The sky outside was flat gray, a blank canvas for God, Allah, or what have you to fill in with blue expanses and fluffy clouds at a later time. I sat impassively in the back of the bus, idly tongue-fucking a hole in my tooth.
It was Wednesday morning. Tuesday PTO had turned a three-day weekend into four so this was my first day back on the job. There was some task I needed to finish when I got in, but I couldn’t remember what. It was only pressing enough to exist in my brain as an amorphous blob during my time off.
I felt somehow impaired. It was not a hangover in the conventional sense. I had one glass of wine the night before and only finished about half of it. Yet something was off. Earlier at Muddy’s, the barista told me there weren’t any bagels then said something else I couldn’t parse. She is from Mongolia and speaks with an accent, but her English is quite good and I usually have no trouble understanding her. This time though, she had to repeat herself for me to understand that there were no bagels today and would I like an egg-and-cheese croissant instead.
My ears have been a little stuffed up from this cold I’ve had, but the impairment to my hearing was minor. My senses were also dulled and that had nothing to do with snot clogging my eustachian tubes.
The weekend in Portland was to blame. It wasn’t a single event that did it, but more of an accumulative effect. Of course, accumulation has to start somewhere.
Becca and I flew in Saturday and went drinking at Sandy Hut that night. We more or less behaved ourselves and our big act of decadence was having beer. Back home, we try to cut down on carbs. Portland is outside the jurisdiction of dietary constraints, especially those we only pay lip service to. After our four 16 oz. PBRs apiece (Becca had a jello shot with each of hers because she’s an achiever), we ate our aptly named Fat Man burgers and got a Lyft back to the Palms.
It wasn’t until the next day that it all went wrong.
Becca and I woke up feeling rested and refreshed so we decided to go have breakfast at a bar. The Alibi has a tiki theme and that is reflected in a lot of their menu. The French toast came with coconut in the whipped cream. Our first drink was a bloody Mary (nothing very tiki about that), but my second was a Hawaiian coffee, which substituted the whiskey of its Irish inspiration with Kahlua and rum. Becca’s second was an umbrella drink of some variety. There was a lot of liquor in all of them. Noon-tipsy and with our blood sugar at Wilford Brimley levels, we returned to the Palms for a much-needed nap.
At this point, the smart move would have been to hydrate and go for a nice, long walk. Instead, we set off to Alberta Street where there’s a place that serves pie and (like most of Portland) has a full bar. While we were waiting at the MAX station, I got a message from our friend Matt.
I’d known Matt since he was a bartender at the Argus in SF in 2006. He moved up to Portland a few years back and spends much of his time playing in a band and contributing to the death-metal zeitgeist. He had a show to go to later but was up for hanging out with us beforehand.
We met at the pie place, where I got an Irish coffee to go with my slice of cherry pie. Both were lovely. Afterward, Matt suggested we go to a bar nearby. We agreed because we were happy to see Matt again and drinking was our default behavior.
The bar turned out to be a cozy little neighborhood dive with an open patio and picnic tables. They didn’t have PBR so I settled for Hamm’s, which is of similar price and quality though lacking the Dennis Hopper connection.
We ran into a friend of Matt’s, a woman I’ll call Dee. Dee volunteered that she had been drinking gin all afternoon. I liked hearing that. It made me feel less of a tourist for boozing it up all day.
She was drinking in anticipation of meeting a Bumble date. Bumble, if you don’t know, is just like Tinder except that the woman has to swipe right before the guy sends her an unsolicited dick pic.
A few drinks later, Matt said he had to get going and wanted to know if he could give Becca and I a ride anywhere. Dee wanted us to stay, probably for moral support. I had been in this position before. Years ago, a friend had me and four others sit at a table with her while she met a Craigslist date. He arrived and she ignored him until he took the hint and left. It was a shitty thing to do, but she was a shitty person.
Dee seemed nicer than that so I was up for sticking around awhile. So was Becca. The three of us talked about this and that until Dee’s date showed up.
He looked a little like Ralph Malph, which was not his fault, but I still sent Becca a message pointing this out because I’m a bit of a bitch and even more of one after I’ve had a few. He also had a high voice, like a young boy with a hint of Jennifer Tilly thrown in. I didn’t send any notes about this detail because I couldn’t think up anything clever to say. Nor did I start mimicking him because I wasn’t drunk enough yet to be that much of an asshole.
Dee, unlike that one friend, did engage him in conversation. The scene was pleasant all around except for that unfortunate moment when the guy tried to mansplain Becca’s favorite band Interpol to her. Fortunately, no punches were thrown.
While the guy was in the bathroom, Dee asked me what I thought of him. I said that was her decision because it was and also because I honestly didn’t care. She must have liked him at least a little bit because when he came back, she ditched her conscripted chaperones to talk to him inside at the bar.
Shortly after, Becca went inside and came back with two pint glasses filled with vodka and Red Bull. “Here, drink this fucking shit. We’re going to the Alibi,” she said, handing me one of the glasses.
At the Alibi, we were back in our element. We had our usual spot at the corner where we didn’t have to be sociable with anyone else. There we drank ourselves into oblivion.
We were all but useless the next day. We didn’t get breakfast until late and there was so much of it, neither of us had the appetite to finish our dinner at Miss Delta’s. Later, we went back to the Alibi because it was our last night in town and drank as much out of obligation as anything else.
I spat out a piece of one of my molars the next morning. It broke off while I had my face buried in my to-go box from Miss Delta’s, using my fingers to shove pulled pork and collard greens into my mouth. It was a fitting end to our trip.
Now I was back on the bus, no longer on vacation. Up ahead lay San Jose, the place where I make money so I can afford, among other things, drinking benders in Portland. Maybe on the next trip, I won’t feel obliged to buy alcohol simply because a place serves alcohol. It’s hard to say. We probably won’t head back up until Labor Day and that is a long way off.
Until then, I would concentrate on practical matters such as work. I was still fuzzy on what those were exactly, but I was confident that emails and hand-scribbled notes from last week would remind me as soon as I got in. Meanwhile, I was free to sit back and let my mind wander, only to realize it had no place to go.