He was taller than I thought. Then again, the only time I'd ever seen him he had been sitting down. Sitting on one of the couches at Gooch's, with his arms around Sash. She had been practically sitting in his lap while they had a big open-mouthed make-out session. But it him for sure, only twenty feet away, lining up a shot on the pool table: the douche-bag with the handlebar moustache.
I took a long slug of beer. How easy would it be to pick up a pool cue and go Begbie-from-Trainspotting on him? Break the cue across his back and then put the boots to him before he even knew what was going on, put him in the house of pain where you don't understand what's happening or why, you just scream because you're in too much pain to beg...
I think my eyes had glazed over while I considered going ape-shit on the guy. Dude? Eric? Nick, the kid from my English class was looking into my line of sight. You okay?
Yeah. Sorry. I spaced out for a second. I pointed at Handlebar. You know that guy?
He looked over. You mean Jed? With the moustache and vest?
His name is Jed? What is he, a f--king hillbilly?
No, he's cool, Nick said. I see him all over the place. He's an art scene guy. He's like, an artist and musician, kind of a Renaissance Man type, you know?
Not really, I said and kept watching as Jed took his shots on the pool table. But I'm from a pretty small town. Where I'm from, a Renaissance Man is a guy who drinks beer, smokes dope, and still plays hockey.
Nick laughed. Cool.
I started looking around for Sash. I figured if Handlebar Jed was here, then maybe she would be too. A sickly feeling crept up through my guts at the idea. I wondered what she would think if she came out of the bathroom to find me beating the black and blue shit out of her new kissy-man.
I set my empty beer bottle on the table. I'm going for another one, I said to Nick. You staying here?
He took a look at the guy and two girls sitting with him in the booth. They were all leaning together while the guy explained why mixed martial arts was a respectable sport like any other. The girls weren't having it, and Nick didn't look interested in the whole matter. He got up. Yeah, I could use one too.
We went down the stairs to the broad bar area. My eyes went everywhere through the crowd, trying to spot Sash. I couldn't see her anywhere. There were a lot of hot girls around, but I didn't really care. I didn't want to talk to any of them. My heart had been broken, and as far as I was concerned, the ladies couldn't be trusted.
We each got a beer from the bar and said cheers, clinking bottles and drinking. Then we just drifted through the crowd, ending up down around the empty dance floor. I was trying to enjoy myself, but at that moment I didn't like being in the bar. I suddenly didn't like being in Garrison Valley, either. Everything, even my ridiculous living conditions had been tolerable when I had a girl. Now, I didn't see the point in any of it.
The Killers came on the sound system. I recognized the song, Mr. Bright Side. Nick and I looked at each other and each shrugged, as if to say, Yeah, not bad.'
Suddenly a dude appeared on the dance floor. I looked: it was Jed. I shook my head. Aw, f--k.
He slid into the very center of the floor where everyone in the bar had a view and started dancing. It was very campy, dramatic, interpretive dancing, and he lip-synched the words as he moved, acting out the song. Then the perfect word occurred to me: he was a hipster. He had gone as far as you possibly can go as a hipster: vest over T-shirt, handlebar moustache, overly sincere and therefore ironic dancing to an ultimate hipster band.
And me? I didn't give a shit about clothes, style, being cool, or looking hip. My only real talent was beating people up, and it was something I was not proud of.
Of course Sash would rebound off me to a guy like him, because we were perfect opposites. He was the Anti-Eric and I was the Anti-Jed. Everything about us was reverse, even our look. He was tall, probably six foot one, but he was skinny, with a long, thin face, and his hair all teased up. It was tall too, but everything about me was blocky. Not fat, just big. Like an oaf. He was a hipster. I was a thug.
I knew that I could destroy him if I wanted to. I could grab him in the middle of the dance floor and absolutely hammer the hell out of him with everyone in the bar watching. But that would just reinforce my negative self-image, wouldn't it? It would tell everyone on campus that I was just a stupid, violent bully.
Nick nudged me with his elbow and shouted over the music: You don't like that guy, do you?
I decided I should keep my violent thoughts to myself. What makes you say that? I shouted back.
It seems pretty obvious. You called him a hillbilly before. And you're staring at him like you want to kill him.
I shrugged. I don't even know him. To change the subject, I told him that I was starting a band.
That's cool, he said, shouting. What are you going to call yourselves?
No name yet, I shouted back. We're just starting. We don't even have a drummer.
He nodded. I'm a music freak, he said. I've been looking for a way to get involved in the scene here, such as it is. I'm not sure how, though. I don't play anything.
I nodded. We both watched Jed dancing. By the time the song ended there were ten good-looking girls dancing around him. Sash wasn't around, and he obviously wasn't looking for her. All the chicks were clearly into him, and I was pretty sure he could have his choice at the end of the night. He hugged a few of the chicks, talked to a few of them, and came off the floor.
He was heading right past us, but he stopped when he saw Nick. Hey man! he said cheerfully. How's it going? He didn't look at me, and I wondered if he knew who I was.
Good, said Nick. How are you?
Wired, man, Jed said, widening his eyes. I haven't slept in two days. I'm so jacked up on caffeine though, I don't know if I'll even sleep tonight.
Heavy, Nick said. Hey, this is Eric. Eric, this is Jed.
Hey. Jed's eyes were big and bright and enthusiastic, and he offered me his hand to shake. I thought about doing the bone-crusher shake, but I didn't bother. On one level I felt like I was being very mature, but I felt like a sap. I really wanted to kill him.
Eric is starting a band, Nick said.
Cool, Jed said. He started to say more, but it was hard to hear him over the Madonna song pounding through the stacks at the corners of the dance floor.
You drinking? Nick shouted to Jed, pointing to his own bottle of beer.
Jed nodded and mimed doing a shot. The three of us wandered back up toward the bar, leaving the girls to dance to their Madonna.
As we waited for our turn with the bartender, Jed turned to me. I'm looking to get a band started too, man. What kind of music do you play?
I shrugged. Just, you know, rock.
Cool. You know what I've been getting into lately? he said, not talking specifically to me. He seemed to talk as though everyone around were listening. Prog. Progressive rock, like King Crimson and Zappa, and all that crazy shit. Like, the shit where everyone uses really extravagant sounds with lots of guitars and keyboards and loops and really long songs where you can just go on and on with crazy solos. Really explore. Take it as far as it can go, you know what I mean?
Sounds cool, Nick said. Like Pink Floyd and stuff?
Sounds like bullshit to me, I said. It sounds... What's the word? Self-indulgent. Like masturbation.
Nick looked at me strangely, but Jed laughed and pointed at me excitedly. Yes! Yes, that's it exactly! Isn't it hilarious? Just ridiculously self-indulgent. Like, even with costumes and stuff.
No, that's not for me, I said. I don't want anything fake.
He shrugged and gave me a goofy grin. All art is fake.
We got up to the bar. Jed was standing in the middle between Nick and me. He had somehow taken over as the impromptu alpha of the three of us. Well, boys? he said. Shooters?
No, I said, but thirty seconds later there were three shots of something creamy and pink on the bar in front of us. Jed toasted and we drank them down. It tasted like bubblegum. What a waste of four dollars.
We got fresh beers. What instrument do you play? Jed asked.
I'm learning bass.
Cool. I play everything, man, he said, twisting the corner of his handlebar moustache. Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, harmonica. I used to have a mandolin. Shit, I've even got a trumpet. I just love instruments.
I sneered and shook my head. What a wanker.
His face went blank. Nick made an angry face. Eric man, don't be rude.
No, it's cool, Jed said, and he leaned closer to me with a completely earnest look on his face. What do you mean by that, Eric?
It just seems like a poseur routine, dude, I said. Oh, I play all these instruments and I'm into prog music and I want to play ten minute solos and blah, blah, blah. Even the moustache. It all seems really phony.
I'm sorry you feel that way, he said. I figured since you're in a band you would be interested in talking about music, that's all. I wasn't trying to brag. I'm sorry if that's what you thought.
Come on, man, I said, scoffing at him. Costumes? Seriously?
Music is supposed to be fun, man. Sure, costumes. Why not?
I shrugged. Still sounds like bullshit to me.
Jed shrugged sadly. Well, I guess you're better than me then, was all he said before turning and walking away. Nick gave me a dirty look and followed him, leaving me standing alone in the busy bar.
Well, that was it for me. I had a full beer in my hand, so I took a long, long drink and tried to get rid of it quickly. I didn't want to be there anymore. All around me, friends were talking, and people were moving to the dance floor. Girls who had come inside from the cold had removed their jackets, showing off firm young bodies in tight outfit's and short skirts. I didn't want to see them. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
I did a slow walk toward the exit, taking gulps as I went. The last of the beer went down just as I reached the coat check. I got my jacket on and stepped out into the cold.
Outside I got a cigarette off some kid. I used his lighter, thanked him and walked off into the night. People passed me, heading toward the bar. I sucked on the cigarette. It was nasty, but I was in a foul mood, so I wanted something foul. I just couldn't stop thinking that I had done my absolute best to piss off and offend the only people in the place that had been interested in talking to me. And why?
Because my stupid masculine pride would not allow me to be nice to someone who happened to kiss a girl who had previously been my girlfriend. I thought about how stupid I was while I smoked the cigarette and walked home through the lightly falling snow.
2009 Nolan Whyte