This one was written on my phone while trying to get other writing done, sitting in the White Horse in San Francisco. Originally published as a Facebook status update on March 31, 2016.
Two friends sit opposite me in the bar, each with a beer before him, me with a burger and this screenplay I’m editing, some unknown country star on the radio, or maybe Wilco. Assuming radios anywhere are still playing Wilco.
“How is the gallery?” Handsome Friend asks.
“Not bad,” answers Other Guy, “I sold Derek’s painting,” and Handsome Friend nods. He remembers Derek and he remembers that painting. He remembers thinking “that’ll never sell,” but it did, friend, it did and now Derek’s on his way and we’re all sitting here thinking about Bernie vs. Hillary vs. Donald.
“My girlfriend is obsessed with Bernie,” Other Guy tells nobody in particular, just looking to stop discussing Derek’s unexpected and still relatively natal reign of success.
“My boyfriend is too,” says Handsome Friend, “but my dad is so pro-Hillary I have to keep them separated. Of course mostly he just wants Trump to eat a big dick because if he wins like, there goes the farm.” He literally means “the farm”. His father owns a weed plantation in Mendocino, but on his taxes it says “winery.” It’s a variety of deception he believes only a Democrat could live with, on par with keeping a mistress, or perpetuating Derek’s version of new Impressionism. “Do you think you’ll marry her?” Handsome asks and for a moment the Other is sure he means Hillary, but then realizes that as the straight man at the table all “hers” will probably reference his girlfriend.
“Probably,” he says, “I’ve thought about it. Usually while rollerblading.” Handsome nods. He knows well the connection between motion and devotion. Wilco becomes Fiona Appel (or Lana del Rey) and they order another round while I shuffle the papers of the screenplay, convinced that if I do this enough times the kinks in the story will somehow work themselves out, the flaws in the characters become tragic and not just flaws.
“I threw myself a thirtieth birthday” says Handsome, “I rented out a bar, a whole bar, and I paid for five hours of drinks with the money I was gonna use for grad school. Trent came.” Other arches an eyebrow, while using the other side of his face to nod at the waitress as she drops off his drink, and immediately becomes my new God.
“Did you guys…?”
Handsome nods. “In the bathroom”. Other smirks. “It was horrible and I cried the whole time, these soft little sobs, and like tears… I had to wash my face after.” Other sighs. “Brandon never missed me. He was debating Dad the whole time.” Other clucks sympathetically at yet Another Spiritual Casualty of this lunatic presidential race. “Then Dad’s wife showed up and they left. And then Trent left. I couldn’t get away from Bran to say goodbye. And then we had cake and I was thirty.” Other nods, his face half lost in the beer. “I don’t know,” he amends, “I guess I’m still thirty.” For a moment they sit in silence.
Other sets down his beer. “Yeah,” he says. “I guess we all are.”
Handsome turns his glass with one hand, the other playing with something under his shirt. A necklace maybe? Or his chest hair.
“Gina is still around?” Other asks.
“Yeah,” Handsome grumbles, “I suppose he loves her.” But you can tell he thinks she’s basically after the farm.
I shuffle the papers again, try to find the way to make the story work, the characters live, but it’s like breathing into a clay statue thinking I’m Athena. #delusional. The waitress takes my burger and drops off another beer. I stare into the layer of foam and know that Somewhere, Derek looks at a blank canvas and wonders if he… But the answer is just “?”. Or maybe “/”. Lana Appel fades into Vampire Weekend.
Handsome clears his throat, and lets go of his beer, but clutches his chest hair necklace through his shirt, his fingers heart attack tight.
“I wish we hung out more,” he says. “In the last year I’ve seen you…”
But he doesn’t finish. In the last year the world has been so “;:@” for everybody, so who is he to complain?
The waitress passes, avoiding what she senses is an awkward moment. Other picks up his beer again.
“Wanna get some fries?”
Dedicated to Megan Cohen.