Something strange happens in the summer where I — no longer school-employed — agree to things usually inconceivable for me to be doing. My default answer, no, is exchanged for a far more foreign and frightening pronunciation: yes.
They called me at eleven on a Monday night. After the customary argument, I capitulated, and soon I found myself in a tiki bar with four boys, drinking with a two-foot-long straw out of a shared booze bowl in which floated flaming limes.
Sam recommended that I drink out of a lime.
“It tastes like burnt ass,” he said.
We stayed until they turned on the lights and then we caught a bus North. We got into an empty Skytrain car and the boys blasted music while trying to hang inverted on train poles.
We got off in Chinatown, with no plan. Every bar was closing imminently, with one exception — the Roxy. They decided (I was denied input on the matter) that we would make the journey.
It was two o’clock by the time we got in. An unearthly red haze diffused the place. The average age was about forty. I was probably the youngest and certainly the most sober person there. Old men sat alone at tables, watching, seeming like permanent fixtures of the place.
We went to the bar to take some shots. I watched the bartender take a plastic pitcher of pre-cut lime wedges from the counter. Was this food safe? I reflected on the likely possibility of contamination: fruit unrefrigerated, open to the toxic vapours of dance perspiration and booze breath, fingered by a bartender accruing on his hands the filth of the night’s coins, cards, bills...
Surely, these limes were bacterially-compromised. These were the important questions I posed to myself as I swallowed the tequila that was handed me.
There was a band set up on stage playing covers. They had a repertoire of radio regurgitations and tween school dance songs. I never saw the guitarist once miss a beat — he tracked the rhythm with an accordion-like elongation and retraction of his neck. Dancing to some Top 40 staple, Sam showed me “digging,” which apparently is very trendy in Victoria right now.
A bouquet of flowers was circulating the crowd. I considered its mysterious origins. Was this a talisman of unrequited love? A drunk’s stolen cemetery souvenir? Somehow it had arrived at the Roxy, the object of an unspoken game of hot potato. In time, it came to our group. Sam put a flower stem between his teeth and dramatically shimmied the bouquet over to a girl, who, clutching her heart, accepted them. The flower girl danced for a while with the boys. Sweaty bodies closed in, incrementally approaching wriggling walls of breathing biological material.
The bathroom proved lousy refuge from both crowd and music. Impossibly, the martian fog had thickened. A few women looked at themselves in the mirror, wobbling — muscles dissolving, bodies unable to bear yet another Taylor Swift cover, their ankles exhausted by stilettos or maybe they were just drunk. I envied them.
I returned to the dance floor, where one of the guys was now making out with the flower girl. With little stealth Sam tried to Snapchat it but accidentally reversed the camera and was left instead with a ten-second recording of his chin.
A married couple waved the flower bouquet. People cheered for the mediocre band. My mother always said that when you were drunk you looked like your face was melting off. I now considered the profound truth of this statement.
Wading through the crowd of melted people was a man in his late thirties. He was vaguely familiar. I was fully prepared to let this near-recognition fade into the forgotten as he conveniently made for the exit, but by some miracle he decided to turn his head and look at me. He stopped immediately. He stared for a moment, pointed his finger at me and over the heads of dancing people said, “Churchill.”
Yes, this was both the name of a British prime minister and maybe a geographic designation of a place of religious worship. This happened, also, to be the name of an educational institution with which I was intimately familiar: my high school.
The revelation was complete. In the place of desks and dictionaries were barstools and beers, but there was no doubt.
He bent forward to speak in my ear.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said.
I pointed him in the direction of the boys, who had been his students four years earlier, and he opened his arms in papal benevolence.
“Oh my God,” he said, hugging each in turn. He hugged us all again and then walked out the door with another man.
Soon the lights turned on and the crowd began moving.
The bouquet of flowers had found its final resting place on the ground, petals skewered by four-inch heel – pulpy from bouncing bodies.
After tying the laces on an Irish girl’s Doc Martens, we went to eat vegetarian donair across the street. They didn’t have any falafel so instead the guy put fries in. Michael got a cheeseburger and we put in a chicken nugget, tzatziki, hot sauce and my unfinished donair. It had all the makings of a disaster, but it was actually pretty palatable.