Sunday, February 28, 2010

People I meet in bars #12: Greg

"Why are you wearing a suit?" I say to Greg.

Greg's eyes are puffy and it's clear that he was crying earlier. Specters of teardrop stains dot his shirt's collar like flower petals. They're mostly faded, though, so I place his emotions about two hours prior to this. He's wearing a dark charcoal suit with a white shirt and a matching charcoal tie. His shoes are shined, his pants are pressed, and I wonder why he's staring at a tall double gin and tonic in this quiet bar--uncomfortably quiet for a Friday night--when he should be out flaunting his sexual prowess and animal charisma at a jazz club, raining down desire from a cloud of bourbon.

"I just ask because," I say, "everyone I've ever met in a bar that's wearing a suit is usually really sad."

"I like suits. I like the way they fit, how the jacket and the pants are, literally, cut from the same cloth. That's not a metaphor or anything."

"Unless your suit sucks."

"Yeah," he says, "but my suits don't suck." He's still staring at this drink, and the rim of it is smudgeless. It's full to the brim, but enough of the bubbles from the tonic water have dissipated that I know it's not freshly poured.

"Something wrong with your drink?"

"What?" he asks.

"Is there something wrong with it? Looks like you haven't had any of it yet and that it's been there for a while."

Greg's wide-open eyes narrow, but not vertically; he's not squinting, but the left and right sides close in a bit, like he was closing a sliding door.

"No, it's fine," he says, taking a draw from the half-empty club soda sitting perpendicular to his untouched highball. It makes me realize how thirsty I am and I take a hard gulp of my 7-Up. "I just haven't had a drink for a while."

"How long?"

"Two months or so, I think. Give or take. I haven't really been keeping track." He swirls the Collins glass with a straw that looks a little too tropically-colored for such a dour demeanor. "I had a problem for a while and it caught up to me, so I said 'Forget moderation' and just stopped. It was too risky."

"And it's less risky now?" I ask.

"I don't know. I'm just tired of feeling so much."

The Alcoholic's Dilemma.

"Bad day?"

"No," he says. "The opposite. Best day I think I've ever had."

"What happened?"

"My best friend's wife had a baby. It's two weeks early and he's in Boston on business and I was the only one nearby, so I got to do everything. I drove her to the hospital, helped sign her in, wheeled her up to delivery, stood in the room while that kid came out, everything. I got to pretend to be a new dad for about twelve hours. Even got to hold the little girl for about seven hours while her mom slept."

"What's her name?"

"Harper Scout. Big To Kill a Mockingbird fans, her folks."

"That's beautiful. But why would you want to deaden that with gin?"

"Because I got left at the altar earlier this week."

My face goes immediately into "Holy shit" mode.

"Damn, Greg."

"Yeah, it's quite a whiplash. Worst day of my life, best day of my life, two days between. And I'm so glad that they came in this order--the worst would've been enough to negate the best, and that wouldn't have been fair to the kid--and who knows if this is God telling me that 'everything's gonna be okay, dude,' or whatever, but I've spent this week exclusively in peaks and valleys and I wanna move to the plains."

"How hard are you holding onto this not-drinking thing?" I ask.

"Really damn," he says, sliding the drink back and forth, its contents sloshing back and forth like a New England tide. "Really damn hard. All I could think is that I wanted a drink, how I wanted to feel less than what I was feeling, even the good, because good can get taken away and bad can too but we don't notice when bad is taken away as much and I just wanted to hide in a gin shell for a few hours, you know? I just wanted to shut it all off."

"My friend calls gin and tonics 'sensory deprivation chambers,'" I say, pointing to Greg's glass.

"It's true, though, because it just makes everything quieter. It's so much easier to think when you're a mile away from yourself and you can place things and order them and get some perspective and then when you come out of it you've got the energy to do what you planned during your buzz."

"Then have a drink, I guess. Sobriety's good--I haven't had a drink for almost two months, myself, and I'm glad for it--but I mean, there's a reason people do this. Come to bars." My mouth is dry and the 7-Up crashes on my tongue and I have a gin and tonic flashback. That shit is delicious. Oh well. So it goes.

"I was going to, so I walked here since the hospital's only about twelve, thirteen blocks away, and I was gonna have a drink or three, walk back, and be sober by the time I got to the room."

"But?" I ask.

"But," he says, "I thought about little Harper goddamn Scout and how, after she got cleaned up, after her mom fell asleep, they handed her to me and I held her for about twenty minutes and she cooed at me right before she took a little babyshit all over my suit"--Greg points to a small spot on his jacket that looks recently cleaned--"and I thought 'babies are just like pigeons,' and I don't want her to see me like that. I don't ever want her to see me, her unofficial Uncle Greg, as anything but someone that's got her back. She needs to know that I'll back her up. And what if I get there but I'm still a little drunk and they need me to go back to the house and get a special blanket or pick someone up from the airport or something? I'll be useless when they need me." He pushes the gin and tonic a few inches further away, but doesn't pull it back.

"And I want to be needed." He finishes his club soda and pulls a wallet from his jacket pocket. He leaves a twenty on the counter.

"That's a really generous tip," I say. "Drinks here are only, like five bucks."

"I've got a lot to give, I guess," he says as he buttons the top two of his jacket's three buttons. "And now I've got somewhere to put it."

"Good luck, Greg."

"Don't have anything to drink tonight." He begins to walk out. "The deeper you fall, the places that you'll crawl to, you'll find you're unclean, unsaved, and defeated by yourself and no one else. Don't let shit get you down."

He walks out the door, and I think of small red ears, coarse black hair, and the kind of brown eyes that scare away the winter.


Kels H. said...

I like Greg. He actually reminds me of that guy that I talk about too much that has the almost-way-too-cool name.

emilyf said...

Actually it feels like I just held you in my arms like a baby when I read this. :) You're totally Greg, babe.