Storyline: Teresa

(3 entries)

Monday, September 22, 2003

The enemy you know

As I hope to establish over the course of this project, I like drunk women. I do not like them in the way that frat persons like them, with some hope that they will become unconscious. Frankly, unconsciousness bores me. If I wanted to hang out with beings that lacked sentience, I would get a cat. No, I like them because, somewhere in my childhood of reading a lot of Tennessee Williams and watching Days of Wine and Roses over and over, I got the idea that alcoholism, like TB, is romantic.

Obviously, I’m not the only American to think so, but I am the best American writer to think so (cf. O’Neill). (Just as obviously, Christopher Hitchens beats me on the international scale of drunkenness and writing. But I am willing to meet him at 3am at any New York bar of our mutual choosing and really write some snarky obituaries for celebrities.)

So when I say “drunk women,” you are to think “Dorothy Parker,” not “the girl in my psych class I totally wanted to bang but she was with that asshole Mike.” When I say “drunk women,” you are to think “women who are so secure in their own charm and intelligence that they can afford to be stumbling into things and smacking people.” Also, they are depressed, like me. Do we have an understanding?

Naturally, such sophisticated souses are hard to find these days, unless you hang out in the Hamptons with people in tennis sweaters. Since I’ve only been invited to the Hamptons in that polite way (“You definitely need to come out this summer.” “All right, when?” “You definitely need to come out this summer.”) I have to stick to the barflies at my local. Admittedly, they don’t know the Cheevers, but the effect is much the same. They are sly, smirky, secretive, supple, and very, very incapable of operating machinery.

In particular, at The Bar there are many regulars, all of whom get drunk a lot. They are all middle-aged men, or younger men working hard at catching up. Often these men will have alcoholic girlfriends join them. However, there is one woman among the regulars, who I consider the best-looking woman ever to systematically go out drinking by herself to the point of collapse. Her name is Teresa. This is her story.

Not that I know her story. These kinds of relationships don’t much allow for that. The last time I saw her, in place of “Hello,” she said, “You should buy me a drink, ‘cause then maybe I’ll talk to you,” and then wandered off. This adds to the mystery. The mystery being, “What is going on in that head?”

The pattern seems to be that she arrives, loudly complaining that she can’t stay, wearing some outfit that, while not overtly sexy, nonetheless involved careful planning. She orders up whiskey and is hit on by strangers ceaselessly. She plays maudlin songs on the jukebox and smokes Euro cigs on the stoop to the acclaim of passersby. She shoots pool while her depth perception holds out, and then zigzags off down the street, always unaccompanied. The total running time is, let us say, four to six hours. So I’ve heard. I don’t know what, if anything, she does the rest of the time. This is enough.

Once when I said hello to her, she replied, “Are you talking to me because I’m the only girl here?” Sort of. But not exactly. “I’m talking to you because you’re interesting to me,” was my lame reply. Even more horribly, she melted instantly. With my heavy-handed sensitive approach, I hit her where it counted. I felt guilty but pressed on. “How’s the pool game?”

“It sucks. I keep scratching,” Teresa said. “Do you want to play with me next game? No one wants to play.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t play pool.”

“You want to buy me a drink?” These are the two useful categories she has for men in the middle of the night, pool players and suckers. Since I don’t play pool, I bought her a drink. She leveled her gaze at me over the ice in her Jameson’s, with real gratitude. We toasted. We drank. Without putting her glass down, she reached back to take out her hairclip.

“Hey, look, don’t let your hair down, it’s too much,” I said. She smirked. She shook out her hair, she pulled off her glasses. She stared at me, lips parted, through her hair and began posing artificially. Maybe she knows I’m a photographer.

“That’s really lovely,” I told her. “You’re really something. Look, I’m setting up some group photo shoots, do you want to be in them?”

But she didn’t reply, or listen, she just kept flipping her hair around, giving me complex facial expressions, and running her hands over herself.

Again, we can only wonder, “What is going on?” It’s for this that we must love the Other.

by Jack, 2:27 PM | Link | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

You'll find it in Balzac

Question: does the modern approach to homosexuality derive from Rex Harrison’s performance in My Fair Lady? Further question: does the trope of “take off your glasses and let your hair down and you’re pretty” spring from Marian the Librarian in The Music Man? Very possibly. I’ve always been a believer in living by the classics. Well, I’ve told you about my recent run-in with Teresa, noted barfly and pretty girl with bun and glasses, but, dear diary, it gets worse.

I show up at The Bar especially late and there she is, pool cue in one hand, whiskey in the other. She’s a neighborhood girl, parents are Puerto Rican but she speaks fluently in both their language and mine, no wrong accent either way. Thin, with a big head, like on TV. Like Shirley Jones in dark curls, her mouth hangs a little bit open all the time. I sit down. She’s telling her story, to no one in particular: “Oh, I can’t go back to my apartment tonight. They’re painting it. I have to sleep in my car.”

I get my beer, I toast everybody. Teresa’s going on: “Oh, I have to sleep in my car tonight, isn’t that terrible?” She isn’t speaking to anyone, she’s orating. So this goes on for a while. Some of us are ignoring her, some of us are hitting on her. One drunk guy approaches, says he’s going home, and she can come. She smiles, but she isn’t leaving yet. He goes.

Finally I make my move. “Teresa, this is ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to sleep in your car.” I dangle my keys in front of her. “Go ahead, sleep in my car.”

Ha ha ha. The fellas laugh. Teresa glares but sits down next to me. “That wasn’t nice,” she says. I know the drill: I buy her a Jameson’s. She’s happy. Hey, if she’s happy, I’m happy. Sort of. I don’t really know her, but there’s something about her I like. I worry that it’s just that she’s a kooky drunk, but maybe that’s enough.

So time flies, I chat with the bartender, I chat with the fellas, I chat occasionally with the girl, and I hear again about the painting and the awaiting car. I’m not sure what I think about it. If it’s the truth, or a weird game for attention, or a weird way of suggesting her availability. But questions like those are what make people interesting. So at the end of the night I say, “Teresa, let me walk you to your car. I’ve been hearing about this car. I want to see this car you’re going to sleep in.”

She appraises me and says, “You can walk me to my car. But that’s it. Got it?”

“Sure, sure, I’ll walk you to the car but that’s it. I won’t walk you to anything else.”

So we set out for the fabled car. It’s not close. She drags me a ways uptown. Hey, it’s hard to get a good parking space. But it’s also hard for two drunks to walk at five in the morning. We hold hands briefly, then don’t for the rest of the way. But — we get to her car. A station wagon, no less!

“Wow,” I say. “You do have a car!”

“What’d you think, asshole?” She unlocks it and yanks open the front door. Then she giggles, closes it, and yanks open the back door. She gets in the back seat, shuts the door, and sits primly. “Thank you for a wonderful evening,” she deadpans.

I open the door, get in the back seat next to her. “This is a pretty nice setup,” I tell her, feeling the upholstery. “If I had a car like this, I’d get rid of the apartment.”

“Shut up,” she whines, “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I wouldn’t make fun of you,” I say, and I kiss her. I don’t know why. We hardly touch. After a moment, I pull her closer to me, but that seems to remind her that we’re kissing and she pulls away. I’m going to tell this very precisely so I can try to remember how it happened.

“Hey, I said there wouldn’t be any of that.” She glares at me again, behind those glasses.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her, and I touch her face. She slowly moves closer to me, resting against my chest. I explore her hair for a moment. Then I lean down and kiss her forehead, and her cheek, and I push her back a bit and kiss her orator’s mouth. I’ve somehow got her in a real Rossano Brazzi hold. But being more me than him, I fumble around to get my hand up her blouse. That starts her squirming away again.

“C’mon, stop it!” She sits up. “Can’t you behave?”

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “It’s just that this is a little unexpected, and unexpected is a little exciting.”

She stares at me for a few moments. I smile. She isn’t smiling. She inches over to me again. She leans in to kiss me, but this time she holds me back to the seat. She cocks her head and studies my face. “Not a word,” she says, and I feel and hear a zip. Teresa puts her head in my lap and her mouth to work and it makes me shudder. I’m not sure what I had in mind when we tripped out into the street, but my impression is that this is more than success. I watch her in her slow and steady execution as the sun begins to just as slowly rise. She doesn’t look at me and hardly makes a sound. I don’t hear or see anything. I’m focused on the feeling she’s creating, but even that is starting to fade, or getting lost behind something. I know that everything that’s happened was, sure, my doing, but I’ve felt like an observer the whole time. Especially now. I’m watching her, but I feel far away. Not just from the booze. From far away I realize that this whole thing is pretty awful. It turns out that no matter how much the concept appeals, I don’t want a blow job in the back seat of a car after all.

This surprises Teresa even more than me. “What’s wrong?” Teresa mutters because I can’t stay hard. “Look,” I say, “uh — thank you. But let’s stop.” Then she looks up at me. Again, not really any expression. I put my dick back in my pants. I take her in my arms. Then we fall asleep together in her car.

by Jack, 11:59 PM | Link | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Date night, but not for us

As Thursday rolled around, I had spent several days congratulating myself for scheduling The Date That Should Not Have Been, due to occur in just two more days. I went out to my day of toil in the vineyards of overproduction, meeting up with the same agency types who had been recently feeding and clothing me, though not personally, but with money. I showed up fed on Corn Flakes (a former client) and clothed in Levi’s (I am Orthodox in my jeans choice). Just steps into the space, the account executive immediately sidelined me and said, “Can’t you look professional?”

“What do you mean?”

“This isn’t a jeans kind of shoot.”

I looked down at his suit from Yesterday’s Man. “I can’t do a photo shoot in a three-piece. I have to move around.”

“This is an important client. Next time we meet with them, wear chinos at least.”

He wandered off to smile while I did the work. The very concept of “professional” confuses me. What does it mean to “look professional”? It means to wear a suit. Wearing a suit is not difficult. All you have to do is put a suit on your body, and it’s done. You have mastered the process. What does that have to do with your professional abilities?

Another aspect of this myth is the letterhead. Why do deadbeats get printed letterhead? Because it “looks professional”. But what it really is is convenient. Nobody at General Motors wants their entire employee base writing out the address every time they send an envelope to somebody. They get the letterhead printed not for some abstract concept of what it means to be in business, but because it saves time and money for their company. Wearing jeans saves time and money for my company, and for yours if you hire me. For one thing, we’d just spent thirty seconds discussing it, and I bill by the half-second. That’s sixty-three cents you’ll never see again, smart guy!

But I got through it and returned home to more flashing from the only shining element of my life, the bulb on my answering machine. Pushing it turned out to be a let-down. Kerry was canceling the date that was going to change my life.

“Jack, hi, it’s Kerry, it’s about three-forty-five here. I’m really sorry to do this at the last minute, but they just asked me to go out to San Francisco, and I won’t be back until Monday. I really wanted to see you this weekend. The next week or two aren’t looking so good, but can you call me and we’ll figure it out? I’m really sorry, Jack, please don’t think I’m trying to get out of this. I couldn’t say no to my boss. Please call me, or I’ll call you when I get back. Okay. Talk to you soon, bye.”

I pulled from the freezer the just-begun glass of icy vodka that Kerry’s intrusion into my mindspace had interrupted my consumption of a few days before. It had been my backup plan all along, though I hadn’t known it. I sat on my couch and considered what game was afoot. There was the possibility that she was on the level. There was the possibility that she was telling the truth in the particularity of having to leave town, but nonetheless was relieved it got her out of our date. There was the possibility that she was making it up to get rid of me. There was the possibility that the entire date had been a ruse to punish me. They all seemed equally possible. I was even willing to credit as equally possible that she was completely not fucking with me. But I didn’t know which was the truth. I drank the vodka instead.

In Manhattan at least, Thursday is date night, as I have explained: the night for first dates between people who are auditioning each other for a starring role. I went out into the night and stumbled upon dozens, hundreds, an entire city full of these hopeful cases with their locked step and their crossed fingers. Not fair, under the circs. There is nothing worse than being stood up for a Saturday (the most serious of evenings out) on a Thursday (when you’d have to suffer through three whole days of other people’s dates). I headed for the bar, where the only dating was trying to figure out the era of each stain and burn on the bar. Some of them had happened since I’d been going, I was sure.

The bar was almost empty, which is not surprising, even though the neighborhood was crowded with drinkers: they wouldn’t be coming here. I knew I could relax among my fellow rejects from the dustbin of love. I swept into the room and sized up my evening: Crazy Leland, who only knew one joke and was still working on its delivery; Big Sal, who was curled up asleep in a booth, with his feet two feet over the side; Joey One-Nose, our local mafia don who always went home, with great willpower, after two beers and fourteen brandies; and — here I almost turned around and stalked back to my apartment — that firebrand of the drunken pool league, neighborhood girl Teresa, who I hadn’t seen in forever. But she saw me immediately, because she put down the pool stick from the game she was playing with herself and disappeared into the back.

I sat at the bar and called for a vodka. Never mix, never worry. Crazy Leland asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. Joey asked if I wanted him to buy me a brandy. From behind I felt a light smack and I turned to see Teresa back already. “Hey, it’s you,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m glad to see you,” I said.

“Ha,” she said. “Yeah. All right, buy me a drink.”

I ordered her a Jameson’s on the rocks, and she was impressed that I remembered. But I never forget a drink, or the drunk girls who drink them, especially when the last time I saw them we’d had abortive sex (my favorite). However, if it were up to me, I’d generally not put ice in a premium whiskey.

“So how you been,” she said, as we clinked glasses. I told her, “I been all right.” This was how to talk neighborhood.

I said, “I kept hoping I’d run into you again. It’s been a long time since last time.”

She said, “Yeah, you’re right, okay, buy me a drink.” I managed to sway the bartender back to our end of the bar right in the crucial moment of Leland’s joke, and he refilled her glass. I wasn’t quite to the same pace yet. She swirled her ice around and said, “I’m not having a good night.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Yeah, right. What’s right? It’s bullshit to talk about it, though.” That was probably the most wisdom I could expect from any of my emboozled colleagues that evening, but I agreed with it.

I put my hand on her shoulder. As the least drunk person in the room, bar staff included, I felt a fatherly responsibility. “Teresa, I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish things were better for you.”

“Ha,” she said. “You wish you could get me in the sack, is all. Like I’d be interested after last time. Or any time. Like I don’t have enough trouble already.”

I drank my drink and got another one. She was still swirling her ice defiantly. “It’s all the same shit,” she said.

I absently turned my head to take in a bit of the Joey-Leland-bartender conversation, which seemed to require prior knowledge. Teresa drank her drink when I wasn’t looking. I got us some more.

“Thanks,” she said, when the latest one was brought forth. “You don’t have any cocaine, do you?”

Cocaine, that substance that seemed to work for Other People. It bores me. I leveled my cocaine-poor gaze at her. She said, “I know you have some, you guys always do. Come on.” She took my hand, got down from the stool, and started off to the bathrooms, where the traditional cocaine feasts were held. They usually also involved touching.

“I don’t have any,” I said. She stopped, still bathroom-facing, and I took my hand back. She turned around and sat next to me again. “That’s all right,” she said, “it was just a thought.”

We drank in silence for a while. “I’m sorry you’re sad,” I said again, like a bozo.

“Thanks,” she said. We sat there for a while, drinking, not talking, and when she started to fall off her stool too often, I walked her home. She kissed me a bit at the bottom of the steps, and then a bit more at the top of the steps, and then I went home, thinking about Kerry and how she was such a jerk.

by Jack, 8:01 PM | Link | Comments (0)