I hadn’t realized it until my early thirties, but when I did the fact was undeniable. I was an idiot. I hadn’t always been an idiot, in fact throughout my life I’d been recognized for my considerable wit. But success isn’t about witticisms or cleverness. Success in life is decided by the choices we make, and boy had I fucked up. Pride cometh before a fall – or so they say – what they don’t say is that it’s just as likely that pride will fuck you right out of getting anywhere to begin with. So there I sat with my blind old dog, Buttface, eating a cold pot of Top Ramen and boom. Epiphany. Fucking hoo-ray. They also say the first step in solving a problem is realizing you have one. I, however, wasn’t finished making bad decisions, not by half.
You see, I didn’t have the marks of what the average person considered success; a hot wife, a nice house, spoiled-rotten-asshole kids, a six-figure income and a girlfriend on the side. I’d spent too much energy telling people what I thought and felt about – whatever – to ever have any traditional success. Plus, I was lazy. Shit, I’m still lazy. Well, it’s not so much that I was lazy as it is there weren’t many things that I gave enough of a shit about that I was ever compelled to put forth any sort of real effort. Apathy had bitten me in the ass more times than I can tell you.
Take Jenny for example. Jenny is bangin’. I met her at the bar the night before. Five foot three, a hundred and ten pounds, perfect peach skin and long auburn hair. She was an easy three on the finger scale. As in I’d break three of my fingers for a roll with her. Some folks said she was out of my league. To be fair, they only said that because I was broke, thirty pounds overweight, and there was a week-old spaghetti stain on my hoodie.
Jenny’s friend on the other hand, wasn’t out of my league. She didn’t make the finger scale but she was cute; cute and willing to wake up at my apartment that morning with a hangover and a sore asshole. She was throwing up in the bathroom. Ramen.
“Hey, you okay in there?” I asked through the hollow particle-board door. Not that I cared mind you, I just wanted her to you know, leave.
She heaved and spit between the words “I’m” and “fine”. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
I detected a hint of sniffling and a quiet, sad sob coming from the other side of the door so I backed away and walked to my computer. I felt what I know now is guilt, and I must have reacted on instinct because I had my own fucking problems to deal with; a mouth like cotton, and a steady pulse of sharp pain at the base of my skull. I sure as shit wasn’t going to spend any energy helping her regret the fun we’d had the night before.
Now, you may think me a misogynist because of my crass insinuation of that night’s events, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am if anything a feminist in the truest sense of the word. Women and men are equal in all things. That’s why I hadn’t considered Jenny’s friend a slut or anything because hey, chicks are allowed to like sex too. That doesn’t mean I’m going to coddle her just because she’d bought into the social norm of regretting an anal one-nighter, and the subsequent walk of shame that came with it. Does that make me an asshole? Perhaps. A misogynist? Not so much.
She came waddling out of the bathroom a short time later. Well, waddling isn’t the right word as she wasn’t fat. Not that there’s anything wrong with rolling a fatty every now and then. On average, they try harder. No, this was more the bow legged walk of a cowgirl that had spent too much time in the saddle. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have an extra tooth brush would you?”
“No, sorry. But there’s some mouthwash in the medicine cabinet.”
“Yeah, I used some already. I didn’t put my mouth on it though; I just kind of tilted my head back and poured it in.”
“Oh, okay, cool.” I found the gesture both charming, and pointless. I mean, if I was going to catch the cooties from this chick it wasn’t going to be from a bottle of mouthwash.
“So,” she hovered near the front door. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Yeah, it was good times.”
The longest ever half-second meandered on by before she took a brief step forward. “Hey is there some place I can get coffee around here?”
I’d thought the pounding at the base of my skull was the result of listening to her throw up for the last ten minutes, but it turned out it was just a regular hangover. My ears couldn’t help but perk up at the mention of coffee. “There’s a Temple Coffee a few blocks from here. I could actually use some myself.”
“Oh. Did you want to come with?” I understood the hesitation in her voice. Getting coffee together meant being sober together. That meant having a sober conversation, which meant there was a good chance of us hating each other as opposed to the usual, semi-awkward morning after. And that would just about be the shameful whipped cream topping on a sundae built of self-loathing and regret, for her at least.
So we walked the five blocks to the coffee house because fuck it, why not. It was weird. Like first date weird, only without the wondering whether or not I was going to get laid. She was cuter in the daylight than I expected. Considering what dim lighting and bourbon at a bar can do to one’s judgment that was a minor miracle in and of itself. We talked about the bright clear morning and what it was doing for our respective headaches; and we cracked dumb, awkward jokes about how stupid strangers looked on the way there.
“Oh, I’ve been here before,” she said as we walked up to Temple.
“I take it you don’t live in midtown?”
“I do, just on the other side. Over off F Street.”
“Really? I used to live over there – “
The door flew open and jammed my finger as I reached for the handle, and out walked an inconsiderate bitch that for some reason couldn’t see through a glass door.
“Oh my God, Sarah! Hey girl what brings you way over here?”
“Hey, I’m just getting coffee with my friend.” Sarah gestured toward me as I stood hunched over grasping at my fast-swelling finger.
Sarah’s friend smashed my finger pretty bad, and I had a sudden urge to feed her the back of my hand. Not that I ever would mind you, but I’d thought about it. On the flip side, she’d said Sarah’s name which I’d been trying to remember all morning but couldn’t. So in a way she did me a favor and saved me a little awkwardness. Two favors, actually. Sarah introduced me as her friend, not by name. I realized she didn’t remember mine either, and I felt a little better about it.
“Mike, nice to meet you.” I reached out my un-fucked hand to shake hers.
“Sorry about your hand.” Her mouth said sorry her tone said obligatory apology. “I’m Gwen.”
Sarah and Gwen exchanged mindless nonsense about Gwen’s kids and other inane shit for a few more minutes while I tried to squeeze the blood out of my finger, and back into the rest of my body where it belonged. I gave up on that when Gwen said her goodbyes, and Sarah and I went to stand in line.
“All these people look so awake, and happy.” I picked the last bit of gunk from around the corners of my eyes and blinked until the lids stopped making that scraping sound. “It’s too early for that nonsense.”
“It’s 10 AM,” Sarah said. “It’s not that early.”
“Yeah, it’s 10 AM in regular person time. In hangover-time it’s like…seven. When did you get so chipper?”
“The walk did me some good, plus I got most of the ick out of my system at your place this morning.”
“Yeah, I heard.” In retrospect, that was a dick thing to say, but it didn’t’ seem to faze her.
We made it to the front of the line where a way-too-old-to-still-be-a-barista hipster named Shiloh was waiting to take our order. “Do you kids know what you want?”
“I’ll just have a large coffee,” Sarah said.
“What kind of bean?” asked Shiloh.
“I don’t know. A light roast I guess?” Her shoulders shrugged when she gave her answer.
Shiloh loosed a heavy sigh, and head-whipped his bangs out of his face and toward the shaved part of his head in one exasperated motion, probably because he’s a cunt. “Drip or press?”
“She’ll have a large Three Pillars, pressed. I’ll have the same,” Any other time I’d have let this exchange continue because I’m twisted like that, but if I didn’t get some coffee soon I was going to throat-punch this douche right into conformity.
“Room for cream?”
“None for me.” I glanced at Sarah and she shook her head. “None for her either.”
“That’ll be twelve-fifty.”
I handed Shiloh fifteen dollars and told him to keep the change because I’m not a complete jerk and Shiloh could use the tips toward a new tattoo or some eye-shadow or something. I may have been broke, but I didn’t want to look broke, you know?
“I have to say, Sarah. I’m impressed.”
She tilted her head a little and put on a quizzical face. “Impressed with what?”
“You ordered a regular coffee. No cream or sugar or anything.”
“Why is that impressive?” she asked.
“I was sure you were going to order caramel-pumpkin-spiced diabetes, or some such thing. But you didn’t. So I’m impressed.”
Sarah laughed out loud. “Why’d you think I was going to order something like that? I said I wanted coffee, not candy.”
“Probably because you’re a woman, and as a man I tend to make broad generalizations about your kind.”
“So you don’t think women drink regular coffee?”
“Maybe at home, but rarely at coffee shops; it’s always frappe-this, or mocha-that. My sister is the only other woman I see drink it straight.”
We took our coffee on the patio so we could sit in the sun and smoke cigarettes and continue making fun of strangers. It was less awkward than the walk there, and I’m certain that we didn’t end up hating each other because we exchanged phone numbers right before she ordered a Lyft. A few minutes later a pink-mustachioed Hyundai pulled up, we hugged, and off she went.