Happy Hour – Tom Gaffney
“Now, remember Henry: we need you. Keep that position under consideration. If you don’t do it, who will?”
“Will do Sheila, I’ll let you know soon.”
Can’t I get fifteen minutes without pressure of any kind? I arrive here for some solitary drinking and the next thing I know someone is pressing me to volunteer.
Sitting here in the window, looking out onto Rainer as sunshine moves to twilight. Friday night, a shot and a beer, happy hour. Exhausted, but ready to take advantage of the solitude. So glad you’re gone ‘cause I’m finally alone. So glad you’re gone but I wish you’d come home. Not yet though. Don’t come home yet.
Dropped Beth and his highness off at the train to the plane early this morning. They are off to the East Bay for a long weekend of relations without me. The fridge is stocked and I’ve got a new bag of weed. A big pile of sushi and perhaps a show are on my preliminary itinerary. Have to check the calendar. Still waiting to see who amongst Dave or Ken or Gordon is available. Something will come together.
I am rapidly forgetting about work, and I have no one to tend to for three days. Beat the happy hour crowd. Stay calm. Pacing. Slow and steady wins the race. A quiet weekend – don’t burn any barns.
I bury my nose in the Stranger, checking out the Up and Coming.
“Well look at that. Quite the sight you are. It figures I’d run into you sooner or later.”
The sound of that voice. Warning signals. Quickening of the pulse.
“Oh man – hey! How long have you been back in town?”
Before me stands Ernie, all lithe and as crazed in the face as ever.
I forget myself, out of the chair, a big bear hug. He lifts me off the floor.
“I’ve been back in town now for a few months. It seemed ridiculous we had not gotten together. Then again, I did not know how to get ahold of you.”
Fortunately, definitely for me, and most likely for him, we had last seen each other in another era. Wow. It had been that long.
The last time I saw Ernie we got way too high. No surprise there. And he nearly got us into a fight with a group of guys outside of Angie’s. One of the most terrifying nights of my life. And he called me for weeks after that, moving from calling me a pussy for not backing him up to pleading with me to return his calls. Said real friends, brothers, did not allow things like that to come between them.
I had to let him know they do. That it wasn’t funny anymore. That the self-destructive nature of our relationship was no longer worth it. Sure, we played music together (sometimes), and occasionally (very) would get down to Westport. But most of the time we drank and imbibed whatever we could lay our hands on. I had not seen him since – what, five, six years?
There had been many second chances, for both of us. But it was pretty much guaranteed that both of us could not behave while hanging out together.
“A couple of months huh. I thought you were gone for good. Costa Rica or the dream of Nicaragua. Finally. What brings you back?”
“I’m engaged! You know how that works. How many years you married now? I’m not going to do anything stupid – like you – no kids. Up here to meet her family. Man, we have to have a bachelor party. I’d say I’ve earned that – don’t you think? ”
He pulls up a chair. Where is my night going?
He spends the next two rounds catching me up on his life down south. How the surfing was awesome, but he met a sweet young lady and one thing lead to another. It was time to maybe head north, put some money away, and remember what the horror of winter was like.
There are compliments on the weight I have added. Precursory questions about Beth and little Johnny.
“Little Johnny is twelve now. Middle school. Beth is great.”
And away he goes.
I regret the shot and beer that were sitting on the table when he arrived. Such a good looking pattern, we agreed it needed to be repeated. At the least he is manic, potentially high. He looks healthy enough though. Not in the depths of a binge. Not yet. The voice is still big and the opinions are never small.
I scan the room over and over. Looking for an escape.
“Actually, I popped down to this end of town to meet a friend. She’s hooking me up with some supplies. Are you interested? “
How is it I am running into him here today with Beth and John away? Three shots and three pints are doing their work on me. Maybe I can pick something up and not go out with him? Fat chance. Plus, the last time you shoved anything up your nose John was still in diapers. This really was not my plan for the evening. I’m pretty sure I could not look Beth in the eye and tell her I spent the weekend hanging out with Ernie and some of his friends.
The room has begun to fill. And there are some folks I recognize: from soccer, from Little League, the staff at the K-8. Excellent. What version of respectable have I become? I only wanted to come in and have a couple of drinks. No one here notices me, usually. Because I am not up to anything. Sitting here talking to Ernie leaves a taste of temptation on the one hand along with stress and discomfort. It is like being high all over again – plenty of paranoia and a small window of fun.
Someone catches my eye from across the room. Sheila, again, the president of the PTA at John’s school. A woman I’ve known now for a progeny’s worth of grade school soccer and little league. She’s on her way out.
“Now that you are out on the town, don’t forget me Henry. Remember, we need you.”
“Excellent, Sheila, thanks. Ernie, Sheila.“ Perfunctory introductions exchanged.
“We need a treasurer Henry. Have you spoken to Beth? It’ll be fun – we’ll get a lot done.”
She smiles and winks and then is off.
Ernie’s eyes watch her as she wanders off. Then the loud laughter.
“The PTA, you? Ha what a fucking riot. Treasurer, even better. You should do it. Scare us up some cash. What do you think? And do you get to go on board retreats with Sheila? Nice. Hee hee.” A drunken leer. “Hey. I’m going to go take a piss – order us another round. Then we can make some plans for tonight. Do you need to check in with the old ball and chain or are you free to go?”
So glad you are gone but I wish you would go home. However, Ernie has reminded me of my redemption. In town or not, I’m pleased to think of the old ball and chain keeping me at home. I’m glad I did not mention their absence. Dreams of escape might have been hopeless then.
I check my wallet, relieved to find cold hard tender. I drop more than enough for our full tab and a good tip and head out the door.
Happy hour indeed. I am heading home, where things are safe. I might hide until it is time to pick them up from the airport – on Monday.
As for Sheila. Whatever. We both know I’m a sucker for punishment.