It all started rather innocently.
My partner, Terry, turned to me and uttered these deceptively benign words: “Johhna and Patty are going to Pecan Lodge for barbecue on Sunday for lunch. And then to The Anvil for drinks. Wanna go?”
Me, taking roughly one second to consider all angles: “No.”
Terry: “No on which part? The barbecue or the drinking? We have options here.”
Me, slightly annoyed that I have to explain myself, because we’re in a long-term relationship, and there are certain things that should be instinctive by now. “Well, definitely no on Pecan Lodge. That place is insane. You can stand in line for two hours. And there’s no guarantee that there will be any food left by the time they bless you with entrance to the building. I don’t understand why they don’t plan any better. They need to have more meat.”
Terry: “We all need to have more meat. Meat is good. If everybody had meat, we wouldn’t have war. But now I’m not sure what we’re talking about.”
Me: “I can’t bear the thought of standing in the Dallas heat for hours and then not getting any meat. So, it’s a no on The Lodge. The psychological cruelty aspect is just too much.”
Terry, adjusting his spreadsheets: “Okay, no meat. But the drinks?”
Me, already sensing that I may be venturing into Total Regret territory but not wanting to appear completely anti-social until it becomes popular to be that way again: “Yes, we can do drinks. Quick drinks. Then we flee.”
Terry: “Got it.” Then he is immediately texting Johhna and/or Patty, using a complex mix of hand-held devices, intricate communication networks, and global satellites, none of which were necessary back in the day when you simply picked up the hard-wired, stationary phones and spoke to your friends in a real-time manner.
At that point I wasn’t too overly concerned. It was only Saturday afternoon, Sunday was still years away, in that lazy manner you have on the weekends where nothing is really all that important until you have to do something about it. I had plenty of time to make up excuses or flee the country, should I come to a decision that I didn’t want to go drinking in a place that I didn’t know, this Anvil Pub that was somewhere in the Deep Ellum section of downtown Dallas, a funky, often trendy bit of the city where you could have a really good time or you could be car-jacked. Lots of time to develop Plan B.
But then it was suddenly Sunday morning, late Sunday morning, and Terry’s face was in mine as I awoke from a dream wherein I was running about on a nude beach in the south of France and having a festive time because I had acquired a tan that I normally am unable to acquire, and certain hot guys were showing appreciation for such an acquisition. And for my nudity. This is not a development that one wishes to awaken from. But I was. And there was Terry. “The girls are already at Pecan Lodge. They’re still in line. But the clock is ticking.”
So he ran off to make us breakfast, which is nice of him and all, and I lay there in the bed, trying to think of at least one valid reason why I should leave the bed. Nothing immediately came to mind, especially when you considered the possibility of falling back into slumber and playing a rousing game of leapfrog on that beach where nobody knows the name of your clothes. Sunshine, gentle lapping waves, and friskiness. How can you argue with that?
Terry could. “Breakfast is ready!”
So I schlepped my ass into the part of the house where we don’t have beds and pleasant dreams, and both Terry and I began to nosh on the results of his culinary expertise whilst we watched an episode of CSI: New York from one of the 4,000 boxed sets that we own due to compulsive purchasing issues. We mistakenly believed that we still had plenty of time, because The Girls were standing in line at one of the hottest restaurants in Dallas. They would be there for days.
This illusion was shattered three seconds later , when Terry’s phone loudly buzzed and jingled, indicating a text intrusion. The Girls were nearing completion of their meal and would be heading toward the questionable bar in Deep Ellum within 15 minutes. What the hell? What kind of superpowers did these women have that had somehow allowed them to triumph over all odds and get serviced in an expedited manner?
This text alert meant that, in an ideal world, we should race to jump in the shower, scrub our sins away, and then pile in the car, gunning the engine so we could meet our friends in a respectable amount of time, despite the heat of Dallas in September, a heat that can suck your soul out of your body.
In reality, it meant that we finished watching the episode of CSI: New York. This particular episode was from the first year, that lone season where they had that fascinating, somber color palette that was all about blues and grays and coldness and a morgue that looked like an abandoned subway station from 1912. After that, the fool producers brightened things up and killed the Gothic tone and made it look like CSI: Miami, just with a different address and without David Caruso, who can’t say a dramatic line without placing his hands on hips and tilting his head to the side.
Wait, I seem to have lost the narrative. Where was I? Oh yeah, it was time to get my ass off the couch, move beyond the cloning of American television, and cleanse my special bits. So I did.
A few years later, Terry and I were motoring our way into the head-scratching environs of downtown Dallas. I’m not sure who designed the layout of what is now the epicenter of a major American city, but that person was clearly on drugs. Nothing makes sense. There’s no simplicity, no life-affirming agreement that the roadways should somehow conform to basic plot-points like North, South, East and West. Nope. Somebody thought it would be really super-neat to have streets meandering in haphazard directions that would boggle the minds of any known GPS software on the planet.
And when you throw in that jacked-up mess about one-way streets, where you have to traverse acres of civilization just to navigate your way to a destination that is only millimeters away from your current position, but you can’t easily get there because some dumb-ass in 1812 made a poor zoning decision? Seriously, what is the point of a one-way street, other than to intentionally piss off half the driving population?
Speaking of people: Because downtown Dallas is now rather trendy, it’s filled with trendy people doing what is now apparently the latest trendy thing: Walking and driving around whilst texting and paying absolutely no attention to anything that is going on around you, such as other people who are trying to navigate past your annoyingness so they can actually accomplish something in their lives. (#asshats)
In any case, Terry managed to find a parking lot with multiple available spaces, a discovery that was almost erotic because sometimes it can be very hard to find a parking space up in this hood. We secured the vehicle and wandered around the corner onto Elm Street, where we were nearly flattened by some very exuberant motorcyclists straddling thundering hogs. One of them was wearing an “Anvil” t-shirt, our destination. It seems that we were about to enter a biker bar where people enjoyed being loud. (I breathed a couture sigh of relief, since I had wisely donned blue jeans and a grunge-tribute shirt, instead of the disco pants that had briefly caught my eye.)
So we trot into the establishment, slightly wary of what we might find. (Biker bars in and of themselves are usually just fine. But a biker bar packed with trendy people who are trying to be street when they’ve never actually straddled anything in their lives? We could have issues.) Turns out that the quality of the clientele was not what we needed to be worried about. Instead, all other concerns in the world were immediately forgotten when we strolled up to the bar where Johhna and Patty were sitting, and found them drinking this:
“What the hell is that?” I asked, fear coursing through my body.
“Well,” said Patty, turning from the bar so that we could see her better, because she’s the more performance-oriented of the two and she doesn’t want to disappoint her audience, “it’s a Bloody Mary. With lunch on top.”
I didn’t know if I could take this story on faith. “Are you sure it’s not a Lady Gaga bobble-head?”
Terry chimed in. “Or Patti LaBelle’s hair?”
And both of us briefly paused to gauge the distance to the front door of the pub, just in case we suddenly needed to run back out it after the thing on the bar pulled out a tiny machete and tried to cut a bitch. (This is a survival instinct that has developed after watching horror movies, where you are schooled in what happens when stupid people don’t make adequate flight preparations upon discovering something odd sitting where it shouldn’t be.)
“It’s really good,” piped in Johhna. “You should try one.” (She did not, however, let us try hers just in case there were compatibility issues. I made a mental note that she might have a slight selfish streak, something I would need to keep in mind in case we ever got stranded in the Andes Mountains after a plane crash, and she decided that she was very, very hungry. Not turning my back on her, no sir.)
Still, they seemed sincere about the pleasures to be had from getting intimately involved with a five-gallon bucket filled with liquor and topped with a garnish the size of Detroit. So I ordered one. (Terry refrained. He has a thing about tomatoes, especially the juice, although he worships ketchup. I’m sure there’s a fascinating story behind it all, perhaps a tragic incident in his youth, I just haven’t bothered to ask, because sometimes the first step toward healing is to never talk about it again.)
The ordering of the Mammoth Mary is a complicated process. For starters, they plunk down a glass of beer, a PBR. (“Pabst Blue Ribbon”, for those trendy texting people who have never experienced anything that doesn’t involve social media.) They call this PBR the “appetizer”, which is kind of cute, but it actually means “it’s going to take us a decade or so to put together all the nibbly bits that go on top of your bucket, and you’re going to be really thirsty before it gets here, so drink this.”
And it did take a long time. Long enough that my PBR glass was bone-dry and abandoned, rolling around on the bar. (There was even a brief moment of boredom where I actually watched the Cowboys game on a monitor in the bar. Those who know me well will realize that I must have been absolutely desperate to do such a thing.) But eventually, somebody fired up a forklift, drove the beeping machine out of the “kitchen” and lowered my cocktail onto the bar. You could hear the foundation of the building groaning as this took place.
Let me break down this drink for you: It comes in a Mason jar. Not the little version, the kind you use to make your own jelly or to store buttons that you will never actually need. The big kind that you would use to pickle a watermelon, or that serial killers would use to store the heads of their victims in formaldehyde. This jar is filled to the brim with the main attraction, the actual Bloody Mary. The rim of the jar is encrusted with black pepper and salt, which allows you to use your tongue to moderate the seasoning level of the beverage, which is always fun, who doesn’t want to demonstrate the agility of their tongue in a room full of drunken strangers?
On the second floor of the libation, we have the artwork, the creatively arranged snacks that are anchored in place on a number of shish kabob skewers. Rumor has it that the niblets can vary from time to time (this was according to a free-spirited woman who happened to wander by at one point, with her and her unrestrained but combative breasts informing me that she’s “seen all kinds of mess up on those things.”)
My current version of the mess included: a celery stick (natch), a green bean (no idea), a small wedge of broccoli (looking like a little green Don King), pickled okra (I’m assuming pickled, I don’t touch okra unless it’s fried and this was not), a cooked Brussels sprout (I’m guessing the uncooked version proved impenetrable for the skewer), a single shrimp (more, please, it was quite tasty dipped in the Bloody Mary), a wedge of salami (also a good dipper, not sure why), a chunk of artisanal cheese, a cherry tomato (one of the few things that was cherry in that bar), an onion ring (always a good choice, regardless of circumstances), and an actual slider cheeseburger.
There may have even been more snackies involved, but I did reach a point where I was tired of leaning in for a slurp and getting poked in the eye by a skewer stick, so I popped the structural mechanism out of the jar and chunked it to the side. (Side note to the Anvil Pub staff: Longer straws, maybe? Sure seems like a good idea to me. If you can afford to stock up on Brussels sprouts, I’m sure you can find longer things in the stockroom that people can suck on.)
In any case, the drink itself was quite satisfying, leaning toward the spicy side, which all good Bloody Marys should do. (It took me well over an hour to finish the drink, in case you’re keeping score.) And speaking of leaning and spicy, we were about to meet someone who was both. (Well, only two of us got to meet her. The other two in our motley crew chose not to participate in what quickly escalated into an eye-opening adventure, and therefore missed out on the glorious joy of having a complete stranger barge into your personal space and then proceed to have a neurological breakdown, complete with random spittle and exuberant hand gestures.
This development also started innocently enough, or at least as innocently as things can be when you are smoking behind a rowdy bar in a questionable area of Dallas. Johnna and I had decided that we needed a quick nicotine fix, so we worked our way out the back door of the bar to the designated area. We fully expected this little quest to result in us huddled in a smelly alley, taking hurried drags as we dodged homeless people and possible gang members who had just decided they needed another teardrop tattoo and they were looking for people who couldn’t run very fast.
Turns out, this was not the case at all. Instead, we stumbled into a very nice patio area, with thick, brick walls that would help prevent us from becoming a crime statistic. Cozy tables and chairs and umbrellas. The only slight drawback is that it was still 117 degrees in the Texas heat, even under the festive umbrellas. Not a particularly thrilling environmental aspect, but it also meant that the patio was completely deserted, and the entire kingdom was ours to rule as we pleased.
So we did, sitting down and lighting up.
Our reign, though glorious and marked by festivals thrown in our honor by the peasants, proved to be a rather short one. We were barely finished with handing out knighthoods for the first fiscal quarter, when the back door flew open with a bang. We turned to see who had made it past the Palace Guard, fully expecting to find an assassin, sheathed in black and sent by our pesky enemies in the neighboring kingdom of Fort Worthia. Instead, our eyes fell upon a tall woman whose own jittery eyes were staring back at us in confusion and wonder.
We knew immediately that she was insane.
There are times when folks can fool you about their madness, feigning sanity for hours or days or years before you run across them eating purple crayons and doing unspeakable things to donkeys. That was not the case here. We were in the Express Lane, no doubt about it. She was wearing an outfit that might best be described as “soccer player on acid”, she had a hairdo that implied “I only bathe when I remember what that is”, and she marched right up to our table, whipped a cigarette out of her pack, and proceeded to throw the pack on our table in a clear homesteading maneuver.
This is one of the ultimate taboos in the smoking world. Yes, the 12 smokers left in the United States often find themselves in temporary-bonding situations, as they huddle together 50 yards from the entrance to a restaurant and try not to get shot by vigilantes, but there are still protocols. And one of them is that you do not stake a claim at an occupied table in a smoking-zone unless you have slept with someone at that table on at least two prior occasions.
Since neither Johhna nor I could recall ever having been horizontal with Medusa of the Doorway, we were a bit affronted. Then again, we’d just consumed a Bloody Mary bigger than a car, so there was definitely some flexibility here. Besides, a runaway train of cray-cray can be very entertaining, as long as you remember to get out of the way before the derailment. So we sat back and just let Medusa share her thoughts on mankind.
Boy, did she ever.
At first, her ramblings were a bit benign. She initially babbled about how the weather was ultra-pleasing today, words that she on/off muttered between bouts of staring at those things in the back wall. (They’re called bricks, sweetie.) Then there was some mess about how she had kicked off her morning by indulging in something that was not alcohol and most likely not legal. (She definitely had a fondness, or inability, for choosing words that had any real concrete message, a theme that would continue throughout our fellowship.)
Then she eventually wandered her way into incoherent tales of working for some type of adjunct program with the Sierra Club, a community-service (or so it seemed) type of thing where she would pay money to go on a trip and do manual labor for needful local citizenry. She mentioned the name of this program several times, but the name didn’t fully register because I was too busy watching her eyeballs vibrate. (Dear Sierra Club, I am not trying to besmirch you in any way. I had no way to gauge the truthfulness of this woman’s oratory. Please see above references to Medusa, lack of proper sportsmanship in social settings, and inappropriate wardrobe selections.)
Whatever the program was called, Sierra Club involvement aside, it cost 300 dollars per trip. The financial part was very clear, because this woman repeated that figure at least 20 times. 300 dollars. Over and over. It’s like she was going for some type of door prize for the number of repetitions. I felt like I should write “300!” on the wall behind us so the poor wretch would stop bellowing that number. Sadly, Vanna White did not walk up and offer me a writing implement, so I couldn’t do this.
Johhna, on the other hand, didn’t need a spokesmodel/failed actress to further her cause. She decided that it would be jovial to query Neurotica Nancy on the finer details of her vague endeavors. “So, person, what did you do on these trips?”
Johhna: “Not the trip that you’re on now, the thing with the Sierra Club. What did you do? How did you help?”
Person: “Oh… um… we… there was weeding…”
Person: “Weeding management.”
Johhna: “I see that. And where did you go?”
Person: “Go? Um, we went… Alaska… and some other… I’ve been four times… other states… Washing and Origami…” (Keep in mind that during the pausing bits, Person would stare at the ground as if contemplating where she might be at the moment and whether or not she turned off the iron back at the halfway-house.)
Johhna: “Uh huh. And when you were there did you-“
Person: “Hawaii! We went to Hawaii!”
Johhna, smiling, because she lives in Hawaii, and this suddenly became very interesting: “Really? And where did you stay in Hawaii?”
Person: “The big one… the big… island. And the other island.”
Johhna: “And what did you do there?”
Person: “Do? Oh… there were waves. I could sit and watch. The waves would come in, and the waves would go out. The waves would come in, and the waves would go out. The waves would come in, and…”
Johhna: “The waves would go out?”
Person: “Yes! And then the waves would go out and-“
Johhna: “But what did you do there? Help me understand.”
Person: “There was… there were people… and they would decide about… and we would do… and they would plan things and… we… they had to make decisions about… decisions… and we…”
Person: “The waves would come in…”
Johhna: “They do that a lot.”
Person: “It was 300 dollars! And that’s a lot of money for me, I’m a teacher!”
Those last three words were the most chilling of the afternoon. She was a teacher? Holy crap.
The back door of the pub suddenly slammed open again, and we were presented with a waitress proffering a steaming bowl. “Do you want your chili out here or back inside?”
My mind boggled. What the hell?
Then the waitress glared at Crazy Train, her expression indicating that she had heard, many times, about the waves coming in and out, and she no longer cared for the constant updates. She just wanted it to be the end of her shift, and if people had to get hurt to make that happen, so be it.
Crazy stared at the bowl, flummoxed. Then she turned to look at us.
Johhna and I just stared back at her. We had nothing to do with this chili development. It’s all on you, girl. Deal.
Crazy swiveled back to Waitress. “I… think that… the waves should go in.”
Waitress promptly turned and fled, mission complete.
Crazy turned back in our direction, although it took a bit for her to determine exactly where we might be located. Then she decided that there might be something to be gained from becoming even more intimate, as if such a thing were even possible. “I’m Gillian. And that’s my real name.”
It was fully understandable that this woman might need an alias from time to time.
Still, the random arrival of the chili did present a convenient exit opportunity for Johhna and myself, should we choose to take it. (I was more invested in departure than Johhna, who seemed to be enjoying this spectacle far more than she should. There was a definite entertainment factor to it all, but it was hot out here and things were becoming damp in unattractive places. Besides, we hadn’t bothered to frisk Gillian for weapons, despite that being an obvious course of action once Gill opened her mouth and the Mental Institution Alumni Newsletter fell out. She could jump us at any moment, thinking we were weeds, and the hacking would begin.)
So I took the initiative to make imminent departure moves. (Which basically consisted of me staring at the back door of the pub with obvious longing, a single tear running down my cheek. This triggered something in Gillian’s psyche, probably a trace memory of the Native American in that long ago anti-litter commercial, where he was pissed off about the trashy white people throwing their beer cans and McDonald’s sacks on the side of the road, and Gillian mistakenly assumed that it was time to report for litter detail on her next Sierra Club adventure. Only 300 dollars!) She faced the door as well.
Which left Johhna as the only one not studying the woodwork, so she grudgingly got out of her chair and joined us. We graciously allowed Gillian to wander in before us (I was NOT going to allow that woman to be behind me for any reason), and as Gilly pinballed her way up the hall, Johhna thought it would be festive to holler “And the waves roll out!”
Gillian didn’t hear a thing. Of course she didn’t.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Dallas, there’s a group of confused students sitting in a classroom, awaiting the return of their teacher. They’ve been sitting there since Friday, afraid to move since they weren’t properly dismissed. All they know is that Miss Gillian said something about needing some chili and that she would be right back…