Puked so hard, my hemorrhoids came back.
Woke up with a beautiful woman crashed out in the living room on my couch. I think her name was Meeka. But I’m not sure. I texted 3-managers I work with at 5AM to see if someone could cover my shift. There was no way I was going to be opening Max’s Deli on New Years Day.
Don’t know who covered my shift. Don’t care. I even texted my brother. On average, I flake out once a year. So I used my Flake Card on the first day of 2014. Fair enough. Now it’s easy, all I have to do is be consistent. That’s an easy trick to pull off, unlike being a sexy puker.
I tried being a sexy puker, meaning I tried not to cry.
The last thing I wanted to do was wake up Meeka. I tried getting dressed, so I could make my way to the living room and offer her a ride home. But I was so sick, all I could manage to do was stumble onto the floor next to my bed. Meeka walked into my room. She plopped down on the bed. She laid there for a few minutes. Finally, she asked, “Why are you lying on the floor?”
I took up her invitation.
We slept. She crawled on top of me. We slept. I flipped her over and snuggled in. We slept. She spooned me from behind, calling herself my “jetpack.” We slept: hands interlocked, face to neck, her hair filled with the sweet scent of fireworks.
I made coffee as Meeka sat by the window, watching Lake Michigan transform into the tundra. The first day of the year looked like a dream. “That’s how I’ll know I’m dead,” I said. “I’ll be walking along the tundra. When I break through the ice, it’ll feel like a warm hug.”
It felt like a dream, her beautiful silhouette in the window mixing with snowfall mixing with fog mixing with birds shooting across the sky mixing with the smell of coffee mixing with the endlessness of heartache.
It’s not poetry. It’s not meant to be poetry. But some moments slow down, you know they’re going to stay with you, even though you don’t know why.
We met in the unlikeliest place, a dive bar in Edgewater called Sovereign. After a few bottles of red wine and a few pounds of crab legs, Sovereign felt like the perfect place to bring in the new year. Nothing eventful happens at Sovereign, which is the perfect offset to all of the bravado surrounding the countdown between years.
Plus, from where I live, it’s walking distance in a snowstorm.
On first sight, Meeka was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen: curious eyes, boundless energy, quick to pluck a joke from the flow of conversation. After a few drinks, after a few shots, I invited her to brave the tundra so we could taunt the new year from my balcony, shooting off fireworks, overlooking Lake Michigan.
Meeka passed out in the living room on my couch.
Before leaving Sovereign, she made me pinky-swear there’d be no sex, “I don’t know you,” she said. “You could be a serial killer. I’ll go home with you. But pinky-swear…no sex.”
“Pinky-swear,” I said. “No sex.”
I didn’t mean it. I couldn’t mean it. There’s no meaning, or contractual obligation inherent in a pinky-swear, which is precisely why it was the sexiest thing a grown ass man could honor. When Meeka passed out in the living room on my couch, instead of carrying her to my bedroom, I draped her with a blanket, then made the walk of shame to the bedroom, alone.
Sleep mixing with bed spins mixing with text messages begging off an opening shift at Max’s Deli mixing with the endlessness of blue balls.
After puking, after coffee, after showering, Meeka invited me back to her place. She had a friend who needed her bangs trimmed. We met her friend back at Meeka’s place. She trimmed her friend’s bangs, changed her clothes and then put a hat on her own messy head, refusing to shower, on principle.
I adhere to that principle. Why shower on your day off?
She sent out a mass text message on behalf of all day drinkers, then off we went to Picos, across the street from Sovereign, for brunch. Before coffee was poured, before eggs were cracked, before blueberries were added to the pancake batter, shots were poured, by a bartender who knew Meeka by name. Everyone in Picos knew Meeka by name. I’ve heard the concept of “hair of the dog,” where you get rid of your hangover by drinking, first thing in the morning. But I’d never tested the theory.
2014, day one, 11-hours into day one, I’m proud to report, the theory works, especially if you pound Fireballs, which are the shot equivalent of a Cinnabon. Fireballs lead to Mimosas, Mimosas lead to coffee, which is where I firmly parked myself, on coffee, trying to regain a sense of who I was in this new year.
Meeka went out for a cigarette. She invited me. I declined. When she came back to the bar, she cocked her head to one side and said, “Feels like you’re judging me instead of joining me.”
“I’m right here with you,” I said. “How can I judge? Not when I’m sitting next to you on a barstool. You don’t judge people on adjacent barstools. I’m clumsy when it comes to manners. But even I know better.”
4PM, we braved the snow to slide across the street to Sovereign. The previous night, in the previous year, when I accepted the terms of her pinky-swear, and she agreed to join me for fireworks on the balcony, Meeka had forgotten her disposable camera at the bar. She wanted to see if someone found it, so we could get the pictures developed.
Everyone in Sovereign knew Meeka by name. She got the camera. We braved the snow to slide across the street to CVS. But it was going to take a week to get the pictures developed. As the technology shifted from disposable cameras to iPhones, CVS had smartly let go of making a nickle on instant processing.
Annoyed, Meeka insisted we brave the snow to Walgreens. Unfortunately, Walgreens is CVS with a fresh coat of paint but the same business savvy when it comes to instant processing. They required a week. At this point, Meeka lost interest in the scavenger hunt for instant processing, so we left the disposable camera and made our way back to Picos, sliding along streets, sliding along sidewalks, declaring war on each other with missiles made of fluffy snow.
She stayed outside to smoke a cigarette, while I made my way back to the bar. In the middle of another Fireball, Meeka jammed snow down the back of my shirt, rubbing in the snow, as well as the victory.
7PM, we ordered dinner, ribs mixed with mashed potatoes and corn. Meeka insisted the mashed potatoes and corn be on the same side of the plate, so they could be easily mixed. In her estimation, it was too far for the fork to travel, and needlessly inconvenient, to have mashed potatoes on the opposite side of the plate from corn.
Her observation was astute, in the realm of day drinkers.
This is not a realm I occupy, which leads me back to another astute observation she made earlier, when Meeka said it felt like I was judging instead of joining her. I can’t help it, the realm of day drinkers isn’t a realm I’m fascinated with, not anymore, not after owning Joey’s Brickhouse, a bar on Belmont between Southport and Racine, across the street from numerous regional theaters, where I had to make peace with the fact that as a bar owner, I was really a glorified drug dealer.
Sure, alcohol is legal. Sure, we tell ourselves bars are just bars, places to cut loose, social gathering spots. But I stopped telling myself that after watching one customer after another, one waitress after another, one aspiring regional theatre actor after another, destroy themselves with Jaggerbombs.
11PM, I got up to leave. Meeka said she was going to hang out for a minute. I said, “Don’t kill yourself hanging out.” She cocked her head to one side and said, “That’s exactly how I want to die, hanging out.”
I thought about the fog. I thought about her walking into the fog. I thought about the tundra. I thought about me breaking through the ice, only to feel a warm hug shatter my expectations.
I forced a smile. And walked out of Picos.
Walking up the street, I heard footsteps over my shoulder, rapidly approaching, sliding. Before I could turn around, from behind, Meeka white washed me. I could tell she wanted me to ask for her phone number. My face stinging from the cold, I reached out, hugging her long, hugging her hard, hugging her with everything I had.