If it wasn’t for the whiskey, he wouldn’t have taken them at all.
A sweetly acrid pinch lubed the hinge of his jaw. He should drink some water but he didn’t want to and it wasn’t in front of him.
“I got tickets for my grandma,” he had told the bartender. It was the middle of the third inning and he was one of six people still drinking at the bar next to where his seats sat empty, sweating in the summer heat all on their own. “It was her birthday yesterday - same as mine - but then she died.”
“Oh,” the bartender said, unsure if this was the beginning or the end of the story. “I’m sorry, man.”
“Yeah. She died on her birthday, can you believe that? Same as mine. Except I’m here.” Here he paused for effect, looked at the bartender, twirled a coaster in his fingers. “She’d been sick for a while. She loves the good game, so I thought…but then, yeah. Died.”
“No good, dude, I’m sorry.” The bartender patted the bar-top gently, in lieu of a shoulder or a hand. He set a new coaster in front of the man wearing a jersey not quite the right size, and a face not quite sad enough. “You want another?”
“Yeah. Might as well.” He leaned back, looked for oncoming traffic, stretched his arms. “I’m Tom.”
“Nice to meet you,” said the bartender without returning the introduction. He bent into a cooler, re-establishing the fourth wall.
Tom surveyed his compatriots.
—The heavy-set man to his far right: “I would say 80 percent of the girls who send me photos, I don’t even open them. Fat girls. All of ‘em. Not even worth lookin’ at.”
—Two younger men, scrolling through a text conversation: “I don’t know, it’s not a good idea. She’s crazy.” “Meh, any port in a storm, right?” Laughter.
—A group of five business men, drunk on flavored vodka: “Candace?” “That’s a stripper’s name.” “Try asking her - CANDACE.” “I don’t think that’s her name.”
Tom’s car bomb arrived on the bar without fanfare. Appeared. Reborn, refilled as magic. He was drinking a phoenix, now eight times over. It was a shade less lonely to drink with strangers and several Pantones deeper if you could make those strangers feel something. Even if that feeling was sadness. Feel sad for me and I will be real.
A man with a Coors Light sat to Tom’s immediate right. The oceanic noises from the TVs indicated something good had happened in the bottom of the third.
“Right?” Tom asked the man to his right.
“Hmph,” the man said, slender fingers tapped the dew on his beer bottle. “‘Bout time.”
“I know, man,” Tom said. “I should prolly go into the game soon.”
“You have tickets?”
“Yeah,” Tom said. This was the launch pad. He tapped his own, wide fingers on the underside of his upturned shot glass. “I was supposed to go to the game with my ex-girlfriend. But then she got herpes.”
The man to Tom’s right said nothing, but gripped his Coors Light and shifted sideways.
“And I’m like, I can’t fuck with that,” said Tom. “So, if I’m not gonna have sex, then I’m not taking her to the fucking game. Not talking to her, you know.”
“Uh, yeah,” the man to Tom’s right said, unenthusiastically, but gave Tom his full eye contact. Tom knew he was good to go.
“My ex wife got it too and somehow I never caught it. Never tested positive. This other girl I had got it and then she wouldn’t fuck me anymore and I was like, I mean, when we had sex I’m wearing a condom, you know,” Tom laughed at this, most obvious fact, “But once she got it she thought I had it.”
Tom paused. The man to Tom’s right glanced at the game. The moment was waning.
“Anyway, if I’m not gonna get laid tonight, I might as well do a few car bombs and go into the game late, right?” Tom lifted his empty shot glass off the bar.
“Absolutely,” the man to Tom’s right said, as he stood up. He gave a wave to the bartender and swigged the last of his thin beer. “Enjoy, man.”
“Thanks,” said Tom, his phoenix reborn yet again shortly in front of his swaying vision.
“You all set?” The bartender asked.
“You know, I don’t even like Guinness,” Tom said.