Our First Friday Night in Town

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I was spread across the sofa, catching up on Mad Men, when Megan opened the door. She dropped her purse on the floor and slipped out of her heels.

“You’re home early,” I said. I heard a sniffle and then the fridge door open. I grabbed my beer off the coffee table and followed her into the kitchen. She said nothing as she closed the door and I saw the container of yesterday’s pork-fried rice in her hand. I started to say something but didn’t and instead watched her pull a fork from the drawer and dig in. We said nothing for what seemed liked several minutes.

“Where’s the car?” I finally asked.

“The garage downtown. I took a cab,” she said in between bites. That’s all really wanted to know. Megan can be a sad drunk – I only wanted to know that she’d be alright.

I took a swig from my beer and walked back to the sofa. I heard her follow and took the seat next to me and I was no longer able to spread out.

“It’s alright, you don’t have to see them again,” I said.

“Why was it so important that I go anyways?” she asked.

“You and Monica looked like you hit it off at La Azteca,” I said. Monica was Travis’ wife, my one of my co-workers at my new company. They seemed a few years older than us but were still good people. Max and I bonded the first day over arcade games. He mentioned a barcade downtown for my happy hour, but plans were already in place to hold it at La Azteca.

“Just tell me everything,” I said. I took a final swig from my beer and almost got up for another but thought better of it.

“It was all nice,” Megan said. She combed through the rice and I knew she was avoiding the peas.

“We had wine and goat cheese and fancy crackers,. We talked about Mad Men, which I’ve never seen.”

I’d asked Megan to watch the show with me repeatedly but she always turned me down. I wanted to say something but thought better of it.

“What else?” I asked.

“Everyone there knew Monica for years, either from college or high school,” Megan said.

I stood up and walked back to the fridge. I pulled out another beer.

“So they talked and I felt left out,” Megan said from the sofa.

I popped off the bottle cap using the counter’s edge. I stayed in the kitchen. “So you’re saying you never gave them a chance?”

“I said I wasn’t feeling well and left.”

“So no, you didn’t.” I took a couple swigs of my drink while Monica stayed in the living room.

“Why did you tell Travis to tell Monica that I’d go without asking me first?”

“You keep on saying that you’re lonely.”

Megan said nothing and I stayed in the kitchen. I opened the fridge and pulled out the last of the banana bread my mother made the day we left.

“I need to make my own friends.”

“I was only trying to help.”

“Because you can fix everything.”

I pulled a knife from the drawer and cut the bread into little chunks. I alternated between a sip and a bite.

“Why did you have to look for work so far way?” Megan asked.

She only asked the question once and I said nothing. I was scared of what I’d ask and what she’d answer. I continued to alternate between bread chunk and beer until it was gone. I opened the fridge, stared at its contents for a couple seconds, closed it and walked back to the sofa. I sat down and Megan placed her head on my shoulder. We said nothing.

The Beanie

“The beanie is a problem,” Zach said.

I didn’t think so, but I also wasn’t the boss. Zach was. He was twenty-six with sunglasses resting on his buzzed blonde hair. I was a year older than him.

“I wear it everyday,” I said.

“Not with the Thomas Reynolds visiting today,” Zach said.

“I never saw a memo,” I said.

“I didn’t think I had to send one,” Zach said.

So I nodded and left Zach’s office. Apparently sunglasses were alright but beanies weren’t. Our cubicles separated us from each other and no one passing would see me. Not to mention Friday’s were causal day – surely Mr. Reynolds knew this. How could our CEO not know this?

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I wore the beanie all day. I wore it when my co-worker Kenny came by at eleven. He always came by at eleven.

“You’ve got some balls keeping that beanie on all day,” he said. He took a swig from his water bottle with a NYC Social sticker slapped on. He always carried his water bottle.

“He’s meeting with our VPs and they’re on the tenth floor,” I said.

“Yeah but his temporary office is on this floor,” he said.

Now I didn’t consider this. Or rather, I didn’t know this. How could I consider something I didn’t know?

“Still should be fine,” I said. I wasn’t about to tell Kenny that the Mr. Reynolds working on our floor made me nervous.

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I wore the beanie when I crossed the street to grab some pizza for lunch. Every Friday I went to the same place and ordered an extra large slice with pepperoni. The way I figured, I made it through the week with a cobb salad every other day. Besides, Friday was casual day. Friday should also be junk food day.

“Your beanie is cute,” the cashier said. I never saw her before. She must have been new. Otherwise she would have known that I wore my Pikachu beanie every Friday.

“I’ll wear it next Friday just for you,” I said.

“Isn’t it going to be like seventy degrees outside?” she said.

Alright, so I didn’t think of this either. It was a cold winter – we were in the middle of March and the high was only thirty – so the idea of not wearing my beanie next Friday kinda bothered me.

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I wore the beanie during my department’s meeting at 4. Why Zach insisted on having meetings at four on a Friday I had no idea. We discussed our targets for the Fall season. That’s right, Fall. It was still March and I was worried about not wearing my beanie for the Spring and now I had to think about the Christmas season.

“Mr. Reynolds will be stopping by during our meeting. He’s been visiting all of the departments and I told him to drop by during our weekly meeting.”

Alright, so I wasn’t expecting that, I really wasn’t. Why would the CEO bother to drop in on us? We were just a group of analysts whose work could be done by anyone. We weren’t that important.

But wait, why did I assume that the CEO was that kind of guy? He could genuinely care about his employees, and that a visit to everyone could boost morale. But if that was the case, why was wearing my beanie such a big damn deal?

“You have ten seconds to take off that beanie,” Zach said. He was now standing by the door and kept it open part way with his hand. I looked over to Kenny who just shrugged his shoulders. He always shrugged his shoulders when he thought he knew something I didn’t.

And just as Zach opened the door I pulled off the beanie. I pulled it off because I didn’t want to look like a fool, but also because I didn’t know what I believed in anymore, I really didn’t.

It’s Monday Night and I’m Alright

The walk back to Euclid Avenue was the end to an exhausting walk that lasted all day – a cold, disheartening walk. Yes, I had only been in town for forty-eight hours; Saturday night I arrived – two bags, one with clothing and the other with books and more clothing. Today is Monday and I walked to Granite Street to find a job. I walked into restaurants and bars and bookstores and smoke shops. Nothing. At least, nothing full-time. I am unemployed; I need full time.

The road is black and cold and covered with patches like lily pads, only the pads are frozen. Gray, slippery pads. The cool wind picks up from even an hour before as a cold front just arrives from the Rockies. Tomorrow the high is zero. Cold, even for here. And the street is calm – no streetlamps, no porch lights switched on to illuminate cluttered patios with bikes or worn lawn chairs. Yet, as I was told Saturday night by Pace, my first of three new roommates, in a prideful boast, “We’re the house with the icicle light.”

And it was. The color changed every thirty seconds. Purple, then green, then blue, then orange. Repeat. In a similar situation to my home in New York, I replaced an original roommate. In New York, Zander left for his girlfriend; here, Teresa left for her boyfriend. She also left with a sofa, coffee table and forty-eight inch television. So when I walked into the house for the first time, despite coming six months into the lease, the living room was bare, and appeared hardly lived in.

The washer is broken; so is the microwave. Tristan, my second roommate, put in a call to our landlord, Donald, last week and he said he’d get to it over the weekend. Like I said, it’s Monday. Tristan was an old friend of Pace. High school, Alabama.

“How’s the job search go buddy?” Tristan asks.

“Dropped off a couple applications. I don’t expect to hear anything,” I say. I took a seat in a rolling computer chair, only the back is busted, so rather than offering support it sticks straight back like the open door of a truck bed.

“You’ll find work, don’t be hard on yourself,” Tristan said. Undoubtedly he’s the most wholesome guy I ever met. The kind of guy that drinks and smokes because it’s fun and doesn’t believe in life if there’s no fun in it. Saturday night he and I drank a 750 liter of Evan Williams to celebrate because it was Saturday night and I was finally home.

“Donald didn’t send someone over today?” I ask.

“Fuck no, tomorrow I’ll probably go to the Laundromat if you need a ride,” Tristen says. He sits on the couch opposite the twenty-inch television he moved from his bedroom as a temporary fix. He holds a bottle of coke in one hand and a flask in the other.

From the back bedrooms, behind the kitchen, an extension on the house, a Husky puppy yelps. Or rather, the Husky puppy gives the hint of a yelp; I’m not sure what to call its faint, wheezy squeak. Saturday Pace picked up Ankur before picking me up at the airport. The mother’s family were converted Hindus and all the pups were given proper Hindi names. Pace explained this to me while we drove down the highway and large snowflakes sprinkled on our windshield. The kind perfect for snowball fights.

Pace also said he could talk to his old boss if I needed immediate work. “It’s in a warehouse, the company distributes camping equipment to stores like Patagonia and REI,” he said, driving. In the passenger’s seat, Ankur rested in my lap, sleeping. He didn’t mind me and this was the first time I held a puppy since my family’s dog – black lab – when she was a pup almost twenty years before. “I’ll let you know,” I said.

Laying on the other sofa, a faded blue sofa, is Chris, the third roommate. Using a wireless controller he plays a shooting game, perhaps Halo or Call of Duty. I’m not too familiar with those games.

“Work isn’t too hard to find, just give it a couple of weeks,” Chris says. He’s a student at the university – his senior year – and typically lays across this blue sofa in flannel bottoms and a large t-shirt when he doesn’t have class or work. He works at a grocery I don’t remember the name of because I never heard of it before.

I watch Chris shoot soldiers and throw grenades when a light patter taps on the hardwood floor. I look down to see Ankur. His bright blue eyes look at my expectantly. He yawns, exposing his razor sharp puppy teeth.

“I just let him outside, we gotta be careful he doesn’t catch any rats,” Tristan says, walking from the kitchen.

And I expect this to continue all evening, Monday evening, and I’m alright sitting on this ripped couch. I’m alright because outside are the mountains and dry air and everything else that’s new. Everything is new.

“Just be careful, that pup’s a Husky,” Tristan says. “He’ll be a runner. If you’re not careful and he gets out he’ll just keep on running.”

Selfie Stick

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Last Christmas my older cousin bought me a selfie stick. He worked as a banker on Wall Street and only bought us relatives gag gifts. Asshole.

Anyways, I brought the selfie stick to work the next day, the day after Christmas. There was no reason to be at work but less reason to waste a vacation day.

“We should each take selfies at our desks,” Colleen said.

I agreed; or rather, I nodded in agreement. That’s how I knew I really agreed on something. If I didn’t nod, I knew I didn’t truly agree even if I said, “yes, I agree.”

“We should send these to Monica,” Pam said.

For a moment I thought on this. Monica never visited our Westminster, Colorado call center, even though she worked at corporate in Denver only a few miles away. We had the highest customer satisfaction rate, the highest call answer rate and the highest employee retention rate. I mean, we were the ones that made her look so damn good. Asshole.

“Yes, I agree,” I said, sans nod.

There were five of us at the call center that day. Colleen, Pam, Russell, Brian and myself. Four of the others took the day off and Trevor called in sick. It was also sunny, and the direct light through the windows made taking selfies at our desks impossible.

“The balcony,” Russell said. Everyone liked the idea.

I nodded and said, “Yes, I agree.”

On the opposite side of the building was an open balcony that anyone could use during regular business hours. There was once an incident involving a homeless guy that found his way up there at night and made a hell of a mess, or so we were told. What kind of mess no one really knew – the building manager never told us – but it was fun to speculate.

“Group selfie!” Brian said. Everyone liked the idea. “Yes, I agree” I said, sans nod.

We gathered on the balcony and fastened Coleen’s iPhone to the grip on the selfie stick’s end. The timer was set for ten seconds. We huddled in and threw out our arms. We smiled. No one knew that with my left arm raised I gave the finger. I hopped this wouldn’t show in the photo, though a part of me did.

“You know the homeless guy retched up here,” I said.

“Eww!” and “Gross!” said everyone in different tones and at different levels of annoyance before they walked back inside.

“I’m such an asshole,” I thought, nodded, then followed the others.

Train Whistle

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I waited at a bus stop I didn’t usually wait at because I didn’t usually visit that part of town.

That morning I realized while sipping coffee and sitting next to this older guy with a horrible case of the sniffles that Saturday was my most routine, regimented day of the week.

“Now that can’t be!” I said to myself, or so I thought, because sniffle guy looked at me. The waiter then walked over with an egg sandwich I didn’t order.

“Your usual,” he said.

Sniffles guy sneezed, loudly.

I covered my food, not that he was facing me, or even that close to me. I was just paranoid like that.

I uncovered my food and messaged my roommate, telling him to force me out that night. Otherwise I would have stayed at the coffee shop all day, bought a bottle of diet soda at the gas station on my way home, and watched YouTube videos until I passed out.

“Sure thing buddy,” Tyler wrote back. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could now spend the rest of the afternoon at the coffee shop knowing that the second half of my Saturday would be different.

The bar I was meeting Tyler at was a bit out of the way, and there were at least three or four bus route combinations to take. This was before I had a car. I decided on the 24 up Broadway and waited another half hour for the 19. Lots of construction on the east side of town. I waited outside the Barnes & Noble and next to me was a college student with a backpack. We looked at each other and nodded.

I forgot how close I was to the railroad that cut through town. The train whistle sounded and the kid jumped.

“I used to work out here,” I said. “You get used to it.”

“What did you do?” he asked.

“The warehouses across the street. I worked there until recently.”

Bus 19 arrived and we both got on. We sat across from each other.

“I heard there was an accident out there,” he said.

“There was, but I quit beforehand,” I said.

Tyler and I drank at the bar for hours and then I left. Tyler said he’d be back soon but it was only eleven and the bars in our town closed at two.

Back at home I watched YouTube until three in the morning. Smosh parodies and Honest Movie Trailers. I heard Tyler come home and shut his bedroom door. I watched YouTube some more. Anything to get my mind off the accident. I was there when it happened. The station wagon stalled and the gate slammed on its roof. The driver jumped out just in time.

“Goddamn sniffles guy,” I thought and then passed out.

Game Night

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Saturday night was Game Night. It started back in fourth grade when my classmate Jason bragged during recess how he could kick everyone’s butts in Super Smash Bros. He always chose Link.

“No way you can beat me,” I said. My character was Pikachu. We decided to settle this the following Saturday night at my house. My mom was happy that I finally had a friend.

“He’s not my friend,” I told her, but she didn’t believe me.

We played without items, then with items. Ian shouted “the hammer! the hammer!” and blew me away. We played that night for six hours and lost count of who won the most matches. We decided to settle it the following Saturday.

Mom was right.

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Saturday night was Game Night. Jason and I rotated Saturdays at each other’s homes. We still played Nintendo 64 at my place but played Xbox at his. I would’ve asked for an Xbox too but mom was out of work and I knew Christmas would be small. This was back in the seventh grade. Daniel also started coming to our game nights – he just moved from Long Island and I sat next to him in Science.

More and more game nights moved to Jason’s. Out top game choice was Halo. I sucked, I really did. Shooters weren’t my thing. But Jason and Daniel always pushed to play so of course I joined.

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Friday night was game night. Our hangouts expanded to include a couple of our other buddies and rotated between mine and Daniel’s homes. I hadn’t talked to Jason much since freshman year. He found junior varsity football and became a certifiable jock. I always thought his father pushed him into it. I was never a popular kid.

I now had a Wii and Daniel had PS3. I didn’t have too may Wii games so we mostly played Melee – though GameCube was old news – and created some ridiculous Miis. Daniel’s brother was already out of high and bought us beer. The more we drank the more ridiculous the Miis. We tried to create a Pikachu-man and came pretty damn close.

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Every night was game night. My roommate Shawn brought his Nintendo 64 so we set this up in our dorm room. We played Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. He was a quiet, awkward guy and I suppose that’s why we got along. We kept a running tally of our wins on a dry board hung on our door for others to see. He always kicked my ass. It was years since I played Nintendo 64 but it was the only system he ever had.

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Last Friday I brought back game night. The night before me and a couple co-workers got drunk at the dive bar across from our office. We talked about old school video games. We also argued over who was the best in Melee.

“We’ll settle this at my place,” I said. I didn’t have a GameCube but my roommate Roger did. So the next night Connor and Justin came over and we played. Conner chose Falco. Justin chose Link. I chose Pikachu.

We played with items and without them. We played on a timer and on stock. One time I grabbed the hammer and thought of Jason back in the fourth grade, thought “damn, everything’s changed,” and then yelled “The hammer! The hammer!”

One Hour Off

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Ian wakes to his cell phone alarm and thinks “It’s still dark out,” but then remembers the following:

Daylight Savings Time

“This fucking sucks,” he thinks. “I can still see the moon out my window.”

He stands up and stretches and also remembers the following:

It’s Monday

I never put my clothes in the dryer last night.

“It is what it is,” he thinks.

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At work his teammate Paul asks, “You still cool if I take lunch at 1:30 and you go before?”

“Sure thing,” Ian says, though he thinks “I didn’t eat breakfast until 10 because my stomach believes it’s only nine but I can’t go after Paul because I have a meeting at 2:30 and someone has to stay and monitor the phones.”

Paul nods and puts back on his headphones. If the phones aren’t ringing, Paul is listening to music. Run the Jewels II.

Ian hears the music from Paul’s headphones and thinks, “I still never put my laundry in the dryer.”

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It’s 12:30 and Ian walks to the coffee shop across the street because he’s not hungry enough to go for the Italian sub he’s really in the mood for.

“I’ll take the chocolate chip cookie,” Ian says, pointing to the largest chocolate chip cookie behind the glass counter. He also orders a cup of espresso.

At the table he checks his Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and personal email. He sets his black Moleskine notebook on the table hoping he’ll jot down a sentence or two for his short story that he’s certain will end up in the Atlantic.

He scrolls through the Facebook updates and photos and Twitter posts and the following comes to mind:

What the hell does “bae” mean? Is it the same as “boo,” like I used in 2005?

Ian buys another cookie and heads back to the office and tells himself, “I’ll get that sub tomorrow.”

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Back at his apartment Ian eats a toasted roast beef sandwich that’s still cold in the center because he’s hungry and impatient. He’s angry at himself for not eating a decent lunch even though he wasn’t hungry at 12:30 because his stomach thought it was 11:30.

He sits at his kitchen table still with the headache from the espresso and thinks “I needed the boost because waking up with the moon this morning left me fucking tired.” He thinks, “The espresso made it hard to concentrate. I tried to help a client on the phone and three times in a row I got his name wrong.”

Then comes the crash at nine.

“Too early,” Ian thinks while he sits at his desk scrolling through Twitter and Facebook on his laptop. To its side is the black Moleskine notebook hoping he’ll jot down a sentence or two before passing out.

Too late.

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