It's the quiet pedestrian vacuum of the in-between that always gets me: the half-eaten can of lukewarm Progresso lentils and concessionary tumbler cocktail of midlevel spirits, the television hiss of nothing on top of nothing with creeping nothing underneath in the dim-lit hovel of voices in my head that speak of boring doubt and ticking age in quiet whispers that even I can barely hear. Like the spaces separating the pulse of actual life on the EKG reading, my life is a void always just around the corner from a peak. It's not what's beyond good and evil, Nietzsche, it's what's between them. And that is bad.
"Shan and Tiff and I are at Peacock," my dormant phone buzzes with a text from Karen Leigh. "U want to join for a drink?"
"But I was just at Will's," my numb fingers dumb back, leaving a beige lentil stain in their wake. My last heart-pound peak came at the expense of dignity, as it so often does, in the post-work happy hours of talk-too-much with the boss man until he grabs your ass and tells you that no, you're not getting a raise. I wasn't planning on a public pulse exposure until my next planned peak at 10 p.m., when my void would habitually incline itself into something else, some other mistake, something ostensibly worse (evil?). What is Karen suggesting, arrhythmia? I could die!
"OK, I'll be right there."
So here I am, the late-arriving fourth girl — the Tootie, the Blanche, the Charlotte — in a four-square red couch confab already fueled by the deceptive sweetness of chocolate martinis, trying to keep up with the firefly races of tipsy feminine wiles. Most of the moist cerebral volleying falls within the sickly-sweet parameters of bitchiness ("She's such a bitch!") and politeness ("I love your handbag!" "Well, I love your shoes!"), but at some point the conversation snakes its way into the momentarily topical. Overhead, a cardboard sign tellingly reads "Neverland" — as in I was never here, because I'm actually leaning over my lentils and contemplating protein in the void — so for a moment, we're all treated to our magical memories of Michael Jackson and the clothes he used to make us wear. All of which reminds me that I'm supposed to be back here at Peacock at 10 for the "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" Jackson tribute party for hipsters, so I should probably go. I do.
Fifteen minutes later, my phone vibrates again, along with my lentils and my tumbler. It's Karen. There's been an emergency. Everybody's been kicked out of the Peacock Room because there's sewage or something and there will be no party tonight. That's right, NO PARTY TONIGHT. My heart skips a beat.
"Are you fucking kidding, because sewage is totally a gross tampon joke that a girl on a red couch would use to try to make sure that I didn't come to a party that I invited somebody else to!" I sputter off in manufactured Jackson rage. "Just wait till I get through …," etc.
"Nope," Karen sighs. "And thanks."
A few seconds of personal reflection later — meaning the reddish view of my face through the cranberry ice cubes of my tumbler — I realize that I can do something about this, for Michael; I'm looking at the man in the middle.
After some crafty speed-dial networking — thanks, Shan Stumpf — I get party organizer Andrew Spear on the horn and detail the underground tampon nightmares of overflow and brown and creaking noises. I'm asking him to change his venue. Actually, I'm more dramatic than that.
"I need you to promise me, Andrew," I crack my voice in that affected MJ song- ending kind of way, "that for me, and for Michael, you will make this happen. This is more important than you know. Make that change." Sniff.
Meanwhile, I meet up with my prospective date and partner in eye-rolling judgment, Meaghan — who looks, rather inappropriately, like feather-flyback Farrah Fawcett — at Bar-BQ-Bar. Freddy vs. Jason is silently and violently skin-peeling on the television, apropos of nothing. I am lost. There is no good here, only evil.
The phone vibrates again, this time with a message from Andrew Spear. Just like Michael Jackson would have, if Captain EO had been about a pack of failing furbots hoping to "give the gift" on an industrial pipe journey underneath Mills Avenue rather than across the infinite galaxies, Spear has managed to relocate his "sunshine" and "moonlight" and "good times" and "boogie" over to Will's Pub! Glory be!
"We must go," my voice deepens, theatrically.
And so we ease on down, ease on down the road to where this evening's stilted heartbeat began, thinking that at best there will be four fat drunk people sitting on stools and calling Michael Jackson a faggot, maybe grabbing my ass and definitely not giving me a raise. Sure, they're there — as are any number of irony-ons in spangled gloves and Afro wigs and broken sequins — but also present is the sort of magic and tribute and balls-out transcendence that used to make going out not so much a chore as a necessity.
On a giant projection screen, Carol Burnett crumple-faces around the budding Jackson 5, while DJ MOT and Spear scurry about in search of last-ditch musical continuity with resounding success. Meaghan and I plant ourselves near the front of the stage, while I sweatily regress to that stick figure who used to dance just to watch the shadow of himself falling down next to the bunk beds, next to the emptiness, next to the closet of my cracked suburban childhood. Somewhere in the middle of my dervish a-whirling, I purchase a sad T-shirt Spear designed of a similarly empty child: Michael Jackson, sitting on a scooter. He's just like me! My life is complete. Well, not yet.
"I'm not leaving until they play ‘Bad,' you know," I huff and puff. "Just because."
Meaghan scoots away for a second, "Bad" plays and then there I am, an exploded heart of peaks and voids, splattered across the walls, impressionable turned into impressionism forever. This isn't so bad, after firstname.lastname@example.org