By Richard Bulkeley © 2004
The ugly lights went on at the bar, and the girl stood up. She was one of those interchangeable Canadian blondes who does their thing at bars all over this fine country. You know the type: naturally defined facial features, accentuated by judicious plucking and make up to look that much bit sharper; shoulder length straight blonde hair, and clothing somewhere on the sexy side of normal.
Well, maybe you don't know the type, but I do. Valeries (named after the very first tall slender Canadian blonde who I fell for) are a weakness of mine. I can't help it, when I meet one, I crank up the charm. It's a futile effort in some ways. Like the cats they remind me of, they'll receive all the attention and affection you're willing to give and return as much as they want to on their own terms.
This one was called Tanya, and she pretty much epitomised the Valerie type. Sure, they might all look a little different, have taken different career paths (at the same successful speed), and even enjoy different ways of keeping fit; but really, they are the same person with different life histories. It's not a unique feature, the large muscular guys over in the corner (and pretty much any other stereotype) can be described in much the same way, I just don't care about it as much because I don't tend to fall in love with large muscular guys.
From somewhere in her mini-handbag, she produced a pen. I hadn't asked for her number, I never do, but it looked like I was going to get it anyway, I usually do. She wrote it carefully on a scrap of paper and folded it in half. She tucked the paper in my shirt pocket and kissed me on the cheek.
"Call me, we'll go out tomorrow."
With that, she was gone, and I found the boys. E-Dizzle, the Racketeer, and Big Ian - obviously these aren't their real names, but it will be less confusing if I just bring out the poker nicknames now, instead of later.
The drive home was one of those scary-funny experiences that are best faced drunk. The Racketeer was legally sober but can barely drive automatic, let alone a stick-shift. Big Ian's poor truck was revving at about 6,000 most of the way and E-Dizzle and I were being thrown around the tray by some of the jerkiest driving since Thunderbirds.
When we got in the door, there was that crucial moment of "now what?" None of us quite wanted to go to bed yet, so I suggested playing some poker. All the essentials were right there on the kitchen table - a box of chips, a deck of cards, a bong with a ziplock bag of "oregano" beside it, and a bottle of CC (that's Canadian Club - a rather fine rye whiskey).
Drunk poker, especially when you're not playing for anything more important than bragging rights (although really, what could be more important than bragging rights?), isn't really about the game, it's about the experience.
Trash was talked, chips went from player to player, and as the game wore on we each adopted our own poker personalities. E-Dizzle was the bad-ass gangster (a tough role for a skinny white kid from Newfoundland). The Racketeer was the young college punk who would have worn sunglasses if he could have negotiated the stairs to find them. Big Ian was the quietly confident, self-assured guy and I was the dealer, some-time commentator, and acknowledged "poker expert." In other words, we all became something we weren't, or at least weren't usually.
The discussion wound its way around all the usual topics, with the bullshitting candour that alcohol encourages. Naturally, women were discussed, or at least their bodies were. In man-land, that place that even the most caring guy needs to visit sometimes, women are sex-objects, or sex-subjects, or both, I can't remember the rules of grammar well enough to know which would be the more intellectual pun.
"There weren't many hotties there tonight."
"That Tanya is pretty hot, though huh?"
"Yeah, how do you know her?"
"She lived in my building first year. She's kind of a bitch though, hey?"
"We were kind of going to hook up, and then she fucked my roommate behind my back."
"Dude, that's rough."
That's about as sensitive and caring as guys can get without women present. The translation that none of us missed, and would never make explict was that E-Dizzle had had a thing for Tanya and she had broken, or at least chipped his heart. We knew this, and expressed our solidarity without any awkard display of emotion. It's the way things work.
"Yeah, she made me take her phone number, but whatever."
I pulled the bit of paper out of my pocket, and brandished it as a trophy. The air wasn't exactly thick with anything other than aromatic smoke, but there was an element of tension undercutting the sweet fog. I had approached the line.
I casually balled up the paper and tossed it into the pizza box on the floor that we were using in an attempt to centralize the assorted debris of a two hour poker game and junk food extravaganza.
Life is defined by such moments. The seemingly little decisions that are fraught with significance. The times when an appropriate orchestral score would be appreciated to hint at how we're supposed to feel. Times like this where I symbolically affirmed my commitment to my friends and my willingness to share their hardships.
The game broke up not long after that, and by the next morning most of it had coalesced into a blob of fond memories that we would discuss whenever appropriate for the next month. The only thing we remembered clearly and would never discuss was my moment of self-sacrifice. As hard as it was, I didn't have any other choice.
Somethings you just have to do because they are what you have to do, even if it means throwing away the number of a girl who is interested and interesting, attractive and attracted, and any other clever pair of nouns you can think of to describe someone who you're happy to talk to for hours. Still, I had no trouble sleeping. Beer, weed, and a 20 hour day are quite capable of riding roughshod over the insomnia of real problems, so the minor consequences of being an honourable friend aren't an issue.
I called Tanya the next afternoon, copying her number from the crumpled piece of paper I rescued from a pizza box. I might be a good friend, but I'm not an idiot.
Richard Bulkeley is a nomadic philosopher, sometime barman, and ex-genius originally from Auckland, New Zealand.