I’m getting out and about in the LA writing community, and among other ways I’ve chosen to find new friends, I’ve opted to go to writing groups. The Burbank Write It Up group provides camaraderie, a night out at BJ’s, a local restaurant, and prompts. We give one another 5 prompt words, and then as soon as dinner is ordered, we write for about 30 minutes. Then we read. As someone who finds it hard to find enough time to write – I haven’t always been a big fan of writing to prompts. My inner critic has a some snide remark like: are you serious? You’re going to play in the sandbox? You should be pouring concrete, by now. My unspoken rule was that ALL my writing should be productive. But I’ve been enjoying prompt writing and I’ve got to say, I’ve seen interesting things come of it.
Recently, my prompts were: Bon Jovi, Paris, TX, fork, get to work on time, horror. Close your eyes for one minute and think about what you might write…I wrote about a drunk. I’ve never written a drunk character – but I seem to know the territory. Here’s my unedited prompt writing.
“Stick a fork in me. I’m done,” I said, feeling very clever, and somewhat virtuous. I’d declared myself done drinking for the night while I still had the capacity to do so. I wasn’t stumbling drunk or passed out. Of course, I was feeling like “Queen for the Day.” Isn’t that why one drinks? To feel bigger, better, important? It is an adventure in self, an interlude when liquid courage combines with stupidity and extroversion. You tell acquaintances you love them and coworkers you hate them.
Where would the world be without DRUNK – the lovely, lazy land of anything?
That particular night I was drunk, by any definition, and the night was young. Looking back I’m still a little proud of my stupid, besotted self of 20 years ago. I’d quit drinking for the night because I had to catch an overnight flight to Paris. This was a long-held dream: living and working in Paris. I’d landed a job as a jazz critic for the English language paper, The Paris Free Voice. I had somehow magically landed the perfect life, and it would all start first thing in the morning, when I landed at Charles DeGaulle airport.
I was a jazz girl. No Bon Jovi or Arrowsmith for me. Bring on Betty Carter, Chet Baker or even Kenny G and I’m in the zone. Like all the great musicians and bebop singers – I knew how to drink. It was part of the whole experience. It was my badge, as valid as my press credentials.
I’d asked my longtime best friend Tom not to let me miss my 1 am flight. He was usually such a reliable sort. He was great company and never minded pouring me into a cab late at night, if I’d overindulged. Most nights he didn’t send me home to an empty apartment. He preferred to take me to his place, where he could keep an eye on me, especially if he thought I might pass out. In the early days, he’d put me in his bed, and he’d take the couch. Lately, we just slept in his bed like brother and sister. I certainly didn’t mind the arrangement. And he seemed to sleep better when I was there next to him. We were in a good groove. I provided the fun and excitement. He kept me safe. He was nanny, nurse and bodyguard. “My rock,” I called him.
As midnight approached, Tom kept bugging me to leave for the airport. I was high on life and sharing the vibe of this club – electric with love and energy. I was beyond hearing, and I shooed him away like an insistent fly. Before long, I forgot to quit drinking and accepted a shot from an intriguing man at the bar – a musician, by the looks of him. Musicians are a rare heady mix of intelligence and groove. They inhabited their bodies – their whole bodies. And more than that, they knew how to use their hands. Tom could take a flying leap, I remember thinking. It was very clear to me who I’d be going home with.
But Tom wouldn’t back down, like a pesky little brother. What was up his butt? Jealousy? He’d played wing man before. He was usually grateful to slip away and get home early if I were clearly involved. What’s with him? I thought again briefly, but I focused on Mr. Hands, as a sidled up to him to thank him for the drink. We each had two more shots of tequila, and then yes, I was done.
The rest of that night was a blur. Tequila has a magical white-out effect on anything – your troubles at work, your nagging mom, or even Tom. Gone.
And so was I. Gone. As the hour advanced, Tom must have intervened more forcefully, or I must have objected less vehemently. Did Mr. Hands leave the bar? I don’t know to this day, but I let Tom have his way. We left, together in the wee hours as we had from so many clubs, so many nights into a taxi cab. I remember getting into the cab and hearing Tom tell the driver LaGuardia Airport and having a dim realization that I had to catch my plane.
Tom, for whatever else he was, was my savior. I’ll get him breakfast in the morning I thought, just before throwing up out the taxi window.
The next morning was not like every other. Tom and I were together, yes. I looked around the dark room and had no idea where we were, or how I got there. Slowly it became clear that we were in a non-descript hotel room. My head banged and my mouth felt tight from dehydration. I got up and got some melted ice from the bucket and water from the tap. As water rehydrated my poor raisin of a brain, it occurred to me.
“Oh my god, Tom! You’re a genius!! We’re in Paris??” I looked at him wide-eyed, full of admiration.
“Yep,” he said pleased to have served. “You missed your flight, but I got you here.”
“You didn’t have to do that!” I feigned complaint. “You didn’t have to come all this way with me.”
“I couldn’t leave you on your own. You couldn’t have managed. And I didn’t want you to get fired on your first day.”
I gave him a look of disbelief. “I’ve flown drunk before. In fact, I’ve rarely flown sober. I usually straighten up by the time we land. I do fine.”
“Still, I got you here in time for work tonight. I even rented a car. As it turns out, the only option that late was to fly into Dallas and drive here. I don’t think we got here till at least four. No wonder we slept till noon.” He smiled sheepishly. He was glad to present his efforts for my approval.
“Dallas? did you say Dallas??” I was shrieking. The sound coming from my own throat was hurting my ears. I ran to the windows to open the curtains and look out. The noonday light flooded in and for a moment I could see nothing. Was Paris there on the other side of this blinding light?
The phrase “city of light” blipped through my mind as a I waited for my eyes to adjust, to see. I looked out, focused, and to my utter horror, I saw small-town America. We had traveled through the night to where?
I looked at Tom accusingly. “Where are we?”
“Paris,” he said. But I watched awareness dawn on him. “Paris, Texas. Is that not right?” he asked pathetically.
There was nothing right about it. My dream seemed far away and my nightmare right outside that window. Truthfully, even then I knew it wasn’t outside the window. It was in me, and between Tom and me. “I’m the nightmare,” I remember thinking.
Those shots of tequila with a sexy musician were my last drinks ever. I made my way to Paris, France that Saturday, and I flew hungover, but sober. By that Sunday evening I was visiting jazz clubs regularly. I managed to order cafe au laits and limonades. For a while it was as if I were missing an energy source. And yes, drinking is a big part of the jazz club scene. Surprisingly, it was not a necessary part. The music altered my universe and entered my veins and I didn’t need Tom to keep me safe.
As I conquered late night Paris and made friends as my new self, I realized I didn’t need Tom at all. He visited me once after I’d been there a few months. We pretended to be intimate and excited to share Paris. But he couldn’t rescue me in a city he didn’t know, in a language he didn’t speak. I put him in late-night cabs back to my apartment, and we slept as we always had, as sister and brother.
More than anything, Tom needed to be needed. He truthfully had no use for me anymore either. Shortly thereafter, he married his new girlfriend, whom I hadn’t met, but we both agreed, laughingly, was more of a basket case than I was. He said he hoped she would sober up as I had done. But I knew it wasn’t true.