Walking down that long strip from when he knew what he was doing to everything is better now, Sam Palladino’s footsteps spread barely inches apart. He toddles through his front door, and lifelessly removes his already disheveled tie, blue and silk. His suitcase slams on the ground and his arms grow long, slouched uselessly like an idle primate. He reaches down slowly and picks up off of the floor a gold cylinder that looks like a bullet. Without surmising, he sets it down on a counter in his kitchen and heads to the refrigerator. Inside, he pulls out a loaf of white bread and a jar of jam. He sits down, sets the items on the table, and waits quietly for two minutes for anything to happen. When the quiet becomes unbearable, he opens the jar and begins spreading the jam on a slice of bread. Then, the phone rings.
“Hey Sam. At Bill’s. Some girls are asking about you. Heal-toe!” says a voice and hangs up.
Sam lifts himself back up and puts the bread and jam back in the refrigerator, including the bread in use, still marked with jam, unadorned. He brushes the crumbs off of the table with the bare palm of his hand, grabs a sports coat, and heads out the door, now strutting. His car sits in front of his house, dented, with a blue scrape at the rear. He thrusts the keys in the ignition emphatically and heads out, like anywhere else could make this day – this moment – seem remotely favorable.
Buzzing Bill’s Bar and Grill is located barely within the city limits of Chicago. Sam steps out of his car in the parking lot and can already smell the thick aroma of burnt tobacco and alcohol stemming from the main doors of the building. The building itself is a hopeless black box inhabited mostly by white-collar yuppies looking to drink their sorrow and shame away through a glass cup. They drink to forget, but really all that happens is they get too drunk to move, until their lives become worthless, dormant, fictional. Then they stumble home, so they can wake up the following morning with past and current problems nevertheless present, still lacking the ability to move, their heads drained like being sucked through a vacuum.
Sam is very much looking forward to partaking in this ritual, wants it more than salvation. Heading through the door, he eyes a massive suit sitting at the tail end of the bar, his ass taking up two stools that look desperately worn from trying to support the infinite weight atop, and right away he knows it’s Big Bob.
Bob works for a newly-established energy drink company, Rank Incorporated, where he is the division sales manager, spending most of his days monitoring sales and coaching others in how to make sales. Outside of work, Bob is known as a lighthearted cynic and amateur philosopher. The reason why people call him “Big Bob”: his philosophy is, the more girth you obtain, the more space you fill, the more effectively you substantiate your existence. Small people are ignored, absent, unreal, not worthy of acknowledgment. The life you live is meaningless if people can’t see you, to know that you are there, that you must be there. Big Bob’s childhood, it was rough.
Next to Bob, Sam sees Frank; “Blue Eyes”, they call him. The reason for this is because, when Frank gets drunk, he speaks only in Sinatra lyrics. And Frank consumes so much alcohol a day that he’s rarely sober. The thing is, he still has the ability to speak his emotions clearly, just not in his own words. Bob hates drinking alone with him, because he says it’s like philosophizing with a broken record. Sinatra was not known for his deep insight into human existential philosophy.
To the left of Bob, her shoulders arched high, away from the massive girth behind her, is someone Sam hadn’t met before. She’s wearing a tight denim skirt, looking passively inert, her eyes fixated on the screwdriver in her hand. She wears down the edges of the glass she’s holding by fidgeting constantly, from discomfort or dejection. Her brown hair, cut shoulder length, is resting atop her neck as she buries herself on the bar countertop, with that same hopelessness Sam felt as he returned home that night.
“So where are these girls you promised?” Sam says as he pulls up behind Bob and Frank.
“Oh, they left,” Bob says, pulling up a bar stool. “But you can sit with us.”
Sam parks it and orders a gin and tonic from the bartender. “Splash of tonic,” He says. Bob turns to face Sam, notices the crumpled up headline that is his forehead, and asks if everything is alright.
After downing about half the glass of his cocktail, Sam shuts his eyes tight, exhales, and replies, “Long day.”
“What’s up, man?” Bob asks, with the pseudo-concern of a psychiatrist who had just consumed ten straight shots of Popov. Unfortunately, it was not Sam’s intent to come to the bar and converse. His only goal, as is the goal of many, is to forget.
Taking another drink, he replies, “I got fired today. Missed two interviews, so they fired me.”
The drink emptied, he shouts, “Those sons of bitches!”
“Hey man,” Frank slurs, his entire exterior wobbly, his hand planted on Sam’s shoulder to keep from falling over. “Funny as it seems, man. That’s life.”
And Sam orders another drink.
“Some people get their kicks steppin’ on dreams.”
As Sam’s cocktail is getting re-filled, he calms down a bit and recalls the girl he saw, now positioned directly behind Bob, still facing the opposing direction. She must have gone through three or four drinks since Sam had sat down, and Sam was certain she was nowhere near her limit. She just sat and drank, like nothing more in the world gave her pleasure, like the entirety of human existence was too trivial to be perpetually conscious of it. She was silent and, to Sam, that made her beautiful.
“But I don’t let it get me down,” Frank finishes as he swigs a bottle of beer.
“Thanks, Blue Eyes,” Sam speaks, feigning honesty as he begins to stand. “I think I’m going to use the bathroom.”
“Hey man, you’ll be okay,” Bob calls out as Sam walks away. “You’ve got us. You’ll be fine.”
The bathroom is as clean as the bar. Sam walks into one of the stalls, but he doesn’t sit down. He rips off several pieces of toilet paper and begins brushing the lid, the sides of the toilet. After awhile, the paper looks foul, like a towel soaked in a sewage line. Sam opens his fly and leaks a pint of urine into the shit-brown toilet water, and he’s thinking about the girl. “With the way she was knocking back that vodka,” he thinks, “there’s not going to be enough alcohol for me to get even a little buzzed.” He’s not sure why, but, for whatever reason, this alcoholic goddess, this drunken princess, is one of the most attractive women he has ever seen.
Out of the bathroom, Sam sees Bob ordering another beer, and he’s stupid drunk already. Frank has left his side to entertain some girls sitting at Table 5, and he’s singing a cappella karaoke to them. Sam can’t hear it through the fog of voices and drunken laughter, but he knows what song it is. With Bob resting his massive head on the shit-stained counter of the bar, Sam knows his big chance to talk to her is here. He tries to approach subtly, but he can’t because he realizes that he is drunk.
“Hi,” He slurs insensibly as he stumbles onto the stool next to her. “My friends are all drunk and stupid, so I’m looking to make new ones.” He tries to straighten himself in the chair, but he stops when he realizes that the chair is leaning, and he’s beginning to fall over.
“Well if I had to guess, I would say that you are pretty drunk and stupid as well,” She responds, the intent being spite. Sam just finds her more attractive.
“What’s your name?” He asks.
She orders another drink without answering him. The screwdriver in her hand is still half-full. The bartender tells her to finish the drink she has, and she slips a twenty dollar bill into his tip jar, very deliberately.
“Make it strong,” she says.
“Do you know, Bob?” Sam asks, inquisitively.
“Unfortunately,” She responds, slowly working on her glass, sipping with her lips pursed to keep the glass wet longer.
“For someone with more alcohol in her system than blood,” Sam thinks, “she stills acts very clear-headed.”
And then out loud: “How do you know him?”
“We live together.”
“Since about an hour ago.”
Bob hadn’t mentioned any of this to Sam yet. “Are you already moved in?”
“Yes,” and she downs the rest of her drink.
“Bob hasn’t mentioned you before.”
“We just met today.”
Sam forgets that he is not drinking anything and orders another gin and tonic. The girl stops the bartender as he begins to turn and tells him to make another screwdriver. He very vehemently says no, and she says, “It’s not for me; it’s for him,” motioning to Sam.
And Sam says, “I’ll take a screwdriver then.”
Sam sits with the mystery girl for a couple more minutes of silence. When the bartender comes back with the drink, he thanks the bartender and then thanks the girl. She takes another drink and very abruptly states, “We don’t drink because of the people we hate,” she says, “we drink because of the people we love.” She tilts her head back until her skin is strapped tightly on her neck and gulps down the last half of her screwdriver. “My name is Kari, by the way.” Her first evidence of intoxication is when she stands up and involuntarily sits back down, stumbling gracelessly. Sam goes to help her up, but she pushes him back and says, “I’m fine.” Sam admires her courage. She slowly stammers back up, standing upright like a British guard, pausing to keep balance, to keep the world from spinning.
She begins to leave when she feels the ground shake from beneath her. The entire barroom floor vibrates for a short moment, and she turns around unsteadily to see what triggered it. She eyes Big Bob on the ground, like a huge blockade, centered between two fallen barstools, one of which has snapped at the leg. Kari recalls that her way home is also Bob’s way home now, and begrudgingly goes to help him up. She bends down to his shoulders and begins to lift, but Bob doesn’t budge. Kari backs away and says, “I’m not qualified for this.”
It takes four men to mount Bob into a stable position, footed on the ground. “Thanks, boys,” Bob says as he wobbles his way towards Kari. “I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
“Are you two going to be okay getting home?” Sam asks, as they head for the door.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. Bob replies. Then, turning back around, he says, “Hey Sam, don’t worry about the job thing. I’ll recommend you for a position at Rank. They’re looking for a spokesperson or something. That’s up your alley. I think.”
“Thanks, Bob,” Sam says. “That’d be great.”
“Come on, Bob,” Kari says as she grabs him by the arm, attempting to drag him away with no luck. Bob finally submits and they head towards the door.