I did something crazy last night. Something I’ve never done before. I bought a girl a drink.
My friend Ryan and I ended up at the Starline. It’s the closest thing Fresno has to a big city little music venue. It’s all ages (over 21 gets a wristband for alcohol), and showcases mainly local bands and open mics and occasional salsa dancing. It’s small and dark and smells like a cold beer keg. It’s cool.
Ryan’s friend’s husband is playing in a band. There are four or five or more bands on the bill. Chances are, it’ll be worth the six-buck cover.
We sit on stools at a tall table in the back, Newcastles in hand. There’s something weird going on. It’s early, and there are only like 25 people there, but I feel like I kind of recognize half of them. As more people trickle through the doors, I realize that I do recognize them. I went to high school with them. People I haven’t seen for years. People whose names I don’t know. People who I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation with. But I remember them. Soon, I’m looking for it. I see faces I used to know in people that, it turns out, I’ve never seen before in my life. I see dead people. It’s weird.
I get another beer.
There are some good-looking girls here. I think I recognize a lot of them. Maybe I went to high school with them. Then I see another one. “This one is really hot,” I point out to Ryan. She’s beautiful. Maybe I went to high school with her. She’s near us, then drifts away, out of mind.
The first band is mellow and airy and xylophoney. They remind me of The Headlights. I like them. When they’re done, a much louder band takes the stage.
The beautiful girl is back. She’s talking to her friend, and—is she?—she’s crying. There are no tears, but she’s got a pained look: furrowed brow and quivery lip.
“Is she crying?” I ask Ryan for a second opinion.
He looks. “Yeah.”
That’s a bit troubling to me. “We should tell her everything will be OK,” I say. I like telling people “I think everything will be OK,” because it doesn’t mean anything. And I like not meaning anything. Plus, it’s a line from Empire Records. (“What makes you think that?” “Who knows where thoughts come from. They just appear.”)
“Yeah, we really should,” Ryan says.
If it were a normal night, like one of a thousand other times Ryan and I have said we “should” do something—and then don’t do it—that’s where it would have ended.
But it isn’t a normal night. Maybe it’s the Twilight Zone vibe I’m getting. Maybe it’s the encouragement. But I feel like being stupid.
She’s still crying to her friend a few feet away. I step towards her and interrupt the conversation, giving her a good-natured pat on the shoulder. “I think everything will be OK.”
She looks at me and nods. It’s scary, and I’m ready to turn and leave. “Do you want to buy me a drink?” she asks.
It’s unexpected, but doesn’t take me more than a second to decide: I’m a compassionate person, and I have upwards of seven dollars in my pocket. “Yes. I do. What do you want?”
“Just a minute.” I head to the bar and order a Corona.
When I return and hand her the beer, she says, “Thanks. What’s your name?”
“Tomlin?” The music is pretty loud.
“Conlan.” I lean in to yell in her ear. “Who are you?”
“Lauren. Thanks,” she says again, lifting the bottle. “I needed this.”
I’m thrilled with my progress to that point, so I step away and let her continue commiserating/dancing with her friends. I figure, if it’s meant to be (and of course it is), I’ll strike up a conversation a little later.
I marvel to Ryan about how cool I am. He agrees.
A few minutes later, I see Lauren go to the bathroom. A minute or so after that, she comes out. An employee—one of those T-shirt-wearing security types—grabs her by the arm. He’s guiding her towards the door. I immediately realize what’s happening. She’s under 21.
Whoops. I guess I forgot to check her wristband.
I point it out to Ryan. He laughs.
It’s a shame. I don’t think she even got to finish her beer. And, really, she definitely looked older than 21. Maybe she just left her ID at home or something. The bottom line is, she’s gone.
What a waste of five bucks.