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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Goal

I stand at a bar with a half-finished Heineken bottle in front of me. I know no one, but clothed only in flannel and denim, I know I am underdressed. Prince's "Erotic City" reverberates through the smoke in uncomfortable waves, and the stacked glasses clink. The bar itself is made of some deep and reddish wood, smooth to the touch, with a raised and rounded edge not unlike the top of a church pew.

In black bursting top, skirt, fishnet, and boots, a bartender lingers opposite me, having made Manhattans 'til cherries gone. She checks her nails. They are painted the color of the sun. They are sharp, real, capable of playing tic-tac-toe on some fortunate lad's back. At some point tonight, they will fill with his DNA. If he were a forensic pathologist, he could announce that as it happens.

I check my phone for the time, justifying my presence. I am able to breathe evenly and to maintain a neutral face, but my eyes cannot stay in one place. They flit from lady to lady to wall to wall. The television sets are black.

I have finished my Heineken, and I need another. The barmaid slinks toward me. I stare at her orange lips. Why would she paint her lips orange? Would she also orange up her nipples? I would. I order the beer and a shot of Jameson, and it strikes me as unnatural to do a shot alone, so I make it two. She sets everything in front of me and waits. As she counts my bills, I nearly ask her to join me for the shot, but the only toast I can think of is, "To giant orange saucers."

I make sure no one is watching. I smile as widely as I can possibly smile. "To you," I say, regarding myself in the mirror behind the bar. I do a shot. I pivot and do a full spin, the tails of my flannel shirt flying. I frown as painfully as I can possibly frown. "To you," I say to the reflection, "and to duality." I drink.

Emotion gnaws at my belly. What sort of foul evolutionary trait is this consciousness of the self? I fear that people are looking at me, and I fear that people do not notice me. It is a zero-sum equation, but fear is the only outcome. I am in no real danger of being hunted for prey, even by that syphilitic older sister in the corner, talking to that roofer-by-day-sex-offender-by-night. They do not belong here, and yet they are laughing, enjoying the human experience, a connection that will go terribly wrong as the moon rises...

Hey! A stout man in collar and gray slacks forces me to the side. He smells of aerosol musk and cheese concealed in many folds. He bellows Miller. There are plenty of other spaces to order a drink, but he must have his refreshment, this hippopotamus at this watering hole. I become a mere bird, searching for insects on his great back. I check my pockets for a knife. I have no knife. I never carry a knife. It is illegal to poach in these parts.

No knife? I am a liar. My knife is my mind. This stout man, he knows he is stout, and it hurts him that I think that he keeps cheese between his buttocks. I have stabbed and stabbed again. He bellows and shoves out of pain. Now it feels so nice, his bellowing and my evil.

If I stand here long enough, someone will approach me. Some delicious lady of privilege, seeking a light for a token bit of sin. If I stand here long enough, some interplay of light and haze and drugs will deify me. People will bend at the waist in my presence. If I stand here long enough, my weakness will be strength, my silence will be sound, my blandness will tell a story. That story will involve rice cakes and unflavored gelatin.

Laughing, I have become drunk, and that is the goal. I may leave now. But why does the bouncer glare at me?

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