“Knock ‘em dead, killer!” Cake Woman advised when we chatted before Paul’s party. Maybe that vote of confidence was all I needed to almost flirt with a half dozen ladies. You saw the pictures — aside from the first couple of women who were dressed as Minnesota sports players I was barely creepy at all.
The next night Lisa made a big deal about the three single women who would be showing up. I made a big deal out of my own terror over throwing parties and threw responsible drinking off of the deck along with the screen door. I had promised Cake Woman that I would protect her during the party. She doesn’t like people and parties make her nervous. I didn’t protect her. I feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty about staggering around my own party and blacking out my foosball losses.
The punchline for that party is perhaps the best part, and telling it leaves the door open for me to trickle out anecdotes involving things that I had to be told happened. My mom’s husband asked how we liked the jugs of microbrewery beer that he had left, and I confessed that I drank and enjoyed most of the Cragg, and drank but did not remember the Diablo beer. Even my mom laughed. Lisa spilled the punchline before my mother gave haircuts to Stan and I, so I had to tell the story. Honestly, it’s not that interesting — just the sort of minor argument that winds through a party like a tapeworm.
Somewhere in the darkest part of the party night, my boss Zach and his friends arrived. I swear that he brought as many people as Lisa or I — certainly more than I had directly invited. Before he arrived, he asked if they should bring beer. I said no, but joked that if they had beer in the car it might not be a terrible thing. I don’t remember ever running out of beer at a party, but I was not about to start now. When Lisa and I used to smoke, we would put out a carton of cigarettes in candy dishes, and we definitely ran out of those.
By the time Zach showed up I was drinking Octoberfest as quickly as I could pour it into my “Our Beer Must Be Good” glass. If you haven’t seen the glass that my mom bought me, it features a naked pinup lady, as though high quality beer causes women’s clothing to evaporate. In my experience, this is not true. I have experienced evaporated clothing, but the clothes were mine, and it turned out that I had merely stripped down naked in the living room before carrying a woman to her bed. The next morning when the room stopped spinning long enough for me to stand up, I exclaimed “what happened to my clothes, did they evaporate?”
Yes, I have made that mistake when drunk, and even when sober. Even more surprising is that other people have made the same mistake with me. When I was thirteen I knew with firm resolution that I would never date any woman. At seventeen I got an unsolicited phone call from a girl, whom I dated and promptly scared away by having absolutely no idea how to relate to a woman in a high school relationship. Things ended badly — or at least weirdly, but she had broken the seal that had imprisoned me.
On the party night Lisa’s friend scolded me for wearing a baggy shirt and told me that I looked much better than I had in photographs from a couple of years before. I don’t remember her leaving, but even I remember rambling on for too long about my magical weight loss methods involving pizza and beer. Probably not cool, but it was my party to wreck — at least partly.
After Zach tried to tell his “scariest story ever told” I found my way inside, where I found Cake Woman taking her knapsack and trying to leave the house. I told her not to leave. I begged. I pleaded. She said that there was no way that she could stay and not seem like an asshole. I sat down. She walked out the door. The whole room looked at me. I sighed, rolled my eyes, took a gulp of beer and stormed outside. I begged some more and told her that if she stayed I would throw everyone else out. Aside from Paul and Zach, Cake Woman was the only guest that I really wanted there anyway. Paul had left for a better party and Zach was trying (but failing) to catch up to my own hideous drunkeness. We argued, and finally I asked “if you go, can I come with you?”
“Get in the car then.”
I swallowed the rest of my beer and set my glass on the lawn. As we pulled away from the curb, I looked down at my bare feet and wiggled my toes.
On the way to Anoka Cake Woman smoked an impossibly long Virginia Slims Extra Menthol Light (or whatever the hell it was). I put one in my mouth and got the filter all wet.
“Take that out of your mouth. I’m not going to let you smoke.”
I didn’t take it out of my mouth, but I didn’t smoke it. I didn’t even want to light it, I just wanted to be funny ol’ Jesse, always quick with the pratfalls and jokes.
The world outside the car was a blackened tunnel. Highway 10 slid by beyond the focus of my eyes. It narrowed to a lane and a half for construction, and then we were spit out onto an exit. My feet were pale against the cold asphalt of the parking lot, the industrial carpet of the stairs, and the spongy carpet in Cake Woman’s apartment. I pulIed off my shirt. I passed out on Cake Woman’s bed against the wall.
The next morning I woke up alone next to a woman. She was alone too. Neither of us had moved from where we had fallen. We hadn’t touched during the night. I wasn’t even under the blanket.
And that’s how I woke up in Anoka with no shoes.