Thinking back on that afternoon of two autumns ago, I should have stuck with the wine and the brunette. But, like they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Susan liked to spend one Saturday a month getting up early, going to garage sales and flea markets, then lunch, al fresco, with a drink or two, weather permitting. I always looked forward to being her cohort for the day. Not because she drives a kickass BMW, but because she lets me drive her around all day in her kickass BMW.
Anyway, we’re at Café Ba-Ba-Reba, drinking the best sangria in town, getting a pretty good buzz going (she lives two blocks away, so her car was parked for the day), and who walks up? My old neighbor Joel.
Joel was always the guy that would add a spark to any occasion. This night would be no different.
He sits down and proceeds to mesmerize us with stories of his recent trips to India and Hungary. Within thirty minutes I could close my eyes and imagine myself being 007, dashing through the streets of Budapest or on the back of an elephant, slowly parading down a market street in New Delhi. I knew I didn’t have a chance to hook up with Susan, but I knew I had a very good chance of hooking up with a hottie while carousing with Joel. So, I told Susan that Joel and I were going to hit the bricks and paint the town red. Sorry, but a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.
We jumped in a cab and headed over to Kelly’s Pub to begin our journey. As we rode other there, Joel was telling me about a beautiful woman he fell in love with in Udaipur. Gandhali loved him too, but her family forbad any interaction between the two. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), he went on to tell me that he had just found out that she had moved to Chicago, right here in Lincoln Park.
So, I had to ask him why in the hell he’s sitting in a cab with me, and he tells me that she refuses to return his calls. I started to suggest that we just go over to her place, but that drum roll started up in the back of my head, and I’ve learned to change directions whenever I hear it.
We ended up spending about two hours drinking shots of something I don’t really remember, and the entire time he’s calling this woman. I’d say he must have called her twenty times. No messages, just calling and hoping she’d pick up. Yeah, I know, but I was waiting for his typical magic to appear. I figured it was just a matter of time before he started in with his J. Peterman stories and a couple of smooth legs appeared.
Well, the magic never appeared and I was now very drunk and very hungry, and when I suggested that we go grab something to eat, Joel stood straight up and said that we should go up to the Udupi Palace. MF’r, I might as well have stayed home today and walked over there. Now this fool wants to take a thirty-minute cab ride to eat curry, when we have a boatload of restaurants within three blocks?! But, I thought about it and decided that going up there might be a good thing, as it wasn’t too far from my place and I could always just go home after eating. Yeah… if life were just that simple.
Once there, we gorged on curry chicken, lamb, rice, some dessert I’d never had before, and two bottles of Riesling. My gut was busting and I thought we were just about done for the evening, when my phone rang. It was Susan. She had locked her keys in her car and needed to me come down with her spare, as she didn’t want to go through the hassle of calling AAA, yada, yada. What else could I do but go back down there? Besides, maybe I’d sober up and light a fire under Joel.
So, we got back down to Lincoln Park, dropped off the key and we’re walking down Sheffield, when I had the great idea to go to Ambrosia. In hindsight, smoking some Code 69 and drinking more booze may not have been the smartest thing to do after all of the boozing and eating we’d already done. But the next thing I know, Joel has captivated two coeds with a romantic tale of sorts of some place called Cinque Terre in Italy. Now I had just started to angle my way into the conversation, when in walks a woman of Indian descent. Her family might have lived in Pittsburgh for the last four generations for all I know, but her dark hair and eyes (plus a lot of booze and a broken heart) made Joel think about his lost love and he immediately stopped talking and called what’s-her-name. At this point, the only thought running through my mind was that she’d better look like a freakin’ goddess, swallow, and make a great Rueben.
Needless to say, I had had enough of his JV approach to seeing the broad, so I grabbed him by the arm and said we’re going straight over to her place and get this over with. The first thing I thought about once the cab started rolling was that it’s been a solid six hours of eating and/or boozing, and I gotta push one out like nobody’s business. That said, I needed to focus on something else and Gandhali’s crib was only ten minutes away, so I coached up Joel on his approach if she answered the door.
So, we get out of the cab, and before I could pay the guy, Joel is racing up the back stairs, like there’s free money being passed out on the roof. I can barely waddle at this point, but I made it up to the fourth floor in about three minutes, which I thought would be enough time for this dumbass to at least knock on the door and see if she was home. Instead, I found him leering into one of the windows. I had taken two steps towards him and was about to tell him to get away from the fuckin’ window, when a woman from three doors down yelled out to us that Joel’s not supposed to be here and she’s already called the police. WTF?!
We both take off for the stairs, Joel trips me up, I fall face down, right on my stomach, get back up and make it down the rest of the stairs and across the parking lot, the best I could. Then I got between a dumpster and a gangway, squatting down so I wouldn’t be seen by anybody. Holy cow, this dumpster smells like shit. Anyway, I gave myself maybe ten seconds to collect my thoughts and to calm down, and then it’s off to catch a cab. I guessed that the neighbor didn’t get a good look at me, so it should be safe to catch one on Fullerton. So, I casually walk through the gangway (my knees, back and wrists killing me from the fall) and I’m standing there on the curb waiting for the cab and people are walking past and looking at me like I’m from another planet. Before that thought could completely register with me, I hear a siren.
Well, I’m thoroughly committed to running this one out if need be, so I take off back down the gangway, where I now see Joel standing by my dumpster. At this point I wanted to knock him out, but that would only make matters worse if a cop was about to pounce on us, and I also didn’t want him to get caught and subsequently drop a dime on me.
With that in mind, I called an audible. I grabbed him and said that the sirens are coming from that direction and we’d better go one block down and.. then Joel took off like a scared rabbit and I had to make sure he didn’t get pinched. So, I took off behind him and we made it maybe four blocks, when we realized that we had been running in the same direction as the siren, which was attached to an ambulance that was now turning the corner towards us.
Whew, I figured that we were safe as long as we got a cab. So, I’m standing there bent over, panting, with sweat running down my face and back, thinking that I’m gonna have a coronary any second, while counting my blessings, when I notice tears rolling down Joel’s face. He says that he’s gotta be honest with me and proceeds to tell me that he actually never went to India, etc. He had moved to Dallas because he had a restraining order out against him from Gandhali, whom he went to Downers Grove South High School and Butler University with. He’s been seeing a therapist, yada, yada. I then said that as long as we’re being honest, I have to tell him that if he ever mentions my name to her, her family or the police, I’m gonna make him wish that he was never born.
This is where things get sticky, literally. I didn’t expect him to do or say anything that would decisively prove that he’s nuts, but he very calmly looked at me, pointed to my backside and said “Oh, you shit your pants”, then walked away. He said it like someone would say “Oh, your shoe’s untied” or “Oh, something fell out your pocket”.
Remember the fall I took on the stairs? Although, it’s a great story in itself too, going into detail about how I got home with a shred of dignity would take another thousand words, so I’ll leave it to your imagination.