversation. Have a fourth! What could go wrong?
It isn’t until you stand up for the check and the room starts doing Inception things that you realize how drunk you are. Sit back down and, keeper of necessary information, tell this to your date. “I’m a lot drunker than I thought I was.”
“Yeah,” she says, “you had seven.” Her tone is kinda dry and maybe it isn’t so judgmental as you’re thinking but you go ahead and project things on it.
Two days later you and the date exchange pleasantries through text, pledge a mutual interest to get together again later in the week, but old habits resume, the girl goes dark, and you go on to sit thinking and talking and cringing about your fuckup at various bars over the next few days, friends lending their ears. Sleep is sparse and guilt abundant and meanwhile the Earth persists undaunted in its orbit and your dog each night is here with this look to his eyes like, “Hey. Come on.”
Your brother stops over between appointments. Sits at the kitchen counter playing with shrinkwrap and doesn’t make eye contact when he says, “Hey so have you ever tried using online dating?”
This is his way of saying that he knows you’re using online dating.
You have finished the second draft of your book and now get to be that 20-something with a part time job and an unpublished book. Laying up at night and contemplating your credit score in the same bed where you once sat contemplating your first pube.
Your dog in the middle of the night starts roaming the bed. Rising and stepping and then laying and groaning. Repeating the cycle. It’s 2 a.m.
You take him outside, thinking he’s gotta pee. There on the grass with his tail pulled tight between his legs under so much moonlight, the sky strangely purple, you see his hindquarters pitch to the right and then the rest of him goes over. He’s never collapsed before.
Get down in the grass and try bribing him to his feet with promises of every sort of enticement he knows a word for. He blinks, squinting.
Pull on your jeans and shoes and head toward the all-night animal hospital a few blocks away. All through the drive you’re talking to your dog in a perky voice as if to sooth him in his final moments but really probably just so you can feel like you’re doing something, anything, that you’re not quite so helpless while this dog you’ve had for half your life dies in your lap.
Peel into the parking lot at the strip mall where the animal hospital is, throw open the car door, unsnap your seatbelt — and this fucking dog jumps out of the car like it’s his birthday. Frolics among the pavement and grass. Latenight piss fiend, raising a leg to everything.
Take him to the vet and the vet says he’s fine. Probably arthritic. It’s 2:30 in the morning.
So you head back home and take this fucking asshole dog back to bed with you and there in the dark you squeeze him to your chest until dawn and are grateful that certain things can at least be postponed if not avoided.
Your mom, not making eye contact, digs around for something in the top shelves of her closet and calls back to you, “Hey so have you ever tried using online dating?”
This is her way of saying everyone in the family knows you’re using online dating.
Two envelopes in the mailbox amid the catalogs and flyers. Both addressed to you.
Open the first. A collection agency wants $63 for a parking ticket you got almost six months ago and have neglected to pay.
You don’t have $63. Fold the bill, put it in your back pocket.
Open the second letter: A different collection agency wants $63 for a parking ticket dated from the same week as the first one.
Take the dog back inside and keep typing.
“Oh my God.”
“You have those fucking glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling.”
Something you’ve been telling just about everybody this month is of a guy on reddit who, after several years in prison, still can’t shake the habit, when he sits on a toilet, of taking one leg completely out of his pants. Why? If somebody attacks you in the bathroom, and you’ve got your pants accordioned down at your ankles, you’re bound. Can’t run.
That even in prison you’ve got people worried about their constraints.