They were given two simple instructions: bring a case of beer and wear an obnoxious holiday sweater. It was December twenty-first.The restaurant where David worked had been banging since Thanksgiving. So for weeks he’d been working his ass off and hadn’t been able to see his buddy Laurence. Stephanie, an industry friend, was throwing the party at her place in Logan Square. The moment David and Laurence entered her apartment, they realized that they were the only ones wearing sweaters. Without a word both started to take them off, hoping no one noticed them.
Don’t even think about it, Stephanie said.
David wondered if she dyed her hair green for the holiday party.
Laurence scratched his neck and a passing comment about the wool sweater, before he said hello to Stephanie. David opened the case of beer, handed each a bottle, and opened both of their bottles of beer with his church key.
So where is this brewery? Laurence asked.
This shit’s basically impossible to get because they only sent a hundred cases into the city. This Santa Stout has notes of teriyaki and soy. Wild stuff, David said.
A bit of beer spilled down the side of Laurence’s mouth, which he wiped away.
With a quick glance David could tell that the party was going to be another typical Logan Square affair with the typical mix of people: a bunch of bearded dudes with ink covering their arms, some guys talking about fixed-gear bikes in the hallway, and skinheads eating chips and salsa. He had mixed feelings about Stephanie and her friends, who all thought of themselves as the equivalent of working-class social debutantes who seemed to namedrop everyone in the food and beverage industry along Milwaukee Avenue. He just hated the holier than thou attitudes and assumption that they deserved something free wherever they went out. More importantly David hated how Laurence fell for this game, especially with Stephanie’s game.
Nobody actually brought any good beer—it was all domestic swill, David said. He watched Laurence touched the tip of his tongue to his lip as he eyed-up Stephanie as she cooly pointed out who was who. She had this way about her—always pretending not to care—but David had to carry her home after too many drinks. She wanted to be seen as woman in control, but during those all-day benders David had listened to her sob like a high school girl. He just wished she could be comfortable in her skin. But it seemed that Laurence fell for callous girls who floated above it all. He fell for her cool Logan Square friends who were busy living life because his girlfriend was too busy studying.
Laurence had this nervous tic where he’d blink his eyes too much and nervously scratch the back of his head while he talked with David; and after a few drink Laurence calmed down and decided that they needed to talk to new people.
This is lame. Why did we come across town to stand here and talk to ourselves? Laurence said with an atypical sense of bravado. –Wanna beer? Laurence asked a young man with a shaved head and wild tribal piercings in his ears.
Fuck yeah, the skinhead said and proceeded to rip the metal cap off and took a big swig, most of which dribbled down his face and neck. –What the fuck is this?
Laurence covered his mouth in horror as the punk bathed in the rare beer.
Give me another, he demanded.
Actually I brought this for everyone…so…. Laurence reached inside the cooler and handed him a can of swill.
I’m looking for a couple of guys who are looking to get into some skinhead shit!
David looked at Laurence, both unsure of what he meant by “skinhead shit.” Laurence scratched the back of his head and asked what he meant by that. The skinhead opened the can of beer and took a pull from it while looking Laurence in the eyes.
I mean do you two guys want to get into some shit, the skinhead’s voice began to pitch sharp as his eyes flared up. –I’m talking about some skinhead shit! His words were connected like some sort of train at full speed.
Stephanie opened the door to her bedroom and the two men darted off to safety. The bedroom was full of patchouli and bong smoke which caused Laurence some sort of irritation because he started to pinch his noses and rub his eyes. There were two twin beds. David watched Lawrence look at the beds, the poor bastard trying to imagine which one was Stephanie’s. Laurence always talked about girls in this creepy way, about smelling pillows and rolling in bed sheets. And in private he had admitted to David that if he could split himself in two, he’d give one to Elizabeth (his girlfriend) and one to Stephanie.
Look at that, David said with a little indicating point from his beer; she was a beautiful older woman with tattoos, a lot cut dress, and just the right amount of grey streaking through her hair.
Laurence used his hands as binoculars and dramatically scanned the room.
God, would you look at that! I can’t keep my eyes off her. I’d love to roll that. Without hesitation David walked over to her with a bottle of Stout. Laurence watched as she took it and they begin to make small talk.
Come over here, David said to Laurence who covered his twitching eye when Stephanie turned around.
Can I help you buddy? a man asked as he wrapped his arm around the older woman and introduced himself as her husband. His arms were as big as Laurence’s legs, and he had a long goatee. He was drinking straight out of a half-liter growler of beer. David started to get very nervous, thinking back to the night he talked with someone’s wife and how he had to escape through a kitchen and run to the Brown Line station in Lincoln Square.
Want a beer? David handed him his the last bottle of stout.
Laurence just started to cover his face as though he were going to be punched.
Look I came here with my buddy Laurence, and we’re sick of not meeting other people, because if I wanted to just talk to him, we could’ve stayed home, but that’s lame, so what’s your story?
The couple told their story. She was a real-estate lawyer who just opened her own practice, and he was the chef at a restaurant in Logan Square called Lux. –I’ve been there. I had your beef jowl and black barley, charcuterie plate, and the frozen soufflé.
Just like that, they were best friends, even Laurence got in on the action without having to tend to his twitchy eye which bothered David who wondered whether his friend was allergic to smoke. Both were passing bottles of beer back and forth and dorking out over food in general. David had this way with people and could talk himself out of any situation. Stephanie came over with half a joint. Laurence didn’t typically smoke pot, but when it came to him he took it and sucked it hard, pulling it deep into his lungs before passing it on to the chef. It came around a second time. David smoked like a rookie and held it against his mouth like a joke, except he was for real. Then they took a shot of whiskey and started smoking cigarettes.
David could tell Laurence’s blood had become a little too rich; his friend was passing out of his comfort zone into an unfocused state where the room began to slip out under his feet. –Come with me, Laurence pulled David out of the bedroom. As they waited in line for the bathroom in the narrow hallway that connected the bedrooms with the living room, the two watched the skinheads, who had hijacked the radio, sing along to bands that destroyed rock ‘n’ roll and paved the way for punk. After David took a piss, he made his way to the living room looking for Laurence and a bottle of something, anything to keep the buzz going. But everything was empty, including his beer. He had no idea what time it was, maybe eleven, maybe two. He saw Laurence covering his ears in dismay.
The skinheads were singing, Don’t stop belieeeevin’, Hold on to the feeeeeelin’. Laurence cringed at what he heard and then just started laughing at their horrible taste in music. Then the skinhead leader walked over to him, grabbed Laurence by the shirt, and threw him against a bookshelf.
You think this is funny?
Actually I do, bro. I was in college once too, bro. He covered his mouth realizing he’d said too much
Bro? Are you calling me bro?
Laurence started laughing out of control. –Yeah, man. You fucking love Journey and drink shitty beer, therefore you must be a bro deep down. The skinhead started punching Laurence. Laurence simply tried to cover his face from the blows. One, two, three…then from the other side of the room, the chef ran over and with one punch knocked out the skinhead. One shot was all it took. The skinhead was out cold. There was blood slowly dripping from his face like a leaky faucet. The skinhead looked dead, limbs blown out and collapsed against the dirty hardwood floor.
The chef apologized to Stephanie about the whole situation and then asked his wife if she was ready to leave; she asked where David and Laurence were heading, and it was then she asked if they wanted to split a cab, an opportunity which they of course jumped at.
Artificial limitations or constraints are a great way to force yourself to think creatively. In this version of “Some Skinhead Shit” I used the word ‘beer’ in every tenth sentence starting with the first sentence and have Laurence touch his face every sixth sentence after he says hello to Stephanie. I also didn’t use quotation marks to indicate speech, told it from David’s point of view, and told it exactly a hundred sentences.