Monday, February 2, 2009

Horror Head


January 1998

The fluorescent lights seem to be burning through my clenched eyes. I fold my arms around myself and lean over to one side. My head is pounding and my stomach is filled with an angry sea of booze. I think it’s a Thursday (or was), but I cannot be too sure, save for the realization that I am scheduled to be at work at 7:30 am later this morning. I do not know exactly what time it is. I do know that I am on the last eastbound Max train for the evening. It’s sometime before last call, where a few manage to reach the public transit stumbling just in time to a wobbly, shaky and bumpy ride home. Riding a bus or train home after a feverish night of drinking is a good way to accelerate the buzz to the hangover. I suppose it’s better than driving home drunk, but it is certainly not fun. The only hope is to just pass out and hope you wake up near your stop, or hope you wake up at all. I have to avoid passing out despite the urge, because my home is only a handful of stops away. I do not know where I am. It’s dark outside the Max, and blinding inside. I struggle to open my eyes.

What the hell happened? I remember going over to Jeff’s. We haven’t hung out since he went to Chicago for Christmas. Wait, I remember going to the 1201 first. I had some time to kill before Jeff would be home from work. I checked my mail, and then hit the 1201. I had a few whiskey sours while I read the latest Willamette Week. Then what? I remember heading to Jeff’s, with the cold breeze whipping my overcoat around. I should’ve worn more than my Husker Du T-shirt underneath the coat, but I am never prepared for being cold. I remember buying a sixer of Henry’s Ale. I also remember Jeff with a twelver of Milwaukee’s Best Light already broken into at his place. What I do not remember is what happened to the contents those cans and bottles. The cans and bottles were strewn about his studio, but the beer had vanished in a short span of time. We chatted excitedly about how we finally had hope that 1998 was going to be our year. To celebrate, we decided that we had better head down to the Marathon for a little dinner and some drinks.

The Marathon is an odd bar. They have essentially two sections. Where the bar actually sits, near the entrance, there is a clientele of old, hardcore barflies who waste away their time watching several televisions portraying many sporting events. Around the bar to the right and down the ramp, sits a section with pool tables dominated by the 20-something crowd and a loud mix of heavy metal and classic rock songs pumping from the jukebox. The consumer dichotomy is great as well as the certainty of separation between the two camps. Jeff and I showed our ID’s and confidently strode to the back section housing the pool tables. We were in the mood to celebrate and maybe play some pool. My game stinks. Jeff, on the other hand, plays all the time, has his own stick and can run me into the ground. We found a free table and sat and chatted awhile, ordered a large pitcher of Widmer Hefeweizen and pondered the bar menu. Being a weeknight, the bar was not packed, but fairly busy. A pool table in the middle of the section became available, so we decided to move our pitcher and belongings over there and play a game. A “game” of eight-ball between Jeff and I goes something like this: I rack the balls loosely, in what we refer to as a swamp or amoeba rack, so any attack on the break is met with little or no movement by the triangle of balls at the other end of the table. This is completely unintentional, but it is almost a talent, because I rack them so badly. From there, Jeff sank a few shots. I missed one badly. He dropped a few more in. I missed a shot embarrassingly. He sank a few more and talked smack, while I missed another. Then Jeff toyed with me, missing the eight-ball on purpose over and over, while I struggled over several turns to sink the stripes or solids that I had remaining. Eventually, and I mean eventually, I got down to the final chance, and even then Jeff gave me stellar opportunities to win, but I couldn’t pull it off. Finally, he slammed the eight-ball into a pocket with authority and it mercifully ended. The sad part is that there is always a stash of quarters at the ready for another game, which will follow the same M.O. I ordered a second pitcher.

These games are always painful for me, but still entertaining, because Jeff and I have a good time as we play. The scenarios that kill me are when we get challenged. As we eased into our second pitcher, Jeff was looking around the room, wondering if we would be challenged by any “chickies.” This is essentially the goal right? A little fun competition, along with an easy introduction, and a common ground to chat casually, makes the pool scenario a bit more natural than the usual lame line and a slap in the face. Aren’t we there to meet the “chickies” after-all? I don’t know. I was really hungry for food at that point.

As the Max squeals around a corner downtown and flops me upright for a moment, I begin to flashback to the night of the “chickies.” Using “chicks” as a term for the ladies wasn’t even in my vocabulary until recently, and now I use “chickies.” What happened? That was another drunken night hanging with Jeff, back when I had a car. We were creeping around in the car amongst the warehouses and lofts in Northwest Portland - the Pearl District. We were drinking 40 ounce PBR’s and talking about our past flummoxes with women, when we spotted two couples wandering around a corner heading in our direction. I had pulled to a stop on the once abandoned street and drained the rest of my 40. As the couple passed by my open window, I suddenly blurted out, as I tossed the 40 haphazardly in their direction, “We’re gonna kick your ass and steal your chickies!” I drove to the corner and we headed off towards the Caribou for some $1 drinks, as Jeff, who had been in mid-swill during my outburst, tried frantically to keep from spitting up, because he was laughing so hard. From then on, we have been in search of “chickies.”

A challenge arose at the Marathon from two short middle-aged guys wearing the type of leather jackets that inexplicably has denim sleeves and collars lined with sheep fur. These guys were greasy and clearly serious. Once the challenge was set, however, Jeff accepted. This was bad. They were not female and it took me close to an hour to knock down 7 shots with intentionally nice set-ups from Jeff in the prior game. This was where my complete ineptitude had lost its humor. Seeing these two across the table setting up the balls and strutting about with their cues, I felt that I had to play well. We couldn’t lose to these fools! I knew Jeff was thinking the same thing, but probably more so, knowing that he would have to carry us. The scene was cordial, we all shook hands, but the extended eye contact between us all proved that nothing but victory would be accepted. Jeff broke and nothing dropped. One of the dwarves stretched across the table and sank a tough shot, but couldn’t sustain a run. My turn left a short easy shot to the corner pocket. Wasted. I laughed, to show that I was not serious about the game, but mostly out of complete humiliation. The other guy sank a couple of balls. Jeff got one down. They missed a tough one. I had too much green and completely missed the target. I told Jeff how pathetic I am. He encouraged me and told me to do it for the two “chickies” who had taken to watching the game nearby. We were still alive, when Jeff stepped up. They had one stripe and the eight remaining, while we had six balls and the eight. Jeff slammed each solid into a pocket one by one. Then he eased into the eight-ball and turned away as it plopped into the corner for the win.

Jeff leaned over to me and said, “The chickies want you!” He giggled and ordered another pitcher of beer. The chicks he was referring to were the ones watching our game. Since we had won, we held the table, and were challenged by the two girls. I knew that Jeff’s enthusiasm was both sarcastic, because the girls were not all that enticing at first glance. They looked like they had a good collection of Phish memorabilia and maybe autographed tits by the harmonica wielding wheelchair warrior John Popper. Their natty carefully careless hair, their dirty earth tone jeans that didn’t accentuate their curves, and the fact that they may have been moving in to get to know us better, made them somehow a potpourri of wrong. Yes, I’m judgmental, and I chose to avoid Lilith Fair as well. Also, Jeff’s enthusiasm stemmed from the simple fact that chicks rarely move towards us in a bar or anywhere, and if they did, we would rarely realize it.

The dirty blond girl, wearing some sort of drab colored hempwear, and looking like Jewel if she were 30 pounds heavier and had been beaten, began to rack the balls, while the brunette wandered around the bar looking for some cues. The introductory speak had already taken place to set the game, during which Jeff stroked his red-haired beard and intoned in an exaggerated deep voice, cracking me up and him as well. The brunette complimented the painted figure on Jeff’s jacket that was draped over a stool near the table. I nudged Jeff’s side with my forearm firmly, and asked him if that was Meatloaf painted on the jacket. This was maybe Ryan’s best line ever being repeated once again, and it clearly still left Jeff speechless in exasperation.

The game began and really was nothing memorable. Jeff, maybe due to the Meatloaf line, was trying to play me up for these girls, knowing my lack of interest. He somehow tried to use my ineptitude on the table as an overall sign that it was me who needed loving, while, he, master of the table, needed no part of these chunky pseudo hippies. It was a bold move and I was defenseless. The sad truth is that I was the one who needed loving, but I just wasn’t really interested looking for it here with Paula Cole and her dirty blond pal who likes to show her excessive mid-rif. We ended up playing more than one game. I don’t know who won what, I just know that I ordered more pitchers of beer throughout and felt more and more disoriented. This was war now and Jeff was winning. He wasn’t winning in the sense that he almost had me in with one of (or both?) these two ladies. Instead he had me running scared, and that damn shit-eating grin on his face proved that he was completely aware of his success.

It was around this point that I started watching the clock. I had to catch the Max home, because I had to work tomorrow. I decided to act immediately as I stood up from the stool I was on. We were done with pool, and don’t ask me how the games with the girls ended, because I don’t know. I think we finally lost and gave up the table, opening the door for the leather/jean jacket gang to challenge. I hope they all live happily ever after.

I turned to Jeff and told him that I had to go catch the Max. At that point another pitcher of beer arrived.

“Just have one more beer first,” Jeff said as he filled my glass and his. I sat down again and we drained the pitcher. This wasn’t going to end yet.

Instead of conversation, Jeff and I sat at stools and scanned the room. Jeff was clearly trying to find me more chicks, since I didn’t take up with the last ones. I was just thinking about not having to walk all the way home from the Marathon. Not an impossible task, but I do live across the river and it was late, and I was starting to feel the buzz. Maybe one more pitcher wouldn’t be too bad. I waved down our loyal waitress. I told Jeff my plan. I told him that I had to leave by 1:15, or else I’d miss the last Max across the river. He nodded in agreement. I could see that his eyes were starting to get distant and that his blinks were awfully slow. We determinedly drank our way through this last pitcher. Just drinking that much liquid takes some effort, but we couldn’t leave any beer. Our entire surroundings seemed to shut off. My mind was completely focused on finishing that pitcher of Hefeweizen and finding the energy to walk down to the Max stop.

The Max shakes and jerks from side to side as it curls itself around a corner downtown. My stomach sloshes in response and I groan. I am still leaning over to one side and keeping my eyes shut. I’m trying to steady myself. I don’t want anything bad to happen. I’ve made it this far.

Suddenly, the Max comes to a halt. Every once in a while this happens. Even though the train creeps through downtown, sometimes it’ll glide into position and just stop on a dime, throwing everyone inside off balance. In this case, it threw me around and my head ends up banging against the hollow metal tubing that outlines the seats and acts as a handle. I begin to chuckle, because my head is in no position to take such a blow and because it reminds me of what just occurred outside the Marathon.

Jeff and I had managed to stumble outside of the bar, and I offered him a high right hand for a handshake goodbye.

“I need to get some smokes,” Jeff shouted out and began walking across the street towards the little store a couple of blocks west up Burnside. I followed across the street to where McDonalds sits menacingly.

“I gotta catch the Max man, so I’m outta here,” I shouted just as I saw Jeff’s fist flying in a slow uppercut into the heart of my gut. He hit me soft enough and slow enough that I knew it wasn’t a serious blow. This had happened in our past before, drunken brawls that act as a closer for a drunken night. Being that I was drunk, the hit didn’t hurt. However, it did make me stumble nearly into the street as a car sped by honking its horn. Jeff began to laugh. I charged at him with a wild right hand into the shoulder. He fell back a bit and fell into me with his right. It was a stand off. We were now leaning against each other.

“You bitch! That hurt!” Jeff yelled as he shoved me away from him. “I need some cash for the smokes.”

“So, that’s why you socked me? Why didn’t you say so?” I asked as I pulled some wadded bills that had, at some point during the night, been stuffed into my front pocket. Without counting the bills, I slapped them into Jeff’s extended hand. I reiterated that I needed to go, and we made off in our separate directions.

A cold wind bursts through the open door of the train. I cringe as the icy air slaps my cold sweat covered face. A girl wanders in through the nearest door and sits directly across the walkway from me. She has short black hair and black eyeliner. She reminds me immediately of the singer from Curve, that amazing band from the early 90’s so-called British shoe-gaze scene. She’s wearing a stylized black cowboy hat, a white faux furry coat, which is open revealing a tight t-shirt with the Marlboro Man lighting up a smoke. Immediately, I am entranced. A type of deep, rumbling and groovy bass tone reminiscent of many Curve songs begins to swirl its way into my head.

“How are you doing there soldier?” she asks me playfully. She must be mistaking me for someone else. Maybe the allure of the smells I am emitting is just too much for her to hold herself back. What could be finer than the smell of ashtray and recycled beer, mixed with a touch of dry sweat?

“Uh, I’ve been better,” I groan, not realizing that my body isn’t ready to react to things that my mind tells it to.

“You look like you’ve had quite a night. I’m just hoping that you’re okay,” she smiles shyly and looks away. Her eyelashes are so dark and so long that cannot help but stare at them. They must be fake. No one has eyelashes like that!

“Are your eyelashes fake?” I stammer without warning.

She doesn’t reply. She just locks her eyes onto my wandering drunken eyes. The grip of her stare feels like a vice pinching my already pulsating head.

“What do you think?” she says in disgust.

I sure handled that one like a champion. This cooler than cool girl shows concern for my slovenly ass and all I can come back with is a potentially insulting question.

“Well, yeah, they look phony. But, that’s cool!” I have to hang on for a second as the train jolts to and fro as it turns in toward the Rose garden. “I like it. I like the look,” I finish after the intermission.

“Yeah, well, thanks.”

“No problem.” I am clearly too drunk to handle this. I’m amazed that this beautiful young woman, who again reminds me of the singer from Curve who is not only hot, but has the best voice around, and I won’t even mention how Garbage stole their sound. I must be having some sort of half-passed out fantasy as I fly out towards Gresham on the last Max of the night. This horror in my head from too much to drink and nothing to eat has me uncertain and unstable.

I close my eyes and then slowly reopen them. The girl is still sitting there across from me. She smells like bubblegum, or maybe I have some gum stuck to my coat. I look around at both my sides to investigate. No gum.

“You said that your stop is at Lloyd Center,” she says to me flatly.

“What?” I shout back.

“Your stop! You wanted me to make sure that you didn’t miss your stop. Well, your stop is next!” she shouts with emphasis, as if yelling at a nearly deaf person.

“Oh, right, thanks. Hey, listen,” I pause as I try and stand up, while using both arms to grapple all of the available handrails, “what’s your name?”


“Hey, that’s my name.” I respond immediately.

“Your name is Christine?” she queries with a smirk on her face.

“No. No, it isn’t,” I drift off as the Max stops, nearly throwing me to the floor and the doors swing open. “I gotta go,” I say and point as I stumble out into the frigid night air. I hear the doors slam behind me and I sit down on the bench awaiting me outside to catch my breath. I think I’m going to puke.

for more MAX misadventures, check out the links here:


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