I stared at the dimmed screen of my Acer computer, trying to figure out what to do. The Wells-Fargo website told me that the checking account had $800 left in it. It was the 30th of June and not only was our six hundred and eighty five dollar rent due the next day, but before the 15th we had to pay our car insurance, car registration, electric bill, school deposits, and fill our fridge up. Despite all this, I wasn’t trying to figure out how this was possible (I knew it wasn’t) but instead, what my rejoinder to my wife’s yelling would be when I told her I wanted to buy beer.
I forcibly shut the top of the lap top (it’s the only way) and languidly walked over to the front door- where my crusty Etnie flip-flops awaited to carry me to the liquor store, not even glancing at Janis who I hoped was so stuck in her Myspace world that she wouldn’t even notice me. My scarred, bigger-than-the-other right foot easily slid into the indentation made by wearing the same shoes for the past 9 summers, when the agon started.
“Where are you going?,” my wife asked. It would have sounded innocent to an outsider, but I could hear the desire for an argument residing just below the surface.
I decided to be honest, “I’m going to get beer.” And then I waited.
“What’s wrong with you?,” she asked me. Although I could have responded with a number of different things that were wrong with me, I decided it was a rhetorical question- she wasn’t looking for honesty or sarcasm. “I didn’t work all week so you could get drunk.”
Again, I suppressed the sarcastic reply that my brain was trying to force on me. “Come on, it’s Friday, it’s what we do.”
“Maybe when you get a job you can decide ‘what we do’,” she said the latter three words in her best Joe imitation- apparently I sound like a broad shoulder blond guy named Moose. “But there’s no way we can afford to drink tonight and still pay our bills.”
“Hun, whether we drink or not we can’t afford to pay our bills.” Although not biddable by any stretch of the imagination, I knew I had her with this brilliant argument.
“Fine, whatever,” she said; her smile was a little to close to the surface of her tan, smooth face for me to believe that she was giving in. She probably had also wanted to drink, but figured she needed to at least put up some kind of argument to seem the mature one. “Just get something on sale.”
I had the other flip flop on, my black, big-enough-for-a-12-pack back pack, and one foot on the pedal of my Specialized bike, as I said “I’ll get the cheapest thing that’s not Budweiser or Coors.”
Friday nights at the Cottonwood Apartment Complex tend not to vary much. I usually go outside at a bit after six with a beer and a book, not expecting to read much. By seven I have been joined by my wife, our neighbor Jean, our old neighbor Amy, downstairs neighbors Mark and Samantha, along with other varied members of the Boulder drinking community. After a couple beers, the bar-b-que is lit, everyone offers something up and a fun time is had by all. There has been nudeness, drug use, heated debates, and almost everything else that goes with binge drinking and active minds. This Friday was no different; less than a paragraph into The Sheltering Sky, I was distracted by Janis coming outside and Amy pulling into the parking lot on her bike, sporting a not so fashionable tiny helmet upon her mouse sized head. I put the book down, remembering that we had a book club meeting scheduled at the same time as our Friday night drinking festivities.
“Nice helmet,” I told Amy. I’m the sarcastic one and therefore have a constant pressure on me to make people laugh and get them annoyed at the same time.
“I have to set a good example for the children,” Amy – who is very hard to get angry, unless the word bitch is used – calmly replied.
Amy is a 33 year old free spirit, originally from just outside of Portland, Oregon who has taught in such countries as Costa Rica, Ecuador, and – as of next month – Puerto Rico. She had just finished the school year at the local Montessori school where she fits right in with the hippie political correctness. She provides a needed contrast to my sometimes violent and inappropriately perverted sense of humor. Presently she plopped down on one of the eight canvas camping chars that we have set up on the balcony across our two apartments.
“You look tired,” my sympathetic wife said over me to Amy. “Did you have to paint today?” Amy was trying to earn some extra money for her plane tickets to PR and therefore had agreed to help paint at her school with the slightly insane, Harley riding janitor. So far she had missed four of the first five days due to hangovers, heat, and just plain tiredness.
I didn’t pay attention to the rest of their conversation because it always returned to the same topic: children, and the taking care of them. Janis was also a teacher, but at the day care center for the scientists at the National Institute of Science and Technology in South Boulder. I busied myself with the new phone I had just gotten that afternoon. As I finished up my first Fat Tire and texted Parker to make sure he would be attending the book club meeting, I thought of how fun it is to get free stuff when not working. I had been unemployed for ten months, but Verizon had rewarded me anyway with a free phone- just for being a loyal customer. The truth was that my credit was so bad, even if I wanted to switch services, I couldn’t.
Parker informed that he would arrive shortly and I turned my attention back to the ladies; it was hard not to, they were sitting on either side of me. Presently, Janis was talking about a two year old who was fond of rubbing his tiny penis on her leg. I thought that I shouldn’t listen because I might be asked about it in court at some point, so I got up to get another beer.
“Either of you ladies want another beer?” I asked them in a slightly, still-trying-to-pis-Amy-off, condescending voice.
Janis said she did, but Amy paused to think about it for a moment, as she did about most things. “I think I’ll go buy a twelve pack,” she concluded.
I didn’t argue. Amy never has anything but the best intentions, always looking out for other people, and telling them how great they are when they need to hear it. If she had 50 cents to her name and you and her were both hungry, she would give you a quarter. However, she would also have no problem smoking all of your cigarettes or drinking your beer, so when she volunteered to buy beer, I added, “You should pick up some cigarettes too.”
She looked at me like a comment or negative reaction was incipient, swallowed with great force and said, “Yeah, I guess I should.”
“Hang on a sec and I’ll go with you,” Janis volunteered, and by the way she looked at me I could tell that she had intentions of putting some money down for the cigarettes. I was disappointed; I had spent the previous three years trying to teach her how to grub, but she just didn’t seem to be getting the hang of it. I shrugged, brushed away the wavy mess on top of my head, and went inside for another beer.
When I came out, the girls were gone and I decided to attempt another paragraph of the slowly progressing Paul Bowles book. Not even two words into it a door opened and the formerly red headed Jean popped out wearing jean shorts and a black and white striped shirt, with a tired look on her face. I didn’t want to hear about yet another person’s hard week of work, so I quickly began to talk about Amy and Janis going for beer. It worked and Jean turned towards me revealing – as almost every woman in Boulder did – her braless nipples. “Amy’s buying beer?,” she asked me with faux astonishment.
“And possibly cigarettes,” I told her.
Jean wasn’t in our book club for this particular book, due to her taking of summer classes, and therefore had made plans to hang out at a local happy hour with another of our neighbors- the nervous, catlike Alison from the other side of the building. We talked about the book we were planning on reading – Second Chance – and other various topics, including our sometimes gay sometimes straight, ten years younger than her neighbor that she had an on again off again crush on. Presently, it was off again due to her meeting another extremely annoying, lumpen fellow who had felated Herman. Jean was very open about her sexual conquests and horniness to her friends, but when we saw Parker’s silver Nazi sled pull into our parking lot the conversation ended. Jean and Parker had dated quite seriously for a number of years and – although still good friends – the relationship hadn’t ended too long ago; therefore a lot of the wounds were still fresh.
Parker – wearing tight blue jeans and an uncharacteristic nice white button down shirt – greeted us from the parking lot by holding up the twelve pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that he had left over from band practice the night before. We all smiled, rolled our eyes, and waited for the closer up hi’s to follow.
When Parker finally made it up the stairs and the fifty two feet to the east that led him to our sitting area, Jean stood up – staring eye to eye with him – and they embraced. Their embraces (given to each other with each hello and goodbye) were not just two friends saying hi, nor were they the hugs of lovers; they were closer to the type of relationship they had; in limbo. I got a handshake and a knowing look – knowing what, I don’t know but we tended to look at each other a lot like that – and Parker sat down next to Jean. As soon as I pulled my seat a bit to the left, in order to form a horseshoe so I could see both Jean and Parker, I was tossed a PBR. I quickly chugged my second good beer and cracked open the shitty beer I hadn’t drank since junior high. After seeing the disgusted look on the not pale but not colorful face of Jean, Parker didn’t even bother offering her one. She scoffed as she said, “I guess when you drink every night you have to drink cheap.” A new motto for PBR was born, meaning we would have to drink it more often.
While working on my second PBR another Subaru (at least a third of the parking lot – or any parking lot in Boulder for that matter – is made up of Subaru’s) pulled in to our newly paved parking area. It was our final guest for the evening, and another ex-boyfriend of Jean- Martin. Martin – obviously not as generous as Parker – came to greet us toting a copy of Second Chance and a brown bag containing two extra large bratwursts and the same amount of thick buns.
Martin stood barely over sixty two inches (Jean likes her men short) and exploded with nervousness. At twenty five years old (younger than all of us regulars) he was already a year into a career as an atmospheric researcher somewhere in Boulder. Although a bit on the nerdy side (the look in his eyes and excited stuttering that came out of his mouth when talking about anything scientific reminded me of the scientist from The Simpsons) he definitely fit in with the crowd, due to his drinking beer and smoking of marijuana.
Martin didn’t get the same hug that Parker did, but a hug he did get from Jean and handshakes from Parker and I. He nervously scratched his trimmed brown beard, glanced around, and then chose the seat in between myself and Jean.
Although the three of us get along, we all shot Jean a ‘please don’t go’ glance when Alison appeared downstairs on her bike – the closest she had come to any of the group, sans Jean, in weeks – ready to go have a drink. There I was, hanging out with Jean’s two most recent ex-boyfriends. They both seemed to look at me to start a conversation, so I asked for another PBR, trying to save the Fat Tire’s for when Janis got back, in order to not get yelled at.
As I cracked open the warm pis in a can, I checked my cell phone and found that Janis and Amy had been gone for nearly an hour. The liquor store was 2/10 of a mile away, but both Amy and Janis were two of the most indecisive people I knew, so I wasn’t that worried. I just wished they would hurry back because Amy knew both Parker (she had also dated him, before Jean) and Martin and is good at ending awkward silences. Somehow the topic got on religion, which – although fun to talk about at times – isn’t something one should discuss in mixed company (along with politics and anal sex). Martin is an Atheist, myself an Agnostic, and while Parker isn’t religious, he does believe in a higher power. I chose to start the grill and nervously fumble with my new phone as Martin and Parker debated – sometimes heading towards heatedness – the pros and cons of religion and faith.
Luckily it stayed respectable and mature, and before the fire on the grill had died down I heard the laughter of my wife. Seconds later both girls appeared. Two more twelve packs, a bag of chips, and another bag with corn and mushrooms appeared with them. I grabbed another Fat Tire – this time from Amy’s pack – a cigarette, and started a conversation about the lack of diversity in Boulder while the girls went inside to do stuff to the veggies.
Fifteen minutes later – as the conversation was slowly dying – the girls came back out with Janis’s famous Friday night bean dip and chips. We devoured the food, put chicken and Martin’s brat on the fire and began to talk about the book. It was a quick conversation, but by the time we were done, Jean had come back and Alison had slid back to the safety of her apartment.
Nearly two years previous, on one of our first nights in Boulder (before we had any friends) Janis and I had gotten a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi and, along with our laptop, sat on the balcony chain- smoking and trying to write a story together. We had seen many of our neighbors and even said hi to a few in passing, but there had been no lengthy conversations yet.
As I lit my fifth cigarette with the glowing red end of my fourth, a figure appeared in the distance. The first thing I saw were dreadlocks bouncing up and down on the top of a limping shadow. At the time I didn’t fully understand Boulder so I thought there was a black person – maybe even a Jamaican – coming over towards us. As the figure came into the light I saw that it was a white girl in her mid twenties, dressed like a hippie and with a slightly disturbed look on her face.
“Do you guys mind not smoking out here,” the neighbor curtly said, just as I opened my mouth to greet her.
I stared at her with a blank look on my face; trying to decide whether I should be true to my New Jersey self and tell her to fuck off or try to adapt to my new surroundings and apologize for my disgusting habit. Before I had the chance to make up my mind, she spoke again: “I asked the property company if they could put non smokers in this apartment.” She lived two apartments to the left of us. “They told me that you guys didn’t smoke and now I see that you do. The smoke travels all the way down to my apartment and goes into my window. It really bothers me…”
She went on like this for about five minutes, as Janis and I stared at her; and my wanting to apologize and make friends slowly dripped away. When she finished, I looked her in her squinty brown eyes, took a big pull of my Marlboro Light Menthol and – through the massive cloud of blue smoke – said, “sure” but made no effort to extinguish the half smoked cigarette. She held my glaze for just under ten seconds, saw I wasn’t going to put the cigarette out, breathed out deeply, and strutted away. Although we made an effort after that not to smoke when she was home or when the window was open, we never made friends with Mandy; even after we began to become popular.
After a year in Boulder, we took a drive across the country, finally coming back and ending up in the same apartment. About three weeks before our re-arrival back in Boulder, Mandy had bought a house in Longmont with her boyfriend and subleased her place to a Russian woman named Nadia and a flurry of other roommates, most recent a sitar playing doctor from India.
Back to the present; we had each gotten a nice buzz, eaten some good bar-b-qued food, and Parker had left for band practice, promising to return at 11 when he was finished. Just as things were starting to die down, we heard footsteps coming. The only people to ever pass our little hangout were Oscar and Herman; the sort of gay couple from next door. Since they were both on (separate) vacations, we all looked up in curiosity. Making a bee-line towards us was the infamous Mandy and her boyfriend/house mate Ted.
Jean’s nickname among us is the ambassador, due to the fact that she makes friends (or at least acquaintances) with almost everyone in the complex. Mandy – who had since changed her name to something I don’t know how to spell or pronounce – said hi and I decided to let the old grudge go (even though she appeared with a cigarette in her mouth).
Mandy had informed us that as of that morning the doctor had returned to India and Mandy had disappeared to chase some guy she had met from Oregon; therefore the apartment was empty and, since the lease was to run out in a day, they were presently at Cottonwood to clean up.
We all exchanged pleasantries; Mandy asking us how things were in Cottonwood since they left and us asking about her new life in their nice house in Redneckville. The conversation lasted all of three minutes and then they went to clean.
After all cracking open another beer and Martin deciding to leave in order to wake up early for his 19 mile hike the next day, we were bored and therefore decided to ask Mandy and Ted if they needed any help brining stuff down to the dumpster. I liked the idea of being friendly with the neighbors (something that wasn’t to familiar to me, growing up in New Jersey) so I led the four person train over to apartment twenty-four.
We were surprised to find an apartment full of things; as if someone still lived there. Mandy explained to us how Nadia was famous for doing things of that nature; just leaving everything she owned, sans a suitcase, and heading off somewhere to chase a guy. Usually she would reappear a few months or a year later, full of regrets.
“We’re just gonna take everything down to the dumpster,” Ted informed us, in a slightly Northeastern drawl. “So, if you want anything- feel free.”
Janis and I are both pretty big fans of free stuff; both receiving and giving it. When we had left Boulder the fist time, we sold most of what we owned for very cheap and what we couldn’t sell we just gave away to friends, neighbors, and other random people. We believed that it would come back to us, and finally – after living in an apartment decorated with just a dining room table, a bookcase, a bed, and three cushions on the floor – we were getting ours.
Two hours after offering our moving services, our apartment contained a year old purple futon, a coffee table, two end tables, a small lamp, a hanging lamp, a cheese grater, a knife holder, three water glasses, and a cowboy hat. Amy didn’t take anything, on account of her upcoming move to Puerto Rico, but Jean came away with a toaster and a few new pairs of pants; everyone was happy. As we were recounting our success over yet another beer and an ear of corn, Mandy and Ted walked by, thanked us and invited the four of us to a kegger they planned on having sometime in the upcoming few weeks.
Around midnight, after Parker had come back and Amy had done what she does on Friday nights after chugging a six pack (pass out on Amy’s couch, full beer in hand), Jean, Janis, Parker, and I sat outside and began to recap our evening. Just as I was about to point out what lucky people we were, we noticed a drunkly stumbling figure in the shadows walking towards our apartment. When we noticed it was Will, the old man from apartment 1 who wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to approach, we went back to our conversation.
Again, Jean was the only one of the four of us who had ever talked at length to Will, although we all (besides Parker, who didn’t live there) had greeting him in passing. Will is a slightly bald man in his mid fifties, with a medium build, and a constantly mischievous look about him who doesn’t talk much. He promotes shows at local venues and is therefore often seen coming home drunk at 4 in the morning, or being picked up by local band members. It is also rumored that he sells drugs (which would be a godsend) but this hasn’t been proven, and none of us have the intestinal fortitude to ask him.
“Hey!” we heard coming from below us. “Um… Lettts see, how many of your up there?” It was Will and he was quite intoxicated.
I counted in my head, “Four. There’s four of us.”
Suddenly a shower of tickets came flying up. We all got out of our seats, bent over to pick them up, read “The Radiators” (who none of us had ever heard of), and when we looked up to thank him, he was gone. He was a sneaky little guy – he would often leave a stack of tickets in Mark and Samantha’s door without telling them – but he was a sneaky guy who gave us free tickets, so none of us cared.
Laying in bed that night; feeling quiescent after giving my wife some special Joe loving, I thought about beer. I came to the decision that since the twelve bucks we spent on it resulted in us hanging out outside instead of reading a book or watching a movie, and therefore ending up with hundreds of dollars in free furniture and free show tickets, I would never go against my instincts when they told me to drink again. I didn’t tell Janis of my new plan because I wasn’t sure she wouldn’t see it the same way. Instead I grabbed her nipple, accepted her fist hitting me in the forehead, threw up over the side of the bed, and slipped into dreamland.