There’s distant lights, but here they’re far and few

Another haunted night on the rainy streets of the east bay.

It’s been an elusive couple of weeks, here. Dramatic and bland, exciting and unsatisfactory. It’s hard to pin down, most times of transition are.

Have you ever found yourself at Club Mallard in Albany, at five thirty on a Monday in September?

I have.

The September sun shines in through the inadequately covered windows like warm yellow shame. You drink your beer and you stare at the other patrons. Painters and junkies and the generally dispossessed; somehow they aren’t as aware of your presence as you are of theirs. An old man and woman play pool and take turns standing in the doorway, their lit cigarettes perched on the 2×4 railing. The indoor smoking law has reared its ugly head, and the chainsmoking elderly grumble as they keep one foot out back on the patio, like a kid touching base in tag. The dude across from you is complaining about his first steady job at 25, valet parking for the Blackhawk wealthy and their trashy mistresses at a resort hotel in Walnut Creek from 11pm to 6 am. It’s lonely and boring, he says. “I would just sell weed, but I never really liked math.” I ask him if it’s a segregated establishment. I don’t think he understands the implication. He doesn’t respond.

His aspirations to day labor are discussed; the benefits of under-the-table payment and little to no personal responsibility are admired at length, over MGD. No PBR tonight, friends, tonight is a special occasion.

The Giants and the Saints fumble and intercept each other senseless someplace rainy on TV. The sound is off.

I keep drinking, because it’s too bright in here not to.

“They’ll open the upstairs at six. It’s nicer up there, always a good crowd. We should come back on Thursday night some time, when we can all get the night off. Thursdays are a good crowd.”

A lot of the people in our party work nights.

Club Mallard, aesthetically, is as self-sure as an overweight teenage girl. The duck motif prevails inside, with paintings of ducks, and scattered duck symbology. Out back is a sort of tropical tiki-torch patio, probably because bamboo was the cheapest material to cover up the concrete walls of the next building over, excluding spray paint.

We head upstairs, the first customers up there when it opens at 6:30. Drink fast, celebrate. A lot of us have to work. The overly young and pretty Filipino bartender passes us more beer. She hasn’t worked here long, she still smiles and stands up straight. She can’t be more than 19.

“Well man, are you excited about getting married?” I ask.

The day laborer and a quiet, unfriendly dude named Shane from San Lorenzo play pool. The party organizer shuffles through the jukebox, but nothing of consequence plays.

“Yeah, yeah I am I guess haha.”

“You’re not nervous?” I ask.

“Nah not really, I got a lot to do haha but it’s gonna be cool. Saturday will be cool.”

“Yeah, yeah it will. I’m nervous enough for both of us anyway.”

I watch the cars on Solano. A man sits on the hood of a gunmetal gray Grand Prix next to a payphone, talking to the gas station attendant. I wonder what they’re talking about.

————————-

Mark and I play pool, talk about work. He talks about his baby daughter a little; she’s a lot of work, responsibility. I haven’t seen him since high school. He seems much older now. He’s in the wedding also, and complains when I brag about how hot the girl who sized me up for my tux was. Apparently it’s all dudes at the Palo Alto branch.

I want to say something witty about how strange it is that the two groomsmen are a white guy who listens to hip hop and a black guy who listens to punk, but I don’t know him well enough.

I buy the groom another beer, and make jokes about the other customer who just showed up, pool cue case in hand.

“You know you’re hot shit when you come to Club Mallard on a Monday flyin solo to practice your pool game.”
He laughs.
“I’m not kidding, he just works that feeb look to trick fools. That’s some White Men Can’t Jump shit right there. Why else would he wear a faux-silk shirt with dogs playing pool on it to come play pool by himself in fucking Albany?”
More laughter.
“Can’t fool me. I seen your ass on ESPN2 at three AM. Fuckin shark.” I stage whisper.

The sun still hasn’t set.

————————–

I find myself a back yard in Berkeley two blocks from the freeway, sitting on a pile of lumber next to the barbecue, by myself. The lawn is small like all Berkeley lawns are small.

It’s dark, but no stars. I listen to the tidal hiss of the traffic beyond the soundwall.

I’ll go back inside, watch the last 25 minutes of Van Wilder on the big screen, sitting on a weight machine next to a fish tank with two snakes in it. Van will win over Tara Reid in all her bulimic android glory, listen to the emotional speech by the silly foreign boy, and graduate. I’ve seen it before. The rest of the party will smoke. They won’t be surprised when I shake my head no. We both know the offer is a ritual formality; to accept would cross borders that were negotiated and finalized at a much younger age. We’re all old enough to know who stands where, here. The groom laughs, nervously, at commercials. So do the others. I make them self conscious, I think.

A scabby tall guy in a black zip up sweatshirt will appear, skateboard in hand, in time for the next round of smoke.

He’ll look at me a little too long, but when I go to leave a few minutes later he’ll figure it out.

“Your name’s Trevor?”
“Yeah.”
“What’s your last name?”
“Gregg.”
“I knew it, man. You remember me?”

We went to junior high together, he reminds me. He’s a year older, an 8th grader when I was a 7th.

We will talk about people we still know, about the miraculous and inescapable 510 Connect. I’ll tell him I still hang out with Jolene, with Candace. That Casey Meirovitz got married.

He’ll tell me Beth Voral got married and lives in Hawaii.

We’ll shake hands, and shake our heads at the amazingly small size of the world.

I’ll tell him it was nice to see him, and say goodnight. He’ll say the same.

We were never really friends.

————————————-

I drive home, wondering what I’m gonna say in my toast as best man.

————————————-

-T.

I fear no angel nor devil
for I am a man.

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