Drinking Age Plus Nine—Clark Humphrey
Mike doesn’t like to think of himself as turning 30 today. “Drinking Age Plus Nine” is the preferred term he used on the email invites. Nine is still a single-digit number. It makes Mike seem, at least to himself, a little less like the geezer he knew he had become.
At least this evening he’ll be among the guys, and maybe the guys’ wives/girlfriends, and just maybe JIllian his former Tru-Love 4-Ever who is now his Sometime Make-Up Sex Buddy.
But enough about her. Mike now likes to think it had been Fate, not an ill-advised LTR, that had kept him in the state’s second-largest college town well past his sell-by date.
It had been Fate that had made him manager, and almost sort-of half owner, of the same bar where he and his pals will hang out tonight. A bar where fake-ID spotting had been elevated to an art form, one as sophisticated as the database programming he’d almost graduated in.
This evening had begun like any evening at the bar, except he was dressed a little nicer and was at least officially off duty. Still, if some prematurely wrinkled 19-year-old gets found inside, tonight or ever, it’s still his ass that’s grass.
But he’s got his “not working, don’t bother me, if the keg’s blown then YOU replace it” face on. He’s reserved the back table, in the corner of the bar where he’s kept the digital juke box’s rear speakers “broken” for a month now. You’d think with two thousand selections, the customers wouldn’t always pick the same eight pop-rap hits and “Idol” diva songs every damn hour.
Of course, with the music down in this part of the room he can hear the boys and girls yapping about the same things he was yapping about, one-third of his life ago.
The guys at one table have just discovered Bukowski, and excitedly exchange quotations about the nobility of being a drunken ass.
The girls at the next table console one of their party on what was at least her third Great Disappointment/Heartbreak/Tragedy so far this year. At least it was the third such moment they’d consoled her about in THIS bar this year.)
At the bar, some newly-minted young couple, deep in the throes of satisfied longing (for the moment), drinks in unison and stares into each other’s eyes as if the moment would never end, which Mike knew it would. Even if those two stayed together for life, that particular moment of blissful ignorance would end.
He can see but not hear the TVs above the bar. The SportsCenter dudes are yapping, according to the on-screen titles, about other, better college sports teams from other, more prestigious colleges.
Soon, Mike’s friends will show up. They will console him about the separation, again. They will tell him he’s still got it, in a bar and a town where young women are always drifting through. Hot women with career aspirations. Any one of those women, his friend Jeremy will say, would gladly scoop him up and whisk him away with her, off to a Real Future in a Real Town. He will ask the guys why none of them, as of yet, had been thusly scooped away. The guys will say either that they’d come to like it here or that he, Mike, was the reason they were still here. Why, his snarky pal Colin will say, they would never desert their friend at his time of need, even if, these days, that time of need seemed to be all the time.
Mike will listen to all these words of encouragement from the guys, laughingly tell them all to go fuck themselves, and then share another round of shots.
But before all that, he prepares. He motions for Lainie, the sometimes nervous rookie barmaid who really tries to do everything right, to come over to his table. He asks her for a double Maker’s, and gives her his car keys. He tells her to stick the keys in the safe and not let him have them until tomorrow, no matter what he may end up telling her later. He assures her that even if he tells her later tonight that she’s fired, she’s not. Just before she walks off, he stops her. He looks her in the eye and asks her to say she understands everything he’s just said. She nods and says yes, with just a slight plaintive almost giggle.
Then Mike asks Lainie to only call for Jillian to pick him up if he, and the other guys, are all too wasted. Then he asks her to say she understands THAT.