“You better not make me cry,” Savannah feigns the presence of actual tear ducts beneath her eyes. “I cannot cry tonight.”
We’ve just met up in the parking lot behind Wally’s – right next to a conspicuous sidewalk sign reading “Fresh Corn Today!” – and nothing is making sense. Not only are we a couple of bleached-out, weathered husks concealing bitter, unfresh fruits, but Savannah – my partner in blond crime and my oversized night-life hip ornament – is severing herself from me and from the Orlando that once pronounced her “Sexy.” She’s leaving town again, and this time it’s for reals.
“I’m all cried out,” I Lisa Lisa without a Cult Jam. “Over you.”
It’s been a long five-year haul of standing in places and doing nothing, and sure, eventually everybody has to move on, but I thought we were a bedpost notch above all of that. We’re both post-breakdown Britneys well-accustomed to passing shelf lives and embracing self-parody, tripping our way over sidewalk cracks into the next unpleasant flirtation before landing face-first in figurative mounds of manure. We’re old pros replete with cigarette rasps who, at the drop of a press-on fingernail, have always been able to wrap our scratched throats around whatever idiom the idiot lexicon has most recently produced and follow it with a pronounced giggle. What am I going to do now?
“Well, you could shut up,” Savannah shuts me up.
Fine, then. Let’s do nothing.
Wally’s is offering up its standard social experiment tonight, with pockets of people engaged in pockets of conspiratorial nefariousness while the music from the jukebox ironies it all out. It’s the perfect setting for our collective attention deficits to sputter about nonsensically without treading anywhere near that dreaded sentimentality. Or is it?
“Savannah, you need to learn to take a compliment!” a crazy bar troll appears out of eye-corner left, his voice gruffly rising. “If you can’t take a compliment from a stranger, how are you ever going to take a compliment from somebody who actually cares about you! You need to learn!”
Hold the fucking phone. Apparently this little bundle of Tourette’s muttered something indecipherable in Savannah’s general direction about two minutes ago, and now the heat from his whiskey breath is pulsing the back of my earlobes with drunk-dad hate. I can see why she’s leaving.
“Um, that was scary,” she brushes it off. “Are you scared?”
“No, just sad.”
Fortunately, a lady bartender lumbers over to break the tension. Baby Gurl, as we call her simply because that has to be what somebody calls her, makes a big stink about the fact that we’re “the best dressed people in here!” before uttering “sweetheart” and “sweetie” an inconceivable 17 times in 30 seconds.
“You want cherries? Of course you want cherries! You’re a cherry, sweetheart,” she maraschinos. “Oh my God, you guys are sautéeeeeed!”
“Did she just …?” Savannah simmers.
“Yes?” I poach. Either way, I guess we’re cooked.
But not as half-baked as the couple mirroring us across the bar: she, a choppy-bleached widemouth with liquor-loosened lips; he, a manicured throwback on contract from Urban Outfitters, beret included. They’re engaged in a presentational circle-jerk on all things ’90s in a manner that suggests performance more than enjoyment. Lots of overspoken bits about middle school, the Polyphonic Spree and “Omigod, I love that, too!” soundtracked by their jukebox choices: Hum’s “Stars” and “Far Behind” by Candlebox. But it’s when they get to air-guitaring through Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” that things really take a turn for the worse. Meaning Savannah is singing along with them, and, perhaps, her life story.
“If everybody starts singing and it turns into a Fame thing, I am going to die!” Savannah Irene Caras. “I’ve been trying to do that my whole life,” she gets a little wistful. “I did it once with ‘Man in the Mirror’ when I was in the store!”
Speaking of Fame, another mustachioed guy across the bar has pulled out a device and appears to be communicating in some manner using his thumbs.
“Is that guy texting, or is he taking our picture?” is all it takes for both of us to pull a complete pose-down, lips apart, because we’re that gross.
By this point, it’s all becoming startlingly clear, and not just because somebody opened the door behind us to reveal that it’s still light outside. Maybe that guy who yelled at us was an oracle of truth calling us on our insincerity. Maybe those kids across the bar were a manifested mockery of our own gregariousness and sometimes-sad wardrobe choices. Maybe that middle-aged lady over there with the wet curls and the pink blouse really did just take a bath to come out for a drink, and didn’t do it so that she could be made fun of by two bitches. And, hey, maybe we are sautéed.
Maybe, sniffle, it is time to let go and move on. But not without a fucking T-shirt!
“The manager has a present for you!” Baby Gurl pops over with a ponytailed manager carrying two plastic Publix bags. Inside are two Wally’s T-shirts … and they’re tank tops! Thud.
“So I guess this is the end,” I pick my jaw up off the bar.
“Yep,” Savannah seals the deal. “What’re you gonna do?”
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