If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then I’ve been skipping my way to Satan’s hot tub like it was made of goddamn yellow bricks. And while I’m guilty of my fair share of stupid bullshit for less-than-honorable reasons, my nobler moments tend to bite me in the ass.
The worst injury I ever received as a bouncer was not breaking up a brawl (though I’ve done that) or getting knifed by a meth-head (which almost happened) but it was trying to keep a drunk from picking up broken glass. Old dude dropped his beer and the mug broke into jagged chunks as the suds hit my favorite boots. He was reaching down to grab the shards and I just knew the poor bastard was gonna turn his hands into lasagna.
“No need!” I said, and I stepped over to grab his wrists and let him know I’d clean up for him. “Just get yourself another beer, on the house.”
Or that’s how it WOULD have went down, if the geezer hadn’t experienced some kind of Vietnam flashback the moment I grabbed his wrists. He snapped out of my gentle hold and punched at my throat. I’ll skip the humiliating details, but let’s just say that he surprised me with his speed and drunken retard strength. I ended up choking, on the floor, and WITH BROKEN GLASS STICKING IN MY FUCKING HAND. Nothing like losing the use of your right hand when your dayjob is typing words on an aging laptop. That old piece of shit still got a free beer and smiles at me every time I’m in there as if he didn’t cripple me for weeks. Next time he breaks a beer mug I’ll let him lap up the brew like a golden retriever.
The above little anecdote has a happier ending than most of my struggles with White Knight Syndrome™.
I’m not gonna bore you senseless with geography or the pointless details of my life. But the short version is that I’m a freelance writer by day, occasional bouncer by night—for a neighborhood bar that’s a long walk from my place—and frequent drinker at a different establishment, a sports bar owned by a couple of guys from my old high school. Cheapseats has a bunch of TVs and a cute girl behind the bar who knows better than to ever hang out with me outside of work. It has reasonable drink prices and decent food, so if I don’t want my self-esteem chipped away by yet another Hungry Man dinner I’ll head over and grab a sandwich or some fried pickles. Sometimes I’ll even watch a game—baseball, because fuck you, this is America.
(Side Note to the owners of Cheapseats: Quit introducing awesome menu items and then yanking them away from me a month later after I’ve fallen in love. That brisket sandwich was the best thing I put my mouth on that doesn’t walk on two legs. I want it back. Remember, I’m a writer and I know the shit you pulled in school.)
It was a Friday night, and I left the roommate to fend for herself at the DW a while so I could could eat some fried pickles and remind Maggi The Unobtainable Bartender that leaving certain sandwiches on the menu despite it being unavailable for six weeks could be classified as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. (Brisket sandwich. You have No Idea.) The bar was crowded, one of those Georgia spring evenings where the weather was nice enough for people to go out but not warm enough for the outdoors. I was lucky to even get a seat at the bar.
My poison for the evening was a local extra pale ale. I switch it up, from those dirty vodka martinis my grandfather loved to a bourbon with just the right bite. But tonight was beer, in memorial to my beloved brisket sandwich and because if you haven’t had fried pickles and beer it’s my job to make you rethink your life.
It was post-pickles, second-beer when She walked into the bar alone. And as luck would have it, the only open barstool was right next to me.
(First thing to mention is that the stool wasn’t perhaps technically vacant, as the guy who’d been sitting there had went out for a Marlboro Red on the little tiny patio where smokers are granted amnesty. But if he meant to save his seat he should have leaned the stool up against the bar. There are rules, goddammit. Second is that when I say “as luck would have it,” keep in mind that my luck with women is decidedly a mixed bag. You’ll see what I mean.)
I flashed her a smile, short beard not at all hiding my dimples, and nodded toward the empty stool while I casually shoved a half-finished Coors Light into the bartender’s take-away zone. (The guy drinks Coors Light, so he’s probably an asshole. My conscience is clear.) She looked around and quickly realized that I was perched next to the only open chair in sight. Gotta love being a lady’s last resort.
She was tall and lean, emphasis provided by skinny jeans and knee-high boots. Her cute powder-blue top emphasized the breasts I assume were an investment by a now ex-husband. A cautious return smile showed off teeth more white and perfect than nature provides, probably veneers. Blonde hair spilled past her shoulders in salon-style lairs, framing skin that might have been the result of outdoor gardening (naked) or “Spring Dawn #6” from a spray-tan booth. Her makeup highlighted her flawlessness without calling attention to itself. Her eyes were such a deep blue that she was either a Twilight vampire or wearing colored contacts. She was a trophy wife without a ring.
This is the part where I’m supposed to drop her name, or at least the bullshit version since I don’t use anyone’s real names here. But it’s premium bullshit this time because even I don’t know. Swear to God, I honestly don’t know (unless I’m lying). We’ll call her Sarah.
“Busy night,” I said. Stating is the obvious is why I have Game.
“Mmhmm.” She didn’t even look at me for a while, either staring straight ahead or glancing semi-nervously around the bar. My read was that she was excited to be out alone on a Friday night but obviously not used to such a thing. Her requested appletini or equivalent yuppie chick drink was consumed just a little too fast and another quickly ordered.
“Ever been in here before?” I am such a player. Take notes, kids.
She shook her head no. In my quest to not be an asshole, I decided not to pester her. She was either waiting for someone or just wanted to drink alone, something I can both respect and fully identify with. I started checking email on my phone to see if an editor would finally confirm that my check was in the mail. A man wearing a backward ball cap walked in from the smoker’s patio and came within ten feet before stopping, pissed off, in his tracks. I shrugged and nodded slightly at Sarah. (The gesture was code for, “Sorry about giving away your seat, bro. But this extremely attractive woman walked in while you were gone.”)
He pursed his lips for a moment and gave a tight nod. (“I’m not happy about it, but I get it.”) The Coors Light douche stepped away to find a new perch on which to plant his ass.
I continued to sip my beer and give the beautiful woman respectful space and silence. I gave her side glances just long enough to appreciate what a lovely creature she was, but stopped short of leering.
Suddenly, the three appletinis (or whatever) kicked in and Sarah became talkative. “I’m waiting on a movie!” The blurt was so out of nowhere I wasn’t sure she was talking to me or if she had put her iPhone on speaker. But I wasn’t about to risk ignoring her, just in case.
“Oh cool,” I said vaguely. Cheapseats is just up the hill from the local cineplex, so lots of folks pre-game movies there.
Now she was looking right at me. “I haven’t been to a movie on my own since high school.” She had that southern-belle accent that upper-class Georgia women are known for—think the blonde gun-expert from CSI Miami.
“Oh yeah? What’s been stopping you?” I predicted her answer, and I was right.
“I’m going through a divorce. The Husband did not approve of me going out.”
“That’s too bad.” (“For him,” I thought.) “Sorry to hear.” (“Totally not sorry. Whoever filed the papers is getting a thank you note on embossed stationery.”)
We began chatting as I continued my slow-but-steady consumption of the same beer I’d been nursing for a while. I really hoped that I didn’t have strong fried-pickle breath. She went through another cocktail. I learned that Sarah had been married since she was nineteen, her husband was almost ten years her senior, and they had two beautiful daughters. iPhone photos revealed two little girls that who were, indeed, cute but clearly tainted by the DNA of a father who could not have been in this gal’s league had there not been a lot of money in the bank. I decided to completely ignore the fact this gal was not just out of my league, she was barely in the same sport. But divorce changes perspective. I should know.
“So which movie?” I asked.
“Paul!” I have no idea why she was so excited, but I knew Paul was a movie in which Seth Rogen voiced a wise-cracking alien, produced by the team who made Shaun of the Dead. I guess it was the kind of movie her stuffy executive husband disapproved of. If seeing a rated-R movie was her first act of rebellion, I can only imagine her married life. “Would you like to go with me?”
I was caught off guard, and instantly glad I didn’t have the beer to my lips. (Spit-take avoided.) “To the … movie?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun! We need to be there in, like, twenty minutes.” Sarah’s nervous enthusiasm was cranked up to eleven by the trio of cocktails.
What do you THINK I said? I instantly made sure she knew this was a fantastic plan and I endorsed it with a whole heart. While playing it cool.
“Wanna do shots?” was her next unexpected question. I didn’t even have time to respond before she practically screamed “Two Red-Headed Sluts!” to the bartender, causing almost every eye in the place to turn our way for a moment.
Maggi gave this mini-scowl that she can somehow pull off with only her eyebrows. (This expression said, “What the fuck, Ed?“)
I gave her a toothy grin. (“I have no idea what’s happening. I’m just rolling with it.“)
Two tumblers half-filled with ruby liquid were soon presented, along with Maggi’s disapproval. “To new friends!” Sarah raised her glass, and I was struggling to keep up with her booze-fueled hyperactivity. She downed her shot instantly, while I tapped the bottom of my glass to the bar first, as tradition and honor demand.
“One last round!” Sarah declared, requesting more of the same from Maggi while whipping out a Visa Platinum card with a man’s name on it.
I tried to pay for the shots, but she cut me off by literally pressing an upraised finger to my lips. “Oh, your beard’s soft,” she said.
No more protests from me. (“Oh, hell yes,” said the little devil on my shoulder.) I had come in here grumbling about a stupid fucking sandwich and all of a sudden I had a movie date with the hottest woman I’d seen in a month and it was HER idea.
I put another Slut to my lips (the drink, moron) and we headed for the door.
The first decision of our spur-of-the-moment date was that I would drive. It was less than a mile to the movie theater, but the effect of the ‘tinis and college-student shots were obvious as I held open the front door and appreciated the view as she walked out, White Knight that I am. We’d take my Jeep and then I would bring her back. We could either come back in for another drink or she could go home from there.
When we reached the ticket window, she giggled “Paul!” and shoved a crumpled wad of twenties to the cashier.
“Why are you paying for everyth—” My protest was cut off by another finger to my lips, this time followed up by a tickle to my oh-so-soft beard. I shut the fuck up.
“Let me be nice,” she said, almost a question.
(“LET HER BE NICE!” the devil on my shoulder screeched, whipping his pointed tail in excitement.)
I held the door for her to enter the theater. And yes, I do hold doors a lot. I’m an old-fashioned progressive that way.
“I have to tinkle,” Sarah declared. A cute little clutch purse was shoved into my hands and she marched into the ladies’ room. And by marched, I mean she stumbled and had to catch the wall to stay on her feet. I wanted to take her arm and steady her, but she had passed the border of social propriety for me to enter. Literally holding the bag, I stood there and waited after she vanished inside the forbidden space.
And waited some more.
I checked my phone, and realized that by now the commercials would be over and we’d already missed half the previews. I mean, seeing the movie wasn’t my top priority but damn if standing here in front of a bathroom holding a purse wasn’t my lowest. At first I was slightly uncomfortable, then I got a little worried.
I glanced around, feeling a bit awkward. (The expression said, to no one, “Oh sweet baby Jesus. This chick passed out on the toilet.“) I couldn’t just charge in there to check on her, White Knight or no, and I felt that shouting the name I didn’t actually know wouldn’t exactly work, either. I realized at this moment our conversation had started so abruptly that we never introduced ourselves.
“Shit.” I had visions of “Sarah,” face down and ass up on the floor of a bathroom stall with a perfectly sculpted turd floating in the bowl. I was embarrassed and concerned and annoyed all at the same time. I was about to find a female theater employee to check on her when (“Thank you baby Jesus!“) Sarah staggered out. She caught my offered arm and didn’t even retrieve her purse. “Best grab our seats,” I said.
She smiled with that glazed expression we professional bouncers know all too well. The smile of a stupid, happy drunk. The name in the lexicon for her condition is White Girl Wasted.
We made it as the last preview began to roll, for a movie I can’t even name because I was focused on finding us a pair of seats in a dark, crowded theater. I hoped to seat us in the back, because my taking-care-of-drunks instincts from years of bar service kicked in, and I figured it would be the spot she was least likely to embarrass the both of us. I had my arm around her, for no other reason than to hold her wobbly knees steady. And of course there was no seat in the back, because it was opening weekend and because baby Jesus did not appreciate my irreverent prayers.
Squinting in the dark, I found us seats in the middle and toward the front. “Oops! Sorry! Ow!” Sarah said, the volume of her voice set too high in the manner of someone who’d downed cocktails and shots, as she stepped on feet and stuck her perfect ass in the face of people we as we passed. We sat down just as the theater began its self-praising “your movie is about to begin, turn off your goddamn cell phones and shut the fuck up” reel. Sarah looked so excited I’m surprised she didn’t clap her hands like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.
The movie began. Suddenly there was a woman in my lap.
“What?” I tried to say, but that finger was on my lips again.
“SHHHHHHH!” she hissed way too loudly. Then she put her mouth on mine.
(“What the fucking hell?!” the devil asked.)
For a tight second I enjoyed the kiss. Her lips were soft and she was beautiful, d’uh. And then she forcefully rammed her tongue in my mouth just as my sense of social standards and human decency kicked in. I couldn’t see through the halo of golden hair, thank Christ, but I could feel the searing judgment from every pair of human eyes in the room. Also, under the minty freshness of an Altoid was the distinct reek of recent vomit. Gal had been puking in the bathroom.
I physically lifted her off me, and set her back in her own seat. “Wrong time, wrong place,” I whispered in her ear. “Rain check?” I gave her a tiny peck on the lips, because fuck it.
“Okaaaay,” she said in a tone little girls usually reserve for their daddies. She wrapped her arms around my right bicep and put one of her hands in mine like it was our anniversary. Sarah leaned her head against my shoulder.
Five seconds later, she began to snore.
(“Fuck you,” the devil said. “I quit.“)
I glanced helplessly around. Sarah was out, her breath coming as soft yet honking snores, in the manner of a goose with a deviated beak. I brushed a tiny dot of drool from the corner of her lipstick. Nothing to do but watch the goddamn movie.
*Ed’s Micro Review*: Despite it all, I like Paul. Not a great film, but it’s good—funny and has quite the subversive and anti-religion subtext. Most folks have forgotten all about it, but my one viewing is forever burned into memory.
I kept hoping my sins would be forgiven. That a movie-length nap would restore and refresh the gorgeous, unconscious woman who spent much of the movie drooling in my lap. No such luck.
The credits rolled, the house lights came on, and as people got up to leave I gently picked up Sarah’s wrist and dropped it see if her motor reflexes had rebooted. Nope; her hand flopped down with the grace of a dead fish.
I frowned at the retreating backs of exiting theatergoers. (“The hell am I supposed to do?” I silently asked. No reply.)
Precious seconds ticked by, and I knew the cleaning crew would soon enter with brooms and trashbags to remove the evidence of rude-ass customers who won’t carry popcorn bags to a fucking garbage can less than a hundred feet away. Then I’d be faced with an unconscious woman and some explaining to do.
It’s with great shame I report that, for a brief moment, I considered just leaving her there with her purse and legging it for the door. But it was just a moment of weakness, for I am a White Knight, dammit. I knew this ex-trophy wife may be a hot mess, but until she was back on her feet she was MY hot mess and I had to make sure she was okay.
I stood, threw her over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and briskly walked to the emergency exit with her purse in my left hand.
To this day, I have no idea if the cleaning crew saw me carrying her, if people in the parking lot took note of me, or what. I kept my gaze fixed and had a single-minded goal: Get the fuck to my Jeep and get the hell out of there. I was convinced my arrest as a premeditated date-rapist was imminent. And I did NOT want to go back to jail.
For once I was grateful that I never lock my Jeep. She was in, seat leaned back, buckled, and purse placed in her lap perhaps just a bit too quickly for her maximum comfort. Fuck it, she wouldn’t feel a thing until the hangover anyway. Glancing in the rear view mirror for the inevitable flashing blue lights, I got us back up the hill and in a back corner of the Cheapseats parking lot that just so happened to have a busted light over it. I didn’t want anyone to see me with the unconscious woman, to protect her dignity and my two-year track record of avoiding court appearances. I kept the radio on softly and I checked to make sure Sarah was still breathing.
She appeared fine, just passed out drunk, but looked so awkward in my passenger seat that I felt bad. I grabbed an old, slightly-dirty flannel shirt that had been left in the back seat on a different strange night—be good, readers, and I’ll you THAT story—and made a makeshift pillow for her. And I waited.
(The devil checked back in, made sure the evening was still ruined, and left again.)
The crowd trickled out of Cheapseats. Brave White Knight that I am, I ducked below my steering wheel and waited for everyone to leave. The interior lights went out and a short while later, Maggi and my former classmate (Class of ’93, represent) locked up the bar and took off. I was the only one left.
The only one awake, anyway.
More time passed. We left the accepted definition of “night” behind and reached “way too fucking early in the morning.” I was exhausted, but terrified of falling asleep. I paced the parking lot, the chill spring air working better than Red Bull. Every so often, I gently shook Sarah’s arm or called to her or pinched her. If she wasn’t breathing, her lack of reaction would have made a lot more sense.
Pre-dawn was approaching, and my eyelids sagged. All I wanted was my bed. I just knew there would be dog-shit on my living room floor. Instead I was babysitting the hot mess who was a lot less appealing snoring and drooling in my Jeep and keeping me way up past my bedtime. I got out and paced again, making another tight circuit, eyeballing what must have been Sarah’s car since it was the only other one left in the parking lot. I had already tried to get into her phone, thinking maybe I could call a friend or a relative or someone to help her. No bueno, and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to follow through if the phone hadn’t been locked. I wondered if should put her back in her own car, and make a cowardly report to local police the moment I was the hell out of Dodge.
“JESUS!” I nearly shit my pants. She was standing right behind me, alive and suddenly very much awake. “Um, you okay?”
Sarah looked around, shivering in the early-morning cold and then checked her phone nervously. She nodded but didn’t make actual eye contact with me. After the most awkward silence in recent memory, she said, “Well, I better go.”
The selfish part of me wanted nothing more than for her to exit the scene as quickly as possible. But I’m a White Knight. (“Fuck, fuck, fuck.“) “Sure,” I said. “But I want to make sure you’re okay to drive first. Let’s walk around for a few minutes.”
She didn’t argue, but was clearly unhappy. We walked around the parking lot for a few minutes, the only sounds her heels and my boots and our breath misting the air. Gotta say her nap did her a world of good. Sarah was steady on her feet, the first good news since she’d paid for my movie ticket.
“Be careful driving home,” I said, opening her car door. One final gallant gesture.
She looked me in the eyes for the first time since regaining consciousness. Her expression was … searching. Unrecognizing. (“I don’t know who the fuck you are. Why was I in your car?“)
Jesus H. Christ, this girl’s shotgun drinking managed to erase the memory of even meeting me at the bar. She just woke up in a stranger’s car in an empty parking lot. I offered her a weak smile. (“Please don’t have me arrested.“)
Without a hug, handshake, or once offering her name, “Sarah” started her car and peeled out of parking lot like she was being chased by Al-Qaeda. I’ve never been so glad to not get a beautiful woman’s phone number, and I was equally sure in my prediction that I’d never see her at the bar again.
I made the Walk of Shame to the Jeep. Mounting his trusty steed, the White Knight journeyed back to his humble castle to do battle another day.