Calvin and Steve Scanlon ignored me the whole ride to the Metro. It was to be expected. I had the guys and Amanda pick me up at Noah’s place, and that pretty much sealed the deal. If Calvin was underexposed to different kinds of people, then Steve Scanlon was practically a virgin. Steve was about as close-minded as a guy got. Eighteen, and he was already gearing up to join some fascist young Republican’s club when he got to college. Steven wanted to be an accountant. He was the only guy I knew who talked about being an accountant. Steve liked to brag about the number of girls he screwed too, but we all knew he was a virgin.
He mostly hung out with the guys in his neighborhood in Bloomfield, going to the gym, and reading bodybuilding magazines. If girls liked anything about Steve it was probably his physique, even though, like Calvin, he was going bald too. Maybe it was the money his father gave him. You see, unlike Calvin, Steve wasn’t expected to work for a living while young. He would go to college, and get his accountants degree. Then he would come back to Roadwise trucking and run some random, moneymaking department. Truth be told, Steve and I weren’t close. I tolerated him because he was Calvin’s friend, and probable one-day business partner.
So I had the guys come into Noah’s, and they hated every second they were there. We left after ten minutes. But before, there had been a big party going on in Noah’s cottage. People were all hanging around the living room playing records and cds, drinking, getting high, and just talking about art and music. It seemed all right. I couldn’t really keep up with the band names or the music I was hearing, but if someone mentioned an author I was able to at least pretend I was contributing to the conversation.
Mostly I sat alone, before my friends showed up. Maybe I took a hit on a joint when it came my way. I had a couple of beers. Really I just sat there and watched the clock, waiting until I knew Amanda Evarts would be showing up with the guys. I mean I liked Noah, and I was pretty good friends with Karl, but amongst the other hipsters I was unsure of myself. I didn’t know my place. And when my friends showed up, and beautiful, blonde Amanda showed up, and everyone milled about mixing like oil and water, well, I wasn’t sure whom I belonged with at that point.
“Christ!” Steve yelled, from the driver’s seat of his Lexus. He surveyed the commotion closing in around us in the parking lot of the Metro. He looked pissed. “Dude, we’re never getting a spot! This is your fault, Javorski! You said come in and hang out at Noah’s party for a while, it’ll be fun. And I listened to you, like a moron!”
“Then this is really your fault,” I said, calmly. “I say a lot of things. For instance, I could say I’m the Queen of England. Does that make me the Queen of England?”
“No, it just makes you a goddamned queen,” Steve spat. “Besides, what’s with you and those people? Dude, they all looked like queers with their weird hair and weird clothes. And did you hear the music they were playing?”
“Yeah, it was old Sonic Youth.”
“Negative. It was crap.”
“Still, it’s not Alex’s fault there’s traffic. He didn’t cause the traffic,” Amanda added.
“Thank you,” I said.
“It’s no one’s fault all right,” Calvin said, in a somber, diplomatic voice. He was sitting in the backseat. He was sitting next to Amanda, of course. “It’s just busy because it’s Saturday Night.”
Then a car pulled out of a spot right next to the club. Steve was quick to grab it. In the distance, a line of people had already gathered along the ramp that went up toward the entrance of the Metro. They were all waiting for bouncers to wander by and check their identification with a flashlight then nod them along approvingly either toward the under twenty-one club, or the twenty-one and older club upstairs on a totally different floor. At the end of the ramp stood Tom McDannen and George Rubio. They were waiting for us as always.
They looked nothing like the type of guys you’d expect to see at a meat market like the Metro. Tom was a burley Pittsburgh boy through and through. He’d played offensive line on our high school football team, and was going to community college this fall to work on his Associate’s degree, because that’s what you needed to become a city cop. As for George Rubio, he weighed about three hundred pounds and sweated all year long. None of us had seen George much this summer since he went out and bought both the Nintendo Wii system and a PS3 with his graduation money. Tom and George weren’t the most glamorous boys in Pittsburgh. But there they were at the ramp leading into the Metro, glum looks and all.
“Hey,” George said, as we headed over. He nodded politely at Amanda then slapped Steve and Calvin five. George and I had no greeting, and we liked it that way. “This place sucks. Can’t we just go and get some food at the Eat’N’Park?”
“No,” Calvin said.
“What took you jaggoffs so long to get dahn here?” Tom shouted, in his thick Pittsburgh accent. Everything ending with the letters “own” was said “ahn” and everyone was a jaggoff.
“It was Javoski’s fault. He made us party with his queer friends,” Steve said.
George giggled and bounced around the concrete like a monkey. “Did they turn you gay too, Cal? Is that why you’re late?”
Calvin shook his head and laughed a little. He had Amanda by the hand, but she let it go and faded back toward where I was standing.
“The party seemed fun,” she whispered. “We should’ve stayed.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“All of Javorski’s new friends are queer,” Steve started in again. “I still say we would’ve been here sooner, but Javorski...”
“Steve, give it a rest!” Amanda snapped. “God, you’re like this all the time!”
I forgot that working at Roadwise, Amanda was probably hip to Steve Scanlon’s ultimate assholeness.
“Anyway we’re all probably queer, goin’ ta a place like this,” Tom moaned.
“Only you are, Tommy Boy,” Steve said, giving Tom a knock on his stomach. “You know, cop uniforms and such.”
“Shut up, jaggoff.”
The Metro was overrun with waves of the beautiful and the spiritually lame. They packed the club to the point of claustrophobia, and were dancing to thumping bass with a bad, monotonous beat, in whatever nooks that they could find. Many of the women dressed in short, glitter-speckled cocktail dresses that shimmered off of the violet floodlights above, and gave a guy a good view of their round behinds. A lot of the guys were dressed in dark rayon pants and shirts. Some were in polo shirts and some wore blazers, but almost all had the slimy aura of club gigolos on the prowl. Amanda was wearing a black one-piece dress that ended at the knees. And although I hated being at this club and maybe even with these people, I couldn’t help but feel glad that I came. Amanda...she was just stunning. And even though I knew there was no way she could be mine, how could I miss seeing her like that?
Tom found us a table. There were only five chairs. I was left standing around like a fool. Then everyone threw money down for soda and Calvin, Steve, and I went to fetch the drinks from an unpromising line at the bar. We stood in the line for at least ten minutes, but we didn’t say much of anything. Steve didn’t complain about my “queer” friends and Calvin didn’t ask me if he had a chance with Amanda, and I didn’t offer any odds on any of it. I watched our table to pass the time. Everyone looked bored and uncomfortable, except Amanda. She was a vision amongst the dead. I bought her a Coke. I harbored a selfish hope that she would take mine before she took the one Calvin was buying for her. But before I knew it Calvin had his drinks and tore back to the table. He handed Amanda a Coke and then sat next to her with a smile. I’d been beaten. Calvin left me breathless, and with two hands full of drinks. Calvin plucked one soda from my hand, and gave it to George. All I had left was mine.
“All right,” Amanda said. She sprang joyously from her seat. “Who’s dancing?”
“You know I am, Mandy,” Calvin answered, getting up.
“I’m dancing,” Steve added. He walked over to where they were standing. “I didn’t pay good money to come here and talk. There are chicks galore on that dance floor.”
The three of them took off toward the dance floor, and I took a seat.
“So, Alex,” George started. He had a dumb look on his face. “I haven’t seen you much lately. How come?”
“Probably because you’re in the basement with the Mario Brothers all day.”
He giggled. “NHL hockey, twenty-four/seven.”
Then Tom leaned in. It was a torture talking to these guys with the electric vibe of sex and Amanda Evarts somewhere on the dance floor.
“But really, Al,” Tom started. “How’re things?”
“Fine, man,” I answered flatly. I wasn’t willing to accept my fate, so I turned my chair at an angle away from Tom and George, in order to get a better view of Amanda. She was already dancing circles around Calvin. Calvin did this old man shuffle dance. He looked so ridiculous and fearless at the same time. I sat there and wished I could’ve been so carefree and liberal with myself to go and rub up against Amanda Evarts. My meekness disgusted me. So I turned back. “How’re things with you?”
Tom shrugged. “Not bad, you know? Could be better, I guess. Then he started talking about working in the grocery store, and about getting ready for the police academy, and all of the workouts he had to do with that. He spoke in a slow, morose manner, complaining a lot about his lot in life. It was like talking to Eeyore. “What about you, Alex? Still plugging away at the library?”
On the dance floor, Calvin had Amanda around the waist, and she flung about rhythmically and recklessly. Steve had found a dance partner in a girl with waves of unruly, brown hair, dark eye make-up, and a red one-piece dress. She looked drunk. Then Amanda turned her body the other way, and was grinding herself into Calvin’s crotch. Steve and his club-bag were already making out. The whole world suddenly had a physical, sexual pulse to it, and I felt like a castaway stuck with the loveless and lame.
“I think I need a drink of water,” I said, getting up.
Amanda was the only one sitting at our table when I got back. She was pulling on the shirt fabric between her small breasts, trying desperately to get some cool air onto her soaked flesh. Calvin was nowhere to be found, so I slumped into a chair across from her. “Can I have a sip?” She already had her hand extended toward my bottle. I handed her the bottle and she drank two quick gulps, letting a little bit of water dribble down her chin.
“Do you need one?”
“Calvin’s up there getting us some. I could really use some fresh air though. Care to join me outside?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Then the two of us weaved our way through the crowd and into the lobby. We went outside into the night. Smallman Street had grown quiet in the time that we’d been in the Metro. Everyone was off where they needed to be. The city of Pittsburgh stood alone, like a mountainous beacon, in the distance. Amanda continued to poke at her dress to let more cool air invade her body, if there was any. I gazed across the street at the quiet, empty docks of a fruit processing plant, wondering about everyone I knew and how it would all end between us.
“You seem quiet since we got here,” Amanda said.
“I just feel kind of lost tonight.”
“Are you okay?”
“I guess. Do you ever feel in between people....er...like in between points in your life.”
“Like should you be with your artist friends, or here with guys you’ve known all your life but no longer have anything in common with?”
I laughed. “Something like that. You’re pretty perceptive.”
“When are you going to dance with me?”
“They’re not playing my type of music.”
“Tell me what you’re music is, and I’ll go talk the DJ into playing it for you.”
“I like tribal music. But I don’t like your typical, run-of-the-mill tribal music. I like the stuff that they can’t get onto record.”
Amanda laughed. “And how do you dance to that?”
“I do the Charleston, of course.” She laughed a second time. “Besides,” I continued, “you and Calvin looked just fine out there. You looked like naturals.”
“That was all Calvin. I was worn out after the first five minutes. The guy’s not much to look at, but he’s an animal on the dance floor.”
“Was I being too honest?”
“I guess not. I mean I’m Calvin’s friend, so maybe you didn’t want to say that to me.”
“Cause you’ll tell him? So what? What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll lose my crappy part-time job at that sexist, macho trucking company?”
“No, that’s not it. I...”
“I like a guy that can make me laugh, Alex. I like a guy with a soul.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. So the two of us stood silently in the night. I lit a cigarette and gave Amanda one, and together we peered out into the clouded sky above us.
“Wanna hear something about Robinson Jeffers?” I asked.
“The poet you mentioned the other night?”
“Well, Jeffers was a real nature buff, and he didn’t have much use for humanity. So he hired this stonemason, and together they built this stone house out in Carmel, California, called Tor House. And even though Jeffers worked on it until his death, he and his wife lived there together in peace and silence, and they raised their family at Tor House, too.”
“It does, doesn’t it?”
Then the club doors opened.
“Mandy?” Calvin stepped awkwardly out onto the ramp. He was sweat-soaked and looked cautious. “Your water is waiting inside.”
“I told you a thousand times, it’s Amanda,” she said.
“Yeah. Well, thanks for the water.”
Amanda turned and gave me a look. It wasn’t a desirous one, but one more serious and studied with emotion. Something had suddenly changed between us, and I knew we’d have to face the fact of that as soon as possible. Then Calvin lumbered over to where we stood. He motioned for me to hand him a cigarette, and I dug around nervously in my pocket, handing him my last one. It was the least I could do.
Then I stood on the ramp as Calvin and Amanda talked about what great dancers they were. It was the kind of conversation that goes back and forth, where nobody accepts the compliment given to them, and it just becomes this absurd merry-go-round of goodwill and blushing. Calvin used the exchange to slip in moments of flirtation and boastful bragging. It was all so futile. He just couldn't see that he had failed, and that she was looking at me as he talked her up. He continued to praise her with kind words and subtle inclinations. It was wasted sentiment.
We went back inside the Metro. I made it a point to lag behind them. I guess I wanted to give my friend one last great chance, or rather one last great moment before, maybe, it all came crashing down. But Amanda looked back every few feet to see where I was, so the sentiment was sort of thrown out the window. Calvin looked back too. I guess he wanted to see what Amanda was looking at. We were all playing a game of cat and mouse. Amanda would look back and make sure that I was nearby, and I would stop every so often in the honest hope that they’d just walk on and leave me to my loneliness and jealousy. Then Calvin would call to me, and I’d move forward. By the time we trudged back to the dance floor, we were a burdened trio of ever shifting obligation.
“Oh boy,” Calvin said, looking back at me oddly.
“What?” I answered.
“Alex?” Sarah said, coming toward me.
That’s right. I turned a bend and almost bumped right into my ex-girlfriend. She was holding hands with some guy I’d never seen before in my life. No warning. No nothing. What a night.