This town is a multi-lake, family oriented place where every home owner seems to be an adult couple who throws their children lavish parties with bouncy castles and graduation tents while looking forward to their cute homes becoming empty nests. I particularly appreciate the mutual understanding when a gathering runs a bit loud, a bit late. You can hear live music and laughter on any given night and the noise is a respectful recognition of everything being in the right place. The local taverns are filled with older people most of the time; I once saw a farmer bring the bartendress crops in exchange for a drink.
Something strange happened earlier this year that I never wrote about. It occurred very close to home and I avoided telling it because I never understood it.
While sitting at a bar just up the road, I spotted a unique couple amongst the old men in flannel. They looked like me – younger, current – curious. The girl, Caucasian, taller than me with bigger boobs, had thick brown hair pouring all over a low-neck Detroit Tigers shirt. She would diddle on her smart phone and drink shots of tequila. Her boyfriend had a Detroit cap on and was asking questions about the menu.
She had me guess his age. I said, 32. She laughed and made him tell me the truth – 48. Nearly twenty years older, almost fifty and rocking tennis shoes with carpenter jeans. Coulda fooled me.
“It’s because he’s black,” she said. I had never seen any sort of diversity in one of those rinky-dink places before. Just as well, the staff says that me and my boyfriend initially caught their attention for being different from the regulars.
"Whenever you guys come in I go into the kitchen and I tell Barb, 'Barb, The Kids are here'."
After talking to them for a while I learned that they had just moved from Las Vegas where they’d stayed for years. The slower pace was killing them, the lack of nightlife, blah blah blah – digging deeper I learned that they were staying at her parents’ place and closing on a house in Warren. Warren, or ‘Wasteland’ as my peers call it, is a place I’ve only been to once. I remember seeing billboards for Vicodin addiction and going, “What the fuck?”
Anyway, she looked pretty. And interesting. And I had downed an entire pitcher of beer because Brad was unable to meet me there. I watched them look at their bill, checking it over and over, like it was higher than they’d expected. She asked me if I smoked and I said ‘no’. Then she asked if there were any places with pool tables or dart boards.
I ended up leading them to the next closest bar which had a live band. It was like drinking from scratch. As we made our way around the place, oogling photos on each other’s phones, talking about bullshit that didn’t matter, I wondered if they thought it was weird that some girl had suddenly buddied up to them. All alone, dressed in black, like I didn’t have a care in the world, I started buying them rounds. She decided to teach me how to play darts. They loved darts, they said.
The bar had one of those electronic dart boards that does all of the math. I just had to stand behind a line on the floor and throw the dart. It reminded me of my county fair, when I’d pop balloons for mirrored squares in cardboard frames.
As often as they claimed to have played, they sucked at it. Turns out, I do not. I was landing them dead center where I aimed to throw them – and we were all shocked.
“Are you hustlin’ us?!?!” she asked. Try explaining, as you’re watching your darts share the same tiny bullseye with each other, that you have never played, before.
When I throw a dart, I copy a motion I’ve always seen my dad do. He aims it and then quickly faux-throws it about six inches in a straight line, one, two times, then lets it go on the third. After he throws it, he’s sort of pointing straight ahead with his long index finger. It’s like imagining you’ve already thrown it twice, instantly reloaded, and been able to adjust the result.
She mimicked my throw, pursing her lips, like I couldn’t possibly be instantly good and have something signature like that.
Each time I had to run to the bathroom, I took my phone and my wallet with me. No purse, no pockets – I was always holding on to the two. Had been all day, occasionally setting them down on the bar. But always in sight.
Then I kinda screwed myself because, apparently, you have to get down to a 0 score in darts and I was at 1. I either had to hit the slice of ‘1’ in the right spot or lose the game. Great. At least the beer was good. And at least I was meeting new people.
I stood up there, took a buzzed moment to find where the 1 was, and wished that I could actually do it. One, two, – I threw my dart – and it soared right up there and landed on the 1. The game started playing a digital song in celebration.
Quitting while I was the winner, I left them to their own game and concentrated more on my beer and the band. We met back up at the bar and I had a new field ready on my phone. I handed it to her and she didn’t seem to hesitate at all. She put ‘Jamie’ in and added her number. I tested it by texting her. It worked. They were working on their own tab and I offered to buy them another round.
Jamie said, “We haven’t even bought you one, yet! Don’t worry about it!”
Then I saw my neighbors on the other side of the horseshoe, rocking out to a cover of ‘This Is How We Do It’. I said, loud enough so Jamie could hear, “I’m gonna go say hi to my neighbors!” and took off.
While we talked about tree removals and other domestic things, I noticed Jamie and her boyfriend looking on their phones as if they were comparing bank statements. I’d seen something like that going on the entire time. It wasn’t long before they came over to my side.
“We’re gonna step outside for a smoke!” I gave a big thumbs up.
I also never saw them again.
They ditched their tab, empty shot glasses stacked in towers. Some girls watching the band pulled me close and insisted that they made better company. I smiled sadly and thanked them.
They also ditched me.
Sometimes I think back to that night, and all of the odd things that happened. Them, from nowhere, me, kicking their asses at their favorite bar game, their obvious financial troubles, and our instant friendliness. I wonder if they had planned to take advantage of me. My wallet, being all alone, or where I lived…then suddenly seeing that people who knew me were there…and that I wasn’t getting drunk enough to make any poor decisions… Had I turned out to be too damn nice? Did they never like me one bit?
Could it be, that they were wondering the same about me?