“The Beach Breeze” by Brian McElmurry

The skinny streets near Wilson High School, the sets of stairs before the school entrance and a white two-story building across the street. Black top and fences to the left. A grass field. A beautiful song on Dylan’s radio, rolling through the old neighborhoods of Long Beach near The 36 (it’s a bar). We park in the back of an office building. The parking lot is empty and there are Eucalyptus trees hanging over us. An old house in a skinny lot with a porch, a short way from the corner where a storefront was, next to the house that was. Stoned, believe me. Dylan had given me bong loads at his house while he finished his video baseball game with Tim. Then we blazed a blunt on the way there, after going back to the garage because Dylan forgot to take his pills.

“I forgot to grab some pills. And I wanted to be on pills when we go to this bar.”

Halfway there on the skinny side streets Dylan was driving, slowing down at intersections where the gutters would scrape his car—a lowered white sedan with large rims, skinny tires, and a banging system—which he would finesse through the dip, automatically, having taken the route a hundred times. Tim was already there. He wanted to drive his own car in case he hooked up with someone. Dylan walks out of the parking lot beside me, still blazing the blunt, telling me, “the bouncer standing outside the door right now isn’t going to like me smoking this blunt…” He puffs. “But I don’t give a fuck.”

The IDs are shown, leaving him out front. In the bar the walls are initially white and paneled. There’s an old style-wood bar on the left wall and two pool tables to the right. The color red is everywhere: must be the carpet, but my mind only sees red, and not any objects. Not as busy as last call, but it was still three deep from the bar.

Tim is at the bar nursing a beer sedately, and I squeeze into a stool next to him. We’re in view of the waitress—edgy, but with nice, long and thick blonde hair; almost a fifties style of jeans; and a nice body. “Can I get a Bay Breeze, Please?”

“What?”

Loud rock music sweeps over the room. “Bay Breeze.”

She nods her cute elfin head and goes down to the well. She pulls out a tall glass filled with ice, places it on the bong-water chinga (the rubber thing you pour drinks over) and pours it half full of vodka, another third with cranberry and the rest with pineapple. It is delicious. She brings me change: a five, a one and a quarter. (And here is a dilemma for bartenders: A drink costs $3.75 and you are given a ten. Do you bring six ones plus change and seem pushy, or a five, a one and a quarter?) I think it over and give her a five. She takes it and looks, pretending disbelief. Her head turns slightly. “Is this for me?” She fans herself with it, walking away, as the music pounds through the bar.

I yell to Tim my justification for the tip: “It’s because I bartend—it’s karma!”

The bartender comes over and asks if she had the drink right, “A Bay Breeze uses cranberry right? Its beach? Cause I heard you’re a bartender.”

I yell that it was good and she zips off. Her cute ass in blue jeans walking behind the bar. People cluttering the corner. I settle into the curve of the bar and two hot girls come up and force themselves between Tim and I. I try not to move, as this girls is obviously drunk, clumsily reaching over the counter for her purse. She’s helped by a second female bartender, not quite as cute as the first, looking somewhat Samoan, but a lovely woman I’m sure. I lean to let the drunk girl in as Tim stands his ground, almost ignoring her, drinking his beer. The girls leave as all the guys turn and look at their asses.

My drink is gone quick. Drank with a straw. It’s dangerous. It was strong but somehow without a taste of vodka. I wait to catch the eye of the cute blonde waitress. She signals and strolls down, leaning to the bar. I lift my glass. “Can I get another?”

She makes my drink as we chat briefly. She explains that she’d taken three shots that night and had accidentally put my five straight into the tip jar. “I’m a little drunk.” She says.

“It’s cool,” I say, “I was going to give you the rest as a tip.

“No, no. I hadn’t even wrung it up.”

I go into the adjoining red lounge where Dylan is picking songs on a small touch-screen jukebox attached to the wall by a pinball machine. Dylan and Tim were going to play pool but missed their turn because Tim was outside smoking when the previous game was over. I take a seat next to Tim at the bar, and order my third drink. The bartender asks me where I bartend and I explain I live in San Diego and mostly bartend at weddings. “Weddings are a good gig,” she says before introducing herself. “I’m Karen, by the way.” She offers her hand and tells me the other bartender’s name.

After she walks off, Tim says, “You better get her number.”

I think it over. She lives in Long Beach and I in San Diego. And then the whole thing of picking up the bartender…  I don’t want to be that asshole, but I think she combined the fact that I was a nice person (and, like her, kind of hip) with the presence of my drug dealer friend (Dylan) dressed in designer ghetto fashion. He wore a matching bandana under his sideways hat. He had a huge shoe collection so that every item in his outfit matched. Before we left for the bar, he asked me my thoughts on a cologne he had recently bought. He also told me my sandals were bad for a date. Tim was also wearing sandals. It was hot and June.

Dylan was reading a book on dating and said shoes were important. But it was a bar that everyone wears sandals to. To Dylan, the 36 was a dive where there wouldn’t be any chicks. He drank soda as he couldn’t drink alcohol because his stomach was too fucked up from pills. I was in tan cargo shorts, a button-up shirt with a plaid cowboy effect and Birkenstocks. I’d worn them for years, too many to remember.

Dylan and Tim play pool as I nurse my third drink. The great bar rock songs keep pumping through the joint, making talking in any way difficult. You’re forced to bend close together. My fourth drink, which I wasn’t suppose to have: I put the same glass I’d used all night on the bar and, as Karen turns around to make the drink, some (other) drunk dude tries to get her attention. I yell, “Karen, Hey Karen!” She turns around and I ask, “What about the good vodka?”

Her eyes light up as she turns to the Kettle One.

“Karen, how much more is it?”

She ducks toward me and waves me off, “For you?”

She grabs the Kettle One and pours the tall skinny cup ¾ full. I feel like saying, “my hangover tomorrow will thank you” (at that rate, with what I figure was about nine shots of vodka poured into my four drinks, a hangover was inescapable), but at that point I feel great. Not too drunk. Just drunk. I sit beside the pool table and listen to the music as Dylan and Tim finish their game. Tim goes out for a smoke. Then Dylan comes up to me, says, “Come on, we’re going,” and starts walking out.

I suck down the rest of my drink: half of the glass up the straw in three seconds. Outside, Tim says, “Tell me you got her phone number.”

I tell Dylan the story as we head to 2nd Street. The floor of the Acapulco Inn is covered with hay. Wood and wire fences separate the few rooms like we’re chickens, or, better yet, rabbits. I get a Newcastle (they only serve beer) and find Tim by the pool table.

Its crowded and, because we got a late start at 11:30, near last call. An alarm goes off in the bar to announce last call as I drink my beer. I think, liquor than beer, you’re in the clear. Outside, Tim tells me to go to Dylan’s car. Tim goes home. I see Dylan enter a closing Irish bar that is right by his car.  He gets in and I don’t. So I wait by his car.

He returns. We stand under a palm tree, a little off 2nd Street, and smoke a blunt with some ghetto dudes and a random drunk chick Dylan had been talking to in the bar.  But she was obviously going with the ghetto dudes since one of them held her drunk-ass flirtatiously in his arms. I was too drunk to notice they were some sort of gangsters.

We end up going to a ghetto-chill strip club near Signal Hill. I order myself a White Russian from the pretty blonde waitress, as Dylan goes off somewhere for a lap dance. I sit in a comfortable plush corner watching a dancer gyrate on the nearby stage. It takes me a good ten minutes before I realize I’m one of the few white dudes in the place.

Posted March 31st, 2010

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