September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Sasha Bunmi-Watkins tips his head to the concierge’s desk as he crosses Acacia Grande Central’s modest lobby in the direction of the lifts. Unless he’s fabricating things, the young man behind the counter with his face buried in something, who doesn’t seem to care that someone has just entered the building at the very dead of night, is the same young man who checked him in a few days ago in a way quite unbefitting someone in the hospitality trade; whose nametag identified and still identifies him as Lachlan with no apparent last name.
The boy – a description Lachlan does not satisfy in body but may very well do in mind and in manner – surprises Sasha by looking up from whatever very important thing he’s been looking at and following the Bristolian’s journey across the barren foyer with a very blah gaze. Sasha knows this because he catches Lachlan’s blah eyes while waiting a good two minutes for one of the lifts – any of the lifts – to arrive. He initially repays the look with one of equal dispassion, but then, almost of its own accord, his face cracks out a drab smile and his head nods “evening/how’s it going?” Lachlan simply goes back to whatever it is he’s doing and in a moment or two the lift doors chime open. Sasha supposes that this is what he gets for travelling cheap and boarding even more cheaply: rude lookaways and dispassionate stares that follow you from behind like you’re a most uninteresting oddity.
Once again Sasha makes it to his room on floor six without any visual reassurance that he is not in fact this hotel’s sole guest. Of course he occasionally hears shuffling and chatting in the hallway when he is emerging from the whooshing gush of the bathroom after a poo or when he is bent over the minibar taking stock of what’s inside, but how coincidental must it be that the seen and the heard are so consistently – almost deliberately – dissociated?
On letting himself into his room, Sasha experiences the brief glow of contentment that tends to hit him when he finds the slight mess he left behind in the morning replaced by a turned-down bed and three-and-a-half star cleanliness. In a show of appreciation for whoever’s hard work, Sasha lobs his shoes aside and takes a quick peek at the selection of booze in the little stump of a fridge. He picks one out, one that is named after either a grouse or a turkey, and unscrews the cap and, drinking from it, thinks back on how, within ten minutes of Cal Marvale having departed Oddknots in a silver taxi, he had already decided to abandon the Kirin bottle and split, telling himself that if this was some sort of metaphysical slap in the face of his Aussie acquaintance, then so be it. When he was fairly confident that Cal was well on his way to Dee Why or wherever else he routinely laid his head in the blasted city, Sasha walked outside and hailed a ride. It wasn’t so much that he’d lost his nerve or that he couldn’t bring himself to engage a complete stranger in some sort of exchange of words, as if he was so irreparably shy that he lost fewer calories running laps than he did talking small. Oddknots just wasn’t the place, maybe not tonight, maybe not ever. He would find a joint with better energy and there he would finally enjoy himself and expend what was left of his quickly dwindling youth.
Looking and smelling much the same as he has this last hour, apart from the leather jacket, scarf and reapplication of cologne, Sasha crosses the lobby, this time in the direction of the street, only to double back and startle Lachlan with an abrupt request.
“Were you after a place for dinner?” Lachlan replies, in a monotone.
“I’m after an exciting place to have a drink and run into strangers.”
There is no reply.
“See, I’ve already had my dinner. Now I’m looking for a place to — I suppose I’m looking to have a good time,” Sasha clarifies.
Lachlan inhales as though preparing for a six month sabbatical underwater.
“Well…there’s a couple of bars along this street, so you could try one of those…”
“You’d recommend them, these bars?”
“I don’t know about recommend, but I’d say they’re worth a try.” The poor boy doesn’t know what the fuck’s going on.
“Yes, but which would you suggest?”
“I don’t — I haven’t really been to any of the ones around here much, so I’m not sure if I could legitimately vouch for any, like, with any authority. Which is the problem.”
“Well, I’m not a local, as you can probably tell, so I’m curious to know where locals go. For the sake of curiosity.”
“Yeah, I get it, I mean — I suppose you could look up some bars on Time Out Sydney, you know…the website, or Urbanspoon maybe. Or you could just head to the city and have a walk around.”
“I see. Time Out. Are you a local?”
Lachlan smiles and redistributes the weight on his feet momentarily, wondering – one would assume – what the hell this is. “Basically,” he says.
“I’m in good hands then.”
“Do you have a smartphone?”
“I have my Galaxy on me, yes.”
“Time Out Sydney’s better than most locals, trust me, and I think the app’s just as good, and free.”
It really does feel like the dead of night at this desk, in this lobby, in this hotel.
“Or you could just check out some of the bars around here like I was saying. There’s a few places up and down the road that seem to get a fair bit of action. I mean, they seem pretty popular from what I can tell; big crowds, open till early, cheap drinks. Probably wouldn’t be the worst start.”
“No. But what would you say is the best place you’ve been to in the last month? ”
Lachlan looks right into Sasha’s face as he presumably thinks of an answer. It would be disconcerting if his face wasn’t so bland.
“I really like this place in the Rocks called Oddknots,” he sighs like a beach ball losing all its air in a rush. “It’s more of a pub and it’s got a really chilled out vibe; it’s not really where you go to – like – get down, but I’d definitely recommend it. It’s just a really cool place. But seriously, you should get onto Time Out.”
Lachlan smiles as though there’s a finger up his ass and goes back to his business. He has officially left the conversation.
“Enjoy yourself and they’ll enjoy you,” Rams Marques, ladies’ man and second-year dropout, would often say as he led a crew of college boys out into the city back in their UCL days, and in adherence to this mantra, Sasha currently adopts – without being totally cognizant of the process – an affected look of relaxed confidence that manifests as a constant mellow smirk and an almost sleepy gaze. If smiling induces happiness in the smiler, surely this will displace his baseline unease and replace it with something more socially workable.
He is perfectly aware that this particular demeanour, if executed poorly, will make him appear either high or a bit special, and considering he has been nursing a rum and coke for the last twenty minutes without arousing even the mildest look of interest, Sasha wonders if he may need to revise his face.
For example, those two fetching lasses further along the bar, one of whom is chatting with that pale haired young history-student type, entered Bloom Bar not more than five minutes ago and he’d had them in his sights from the get-go. They saw him looking at them, this he knows, but they elected to sit beside this individual. Perhaps it is because he had his back to them and was thus less imposing, or less creepy. Whatever their reasons, he is certain that one of these must pertain to the fact that his mug is not as inviting as he intends it to be. So he drops it, the put-on look he is wearing, and just about halves the rum-coke mixture at his front in one foul gulp.
There is something comforting about the clattering of pool balls. Perhaps it’s because there’s always something to watch when a pool table is present, or at the very least something to do or consider doing in-between rejections or while avoiding them. Sasha swivels on his ass and leans his back against the bar, and proceeds to watch a young man sizing up the cue ball, the dusted end of the cue itself sliding back and forth like a hesitant phallus between the two fingers he’s planted firmly on the green felt. In a flash and with a crack, a solid snaps into a corner hole and can be heard rumbling through the table’s guts. The player meanwhile pulls the cue to himself like a Marine would their bayonet, no discernible joy or elation on his face but a great pride implicit in the way he plods alongside the table, surveying the field. Sasha notices that the furthermost table is unoccupied though it is surrounded by standing drinkers.
“Hey, care for a game of pool?”
Sasha has, without even a glance in their direction or a quick bit of personal pep-talk, sidled up to one of the two girls whose eyes he had hoped to catch on their entering the bar and has spoken these words to her, to which she responds by glancing briefly at her blonder companion, now in waning conversation with the art-school boy.
“Okay,” she says.
Sasha is a little floored by the unqualified acceptance but is not quite sure why. He extends a regrettably limp hand and says, “I’m Sasha, by the way.”
“Goia,” she says, pronouncing it Joya.
The blonder one introduces herself as Mel, with shocking cordiality, and to conclude the handshakes, Sasha clasps palms with Bruno who will insist on calling him ‘bro’ henceforth.
“Nice to meet you, Bruno.” The handshake lingers.
Having led the three across the room to the far table, fed the necessary number of coins into the table and set up the balls inside the triangle, Sasha offers Goia the honour to break, but she shirks on account of her being ‘too shit at it’ though Sasha strangely responds to this, on a level inaccessible to his cognizance even, as some sort of sexual rebuffing. Curdling a little on the inside but not knowing why, he holds out the cue to Mel, who takes it and explodes the rack like a pro, sinking a stripe in the process.
“Boys versus girls?” says Bruno.
Mel downs two stripes in a row and is circling the table, her long, overly straight hair swaying and parting gently against her bare shoulders.
“How about Mel versus everyone else?” says Goia.
“Yeah…fuck, she’s good,” Bruno concedes as booze rolls from his mouth back into his throat. “You hear that, Mel? You’re not terrible.”
“Do you play much?” Sasha asks Mel as she is leaned over, prepping a shot which she ultimately misses, for which she partly blames him, unbeknownst to him.
“I like playing,” Mel shrugs as she hands the cue to Bruno, “but I don’t seek it out, like, I don’t look for it. My dad had a table when I was growing up so we played all the time.” She ends with a shrug.
They watch Bruno nudge a solid towards a hole without really placing it in a position of any advantage.
“So you’re from Sydney?” Sasha continues, mirroring Mel’s stance somehow.
“Why do you say that?” she says in a tone that may or may not be drily cheeky.
“No. And you?”
“You don’t sound super British. No offence.”
“No, it’s okay; I accept that I’m mediocre.”
She gives him an odd look as Goia waves the tip of the cue in his face, somewhat absent-mindedly.
“Mediocre?” Mel says.
Sasha takes the cue from Goia. “Mediocre, as opposed to super?”
“A-ha.” She’s not convinced.
“But, if you must know my mother gave birth to me in Lagos, so I suppose that’s why I don’t sound like the queen.”
Mel nods her head and makes a face that would be saying ‘that’s pretty cool’ if it wasn’t really saying ‘not sure what to do with this conversation now that it’s flatter than flat Fanta.’
Sasha takes a shot and nicks the ball that Bruno has already pushed a few inches closer to the hole. He fucks it up, groans to himself, hands the cue to Mel and joins his drink at a table by the wall. Goia and Bruno seem to be sharing a joke. Sasha takes a meek swig.
Gioa approaches Mel, who is scanning the scene on the table. They exchange half a word, it seems, and Goia is off, trotting to the bar.
“Where’s she going?” Sasha says to Bruno.
“To get more drinks.”
“I wonder if we should be doing that.”
“You think we should be getting drinks for her?”
Sasha looks at Bruno and his shoulder length hair and stubbled upper lip. “For them.”
“Mate, women can buy their own drinks in Sydney,” Bruno says before he grins.
“Are they allowed to orgasm too?” says Sasha, who can’t believe he’s just said what he’s said.
Bruno rasps with laughter and describes Sasha’s line as ‘fucking amazing.’ They then watch Mel sink another ball with a deft angle shot.
“You backpacking, bro?” says Bruno.
“Why would I be backpacking?” Sasha responds, not quite sure whether to be offended yet, or even at all.
“This is, like, kind of a backpacker joint, in case you didn’t kind of pick up on it.”
“Are you a backpacker?”
“I wouldn’t mind fucking a backpacker,” Bruno says, grinning on the inside.
“Then I take it you’re from here, or at least not a backpacker.”
“Bronte, bra. You been to Bronte?”
“I think I‘ve heard of it. So you’re here to pick up backpackers?”
Bruno laughs “Bro. Absolutely. Don’t fucking tell anyone.”
Goia returns to Mel’s side with what Sasha guesses to be two caprioscas, pinkish in short glasses.
Sasha leans in to Bruno while looking at the two young women. “Are they backpackers?”
“I don’t think so. But I think they might be staying where backpackers stay. Which pretty much makes them backpackers. If you get my meaning.”
Mel’s run of luck ends. She passes Bruno the cue and he accepts it and confronts the table with a swagger that belies his clear lack of talent, leaving Sasha on his own with the two women. They’re having a quiet exchange and nipping at their drinks, looking as though they’ve already left the venue in spirit.
Sasha becomes abruptly conscious of his current predicament, which may very well exist solely within the confines of his own mind. Standing where he is, holding his drink as he is doing without even the slightest air of self-comfort, Sasha could either appear to his two female companions – as well as to whoever in this bar is watching and judging – like a tagalong, hovering, hoping to get an in, but hopelessly so. Conversely, and noticeable only to Goia and Mel and perhaps the more perceptive of people watchers, he could appear unduly aloof, trying to imply to these women that he is unaffected by their impression of him, whatever that may be, and that he does not feel in the least bit excluded by their secret girl talk, a stance which would not in any way increase his appeal in their eyes despite what certain schools of male sexual thought would have him believe.
“Can I get you guys a drink?”
Goia and Mel look at Sasha, their brand spanking new cocktails inches from their lips.
“We just started on these,” Mel says.
“Oh, okay,” says Sasha, knowing full well that there was no logic in his move. “But I’m getting your next drinks though, so don’t forget.”
They both smile and watch him approach Bruno, who is still considering his shot choices, none of which would be particularly easy for anyone below the level of an amateur shark. The two men exchange words and Sasha is off to the bar.
Sasha hands Bruno his third house beer. The game of pool has been over for a good hour and up to this point the four have barely gotten any real juice on each other. Bruno (surprise, surprise!) is a student, but of surveying, contrary to Sasha’s assumption that it would be of history. He’s in his second year, though he spends most of his time surfing and wasting time.
Goia’s older sister was once Mel’s best friend but they fell out some time ago, Mel and Gia that is, Gia being the sister in question. Interestingly, Mel always felt like more of an older sister to Goia than did Gia and their relationship has thus persisted, though it is somewhat clear that Mel is far less invested in the friendship than her junior. Mel is in public relations and wouldn’t say more (not due to any conscious taciturnity but a genuine disinterest in this sort of talk), and Goia is spending her gap year waitressing and saving up funds in hope of a Central American voyage of self-discovery. None of the three seem particularly impressed that Sasha is a doctor, not in the least, which is unfortunate seeing as this may be the most interesting thing about him.
At this very moment, the two friends have retired to the ladies’ room (immediately prior to which Sasha reminded them that he still owed them a drink each and that they had better not forget), leaving the two acquaintances to engage in one of the few topics that males who are unfamiliar with each other are more than comfortable baring their souls and being honest about.
“Mel’s pretty fucking hot, bro.”
Sasha agrees wholeheartedly but is unwilling to be one of those guys, even though he knows he more than fulfils the criteria by simple fact of his owning testicles.
“You don’t reckon?” Bruno persists.
“I think they’re both attractive,” Sasha concedes.
“Goia’s cute, but Mel’s hot. Cute’s good though. Like…you should totally go there; I think she’d be keen.”
“Why would she be keen?” Sasha says, unsure of whether he is simply being interrogative or whether he is in fact hoping for some sort of a pointer.
Bruno shrugs. “She’s young. You’re a doctor. You’re black. No offence.”
“A tree shouldn’t be offended if you call it a tree. Only if you call it a plank.”
Bruno nods with a James Franco grin. “Nice. I like that.” He looks around. “This place is a bit dead tonight. It’s weird.”
“Do you come here a lot?”
“Not a lot, but I come here. I’ve been here. Before.”
“It is a Tuesday.”
“Everyday’s fucking Saturday for backpackers, bro.”
Sasha cracks a smile.
“So, like…” begins Bruno, “what would a plank be then?”
Sasha looks over at his drinking buddy, surprised that such a throwaway statement could have such staying power. He shrugs. “A starving child, a pimp, a car thief, a gangster. The usual.”
“The usual planks? Most planks are wood, you know.”
“So most car thieves are black?”
“You know what, I take back what I said back, about liking what you said about wood and planks. That was a piece of shit metaphor.”
An airless moment of uncertainty passes between the two before they finally grin and softly chuckle at the silliness of it all. Sasha watches Bruno drain all but the teeniest bubbles of foam from his glass.
“One more?” Sasha asks.
“Mate, you haven’t even finished yours.”
Sasha stares down the cloudy yellow potion half-filling his schooner and does away with it in a handful of ambitious gulps. As he is about to depart for the bar, Bruno informs him that he’s going to run to the men’s room to do a two or maybe a three. He doesn’t need to tell Sasha that he also intends on finding out where the hell Mel and Goia have hidden themselves.
So Dr Bunmi-Watkins finds himself, after a ten minute hustle at the bar, standing at a small circular table, nursing two schooners of pale ale, one of which he sips like he is an understandably overcautious orphaned fawn, all the while listening to, or rather, being forced to hear the rumbling soundtrack of inebriated chatter and aggressively virile Atlanta, Georgia krunk. He tries to part, with his eyes, the gathering patronage of tipsy travellers and predatory indigenes stumbling around Bloom Bar in hope of spotting Bruno, but more importantly, Mel and Goia, or if the universe decides to be kind, Mel, as she approaches him with a sly smile and a drink he has somehow payed for. Instead it is Bruno who materialises from the dimly lit throng and squeezes his way between two presumably Nordic blondes, both of whom he very quickly appraises almost without looking.
“My man,” Bruno says, aping Denzel Washington, accepting the beer and digging into it like a man who’s just come in from the wilderness.
“They’ve gone next door, dude.”
“Next door? What’s next door?”
“Another bar, bro. Well, more like a club, like, for dancing and popping pills. So this bar and the club next door share some of the same bathrooms, the ones outside. When I was coming back from taking my piss-dump,” he swallows a belch, washes it down with some alcohol, “I swear I saw them in there shaking their white lady booties. No. I saw them in there.”
Were Sasha a natural drinking man, he would pound down the glass of Fat Yak pale ale leaking condensation all over the table and soaking the cardboard placemat. On the contrary, he is certain that if he takes a sip he might throw up, just a touch. But he does take a sip and he does throw up, but only in his mind. He goddamn mentally empties out his entire twenty feet of bowel, not entirely sure why but nonetheless in the throes of catharsis.
“Should we — go?”
Bruno casts a glance Sasha’s way. “You mean should we, like, follow them into the club next door.”
“When you put it that way…”
“What way? You want to follow them, I’m down, bro. The dick wants what the dick wants.”
“I expected you to tell me it was lame.”
“I’m not saying it’s not. In a sec though. Let me just work on this a bit more,” Bruno says with a raised finger, returning to his beer like an office cog returning dutifully to his quarterly report after some trivial trans-cubicle workplace chinwag.
Having been denied entrance to Quigley’s @ 66 via the back way by a hulking black-clad goon, Sasha and Bruno find themselves forming the rear of a substantial queue stretching out from the front entrance, constituting mostly horny young males and a few token females who seem to be wondering why in the hell their gender hasn’t worked for them like it did all the other hot young things they are certain managed to circumvent the queue earlier tonight, in groups for that matter.
Movement of the line is currently glacial and the surrounding air is almost as cold.
Sasha’s face falls as he reads a promotion flyer that skirts the pavement near his feet, carried on the back of a light breeze.
“We have to pay?”
“It’s called a cover charge, bro,” says Bruno.
“I know what it’s called. I’m not paying it.”
Bruno faces Sasha. “You’re not coming?” The look of concern/disappointment seems startlingly earnest.
Sasha puts on a pained face. “I think I might call it in.”
“I was kinda hoping to catch up with those girls. I reckon Goia’s keen, dude.”
“Goia that bailed on us with Mel?”
Bruno gives Sasha a look that seems to say ‘come on now; be serious.’ He says with a laugh, “dude, you can’t, like, afford to feel hard done by on a night out; everyone’s drunk and just going with their mood and seeing where it takes them; don’t take it personally. Like, the night hasn’t even been born, bro.”
“Well…I think mine may have died in utero,” Sasha says, to which Bruno responds with a blank stare, not necessarily due to a lack of understanding, but most likely due to apathetic resignation and there being something else on his mind right at that moment.
The queue has been inching forward, stealing its way along, and Sasha and Bruno inching towards the entrance with it.
Sasha extends a hand. “Thanks for the company, Bruno. Hope you get to…engage in conversation with a backpacker.”
“To be honest, I’d be happy just fucking Mel,” he says with the most surreptitious wink.
They disengage hands and Sasha pokes his head out towards the kerb, looks up and down the street in search of a taxi with its tiny rooftop light switched on, which is to say, one that is available.
“Hey, Sasha. Bro.”
Sasha draws his head back in and turns to Bruno, who has sidled up to him ever so modestly.
Bruno says, “hey, could you lend me like twenty bucks. I’m broker than I thought.”
“Twenty,” Sasha’s mouth seems to say of its own volition. He stares at Bruno, who stands next to him like a crackhead hovering around his dealer, telling him how much of a “fucking champion” he is, shameless.
Mentally stamping to death wild flickers of irritation, resentment, even hate, Sasha fishes a twenty from his wallet and hands it to Bruno who slyly accepts the note in the guise of a very prolonged, very bro pound hug complete with an unnecessary back pat.
Bruno must be a master of timing, or maybe he is The Sandman himself because, the very moment they separate from the hug, Bruno is up next in line. He silently salutes Sasha, turns and flashes his ID at the front door goons and is let through so that he can pay the cover charge girl.
Sasha watches Bruno disappear up the dark stairwell leading to Quigley’s @ 66, the one that is being constantly smeared with dull flashes of strobe that have strayed from the dance floor.
Sitting directly behind the driver, a technique he often uses to relay his utter unwillingness to converse in any mode or manner, Sasha quietly awaits the wave of low-grade regret that he is more than certain he will have to endure at some point during the next twelve hours. He meanwhile finds himself counting the drinks he bought while at Bloom Bar, perhaps in hope of upgrading the low-grade regret to high-grade self-loathing, or rather, expediting its onset, because it always makes an appearance, without fail, given enough time.
So that would be eight drinks then, Sasha concludes in his head. Three for himself, five for Bruno, and none for those girls, or anyone that he fancied for that matter. Sixty dollars at least. That’s not counting the silly contribution he just made to Bruno’s Help Me Fuck Mel Fund. By the end of tonight, at the very least, there will be a handful of pretty happy, pretty soaked urinal cakes in the male restrooms at Bloom Bar and at Quigley’s @ 66 on Broadway, and in the outhouse that the two venues apparently share.