[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
Jonathan drinks a beer as he looks outside at the dusk light. He’s sexually and professionally frustrated. I think he would prefer that I just say he is frustrated, but I thought that you deserve a richer explanation for what he writes next.
He checks his emails. He’s received a couple messages from acquaintances.
1. Hey Jon, how are things going? Are you coming home for Christmas? It would be great to catch up.
2. Hi Jonathan, I don’t know why but you popped in to my head. Just thought I would check in. What’s new?
3. Jonny! It’s been sooooo long! We neeeeed to do coffee sometime. What’s new with you? Have you been writing much lately?
Each of those acquaintances is female. Jonathan finds each of them pretty attractive. The problems: distance, distance, and boyfriend. It was always the same. Even when he went back to his hometown for the holidays it was hard to arrange to meet up. Things fall through. Girls conveniently get boyfriends in early December. Whatever.
Jonathan also received some messages from an online dating site he has been trying.
1. Wow, you write? That’s really cool. I’d like to read it sometime.
2. Who are your favourite authors? I saw that you like Kerouac, that’s very cool.
3. Your favourite singer is Damien Rice? OMG, so is mine!
He was just as unpleased to see these messages. Online dating was a drag, man. Jonathan found just as many flaws in trying to date the women he didn’t know as the ones he already did. The problems: no photo (presumed fat), fat, and made up by me. Sorry, Jonathan.
-You are kind of an asshole, you know that?
I’m just trying to tell a story. You should be grateful I chose you. It’s all been done before, so realistically I could have chosen to write about something more exciting like elves or spies. Instead I’m stuck with a worthless protagonist who sits around all day moping at work, only to come home and mope around there.
-Hey! I’m trying here. It’s not easy.
No, it’s not easy. But it’s what you love, right? So do it. Write something.
-Just let me answer my emails first, okay. Let me have what little personal life I have.
Sure, no problem. I’m sure everything will work out on that front, too.
Jonathan wrote his goddamned emails. He then went to the fridge and grabbed another beer. He was frustrated, sexually and professionally, you remember? And frustrated people like to drink beer. They also like to smoke cigarettes.
Why not, Jonathan?
-I have asthma. It’s not a good scene, man.
Well, I’m just trying to build a good scene that adds an aura of stifled creation and having a little floating smoke in the air would look really cool.
-It’s not cool. We’re done with that.
I’m beginning to get a little frustrated, myself.
Jonathan slumped himself on his couch with a beer in hand and began to scratch away at a notebook. When he finished his beer, his second of the evening, he went to the fridge again. After beer number three he propped himself up, lengthwise on his sofa, with his knees up, his laptop resting against his legs. Then he began to write.
The clock struck four and the emptiness of the room was staggering. Gio crawled out from behind the futon and surveyed the landscape. In front of him were over one hundred bottles. They had feted Dionysus and Alexander Keith until they could bestow no further laurels upon their heads. The wreaths of the marathon had long wilted and Gio found Drew curled around the side of the upstairs toilet.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Drew was like a light switch. He would drink for hours, seemingly untouched by the effects of ethanol, constantly turned on. His voice never slurred beyond his normal country drawl. His eyes never reddened. He would be alert and engaged throughout the night. Spitting out folksy bon mots and axioms of wisdom like the seed of Twain, Drew would enrapture the attention of his courtiers. At some point in the night, long after everyone had endured enough punishment and called quits on their session, Drew would switch off and find himself wrapped around the toilet bowl, paying homage to the porcelain goddess. It seemed peculiar at first, to Nick and Jon, who were amazed at Drew’s stamina, that it would be so sudden. Nick, of course, was one of the finest drinkers and had a respect for anyone who could keep up. Jon, however was perhaps the first in the evening to tap out of the proceedings. He was amazed that Drew always finished his night vomiting, while for himself it was only on notably excessive nights. He wondered if there was a particular point when Drew knew that it was too much and he ought to stop. Jon felt those moments and usually began to pace himself down. Sometimes the pressured encouragement of Gio or Nick would push him beyond that point and he would get sick, but it was never a surprise. Despite the frequency of his trips to the porcelain goddess, it always seemed to be a surprise to see Drew sick. He always seemed to be doing just fine, just a second ago. But as is often said, filthy habits die hard, and usually involve even dirtier replacements.
Nick, as far as any of them were aware, had never once vomited. If he had it was far more likely to be food poisoning, the result of his terrible cooking and not due to any amount of alcohol. They couldn’t imagine how much it would take to shoot the elephant. This was a mammoth giant who had (mostly) survived the onslaught of seventy-four beers in a weekend. What would it take? It was the kind of stamina that was unmatched, with the obvious exception of Gio, who, as Jon fondly discovered, could vomit, leaving a mess for his generous roommate to clean up. Gio could also collapse at any moment, despite his seemingly immortal composition, there were the occasional bouts of humanity that brought to light how dangerous the volume of poisons he ingested could be. In his first semester of university, as he was impressing his friends with seemingly unstoppable waves of excitement and adventure, taking in constant streams of beer, bourbon and cigarettes, Gio built for himself a legend that even he could never live up to. Sure, there was his amazing day of drinking, where he bested a generation’s record of inebriation, consuming forty-five beers in a fifteen-hour period. But that could never last. That pace of drinking was fine, though never recommended, it was fine for one day, or weekend. No human being could sustain that consumption over a prolonged period. His Icarian quest could only collapse. In sum, he spent over seven thousand dollars in that first four months at university, solely on alcohol and cigarettes, a tab that would make Blotto blush. Rather than stop or slow himself due to diminishing financial resources the only pause Gio could take was when, inevitably his body tapped out and forced him to lie in bed for a week at a time. It seemed that Gio in those days only had two modes. One was pure debauchery, the other convalescence. Both priests and psychiatrists would be confused. No matter the amount of pain he endured, the warnings his own body threw at him, begging for him to change, Gio could only return to his vices. When he joined the reserve forces Jon and Drew thought that would be the end of Gio’s partying, but instead it fostered his ways in a culture of protected adolescence. All they wanted to do was fight, fuck and drink and Gio was game on all accounts. The only thing he lost was his unkempt facial hair, a spotty beard on its best days, and his long Messianic mane. He was a reformer, not a repenter. The dangerous thing about Gio was that others lost the visual cues he used to provide them with. With a small amount of effort Gio could join any situation in polite society. Once there, anything was possible. He was a silently ticking bomb of destruction. Nick was the triggerman.
Every group has a person that sets the tempo, that pushes them further down paths they ought not to go, seeking things they ought not to seek, trying things they were best never to know of. Nick was that man. He went where he wanted to go and never needed to ask for permission. He would do things without consultation and he would cause havoc. A tree or an old telephone pole might end up casualties when Nick was in a mirthful mood. That’s what axes are for, after all. Nick was not stupid, in fact he was a genius, but an unsteady one, without limitations. His capacity for greatness in thought was only matched by his capacity for deep, dark thoughts. When he couldn’t bring even himself to do something he thought of, he had a persuasive way of manipulating others in to fulfilling the deed. It could be little things, planting words of doubt in to other people’s ears, or it could be larger, physically destructive things, Nick didn’t need to hold the axe for the tree to fall. In Gio, Nick found his soul mate. Nick’s mind had no limits, while Gio had no mind. He too could have intelligent thoughts, but they existed on a plane that none could truly interpret. It’s hard to tell if someone is an idiot savant or just a plain idiot. He was, however a terrific listener and never once said the word no. If he hesitated, perhaps with a silent pause, Nick knew exactly how to push to get Gio to follow through.
When Nick said that, it was impossible to resist. The women he had slept with knew it. The burning nostrils of his friends knew it, too. Somehow, Nick could persuade even the local police with a simple word. Jon was even subject to Nick’s wiles, though he was nominally viewed within the group as the voice of reason. Nick could get Jon to do what no others could, and there was a bond between them that with a certain look Jon would welcome instruction from Nick. Nick respected Jon enough not to push him beyond what he knew Jon would truly be comfortable with. Jon drew a line for others, Nick pushed past that and created a second line for Jon. That zone between Jon’s own line and the one created by Nick was filled with four years of moments that could only occur when Nick was around. No matter how wild Jon might get, if Nick wasn’t there, he was able to straddle his self-imposed limit. Luckily when Nick was there and pressed him to go beyond, to seek a new reality and experience life on the outer frontiers, he always left Jon enough of a life vest so that he would never completely drown. With Gio, Nick had no limits. The two of them were going to fall as deep as fast as possible. Gio was a Petri dish and Nick the scientist. It was unclear whether Nick had read Jekyll and Hyde, but he fit that persona so well, although when he became Hyde he maintained his self-awareness. In Gio, he ensured that a night out with Hyde always included a doppelganger.
“Hey. I like your clothes. You look like you know how to wear them.”
“I said I like your shoes, baby doll. I like them. I want to eat them.”
“Get away from me, freak!”
“That’s cool. She just jealous.”
“So, Gio, you think we’re gonna get her to fuck?”
“No. But it’s probably a lost cause.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“How about her, Nick?”
Across the bar they saw a cute blonde sitting alone.
“Time for daddy to strike.”
“Give it a go.”
The room twisted in front of him like a fun house. When he tried walking towards the blonde, Nick found himself going in the wrong direction, the floor tilting beneath his unsteady feet. A demonic shriek echoed behind him.
“Over here, Nick.”
“Ah, Gio. There you are. I thought you had disappeared on me.”
Nick thought he had said that. Instead Gio heard an incomprehensible babble.
“Angina. Theremin. Eye socket tube diapers, please.”
“Nick, you need to speak in sentences.”
“I know that. Where’s the blonde?”
“Still across the bar.”
“I’m going to go talk to her.”
Nick traversed the distorted mirrors of the fun house and found himself leaning against the bar where the cute girl sat. He needed the bar to keep him from falling over. Somehow to the unaware observer, he just looked casual.
“My name is Dick.”
“Is it really?”
“No, that’s just something I like to throw out there.”
“Did you like it?”
“I can’t say that I did.”
“Alright, I will level with you. My name is Nick. Nick. It’s easy to remember, because it rhymes with Dick.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“You are a feisty one. I haven’t even offered any.”
“Whatever. I’m Julie.”
“Right on, Julie. I like that name. It goes on your face.”
“I mean it suits you, Julie. You wouldn’t make a good any other name. Maybe a Sarah or a Julie. You could be a Julie.”
“I’m a Julie.”
“Yeah, that suits you.”
“So, Nick, what are you saying tonight?”
“I was just saying you look like your name could be Julie.”
“What are you up to tonight?”
“I’m at a bar. What are you up to tonight, Julie?”
“That’s cool. Maybe we could be at a bar together.”
“I think we’re.”
“Awesome. I’m glad you see me that way. I know we just met, but I think we’ve really made a connection.”
“You are strange, Nick.”
“No, I don’t have a strange dick. What a weird question to ask.”
“I’m sorry, it’s really loud in here. I said you are strange.”
“Whoa, Julie, easy, I’m not the one asking about dicks.”
“You said your name was Dick.”
“No, my name is Nick. It’s easy to remember, though, because it rhymes with Dick.”
“You’ve told me that.”
“Do you want me to buy you a drink?”
“Sure, Nick. Gin and tonic.”
“Gin and tonic? Gross. That stuff is awful. I mean how can you mix two terrible tasting things together and think that it tastes good?”
“I don’t know, Nick, it just works for me.”
“Awful, absolutely awful. It’s like cyanide and turpentine with a hint of lime. I won’t touch the stuff.”
“I like it. In fact, I think I’m just about done mine.”
“You should get another.”
“I thought you were going to buy me one.”
“Oh, no, that was just a general inquiry.”
She burst out in laughter. In inexplicable terms, somehow this large goofy drunk had charmed her.
“I’m kidding, Julie. One G&T coming up.”
“So, what do you study?”
“That sounds made up. Are you planning to find a husband here?”
“We’re a bit early for that, Nick. How about we see about that drink first.”
“Not a problem. The bartenders just pouring it now.”
“I was not getting worried. What do you study?”
“Oh, I’m in bio chem, it’s kind of like what you do, but real.”
“You certainly have a way with words.”
“If you think this is good, you should see me draw compounds.”
“You chemistry guys are the biggest nerds.”
“I don’t think it’s polite to call me fat, Julie.”
“Haha, so funny, too.”
“Here’s your drink. I hope it burns your throat.”
When needed to, Nick was able to rely solely on muscle memory, as the act of hitting on girls just became second nature, despite the fact he could barely stand or speak.
“So, Julie, what are the odds of me seeing your underwear tonight?”
“Haha, here, I will let you see right now.”
Julie showed Nick the blue shoulder strap of her brassiere.
“You guys are all the same, everything excites you.”
“Not true. I don’t find many things to be interesting at all, let alone exciting. It’s pretty much just boobs at this point.”
“Yeah, exactly the same.”
“You get excited about boobs, too?”
“I would think not. I mean every morning.”
“It’s still really loud in here, but when we’re done our drinks do you want to pick up some food and chat. I don’t know why, but I find you very interesting.”
“Well, so long as we’re going to make some bad decisions, we should be well fed.”
A small smile ran across her face. Nick was oblivious, but it was a common smile in those days. It was the kind that girls had when they truly did like who they were talking to, even though they probably knew, at the back of their minds, this would never end up the way they wanted.
“Do you like souvlaki?”
“Like it? I love it.”
“If I was not studying a real subject like chemistry, I’d probably go to donair school.”
“Exactly. I’m glad you get that, Julie. Most people find it hard to believe that a wide shouldered young man knows anything about late night food.”
She laughed again, drunk on both gin and Nick.
Jonathan sat pleased again with his work. There was always the ability to create unfathomable solutions when writing, and let them come to a happy close. Jonathan wouldn’t write it then, it would take him a few more hours of drinking, but he would come back to this passage and add the rest; the truth part. Happy closes are for suckers.
She laughed again, drunk on both gin and Nick. There are some hangovers you can predict; this surely ought to be one.
Nick woke in a fluffy floral duvet, the kind of cheery sweet Swedish made linen that masked a despairing sadness at the roots. Was it Julie who was depressed or Nick? Were they both? That kind of desperate need for affection, the kind that drove thousands of young men and women to the bar looking for anyone to mate with was not unique to them, it just appeared across the board around drinking age. Why did they drink? Why did they consume that firewater? It placated fear temporarily, but created new demons to battle.
Julie’s face was a mess. Nick was not sure whether it was his vision the night before, or the ravages of several hours of sleep and streaked makeup that made her appear far less attractive than he remembered. He knew he was no prize. He could barely walk the night before. It had taken a large effort to make his way across the bar to talk to the cute blonde girl. Where the hell was she? Julie was not a cute blonde this morning. Nick was not convinced she was even a blonde. With the bright morning light revealing much darker roots.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“You tossed and turned a bit. It was funny you shook the bed.”
“Don’t apologise, Nick, you are good at shaking the bed.”
She laughed an awkward self-created laugh. Nick lay still.
“Did you have a good time last night?”
“Yeah, definitely, I had a ton to drink and the music was pretty good last night. The DJ has good taste. I probably would have played most of those songs, too. I think I have almost all of them on my computer.”
“No, silly, I meant with me.”
Hesitation is the first admittance.
“Yeah, I did.”
Nick couldn’t remember anything between the moment he leaned against the bar to talk to a cute blonde and waking up in this Scandinavian garden with the natural brunette.
“Me, too. I really enjoyed talking to you last night.”
“Oh, cool. Yeah, what was your favourite thing that I said?”
Nick needed clues at this point in order to leave this bed with some grace.
“You know. Those things you said. I don’t know why, but maybe it was the way that you said them, but you definitely caught my attention. You are a very smooth operator.”
“Yes, you could say that. What else would you say? Use specific examples.”
“Do you not remember?”
“Oh, I do. I just want to hear you say them. I’d like to see if they have the same smoothness coming from a, from a, pretty girl.”
“You were very naughty.”
“Yes, I liked how you mentioned dick.”
She grabbed him. Nick twitched. For all his surprise that morning at a disappointing conquest, Nick let her continue.
Did I mention that Jonathan was sexually frustrated? He joins a long line of writers.
“Do you like that, Dick?”
“My name is Nick.”
“I know, but you told me it’s easy to remember because it rhymes with Dick.”
She played with him until he began to enjoy it.
It was not ideal, but Nick had his segue to leave with grace.
“Yeah, but I gotta leave after. I have got to study for a midterm.”
“Alright, just once, I won’t keep you too long.”
Four hours later a sheepish looking Nick walked in to his apartment. He was greeted by the knowing grins of his three roommates.
“Good morning, Nick.”
“Gio says you picked up last night.”
“Yeah. I did.”
“Did you give her the jackhammer?”
“Did you take her for a wheelbarrow ride?”
“What did you do, Nick?”
“I ploughed her.”
The roommates howled with laughter.
“Dude, Gio said she was a dog.”
“Yeah man, she was hideous.”
“You told me to go talk to her!”
“You could barely speak, I thought it would be funny.”
“Well, have you had your laughs?”
“Yes. Oh, man, that was really funny.”
“So, Nick, where did you wake up? Nice apartment? Somewhere on campus? Back to rez?”
“No, it was off campus. I don’t know the name of the street. It was up the hill a bit. I was fucking lost when I walked outside.”
Jon and Gio lost it. Drew maintaining composure asked follow up questions.
“How was the continental breakfast?”
“Did you get toast, cereal, what?”
“She made pancakes.”
“That’s pretty impressive. A lot of effort there. More than most one night stands, I think.”
“You think she likes you?”
“Do you like her?”
“But you stayed for pancakes. That’s a significant moment in a blossoming relationship.”
“Please, I don’t want a relationship with this girl. I barely wanted to sleep with her.”
“But you did.”
“I know. Four times.”
“No wonder you got pancakes.”
“She was, how do I say this, very generous in what she would let me do.”
“That’s a plus, I suppose.”
Gio joined in, having regained his composure.
“Yeah, but in the end it’s a lot like riding a moped, is not it?”
“It’s a lot of fun, but you wouldn’t want to be caught in public with it.”
All four of them broke out in laughter at the thought.
“I’m going to hell.”
“This morning I thought I saw it when I woke up. It’s pink and orange bedspreads and oddly shaped pillows.”
“There is no need for that.”
“I’m amazed those continue to exist.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if each one of us has woken up in that situation. Not, of course, with the horrible moped that Nick went home with, but with others that had brightly coloured duvets and odd pillows made by guys named Jens and Carl.”
“I hate those Swedes.”
Jonathan didn’t hate the Swedish. He knew quite a few of them. Lots of attractive blondes to get him worked up about without any hope of anything ever happening. That was the worst. Social networking had added to this problem by allowing those Swedish girls to post photos of vacations to Greece in their bikinis on the internet. At least with pornography we all know it’s completely out of reach. It’s way more frustrating when you actually know the person in the photo. There is always that faint thought that one day you might hook up.
No, Jonathan didn’t hate the Swedish. He just wanted to use that line as a segue in to his next chapter.