My phone rings. I pick it up and say "I'm on vacation" into it and hang up.
"She also says we have to bring back the keg."
"We're not bringing back the keg until it's empty. Here, get me something else to put the beer in."
"We're going to put the beer in our bodies, Bill," Jim assures me. Then into the phone: "No mom, we'll bring it back. Don't worry."
He's talking to his mom because she put the keg on her credit card because he was on Temporary DuTy and therefore unable to put it on his card. He got back the night before. The keg was waiting. She's threatening to take me home early because I'm stranded in Temecula with no way to get home short of hitchhiking and my son's been at grandma's now far longer than I promised.
"Why were we drinking champagne all day when we knew we had to finish the keg?" I ask no one in particular.
"Because I like champagne." Into the phone: "No, mom, we don't have any left."
I look through the patio door and see four empty bottles the size of half-gallons on the kitchen table. The only reason we quit with the champagne is it was making us tired. I finish filling the pitcher and start drinking it as fast as I can - from the pitcher. Monika comes out and puts her cup in front of me, I fill it up and hug the pitcher to my chest. Monika disappears into the apartment.
Beyond the balcony California is sprawled out lazily from two stories down. The green of plants never designed by nature for the environment clinging tightly to rocks they can't possibly be nourished by. The labyrinth of irrigation systems set up to feed the plant-life which never existed until we arrived, and would quickly depart should we ever decide to leave. The entire state in a constant state of being refurbished and becoming new and improved if only on the surface. A place where if they decided to put the picture of any celebrity with the phrase "Of Course We're Full of Shit" on the flag no one in good conscience could object.
California, the beautiful whore she is.
"Fuck dude I'm tired," I announce. "We need something to wake us up. I only slept two hours last night, and your recliner wasn't exactly the Hilton."
Monika appears in the doorway holding a bottle of Sailor Jerry's in one hand, a set of shot glasses pinched elegantly between the fingers of the other. Her eyes hold the question I need no prompt answering.
"Jim, your girl's got shots."
"That's why I'm so madly in love," he explains as he joins us on the balcony.
We hold our shot glasses together - each is unique in that he bought each of them in Hawaii when he was supposed to be hold up in Pearl Harbor but instead was in Maui in a beach bungalow with Monika. We salute each other and down the firewater. It goes down like shit and I have to suppress my gag reflex to keep it from coming back up.
My blackberry rings again. "Bill doesn't live here," I say into it and hang up.
"I can't get too plastered," Jim says. "I have to go pick up the Benz."
"Man fuck the Benz. Oz and Christy and Eric and Nick and his bitch wife are all coming over."
"We'll wait by the pool."
They get dressed, and I stay in my jeans, T-shirt and flip-flops.
"Aren't you going to put on board shorts?" he asks. "Go swimming?"
"I don't have any. I was only staying one night, remember?" Really I don't have any. And I don't mind because honestly he's been working out the whole time he was gone and now he's all ripped and shit and I don't really like being around him. Not without my shirt on.
We hit the pool and bring two pitchers - one of them from the blender. Go back and refill them. Oz shows up, meets his friend there, and spends an hour forgetting about his cousins and talking to his friend. I get two more pitchers. I'm walking through the complex with two pitchers of cold beer, condensation dripping from them, as I pass a mother unloading her two kids. She eyes me with contempt and scurries her progeny along, trying to shield them from the debauchery that they're sure to experience later in life.
Eric and Christy arrive. The sun sets. We order two pizzas, which are not enough. Nick shows up with his bitch wife - all three hundred pounds of bad attitude of her. I invite her to join us.
She sneers and says, "I know you all hate me."
I don't say anything and Nick kisses her goodnight and she leaves. We head to the apartment, where people are now doing beer bongs and even more shots of Sailor Jerry.
My blackberry rings. I pick it up and say "God hates gay people" into it and hang up. Set it on the table, and take a shot.
We play beer pong. I'm on Jim's team. Which was a better choice for me than for him. He was a basketball player and he hasn't missed a free throw all night. I haven't made one, and he's not very impressed.
"Next time I'm leaving you outside," he says, and sinks one.
"Next time I'm fucking Monika and making you pound on the door," I tell him. He's still not impressed.
Out of nowhere Bitch Wife arrives. Carrying her child. Suddenly Nick has forgotten we exist. He's talking to his line-backer life partner and ignoring his family. I sit down next to them and strike up a conversation. Bitch Wife leaves.
"What?" I ask.
"Dude," Nick sighs.
"You just can't say things like that," Michelle explains. Michelle is Jim's sister.
No one answers because they all assume I knew exactly what I said. They are all terribly wrong.
Bitch Wife is back suddenly and ordering Nick to come with her and take care of their new-born. I remember exactly the problem and explain that Nick has a dick and that means he is not, and never will be, the bitch in the relationship.
Nick leaves with his master.
"What a fucking waste." I collapse on the couch. A beer is placed in my hand, a Shock Top. "What happened to the keg?"
"We threw the keg over the balcony an hour ago," Jim explains.
"How long do you plan on living here?"
"Until the lease is up," Jim nods, "four more months."
I'm outside and Keith is bumming yet another smoke. I can't remember who he is or why he's in Jim's apartment - that's right: he's Monika's high-school friend that Jim was convinced she was fucking while he was gone. Except Keith is very possibly swinging for the other team and very seriously working at Red Lobster as a bus-boy and was totally unprepared when his best-friend told him to come meet her fiance and his cousin - the thirty year old war hero with more petty cash than Chrysler and his cousin, the psychotic author.
So I give him another "Gold" and light it for him. Because I assume he thinks that's classy. I'm wearing my top-hat again, which apparently no one thinks is classy.
"Bill," Jim calls, "your ride is here."
I look over my shoulder and there's my two aunts, come to collect, and I'm honestly not upset. I'm just thankful I can still walk on my own.
I was fully planning on falling asleep on the balcony and having my cigarette burn my fingers until they blistered. The two parent figures kinda saved me from that. They drag me out, leaving most of my possessions in Jim's apartment, usher me to the waiting car, and throw me in. Right next to my grandpa, who is waiting in the car.
"Grandpa," I slur, "grandpa grandpa grandpa. How's it going? This is all your fault, you know that? You did all of this."
"I don't remember doing this," he says.
"Well," I think a moment, "neither do I. But this all your fault. You made all us little pain in the asses." I always say this to my grandpa. Because he had seven kids. And of them they had twenty or thirty kids. And of those they had forty or fifty or sixty more. And now, because grandpa didn't want to tie it up, there's hundreds of us little bastards running around.
He should repent, but he seems to be proud of it.
I'm rambling about something I don't even know most of the ride. The only coherent thing I say is "I need more beer. Can't sleep without it. Gotta stop and let me buy some more booze."
"No," one says.
"If he'll pass out, give it to him," the other says.
They buy me a forty ounce Bud Ice can. Heaven never tasted so good. Not that I would know. But I always imagine heaven as swimming against the current in a river made of high content alcoholic beverages for all eternity. It makes me feel better about my health conscience life-style.
They deposit me on the couch, and all sigh. I can't fall asleep fast enough. Only I'm not done. Why should I be? When there are so many people I need to talk to right now. So much to say. So much genius just ready to spill over and they'll never know what they missed if I don't call them right now and explain how incredibly awesome I am, and they are.
"Jim," I say, "Jim... Jim... Jim... Jim... Jim."
"That's my name, and if you don't stop I'll sue you for trademark infringement."
"Jim... Buddy... Man... Like... Fuck you dude."
"Okay, I'm going to fuck my smoking hot fiance right now. Go to sleep, Bill."
"Everyone else has!" I don't know why I say it, I just think it'll hurt him. Why did I call him again?
"I'll choke you! I'll kill you! They train us to kill, Bill! They train us to kill!"
And my phone dies. Never has it picked such an opportune time.
I wake up on the couch. A dog is looking at me and suddenly, all in one terrible realization, I remember that my aunt has dogs and a cat - all of which I'm terribly allergic to.
I'll spend the next twenty hours sneezing and coughing and wanting to throw up.
We get on the road and the aunt's decide to hit the casino:
"We'll make a few dollars and be on our way," they say. Halfway in - two hours in - and two hundred down they hand me a water bottle full of wine and say, "Here, it'll make you feel better."
"No thanks," I say, sneeze. "Just run out the credit cards so I can go home."
My blackberry rings, it says CALL FROM JIM. I pick it up and say "I don't want any" and hang up.