November 03, 2010

Hot August Night

By Paul McGuire © 2010

In high school when things got rough, Birdy ditched class and drove to Denny's on the outskirt of town. She sat in one of the back booths and drank coffee for hours on end. Always with lots of milk and lots of sugar.

"The waitress was named Doris or Dorothy or Dee or something like that," Birdy told me. "She knew that something was wrong with me, but never said anything. She was polite and never asked questions. The last thing I wanted to do was talk... to her... about my problems. It's never easy being 17."

When Birdy ditched classes for a week straight, school officials notified her grandmother who acted as her official guardian for the last two years of high school. Her mother had a nervous breakdown, which was a polite way of saying that she ran off to Reno with a wanna-be wiseguy who was a third-rate check forger and second-rate safe cracker. Birdy's alkie father was long gone -- a distant memory aside from a faded picture that she used to obsessively stare out for hours on end. To this day I don't know if he died or he just left the family, because she never talked about him. Birdy was stuck living with her grandmother, a religious nut who clipped coupons all day and watched reruns of Little House on the Prairie.

"That's one of the many reasons I life Ohio," she said. "Well that, and all the redneck methheads."

These days, Birdy reverted back to old behavior whenever she was grief stricken. When things got too crazy at the office, she skipped out and hung out at a Greek diner on Third Avenue. She walked seven blocks out of her way, and past two other more popular diners, to make sure no one at her office saw her. I became fascinated with her routine -- she'd sneak out of the office, smoke a cigarette, buy a magazine at the newsstand and head to the diner. She always sat at the counter, ate wheat toast, and drank coffee with lots of milk and lots of sugar. She sat there until she finished the magazine, then she went outside, smoked two more cigarettes, bought another magazine, walked to the park and read until lunch time, then headed to the museum. It was closed on Mondays, so that was movie day and she went to the artsy theatre near Lincoln Center that played indie flicks. She'd sneak back into the office just before mostly everyone left for the day, which drew the stink eye from many of her co-workers. Birdy didn't care. She hated them all out of principle and was doing everything possible to get fired.

To cut up lines or crush up Ritalin, Birdy always used a Neil Diamond CD. Hot August Nights. It was missing Disc 2. Don't ask why, Neil Diamond just sort of happened like that one night, and ever since it became part of the ritual. Just like how most cocaine addictions begin, it started out casual and escalated. Birdy was originally a weekend dabbler when she moved to New York. She limited herself to a few keys bumps in bathroom in different bars on the Lower East Side. When things got a little boring with her life, Birdy graduated to buying her own eight balls from the elderely Dominican gypsy cab driver that a friend of a friend of a friend.

Birdy's weekend binges started earlier and earlier -- Thursday nights, then Wednesday nights and Birdy began skipping work on Mondays, which she spent most of Monday mornings ripping lines and watching Regis and Kelly. Everyone in the office noticed and hated her for her habitual absences. For the last month, I was running a "When Does Birdy Get Fired Pool" and the prize pool jumped up to over $1,500.

I never particularly liked Neil Diamond. I always thought that he was fake cool and not tough, like if he and Van Morrison got into a fight, Van would kick the living shit out of him. But then again, Van had a mean Irish temper and was a bit on the crazy side. Neil seemed to be too much of a pretty boy to win a physical test of strength.

"They used to call him the Jewish Elvis," explained Birdy. "That's what my grams called him, except she didn't say that in a fond way. Grams was full of hate when it came to..."

"Elvis?" I blurted out.

"Yeah," said Birdy. "She hated Elvis... and Jews too."

Birdy didn't like to talk much, so when she did, I attentively listened. I always felt a bit sorry for her. She was always in a dour mood, but she was hardly a negative person. I guess that's why she preferred cocaine and other stimulants -- to help pull her out of the doldrums.

I was curious about where Birdy went when she was in one of her moods and left the office, so I invited myself along without her permission. I guess you can say that I stalked her -- I waited for her to slip out of her cubicle and trailed her all the way to the diner. She never saw me, until I walked into the diner. I was surprised that she invited me to join her for a cup of coffee -- with lots of milk and lots of sugar.

Shortly after our encounter. I willingly joined her on Wednesdays -- it was the perfect way for me to split up my hellish work week. I'd fuck off all Wednesday and that way, I had only a four day work week. After a while, Birdy and I skipped the diner and just went back to her apartment to get jacked up and watch Regis and Kelly.

"That bitch Kelly Ripa is so fake," said Birdy as she gave the TV the middle finger. "But I betcha she gets some good coke."

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I dig it, to me Birdy represents the inner anti-socialism that a lot of us are constantly forced to repress. The narrator seems to long for the general apathy/anti-social behavior with which Birdy lives, but his motivations are unclear. I like the questions the story provokes about the narrator, and the causes of addiction and anti-social behavior. Is it Birdy's troubled past that causes her to live this way? Or is it something that is just a part of the human condition? Something that most of us continually sublimate but Birdy can't and the narrator doesn't want to anymore.

The narrator does not judge her, because he knows he is no better than her.

Great story Dr. Pauly.