“I REALLY CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH for agreeing to this,” Ginny said as she took Jonathan’s hand and led him down the flagstone walkway which traversed the soon-to-be wedded Travis and Gretchen’s well-manicured front lawn. “I know these get-togethers aren’t your cup of tea. Thank you for taking one for the team tonight, Teddy Bear. I promise I’ll make it up to you later on.”
Jonathan, clearing his throat and detecting a hint that sex could be in his immediate future – not the kind of sex he and Ginny had before they moved-in together, of course, but SEX none the less – nodded and replied, “It’s no problem, Gin. It’s fine. I just, you know, it’s nothing personal against your friends. They’re great and all… I just, you know, feel like I need a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax just to be around them sometimes.”
(That wasn’t actually true. It waspersonal, and it had everything to do with the fact that to Jonathan, none of Ginny’s friends were “great” at all. And that went double for Gretchen and her fiancé, Mr. What’s-His-Name. And he needed a whole lot more chemical assistance than a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax to handle being around them without wanting to blow out the pilot light, turn up the gas, and put his head in the oven.)
“I know, Teddy Bear,” Ginny replied, giving Jonathan her cute pouty face. To her Jonathan looked like a teddy bear. Well, a skinny, well-worn teddy bear.
“Especially Gretchen, fuck…” (Gretchen taught Second grade elementary school and tended to speak to everyone in that same slow, condescending, “talking down” manner that she used when she spoke to her students. She also listened to National Public Radio.)
“I know, Jonny. She can be a little uptight, a little condescending, but I’ve known her since Junior High and…”
“I know Gin, and I said it’s okay. Just, you know, point me toward the alcohol as soon as we’re through the front door and I’ll be fine.”
“Uh, there’s no drinking tonight, Jon. Travis, remember…”
(Jonathan did not, in point of fact, remember Travis, or What Travis Had Done, beyond a vague concept of “some guy who’s, uh, engaged to Gretchen, I think,” which he’d picked up from half-listening to Ginny when she spoke, ad-nauseum, about her friends while he smoked pot and playedDiablo III on the computer.)
“Gretchen’s fiancee, Jon! For Christ’s sake get it together! Fuck!”
“What’s wrong with…. uh, Travis?”
“Gretchen made him quit drinking… REEEMEMBER!? He was drunk at the recital and felt-up the mother of one of her students. She smacked Jonathan on his forehead, Ring a bell!?”
(That was actually the edited-for-content version of the story that Gretchen told her friends and family. It garnered her the sympathy she wanted from the unfortunate people who had to listen, and spared her the embarrassment of telling them the Gospel Truth, which was that Travis had taken the afternoon off work, had gotten obliterated at the bar before meeting Gretchen at the recital, and upon being introduced to the leggy blonde-with-the-Yoga-ass mother of one of Gretchen’s students after the show, he didn’t just “feel her up.” No, he had boomed, “Pleased to meet you, baby!” at her as he reached for her, grabbed her ass, kissed her, and while grinning wildly, rubbed his crotch up and down against her hip with the smirk of a randy schnauzer humping a pillow into a pile of tattered cloth and feathers.)
“Oh, yeah. Yeah! Travis…” Jonathan cleared his throat, “He’s uh, yeah, he’s in that Twelve Step Thing now, what was it?”
“Alcoholics Anonymous! Jesus Jonathan!”
(Ginny was losing her patience. She hated it when Jonathan wasn’t as present as she wished, and knew that he could be, if he wanted. But in her heart, she understood.)
It occurred to Jonathan that saying as little as possible from that point on was the best course of action to take considering the circumstances and what was at stake for later on, so he apologized and kissed Ginny on the cheek. Ginny smiled and thanked him once again, for coming along.
The house that Gretchen and Travis had mortgaged themselves out the ass for three months ago was sterile on the inside. To guests it looked as if happy, well-adjusted people lived there, at least at first glance. But upon closer inspection, Jonathan’s subconscious would discover evidence that the whole thing was painstakingly manufactured, down to the most minute detail. Feelings of extreme uneasiness would manifest themselves along with vague, but insistent inclinations that something just wasn’t right, here.”
Jonathan picked up on it almost immediately. He wasn’t attending a bad party with a rabble of people he’d rather not talk to anymore, oh no. It was so much bigger than that, now. It was as if he was a contestant in some kind of fucked-up television game show. “Gretchen smiles exactly the same way in every single picture I see her in,” he said. Indeed, in all fifteen of them on the mantle alone, Gretchen’s expression was identical – a big, toothy, brilliant-white smile like a shark who’d been seeing a Hollywood Dentist, the kind of Hollywood Dentist who only works on A-List celebrities. She was wearing different clothes in each photo, and she was surrounded by different scenery, but her face, and that smile, were identical in each one. “And ‘Mr. What’s-His-Fuck The Pervert Alcoholic’ looks terrified in every one of the photos he’s in. What the fuck is that about?”
Ding-ding-diiiing! Jonathan has just won round two, Ladies and Gentlemen, with another correct observation! Yes, Travis did look terrified. He was smiling in all the pictures, too, and that’s what made it so unseemly. Unlike Gretchen’s smile, which was a pantomime that had been expertly rehearsed over the years to express jubilation under even the most dire of circumstances, Travis’ smile came-off as forced and gave the impression that it was masking sheer terror. It was the way you smile in the pictures they take of you at the amusement park when you’re riding the roller coasters and you’re terrified of them. That’s how Travis looked in the engagement photos, all elegantly framed and prominently displayed on the credenza.
Time for round three! Will our contestant notice it? Is he gonna pick up on it, folks?
Jonathan meandered into the kitchen. “Christ, you could perform brain surgery in here,” he thought to himself.
A few of the guests had congregated by a large punch bowl on the center island. They took notice of him and acknowledged him with half-smiles. He returned the smiles in equally half-assed measure.
He stared at that kitchen for a long time. Then it came to him. “Nobody fucking cooks in here!” he blurted out, surprising the punch bowl crowd.
“This kitchen hasn’t been cooked in since it was fucking remodeled! I can still smell the paint!”
DING DING DIIIIING! We have a winner, Ladies and Gentlemen! Tell him what he’s won, Jimmy!
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Jonathan Weissman has just won a bowling ball made of depleted uranium! And he’ll be carrying that big fucker around with him in his stomach for the duration of the evening, feeling nauseated and uncomfortable! HA-HA! Back to you, Craig!”
It was then that Jonathan realized he was badly in need of a drink. Probably even many drinks. This wasn’t something that could be resolved by walking back out to the car, getting inside, smoking a joint and listening to Portishead on the stereo. Not by a longshot.
Jonathan peeked around the corner, into the Game Room. Ginny was standing by the big-ass TV, belting-out Livin’ On A Prayer into a plastic microphone, as the lyrics whizzed by on the screen, over an undulating tie-dyed background. She was accompanied by the always polo-shirted-and-khaki’d Sylvester, a guy Jonathan recalled meeting at a barbecue several months ago. Or was it the outing at Kennywood?
Jonathan was terrible at remembering exactly where and when he met uninteresting people. Jonathan sucked at all things having to do with uninteresting people.
He was keen, however, at determining whether or not Ginny was having a pleasant enough time at a social function to miss him if he vanished for a half an hour or so. And Ginny seemed to be having a blast at the karaoke jam which, Jonathan assumed, would only allow songs from a pre-approved and agonized-over playlist, decided-upon ahead of time by – you guessed it – Gretchen, herself.
Jonathan shuddered. He always hated Bon Jovi. He made his exit.
Though he hardly ever came to this neighborhood, he navigated the twists and turns and alleyways on the drive to the liquor store as if he knew the way by heart. Jonathan, who over-thought everything,paused to consider the idea that perhaps he knew, on some subconscious level, that he would be attending a dry party all along and with the
use of his most basic, primal mental faculties, was on the lookout for nearby liquor stores the entire way there that night; and he’d been mapping-out points of stealthy egress, and plotting the quickest routes, from the moment he and Ginny arrived. All without being cognizant of it until the moment he stood at the cashier’s station, paying for the two bottles of Bacardi 151 he’d selected.
“Jesus. Had I planned this all along?” he thought to himself. He dismissed the thought with a simple “Fuck it.” He paid, and left.
Jonathan didn’t approve of drinking and driving. At least, not most of the time. But it wasn’t difficult for him to rationalize breaking the seal on one of his bottles of high-octane rum, and gulping down three or four jiggers before buckling his seatbelt.
He grimaced and coughed hard after the mouthfuls of jet fuel hit his throat and then went tear-assing their way down his esophagus toward his stomach where they crashed, and subsequently exploded, into a fireball he could physically feel, way down there inside of him near his intestines.
He dismissed his reservations forthwith. “I don’t have too far to go, and I was sober when I got in the car. Fuck it.”
He swilled down two more mouthfuls.
His testicles clenched up a little bit.
Jonathan turned the key and his VW’s motor whirred to life. He paused again, considering, “Man, this must be what it’s like for alcoholics every single day, when they have to go to work, or funerals, or church picnics…”
It had never gotten downright unmanageable for Jonathan, not enough for him to consider asking himself The Tough Questions, at least not yet. That time was still ahead of him. But he had to chuckle to himself at the irony of his thought, as he shifted into reverse, looked over his shoulder, and backed out of the parking space. And with a flick of the shifter and a brief squeal of the tires, he was on his way back toward the party, one sheet to the wind, the other two on their way up the mast.
Jonathan arrived safely back at Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, but to his chagrin, the empty space he’d left by the curb in front of the house not more than twenty minutes earlier, was taken.
Humming along to Modest Mouse, he drove a little farther down the block, looking for a suitable place to park.
And it should be noted here that Jonathan had consumed two-thirds of his first bottle of Bacardi 151 on the drive back which, interestingly enough, allowed him to broaden his mind quite a lot when considering just what constituted a “suitable parking space.”
He brought his VW, affectionately nicknamed “Dubbs” by Ginny, to rest by a tall oak tree which resided on the front lawn of a house down the street – the middle of the front lawn. Jonathan thought nothing of it at all; the house remained dark. The homeowners either didn’t care or hadn’t heard all the noise. And he’d ceased thinking about it in the time it took to unbuckle the seatbelt, open the door, and step out onto the grass.
With his bottles of 151 in the pockets of his overcoat, he made his way back toward the party, whistling to himself as he walked.
After arriving, via slipping-in through the side-door that lead first into the mud room, which was spotless, and from there into the kitchen which was – you guessed it – still sterile and smelling of new paint, he made his way past a new group of punch bowl revelers, carefully and cautiously, so as not to appear drunk, and headed for the Game Room, to determine whether or not Ginny had noticed he’d been missing.
She had not.
He stepped in, and leaned against the wall (his legs had started feeling like spaghetti) and observed Ginny, sitting on the large couch next to Gretchen. She smiled at Jonathan and waved her hand a little at him.
He smiled back, shifted his weight away from the wall, pointed at her, grinned, and blew her a kiss.
Ginny peered back at him, quizzically, but before the physical symptoms of Jonathan’s intoxication could register, somebody handed Gretchen the microphone, and she stood up and interrupted the exchange saying, “Everybody, gather around! Travis and I are going to sing a duet. MMMHM, this is our favorite song, and ooh! OOOH! Somebody make a video of this so we can post it on our Facebook page!!”
The booze had somehow extinguished the little warning light in Jonathan’s head that would glow bright red any time he was about to say something stupid, so without thinking he blurted out, “You made your fiancé make a lame joint-Facebook page with you!” while pointing at Gretchen and laughing.
“OH Ha, Ha, Jonathan! All couples do that! Don’t they, TRAVIS?” Gretchen responded.
And she continued, “This is mine and Travis’s song, and we’re going to dance to it at our wedding, aren’t we, TRAVIS?”
Travis just stood there, by the TV, looking both embarrassed and defeated. Gretchen joined him, and he smiled that same, terror-masking smile, and put his arm around her.
The duet began. It was Truly, Madly, Deeply, by Savage Garden.
Jonathan winced, then laughed, and then laughed even harder, so hard he felt tears in his eyes, and in the thick of the laughter blurted out “OHHHH, MAAAAN! That song fucking SUCKS!”
Sylvester laughed. A few others chuckled, and Ginny leaped up from the couch and rushed at Jonathan like an defensive lineman and, catching him completely off guard, she maneuvered him into the kitchen while Gretchen, with her bone white shark smile, continued singing, never missing a beat.
“WHAT THE FUCK, JONATHAN! WHAT… THE… FUCK?”
“Uh… Heh…” Cough. “Whatthefuck?” Ginny wanted to know what the fuck was. “What the fuck what, baby?” Jonathan said, grinning and steadying himself on the center island.
“You just haaad to get drunk! Didn’t you? And how did you get drunk, Jonathan? You were sober when we got here and there’s no booze in this fucking one-point-five million dollar retarded house so what the fuck, Jonathan! How’d you get drunk?”
Jonathan pulled the almost empty bottle of 151 from his pocket, held it up, and said “Liquor store…”
Ginny snatched it from his hand, opened it, whacked-down the dregs, wiped her arm across her mouth, and said “You are soooo not getting laid tonight for this, Jonathan!”
Jonathan snickered, and then quietly moaned to himself, “Noooo…”
“Gretchen will never forgive me for this!” Ginny said, and then punched Jonathan in the arm. “You’re such an asshole sometimes!” And with that she stormed out of the kitchen.
Jonathan looked in no direction in particular and asked aloud, “I’M an asshole?”
Nobody answered. And moments later he was outside on the back deck, smoking a cigarette and replaying the events that had occurred moments earlier, trying to determine the precise moment in time at which he became “Such An Asshole.”
“Yeah, I probably am an asshole,” he muttered. “That was kind of a dick thing to say…”
“Yeah, man. That was a total dick thing to say,” a voice responded from out of nowhere. Somebody Jonathan barely recognized through the drunken haze had come out, just as he was talking to himself. The voice surprised him.
“Yeah, I guess it was…” Cough. “An I feel reeeal bad about it, man,” Jonathan said as he reached into his coat pocket for the other bottle of 151.
He opened it, took a gulp, and said “I, uh, I apologize you had to see me acting like an asshole, man. Here, lemme buy you a drink.” And he handed the bottle over to his new friend.
Without thinking the man took the bottle from Jonathan’s hand, and then paused, staring at it. He licked his lips and then winced- “Oh, shit! I, I really can’t, man, I have a sponsor.”
“AWWW SHIT MAN, sure you can! We’re all adults here. Drink up, Buddy. C’mon!”
“I need to call my sponsor right now!”
Hearing this, Jonathan began mincing around on the deck, flailing his arms, and mimicked him with a little girl’s voice, saying- “Waaaah! I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsooor, I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsoooooooor waaaaah!”
“Aww, Fuck it,” the man said and took two huge swigs. “Thanks, man. I fucking needed that.”
“No problem, chief,” Jonathan said and then staggered, asking, “What’d you say your name was, again?”
“Uh, it’s me, asshole, Travis. You know, the guy with the joint-Facebook page with his fiancée…”
Jonathan stood there, head cocked to one side, looking bewildered as Travis walked past him carrying his 151.
Jonathan really ought to get better about remembering who all the uninteresting people are, specifically, shouldn’t he?
“Oops…” Was the first thing Jonathan said. The second thing he said as the adrenaline hit him and immediately began to cause the rum fog to lift, was, “OHSHITFUCK!”
He stumbled toward the patio door, intent on finding Ginny and escaping with her before the shitshow (the one that he would no-doubt be held responsible for) began.
Once inside, Jonathan searched for Ginny frantically. She wasn’t in the Game Room, where Penny and Howie Marsh were warbling Friends In Low Places together. And she wasn’t among the partygoers in the kitchen, either. Travis, on the other hand, was in the kitchen, chatting-up Sylvester’s girlfriend Kaye, and she did not appear to be
amused. He had the bottle in his hand and half of it’s contents were already gone. Travis’s face was bright read, and his smile didn’t look forced at all. It looked maniacal, honest, and heavily shored-up by alcohol.
Jonathan tilted his head, watched, and gave the image time enough to let the gravitas of it sink in. “God, he looks really happy,” he thought as he watched Travis, his face
split in half by a the kind of grin you normally only see on Jack-O-Lanters, reach to Kaye and grab her breast through her shirt. Kaye gasped but Travis didn’t balk.
Jonathan’s mouth gaped. “Oh my God, oh my fucking GOD!” he thought as Kaye threw her drink at Travis and gave his face a slap that was hard enough to replace his grin with a look of astonished bewilderment at what he could have possibly done wrong.
“What’s the matter Kaye? You’ve got some great after-market tits!” Travis shouted after her as she fled the kitchen. “They’re great, aren’t they?” he asked to the guests hovering around the center island. They hadn’t seen what happened. Not many people paid much
attention to Travis, some because they had trained themselves not to.
Jonathan tried the living room next, but Ginny wasn’t in there, either.
He headed upstairs, damn-near toppling two female guests who were on their way up to use the bathroom (the downstairs bathroom was occupied). He reached the landing and heard Ginny laughing. She was in the master bedroom with what sounded like Gretchen and two others, admiring the new bedroom furniture that Gretchen’s father had recently given to them. Jonathan burst into the bedroom and Ginny regarded him with surprise. He was pale and sweating. He didn’t look drunk anymore at all. He looked like he’d just seen his dog get hit by a car. He grabbed Ginny by the arm and pulled her out of the master bedroom. In tow, she protested, “But Teddy Bear!”
“Gin there’s no time to explain right now we just have to getthefuckout! We have to leave right now!”
They were half-way down the stairs, and Ginny was still pleading “But Jonathan, Gretchen was going to show us the walk-in closet!”
“We gotta go right now Ginny, shit is totally FUCKED!”
“WHAT’S FUCKED, JONATHAN? WHAT’RE YOU JABBERING ABOUT?”
“Travis is getting hammered, and he just grabbed that chick who Brown Khakis is fucking’s tits, and it’s my fucking fault and we have to go RIGHT NOW!”
“GOD DAMN IT JONATHAN. YOU REALLY ARE AN IDIOT! YOU KNOW THAT?”
“I know I know I’m SORRY Ginny. C’mon!”
Gretchen and her two friends had followed Jonathan and Ginny after their abrupt exit. Gretchen was frantic on the inside but she did not betray her cool, almost stoic exterior, even as the series of horrible things that could be occurring downstairs looped through her mind like a Domestic Disaster Highlight Reel From Hell. Had someone spilled punch on her new carpet?
Had the downstairs bathroom flooded?
Did she remember to close her internet browser on the computer downstairs and clear the history, and if not, were ten or elven of her closest friends having a laugh at the lesbian fem-dom bondage porn she had been looking at?
Did Snickers, their labradoodle, piss all over the couch?
Was Travis behaving inappropriately toward some of the party guests?
“Whatever was going on, Jonathan had to be responsible for it,” Gretchen decided during the five seconds it took her to descend the stairs after them.
Her two bewildered friends followed her because it was 9:45 on a Saturday night and they were still sober.
Once downstairs, Gretchen observed an angered Ginny telling Jonathan that he was an idiot while he appeared to be rifling through the coat closet. She moved in their direction in long, deliberate strides, smiling only enough to make her words slow and marginalizing. “Jonathan, I want you to tell me what’s going on, right now, please.”
Only that’s not really what she was saying at all. Oh sure, that’s what the words sounded like when Jonathan heard them, but he knew that what Gretchen was reallysaying probably sounded a lot more like – “Jonathan you drunk little fuck-weasel, I know you’ve donesomething and I’m going to cut off your balls and stuff them up your ass for it! Now tell me what you did, you little shit!”
Jonathan, now pouring sweat, was in the middle of stammering “I, I, I’m so sorry, Gretchen, I fucked up!” when a crescendo of groans and mortified EWWW’s emerged from the kitchen and stopped Gretchen in her tracks.
The groans and grasps were followed by “Oh God! Travis, for heaven’s sake!” And then, “Travis what the hell are you doing! Are youdrunk?”
That was enough to turn Gretchen’s attention and anger away from Jonathan and direct them toward the kitchen. And in those same long, deliberate strides, she hurried there, determined to get to the bottom of just what, exactly, had happened, and whether or not Jonathan the Drunk-Little-Fuck-Weasel was responsible.
And what greeted Gretchen, when she arrived in the kitchen, was a scene almost impossible to relate second-hand in stories told around office water-coolers or in coffee shops among friends, and do it any justice. There, before her, was Travis, standing proudly on top of the center island, his pants and his boxers bunched around his ankles,
gulping down rum straight out of the bottle while pissing merrily into the punch bowl, as their friends gawked at him the way people normally gawk at a train wreck or a collision on the highway.
Gretchen folded her arms, regarded Travis with a curt “MmHM,” and then said, in her elementary school voice,”Travis, the punch bowl is notfor peeing in. Now pull up your pants, put you winkie away, and follow me into the den, please.”
The word “winkie” in reference to a grown man’s flaccid member made Sylvester snicker, though he tried his hardest to muffle it.
Jonathan, who along with Ginny had made his way to the kitchen in time to view the damage he’d caused, once again heard what Gretchen was really saying, “Travis, you piece of shit! Get your ass into the den rightfuckingnow. I am going to fucking KILL YOU.”
He braced himself against the wall with his hand and laughed.
Ginny took him by the arm and pulled him back, in the direction of the front door. She forced an awkward smile and quipped, “We’ve had a great evening, but we have to get going,” and then she dashed with Jonathan out of Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, acknowledging to herself that her idiot domestic partner may have just ended any shot
she ever had about having a normal social life with her friends and colleagues. “You are such an asshole, Jonathan,” she growled at him as they dashed across the front yard. “and where’s the fucking car?”
Jonathan stopped short, waved an out-stretched hand in the general direction of where he’d left Dubbs. Then he doubled-over and threw up on Gretchen and Travis’s front lawn.
“Hey Gin, at least I didn’t throw up on their new carpet…”
Ginny shook her head and gave a small but none-the-less audible giggle.