Moving On: A Faustian Bargain (AKA Those Wildwood Nights)

lapinagileharlequinThe night ended with “See Ya Later, Alligator.” The night always ended with “See Ya Later, Alligator,” as originally recorded by Bill Haley and His Comets. It was 4:45, and all the bottom-shelf liquor had inevitably risen from 50 cents all the way up to $2.50. I was standing near a DJ booth, watching warm-bellied drunks parade the dance floor like blades of grass into a bale. It was dark, a reassuring dark, interrupted by the penlight registers alongside every bar. There was a couple standing next to me, and they were making out despite the rising smell of sewage seeping out from the commode. I had been there for eight hours, had smoked my way straight through a set of standards – Maxine Nightingale directly into “Dancing Queen”; “Mony, Mony,” into “Come On, Eileen.”

It was late now, and I had partnered up with a sprite-sized Irish girl who was wearing a slick-black tank top over camouflage, the purple satin of her bra straps peeking out from either side. This girl’s hair was cappuccino blonde, and her eyes ran sharp and dark with wild mascara.

“Do you want a shot?” I hollered. And she hollered back that we should leave.

When the lights came on, the ugly lights came on, this girl, she led me south along Pacific, past the brawlers, past patrol cars, past the Irish stretched out wide in front of Romeo’s. She made a left onto East Garfield, another left into a driveway. She kissed me long against house siding, then led me inside through a door that scraped the asphalt like a grind.

“I want you to fuck me,” this Irish girl whispered, and she pulled me by the shirt onto a couch with broken arms.

***

Every day had begun to bleed into another. Taproom regulars kept sound track by quoting drink specials. Monday nights meant Beat the Clock at The Fairview, Tuesday nights meant Wing Night at The Pop, Wednesday nights meant Quarter Night at Jimmy’s, Thursday nights meant What the Buck (back) at the Fairview, weekend nights meant full-price down in Anglesea, and Sunday nights meant Clam Night over at Tony’s.

I had new friends now; I had drinking friends – a swollen cast of individuals with disposable income and a robust constitution. Most of us were single, for the simple reason nothing good occurs inside a bar during the tail-end of the evening. Our lack of sleep made for a struggle, battery-operated alarm clocks evoking fanfare like molasses. The twilight hours meant a nap, perhaps a shower, the ocean breeze reclaiming power after sundown. Eleven-thirty meant commitment, going back on ill-kept promises to head straight home and get some rest.

The tram girls ran our switchboard, acquiring intelligence regarding who’d be partying where (and why). Every tram completed an hour-long trek – eight cabooses cycling through at 15-minute intervals – allowing for updates throughout every evening. Additional intelligence might be gained via the Kohr Brothers girls, the Class II cops, or the boys over at Sam’s.

When rolling shutters got pulled down, I’d find a seat inside the Dime Pitch, recording numbers on a clipboard with trails of sweat about my face. My throat had gone to scrabble, and it was for this reason I’d simply nod or wave whenever someone popped their head in through the portico.

“You headed to The Pop?” a Surfside employee might inquire.

“I’ll see you at the View,” the boys from Gateway might insist.

Night after night, my answer was always the same.

With the exception of days off, it was considered freshman form to get so drunk that one got flagged. The idea was an unfettered burn that went from 1 AM to 5, interactions centered on several piles of cash about the bar.

There was never any fear of bottoming out or losing control. We were young, and our bodies were resilient; conditioned enough to push beyond the average hangover. One-night hook-ups could be charted on a Venn diagram, with a sweet spot where our clusters jibed. On occasion, one might get it on with a subordinate, but this was rare and soon forgotten. It seemed more apt to partner up with some acquaintance from the boardwalk. Repeat sex took on the auspices of protocol, an ego boost fallen back upon when each night’s prospects went kaput.

Our local clubhouse was the Poplar, a sometimes-Irish bar on Poplar Avenue and Pacific. The Poplar boasted a jukebox, a pair of TVs, a shuffleboard table and a cigarette machine. The Poplar had no bouncer, nor did it appear as if there might be any need for one. During the summer, old-time maintenance workers ate their dinners at the Poplar, the average age downshifting hard as every night wore into dawn. During the winter, local drunks would shoot their darts there. They’d collect on betting pools, as well.

The Surfside crew maintained a block of stools against the south wall of The Pop – a perfect vantage point for looking out across bleak canvas. It was from these stools I met new friends like Stacey Loke and Lori Lane, Joanna Martin and Michelle Sergio; Big Ed Mac and Brian Smith. Gerry Vessels had been employed by Stroehmann Bread for several months now, driving a truck that left the dock at 6 AM. Mike Delinski had an eight-month-old at home, which made it difficult for him to stay out very late.

One night in August, I was sitting at the Pop when I felt a certain brush against my thigh. I was wearing ankle socks, and I could see that something square had been wedged into the left side. I glanced around, noticed a Surfside manager named Greg sitting beside me. He was staring straight ahead as if I’d caught him in a lie. I excused myself, wandered back into the bathroom. I disappeared into a stall, secured the bolt lock tight behind.

There was a bag of cocaine in my sock – a tiny bump packed up like sand into a vase. I had done cocaine before, but it scared me; had scared me ever since living with John and Stacy on 16th Street; since hearing John explain that cocaine was the only drug that swallowed him whole.

It crossed my mind that I could flush it, but that betrayed a larger question of integrity. It crossed my mind I could return it, but that betrayed a secret trust. It crossed my mind that I could pocket it, but that betrayed me keeping street drugs on my person. And so I genuflected, and I measured out two rails. I caught my outline cast in ripples round the bowl. I held one nostril, inhaled slowly. I ran my nose upon a base where drunken assholes moved their bowels.

I felt a tug, as if the pulsing of both temples went running cables through my spine. I was soaring now, above the island, above six decades worth of beach clubs with names like Riptide and Bolero; with names like Surf Club and Beach Comber; with names like Playpen, Cozy Morley’s. They had been here. They had done this. They had been doing it forever.

I pinched my nose. I swept the seat. I washed my hands and hurried out before last call.

Day 1,130

(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)

©Copyright Bob Hill