May 24, 2009

Why I Should Keep My Big Drunken Yap Shut


Morgan and I had been sitting at our end of the bar for a few hours. As usual. The music was decent that afternoon, the crowd around us sparse, and our man at the taps was on top of things. As usual.

            We were talking about something or another when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

            “Don’t worry,” the man behind the hand said, “I’m not following you.”

            Now, for the record, this is simply not the way to greet a blind man. Especially one with a known paranoid streak. And especially—I can’t emphasize this enough—especially one who’s drunk at the time. My guts went cold. I was tempted to swing on him out of reflex, but was frozen. One of the advantages to that bar is that no one knows us there, so no one bothers us. Not like the other places.

            To make things worse, I heard this guy sliding onto the stool next to me uninvited. I turned and stared in his general direction, but said nothing as my brain scrambled furiously to click the voice together with a name or even a vague memory. Nothing was coming up. Given how long I’d been sitting there, this wasn’t much of a surprise.

            Apparently noting the suspicion in my bleary eyes, the man finally spoke again. “Jim, it’s Adam.

            Even after that it took me a few seconds to run through all the Adams I’ve known in my lifetime before matching the voice.

            “Adam,” I said when I hit on it. “Jesus.”

            I hadn’t seen Adam in quite some time, though we’d been in touch. He hasn’t been in town much for the last few years. He’s one of those wandering political journalists, an intense, sharp fellow who’s always zipping around the globe chasing a new story or some exotic hallucinogen. Over the past five or six years alone, he’s spent time in Moscow, India, Mexico City, a few scattered places across the American South, and some uninviting locales in South America. He was just back from Peru, as it happens, where a gourdful of some holy concoction offered by some forgotten Indian tribe left him seeing legions of giant spiders and snakes. And the next day he was leaving for Tampa (which from what I’ve heard might have much the same effect on a person). That he happened to wander into that particular bar at that particular time was a sheer coincidence.

            On top of all the above mentioned things, Adam was also the last good editor I had at an old newspaper—until, as usual, he was bounced in a typically underhanded way.

            I’d always admired him—especially his ability to live out of a backpack, picking up at a moment’s notice to fly off to some godforsaken country or another while I stay here drinking.

            In short, once I knew who it was it was good to see him. As we chatted, it came out that he’d never been to that bar before, and was only there that day on account of the birthday party going on out back. He got himself a drink, and Morgan and I each got another.

            Then things took an uncomfortable turn. That birthday party in the back of the bar, he told us, was for a guy who apparently wanted to write a book about our old newspaper.

            Now, I’d been warned about this guy starting about a year ago. Rumors were going around that someone was contacting old employees, trying to interview them about their days there. Well, I had no interested in participating in anything like that. My own feelings about the paper were less than charitable (to put it nicely), and I knew from having been there and having seen some pretty outlandish things that anyone who tried to tell the real story would be looking at dozens of libel suits. Yes, they were crazy good days, but they were a long time ago, and they’d turned sour for a lot of us.

            Here’s what it boiled down to: if he told the whole truth about those days, he’d be sued into oblivion. If he didn’t tell the whole truth, then his history would be a boring waste of time. So why waste my own time contributing to something that was doomed from the start?

            Besides, if I wanted to share a few ugly stories about people behaving badly, I’d do it on my own.

            I kept that to myself, but when Adam asked if he could tell the guy that I was sitting at the end of the bar, I told him absolutely not. That seemed to be that, and we kept drinking. And drinking.

            Over time, other people stopped by: a friend of Adam, another guy who used to write for the paper, others whose memory vanishes in the yellow fog. At one point, however, I do remember Adam asking again if he could tell the book guy that I was there.

            I must have mumbled something that could’ve been interpreted as assent, because the next thing I know Adam was scampering off to the back. And then this guy in a party hat was standing next to me, shaking my hand and telling me in very excited terms about this book he has planned. More drinks arrived.

            I tend to run into two big problems when I drink with anyone other than Morgan, mostly because I get extremely uncomfortable talking to anyone other than Morgan. No matter how brilliant and insightful I become after a few, I realize in retrospect that I also become incredibly long-winded and boring, telling tedious stories that go nowhere, have no real point, and in most cases are unrelated to the conversation at hand. Either that or I become very agreeable, consenting to things I would never ever consider consenting to had I been sober. Sometimes both things happen, and I agree to things in a very tedious, long winded manner.

            Before I knew it, I was telling stories out of school and giving this hopeless chowderhead my email address.

            All of this only came back to me early the next morning, as I lay in bed, my head pounding and my guts in an uproar. It was in that physical state that I realized what a horrendous mistake I had made.

            More horrifying still, I remembered the man in the party hat’s final words to me before I slid out of my seat and Morgan led me to the front door:

            “And now at least I know where to find you.”

            I was swept with another wave of chills, but I’m not sure these had anything to do with the hangover.

            I decided right then that next time someone puts his hand on my shoulder at the bar and says “I’m not following you,” I’m going to punch him in the head before it goes any further.


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