Susan and I had no real need to hitchhike back from the show, but we didn’t want to wait for the bus. We figured why not. We sheepishly stuck our thumbs out into the nighttime traffic with no real idea that we would be picked up. But a red sedan pulled up to the curb, and the driver shouted out something I couldn’t decipher, that sounded like an invitation, so I got into the passenger’s side back seat, while Susan slid around to the other side.
“Where you guys headed?” the driver asked.
I hadn’t foreseen this, had no knowledge of the local back roads, or main for that matter. Nevertheless, I pretended I had competence, knew the score, everything.
“If you just get us to 116, I’ll know where to go,” I said.
“Tell me where I’m goin,” he stated. “You guys live in Tilton Village, or what? You goin through there? You in college?” he lengthened and swallowed the vowel a bit, somewhere between a Boston and New York accent. I could smell the beer on his breath. He slurred his speech a bit, buzzed, I judged, not drunk.
“I don’t know where that is–Susie’ll look that up on her phone. If you just get us to 116, I know where to go from there.”
He drove through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Each house lit fluorescent orange with rounded hedges and small neat backyards and perfect driveways and grills. I stared out the window longingly, thinking of all of the lives I could live out in any one of those houses.
“Hey, Jeff, are we goin the right way?” he asked his companion in the passengers seat, who had been silent so far. Jeff nodded in assent. “116 north should be coming up in a mile or so.”
“Remember that place, Sam’s, we used to shoot pool at up here?” he pronounced it heah.
“Up on the left. We used to go there every Saturday night. With those cheap pitchers.” He turned toward the backseat, an idea forming. “You guys shoot pool? You guys sharks?”
“Yeah, I play.” I was crystallizing into having a purpose now.
“Let’s stop in there. We could run these tables, man! I can feel it,” he said. He was focused with an intensity on his vision, now.
He meant it. We pulled into a lot lit by halogen floodlights, where a neon sign hung on the side of a square, plain building, and the bar band noise emanating brought the skunk smell of cheap beer to my mind, even before we entered. All through he kept talking with that same obsessive repetition. “We could run this place, man. This is our night.” I identified with it. I didn’t drink, but at heart I was a drunk. He had his glow, his mania, and I wanted to bathe in it. I was hungry to feel with the bloodred intuition that he had in that moment. Susie and I followed him up the walkway.
Inside, the bouncer asked for our IDs. Our man of the moment, he was having none of it.
“These are my kids, and we want to have a nice family outing here.” The bouncer shook his head.
“Listen, I been coming here for years, never had a goddamn problem! We just want to get some food, have a nice family game time!” His eyes were slightly bloodshot.
The bouncer wouldn’t budge. Our guy looked puzzled. He knew what needed to be done, and they wouldn’t let him do it. He really didn’t seem to be able to process this information.
That moment was shot, flat. He drove us back to our college, even raced a pickup truck through a stoplight on the way back, but there was dead silence in the car. He dropped us off near the dorm and drove off.
I didn’t talk to Susan at all, and I didn’t walk back to my dorm. I just nodded goodnight, and walked back out the college entrance, onto the road, and kept walking, aimlessly. I would tell this story as a joke, the next morning. Drunk guy picked us up, tried to play pool with us. Asked us for drugs. But I really felt jilted. For a few minutes there, I had felt as if I had a window to step through to another world. It was like when I sometimes had the absurd urge to wander into a commuter train headed out of the city, and just wake up somewhere else. Start a new life, have breakfast in a chrome diner in one of those small towns where I knew no one, having these dry dead memories stripped and waking into something that had the green light of birth around it. It was a worthless aimless fantasy, but I had thought he would take us all the way.