After the Race

V

When you first walk in off the street, you have to hesitate for a moment. You have to give your eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, in spite of the fact it’s 11 O’clock in the evening. The streets outside are bright with streetlights and headlights and storefronts illuminating the Bowery. You never see stars in the sky the streets are so lit up with humanity and there are thousands of stars in the sky. Aren’t there at least thousands? Trust me, there are thousands of stars in the sky. I know. I’ve been around. I’ve been outside the City. It seems like there are always thousands of stars stuck on a never-ending black board begging for a child to connect the all the dots.

So anyway, when you first walk in off the street you have to stop. You have to stop inside the door, pay the cover and wait for your eyes and ears to adjust. The place is so dark and loud. People are screaming conversations at one another because the band on stage is explosive. They’re into ‘Abuse’ already and hundreds of people are packing the front of the stage cheek to cheek, singing along to the song, bouncing, dancing; rubbing bodies. Frank’s Museum is the best band ever to grace a stage, this stage, in spite of the others who’ve been signed, marketed and forgotten.

“What are we drinking?” Bill yells.

Bill is my best friend. Bill and I have been friends forever. I mean, we’ve been friends for a thousand lifetimes. He’s the best man at tomorrows wedding. There’s nobody like Bill. We’ve been through all sorts of shit together. We’ve been in fights together. We pushed each other through law school. Hell, we’ve shared girlfriends. I’m telling you man, Bill, is the best.

“Let’s just stick with the beer, man!” My voice is shot, gone; strained. This is our fifth bar and my last night as a free man. I can’t believe I’m getting flipping married, tomorrow. Bill thinks I’m crazy, but she’s a great girl. He knows she’s a great girl. He says I’m nuts to take the plunge, but I’d be a complete a-hole not to.

He hands me a beer.

“Ready?” He asks shouting.

“Who counts?” I scream.

“You!”

“One. Two. Three. Go!”

Bill, man. He’s the best. The fastest. He always gets that stinking mug back down on the bar nanoseconds before me. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how he pours a mug of beer down his throat as easily as emptying a cup of java down the sink. I never beat this guy. He’s great, man. He’s the best. There’s nobody better than Bill.

“What’s this?” Someone asks.

We turn. We look and let me tell y’, the two of us are nearly frozen sober. I mean, holy handball on Dekalb Avenue in the middle of winter. This chick is six feet tall and all legs. She has a short black leather skirt on and a pair of high-heeled black boots. Hell, this chick is wearing a collar around her neck. There’s a short leash dipping down into her breasts and what a set of breasts. She’s got a black top on that looks like it’s ready to rip. She’s that big, that full. My eyes are bugging out. I mean, I can’t get over this girl. She looks like she should be in the priciest strip club in NY, not a punk rock palace. Her face is like a porcelain doll. Her dark hair frames her face and her big green eyes are mystical.

“Racing,” Bill says.

“Racing?”

“Yeah,” I yell. “First one to slam an empty mug on the bar wins.”

“Cool,” she grins. “I’m buying.”

“Huh?” Bill says.

We never let anyone into the race. We’ve raced against others, but one at a time. We’ve beaten others, me losing once. In all the years we’ve done this, I lost once. Bill avenged. He kicked the crap out of the guy with what had to be his best time ever. I don’t know how he kept it down. We never let anyone in on our race.

We look at one another and then look at her.

“Buy,” Bill yells, slapping his hand on the bar grinning broadly. “Buy!”

She orders. The barmaid sets a mug down in front of each of us.

“Ready ?” Bill asks.

She nods. I nod. We both nod, together.

“I count,” Bill says lifting his mug. “Ready?”

“Count,” she yells. “Count!”

“One. Two. Three. Go!”

I had only three swallows of beer left when I heard the bang of a mug on the counter top. I looked at Bill and he was just pulling away from his mouth. This goddess beat us. She flipping beat us. She is still holding her mug on the bar when she puts her hand on her flat belly and unleashes the longest belch in creation. She puts two fingers to her lips, laughs and apologizes. I can’t believe this. Bill is stunned. He can’t believe this. This has never happened before.

“I want a rematch,” Bill says shaking his head in admiration. He orders another round. He’s pretty drunk. I’m pretty drunk. This chick is pretty gorgeous, but I don’t think she is drunk. She’s prettier than anything I have ever seen and I’m only drunk. I’m not shit-faced.

The barmaid lays down three more and we’re off. I can’t do it anymore. I got beer spilling back out of my mouth racing down my chin. It’s dripping onto my shirt and I’m trying to focus on Bill. Some guy grabs his shoulders as he nearly totters over backward in an effort to down the beer but the girl is done. She is done. She blows us both out of the water. My fiancée won’t even play. This girl belches a railroad train and she’s laughing all over again. She’s begging us to excuse her.

Bill is beaming with admiration.

“I want to marry you,” he says.

She grabs his hands and starts shouting over all the noise, all the talk, the laughter; the pulsating music. I can feel the music pulsing in my groin for god’s sake.

“I’m all yours,” she shouts. “But shouldn’t we go home first?”

Bills eyes are sparkling, staring at me as if he needs confirmation of what he’s just heard. His world famous cool collapses, fallen dead. He is suddenly beside himself and he doesn’t know what to do.

“My friend,” he yells. “I gotta get him home.”

“Hell,” I’m yelling back. “Put me in a cab.”

“Yeah,” she screams. The band is ripping through ‘Lover and a Friend.’ The guitarist is splitting me in two, but Bill is my best friend. He’s the best man at my wedding, man. He’s my buddy. I can see the band another time. I need to go home.

The three of us leave together. The three of us crawl into the back of a cab. She has a place in Alphabet City. The cabbie can drop them off in Alphabet City and take me on to Brooklyn. The cab pulls into the Saturday night traffic and she throws her hands around Bills neck, leans forward and kisses him on the mouth. She’s kissing him on the mouth and Bill is moaning, man. I never heard Bill moan before. Bill is the wicked witch of the west at the end of the Wizard of Oz. He’s flipping melting. He’s sinking into the back seat of the cab, totally blown away. This is the best thing ever. This is the best thing that could ever happen to Bill. I could see the man pledged to a life of bachelor hood falling out of the sky like a pebble blown out of Mount Saint Helen. Billy boy is floored. It’s love at first sight. This man has never had anything this hot in all his life. There’s no way he isn’t playing puppy dog with flowers and dinner and visions of life long bliss. This girl is gorgeous.

We get to the front of her apartment and she turns asking me if I want to come up and I do. I really do, but I have a fiancée and a wedding to go to tomorrow. I’m getting married tomorrow. Hey Bill, man, I’m getting married tomorrow. You got to be there, man. You’re the best man. You can bring. You can bring. What is your name?

“Sheila,” she says.

“You can bring Sheila.”

“I’ll bring Sheila,” he says pulling her out of the back of the cab. “You want to go a wedding, Sheila?”

Sheila never gets the opportunity to answer.

“I’ll bring Sheila. We’ll go dress shopping in the morning.”

She kicks the door closed and the cabbie pulls away with the three of us waving at one another through the back window.

Ah, Bill man. I can’t wait for tomorrow. I want to see this girl tomorrow. I want to ask Bill if she is even close to as good as she looks. She can’t be as good as she looks. Nothing in life can be that good. Look at the stars. Brittany. Angelina. Madonna. They can never keep a man. What does that tell y’? Huh? What does that tell y’?

The cabbie doesn’t have an answer. He drops me off at the front of my house and collapse on the couch. The next morning comes quickly. I’m hung over as all hell, but I’m getting married. I got places to go and things to do. I got Bill as my best man. Bill who probably had the greatest night of his life, last night and I don’t know who I want to see more: my beautiful bride or my best friend. Bill is my best friend. We’ve known each other for like a thousand years. There is nobody better than Bill.

Bill arrives alone. I can’t believe he’s alone. I can see the all-nighter all over his face. I mean he looked awful. He looked like he had some serious sex. He looked like she was even better than she looked.

“Well?” I asked I finally getting him alone. “Where the hell is she? Was she as good as she looked?”

“He,” he said, looking away. “He.”

We never spoke about that night again.