Dammit, another late night. It’d be nice to leave on time out of this place for once in my life. Another night of churning and pushing against deadlines in the vain hopes of completing something that bosses several levels above me wanted done.
I shut down my computer and walk out of the office and call a cab. As I climb in I mutter the name of one of the many bars I hang out at after work to the driver. I’m not sure why I go to these places. It’s not like the company is any good. I always think that tonight will be the night that I build up the courage to talk to someone new. It’d be nice if it were a girl. I’m always so nervous about talking to them. They seem like they’ve come out to prowl, so many of them dressed up to the nines and ready to engage with whomever and whatever. And yet, so…. I don’t know. I guess I was raised traditional and taking a woman up on her proposition seems dirty, like I’m taking advantage of her somehow.
The cab pulls up to the bar and drops me off.
“Nineteen dollars,” says the cabbie. Ugh, seriously? This stupid town, always taking advantage of everyone. I should’ve walked the three blocks. Habits, I guess.
I walk into the bar and am immediately stopped by the bouncer, who informs me about the cover charge. This overly bulked up twenty-two year old, who is trying to pay his way through a liberal arts degree, is asking me for money. It’s laughable. I see so many digits and quantities pass through my ledger everyday in my accounting firm, and they all dwarf what this guy makes in a year. Frankly, they dwarf what I make in a year. I hand over the ten dollars and ask if there are any open tables. He stares at me and shrugs, “It’s ladies night. Find your own table."
After elbowing my way to the bar I order my drink. It’s the same thing I drink every night. Once again I thought I would order something different, and yet again I fall back on the blended Scotch. I like a good drink, but I’m not quite that much of a snob. Yet. But enough of a snob to avoid the cinnamon whiskey advertised in garish letters across the sign behind the bar.
I spot a young couple leave a table in the back and work my way towards it. Just before sitting down some over enthusiastic elbow hits me from behind and my chest bumps into my drink. The coolness of an expensive stain works its way through my twelve dollar department store button shirt. Dammit.
Finally I claim the piece of a bench against the wall where I can sit and watch the humanity in the jazz club. After finishing the first drink I signal for another. I can feel myself starting to loosen up so I take off my suit jacket and drop it beside me, loosening my tie.
Two young ladies walk by and smile at me. I smile back, hoping they’ll stop and say hi….. fuck it all. Those were probably pity smiles. Ladies night, my ass. Just more ways to receive disdain.
Around the third scotch I begin to notice the band. It’s a five piece jazz ensemble that is bringing some class to the night. These guys are better than the others I’ve seen here; they actually know more than four songs. The pianist is especially inspired tonight, his fingers making use of all the keys, both races. There is all kinds of color in the music. I mean, I know it’s jazz, but these guys are confident in what they do. Almost lazy in the way they caress their instruments, and then aggressive in the way they attack the riffs. Jealousy flits across my mind, but just for a moment. I like to think I’m big enough to allow them their moment in the spotlight without wishing I was sitting up there in their place. All eyes on me, looking for the next note that will spark a dance, or an eye-to-eye moment.
I look towards the bar, wondering if it’s a good idea to order another drink, and then I see him. Oh, I don’t know him, but I KNOW him. It’s that guy that just shows up at ladies night and all the ladies flit to him. He’s at the bar spending god knows how much on drinks “all around”. And he’s surrounded by women. I don’t understand what they see in him. The black dresses, the red dresses, the crop tops and tight jeans. Seriously, all these women are dressed like they own the world and here they are fawning over him like some overlooked child excited to see their favorite uncle show up to the family reunion with candy.
My waitress walks by and takes my empty glass. I’m clenching my teeth so hard that I don’t even notice in time to ask for another. Just as well. My mother always told me I had an anger problem, and I’m sure that drink would only amplify it. I never acted on it. Believe that. I know full well how to be angry and sin not, but I’m getting close. I can overhear parts of the conversation from the group. Steven is commenting on how much weight his gym carries. Like that matters. I’ve exercised before, but have never had reason to lift all of the weight at one time. Pathetic. This guy thinks he can impress the women with his beefcake and testosterone.
The music changes. It’s still the smooth jazz/blues in the background that’s been there all night, but now it’s….Christmas music? What the hell? ‘…the babe, the Son of Israel…’ the words come unbidden to my mind, brought there by the music. Who plays Christmas music in August? Someone just won a bet. I laugh to myself, this ‘babe’ was born a couple thousand years ago, and I don’t feel like anything has changed. There is still a massive group of people, men really, who seem to control all the conversation around me. You would think that after a couple millennium that we would have grown beyond having the biggest muscles and the loudest mouth. But here we are. I sit alone in the corner while Steven is surrounded by sex.
It’s time to go. I’ve sunk far enough into my own mind tonight. It’s just another night after another long day doing another spreadsheet full of long division.
And tomorrow I’ll complete another day of this same life. I’d like to make a difference somewhere. To try and inspire or protect.
I drop some money on the table and wander out the door. It’s raining now, of course. This city just takes all the life out of everything. I wave a cab down and while waiting for it to come to a stop I feel myself being jostled sideways as someone reaches out for the door handle. Steve glances sideways at me and says, “You don’t mind, do you?”, as he opens the door for a couple of cooing women.
Steve smiles at me, “I didn’t want them to have to wait out here in the rain."
Oh, what a gentleman. now he cares about them. I smile back at him, “No problem."
As I stand there waiting for the next ride I see another woman walk out of the club, and towards Steve. She whispers something in his ear, and grinning, he turns to follow. I can feel the heat in my face now. Fingers clenching in my hands as nails dig into my palms as they walk closer to me, and then past me, heading to his place. Or hers. Who knows, I just know that more than likely she’s giving him more than he deserves.
As I’m about to signal for another cab, I hear a cry of pain behind me. Whipping around I see him pushing on her shoulders, crushing her to her knees. The whiskey sitting on my empty stomach makes my eyes spin, but I know what he’s doing. She said something he doesn’t like and he’s reacting. She cries out for help and I know what I must do. Seeing a loose brick on the ground I snatch it up and sprint the few steps towards them, lashing out as I arrive. My blow is not strong, but it hits him in the head and he drops to the ground. I’ve never hit anyone before with the attempt to maim, but suddenly I’m exhilarated. I’m protecting someone. I’m a hero! The feeling flows through me even before I’m done with the follow through. He is down on all fours, woozy, and I know he needs to learn a better lesson than just a bruise. Righteously, I raise the brick over my head and swing.
“Stop! What are you do-!” Her voice cuts off as the brick smashes her forearm, splitting the skin and crunching through bone.
She shrieks as I recoil, dropping the brick and realizing what I’ve done. I don’t know why she’s defending him. Surely he was doing something he shouldn’t. That’s the only explanation, right? The club door slams open and the bouncer crashes out. He looks back through the doors and orders, “Call 9-1-1!” and then rushes to the two people on the ground at my feet.
Within seconds the sidewalk fills with club patrons. I hear someone say their calling the cops. Numb, I begin to edge away and then stumble away from them. I run out of sight of the club, of her, of the man on the ground, of the patrons outside the club. I don’t know what to do. All that righteous anger, held for so long and I finally get a chance to use it and I become the attacker, leaving victims on the ground! I keep running until I think I’m safe. Somehow the assault I just perpetrated is still justified in my mind as I assume that he was being an asshole and needed to be punished. She just got in the way. Stockholm syndrome. Yeah, that. Never mind that I have caused broken bones and caused a concussion. Righteous anger and all that.
I spot a yellow car with a lit up bar on top and make a mad dash for it. Sliding into the back seat I tell the driver my address and sit back in relief. I think I made it. I don’t think anyone saw me as I got in. My righteous rage has survived to see another day. And yet…. what did I do! The realization settles in. I fucking hit two people with a brick! What the hell? I should be sitting in the back of a police car, not a cab! I close my eyes and try to force it out of my mind as car travels down the road.
Slowly, I become aware of a hand resting on my arm. I open my eyes to see an elderly woman sitting beside me. She’s looking me in the eyes, and I can see concern in them. She doesn’t know who I am, or what I’ve done, but she is interested in me.
“What have you been up to tonight, son?"
It’s an innocent question, but I don’t know how to answer. I look back in her eyes. Aged eyes, but sharp. She hasn’t lost a step in her age, though her hair long ago lost the battle to the silver of wisdom. Somehow I feel like she already knows what my answer is, she’s just giving me the chance to confess and ask for penance.
I sit for a moment, her hand resting awkwardly, but comfortably on my arm. Hanging my head, I mumble, “I tried to help someone, and hurt them in the process."
She squeezes my arm gently and continues to watch me. Then sits in silence.
The silence stretches on for what seems like an eternity. Finally she signals the driver to stop. After climbing out of the car and passing her money to the driver she pokes her head back around the door and looks at me.
“Honey, I learned a long time ago, that their not all my children, and most of them need to walk their own journey. Stop trying to help where you’re not needed. And stop being so goddamn selfish."
The door slams shut, more forcefully than I would’ve expected, and she walks away.