Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Lava, Before It Settled and Cooled

It was a beautiful summer day, the kind of day where you drive around in the car and sing loudly with your favorite songs on the radio, and thank God for the warm sun on your face and the breeze that makes your hand dance and fly alongside the car, as you cup and flatten your hand to change the wind resistance. My college friend Barbara and her boyfriend Warren drove up from Philly to visit me at my home for the first time, and we were going to spend the day in New York for some sightseeing.

After having logged thousands of hours as their third wheel while at school, I was excited to finally be dating someone, and having them up to meet him was sort of a milestone for me. It was pleasant and something of a relief to finally have a boyfriend who would round out our little group. I would rather have worn a shirt that said LOSER all day than be their third wheel yet again, no matter how nice they always were about it. What made it more special for me was that my friends seemed really excited and happy for me that I had a boyfriend, and they looked forward to our visit together.

When Jerry pulled up in his metallic blue Camaro to meet my friends and drive us all into the city, he was in a quiet, almost surly mood, and barely said two words to my friends as they were introduced. Luckily, they seemed to take it in stride, and I guess they thought he was shy or something, because I didn't see any of the telltale glances pass between them that always spoke volumes. That's not to say that they were overly judgmental people. Actually, the contrary is true. It's just that they seemed to have a telepathic understanding when thing were not quite right. But since they didn't seem to be doing any of that, I guessed that it was only me picking up on his 'tude. I hoped for the best. I hoped he'd be nice to them, and show the charming side of his personality that made me go out with him in the first place. I hoped that they would compliment me on my choice of boyfriend, and think that we were a cool, fun couple. I wanted so badly to be a cool chick with my cool guy, not the insecure and inexperienced nerdette I felt like.

As we drove into the city, Warren offered up a joint to share, as was his wont, and everyone (except me) indulged. I had very occasionally joined Barbara and Warren in smoking while away at school, and had done so with Jerry a few times as well, so I wasn't being a stick in the mud. I just knew from experience that I was completely incapable of smoking and having any kind of conversation at all, because I tended to turn into an incoherent walking 1970's smiley face.

I wanted so badly to be able to smoke and carry on like I wasn't high, because it would be so cool to act like all the rock stars I admired, who even though they practically lived inside a bong would get up and play amazingly every night. I can't be trusted to throw a paper towel in the trash by myself when I'm stoned, much less roll out the hot guitar licks. Once, after smoking with another friend, I got off her couch and walked to the kitchen to throw away a paper towel, and she had to come look for me. It seems that I stood over the trash can for at least 15 minutes, with the wadded up paper towel in my hand, unable to figure out how to tell my hand to let go of the towel and drop it in the trash can. And then I was unable to form the words to explain why I was still in there. You see? Absolutely scintillating conversationalist when stoned. But I digress.

Back to the car. Jerry, who one would suppose knew all the stoner etiquette, as he'd apparently been at this for a while, was holding onto the joint for long stretches of time, instead of passing it on to the next person, as even I understood was the polite thing to do, especially as he wasn't the one to offer up the joint in the first place. You wouldn't think that there is a process to this all, but it was explained to me later that he had been guilty of "bogarting". I'm hardly the Emily Post of the Cheech 'n' Chong crowd, but these little druggy social niceties are important. Without even turning around, I felt the sideways glances being passed between Barbara and Warren, and we hadn't even gotten to the GW bridge. I can't say I blamed them. I was doing the mental equivalent of rolling my eyes, too.

Our plan for the day was a visit to the Empire State Building, which is the only thing I could come up with to do with them for a day's outing. There was nothing exciting to do in my little piece of suburban boredom, and with New York City only a few miles away, it seemed like a logical choice. I'd only recently come out of my sheltered little bubble and begun to go into THE CITY, as it is known on this side of the Hudson, and that destination seemed to go over well with all.

Only, according to Jerry, we had to stop and have a few coctails before making our way over there. We parked the car and found a bar (this is sounding a little like that Blondie song, "Rapture"). Everyone had a drink or two or four (guess who), but I was struck by how much more incoherent than the rest of our little troup Jerry had become. I'd seen him drink before, and certainly I'd even seen him drink and smoke before, but it never seemed to have this magnitude of an effect on him previously. This was liquor and pot amplified, turned up to eleven. I couldn't imagine what the hell was going on with him, and I was more than a little embarrassed that in the space of an hour after meeting my pals, by new boyfriend was a staggering, sloppy mess.

Once inside the Empire State Building, we had to wait on a long line, perhaps it was a line for the elevator. Never mind, the important bit is that we were made to stand around for a rather long time. Long enough for both of the men to be overcome with the need to pee. And blessed with the inhibition that alcohol graces us with, coupled with impatience, they decided that it would be okay to duck into a nearby room that was being renovated, and relieve themselves into some empty paint cans. Luckily, no one seemed to notice what they were up to, and my only comfort was that Warren and Barbara thought this particular part of the adventure was amusing.

Unfortunately, the long wait didn't have a good effect on Jerry. Far from being Mr. Surly at this point, the well past any sense of decorum boyfriend felt the urge to sing to me, smother me with sloppy drunken kisses, and proclaim his love for me over and over again. Never mind that my friends were trying to ignore his outrageous behavior, or that the other people in line were enjoying the Drunk Show, starring That Poor Young Woman's Boyfriend as The Sloppy Drunk! We had not actually been dating for very long, so his declarations of love were not coming from his heart, but rather from the four grapefruit and vodkas he'd pounded down earlier. I would have been embarrassed yet philosophical about it all had we been alone, but with my friends as witnesses, I was mortified. And I couldn't pretend it wasn't happening and shove it under the rug. Great first impression, Jerry. What the hell do you do for an encore?

I was soon to find out.

When we finally got to the observation deck, I was relieved to see Warren and Jerry chatting away on the west side of the deck, Jerry enthusiastically pointing at something or other in New Jersey. I don't even remember what Barbara and I talked about during that short period alone. I was so overwhelmed with trying not to talk about the inebriated elephant on the observation deck, that I jettisoned everything that I actually did managed to talk about from my memory. Only later did I find out that Warren was looking interested out of politeness, and was actually being lectured at by Jerry about the prehistoric geographical formation of Paterson and the surrounding area. Over and over again, like a college professor on angel dust, he described the volcanic eruptions that caused this mountain here and that crest there, to the point where I think Warren weighed whether the fall from that height might be preferable to listening to more of the same lecture all the way down on the elevator.

After examining every volcanic ridge in the area, we walked/stumbled our way back to the Camaro, which was parked in a parking garage this way. No, no, Jerry, not that way, THIS way. Really, I remember. Just trust me on this one, it's THIS WAY. The streets are numbered Jerry, it's a grid. If we are standing at blankety-blank and blank now, and we just passed blankety-blank street, the garage is THIS WAY. See, even the people from Philly agree with me. No, I'm not trying to embarrass you, please, just try this and if I'm wrong, we'll do it your way. Okay? Okay.

You can imagine at this point how the conversation regarding his condition and his resulting inability to drive went. Anyone who's wrestled with a completely blotto driver for their car keys knows that this was not pretty. There are egos and chemicals involved, and being a young and inexperienced person, I didn't pursue the issue about the keys as far as I should have. My friends were scared, and with good reason.

At first, it seemed as if he was able to negotiate pretty well, considering his condition and the normal slash, burn and kill conditions of driving in New York. That was until he banged into the back of the Mercedes, and was too drunk to notice. The Mercedes driver pulled over, obviously figuring on an exchange of insurance information, but Jerry the Oblivious drove right past her. He thought that the BUMP was his car going over another in a series of metal plates welded over the potholes in the street. That was, until the Mercedes driver, with her top down, started to follow us, screaming that she was getting down his license number, and that he was going to be in big trouble if he didn't pull over.

Jerry said, "What is she yelling about?"

Carrie: "You hit her car, and she wants you to pull over."

J: "What? No I didn't."

C: "Yes, you DID."

J: "Did I hit her car?"

C: "Yes, please pull over."

J: "Really?"

C: "YES, you did."

J: (Nasty.) "Oh, thanks a LOT!"

With that, he proceeded to violently turn the steering wheel to the right, and the passenger side wheels bounced up over the tallest curb I've ever seen, bottoming out the car and making a terrible SCRAPING noise as metal undercarriage met curb.

Everyone in car, except Jerry: "AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!"

As the car finally came to a rest, passenger side on the curb, driver side in the street, the frightened Mercedes woman drove past us, clearly realizing at that point that she was better off calling the cops than dealing with the lunatic in the Camaro.

J: "Didja see that? She passed me! See, I never hit that bitch's car!"

I don't even remember the rest of the ride home, or saying goodbye to my friends as they left for the much safer ride back to Philly.

Embarrassment, like a volcanic ridge, eventually cools down. But it can take just as many years.

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