Saturday, October 8, 2011

People I meet in bars #22: John and Up

AUTHOR'S NOTE: this, like most things, is for Sam.

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John--I think it's John, anyway, but the tiny imprints on the debit card he passes across the bar move too quickly for me to be certain--orders a pitcher of red lager and two glasses for him and his buddy. The bartender takes the card and brings back beer that I see over the Willy Vlautin book in which my nose is buried, and John and his unnamed pal pour tall glasses and sip away.

It's "Zombie Night," apparently, and although I am a dedicated George Romero disciple, I'm having a hard time being anything but annoyed at the stench of stage makeup--yes, it has a smell--permeating the already stale air of Tony's. Most of the dressed-up theater kids, with their clever costumes and well-designed decorum, are down at the opposite end of the bar, as far as possible from the entrance, but that's not enough, and the smell of fake blood and pancake foundation drifts toward me in waves every time the door opens and the thirty-degree-Fahrenheit air rushes inside in bursts.

John's dealing with it properly: with beer. He and Unnamed Pal, who I've taken to referring to as "Up," are already halfway through their pitcher within about three minutes. I'm sipping at a Coors Light and lurching my chin upward at any sharp sound from across the room, and my reading comprehension is suffering for it.

I always hated theater kids.

"Didn't know it was Zombie Night," I say, more to my book than to John and Up, but John hears me and laughs.

"We knew," he says, jutting a thumb at Up, "but didn't really give a damn." He takes another pull from his beer.

"No?" I ask.

"Nah," he says, "not really. But if I had dressed up, I would've come as Zombie Steve Jobs."

"Whoa," Up interjects for the first time, his voice deeper than I expected. "Way too soon, man."

"It's never too soon," I say. "It's not like you were gonna dress up as the World Trade Center towers or something."

"That would've been a good two-person theme costume, though," John says, and he and I laugh.

"You guys are awful," Up says. He fishes through his pockets and pulls out a packet of cigarettes. "I'm gonna go smoke outside. I've gotta get away from this before it gets worse." He walks toward the door while John and I exert residual chuckles.

"That's pretty insensitive," I say.

"What?" John asks.

"You know," I say, taking a sip, "smoking? Right after we were talking about the World Trade Center? A little too appropriate."

John laughs and I join him a few seconds in, but the whole time, I look at the liquor bottles behind the bar and wonder what you'd order if you were here.

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