The Night Before Graduation
A Kind of True Story
“I’ll have another!” Laura shouted across the bar, waggling a right index finger under the nose of one very pissed-off looking bartender standing opposite her. Unable to match his steady eye contact, her watery gaze instead dropped down and narrowed on the jabbing digit.
“Cheap Walgreens shit,” she muttered, scowling at the scaly purple remains of a once semi-presentable nail polish job. “Non-chip formula, my ass.”
The bartender folded two beefy arms across his chest and ticked his head to the side, regarding Laura plainly with a mixture of bemusement, annoyance and pity. Even under the bar’s dim mood lighting, Laura could tell his snug black t-shirt was straining to cover the stocky, Chris Farley-esque build — just that small gesture alone had forced the fabric’s retreat, stretching upward to reveal a ghostly pale paunch beneath.
“You know,” Laura slurred, nearly toppling her empty margarita glass as she leaned over the bar so he could hear her better (a nonsensical move for a woman who was already enunciating louder than Oprah during a giveaway segment) “they do make those in adult sizes.”
Unperturbed, the bartender’s eyes slid onto the young woman who had come in with his verbal assailant. Laura’s best friend Nancy was perched on the neighboring barstool, one hand cupped around a glass of ice water, her thumb and index finger nervously rolling the plastic straw back and forth, back and forth as she watched this exchange of pleasantries.
“She’s not driving, right?” he said, jerking an elbow in Laura’s direction. His tone indicated this was not a question, but rather a statement of fact. Laura was too busy stuffing her mouth with maraschino cherries from his open fruit caddy to pick up on either.
“Of course not,” Nancy tittered, giving him her best wholesome Midwesterner smile. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Yeah! Don’t be ridiculous!” Laura mimicked, red, juicy spittle spewing obscenely from between her teeth. She slammed her palm on the slick wooden countertop, pounding out the tempo of a drunkard’s Morse code. “MAR-GA-RI-TA. ON-THE-ROCKS. STAT.”
The bartender glared at her, but nevertheless began salting the rim of another glass. With a hard swallow — fuck, that was a lot of cherries — Laura spun her stool around to face Nancy.
“Can you believe it?” she bellowed. “CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE IT?!?!?”
A handful of bar patrons turned, their attention momentarily diverted away from sweating well cocktails to the 5 foot 9, pixie-cut 20-something hurling obscenities like a seasoned sailor. Four blocks away, a flock of skittish pigeons tucked up on the roof of a Methodist church suddenly took flight. Small cracks appeared in the Earth’s mantle. Somewhere in Minneapolis, a man woke up from a three-year coma.
“Seven years of school, $200,000 in student loan debt, and not one damn job offer. NOT ONE,” Laura raged, ignoring Nancy’s frantic hand signals pleading with her to lower her voice. “Everyone else in my class is out ordering prime rib and deciding what paradise they’ll build their vacation home in. ‘Ooh, what do you think, dahling? Should we take Chauncey and little Sea Kelp to the Maldives for spring break? You know they got so very bored at tennis camp with Venus and Serena last year,’” she sniped in an accent that was somewhere between Mary Poppins and Al Pacino in Scarface.
The bartender laid a cocktail napkin in front of her, gingerly placing the freshly-made libation on top before settling back near the register where he could keep watch. Laura gave an exaggerated salute, then, without pause, plucked out the uselessly tiny cocktail straw and tossed it behind her. She took a dangerously long swill — Nancy counted at least 30 seconds before her friend came up for air — and thunked the half-empty glass back down, splattering the crisp white napkin with droplets of chartreuse liquid.
“And here I am, sitting in a FUCKING CHILI’S, drinking shitty margaritas on HAPPY HOUR with the rest of America’s rejects.” She heaved a sigh and lifted the drink again, whispering to it gently like a long-lost lover. “Fuck me.”
Nancy allowed a few beats of silence to pass. She had once accidentally interrupted a similar tirade on why women take so long in the bathroom — “What the fuck are they doing in there? Braiding friendship bracelets out of each other’s tampon strings?” — and was not eager to have a repeat experience. Slowly, with the careful precision of a bomb tech trying not to cut the blue wire, Nancy formulated her response.
“Look, I know you’re disappointed. And you totally have a right to be,” she said tentatively. “But this doesn’t mean it’s the end. You are a strong, capable woman who — ”
Laura waved her hand violently a mere two inches from Nancy’s face, cutting her off mid-inspirational monologue in a spray of grainy salt and cheap booze. Whoops. Wrong wire.
“No, no no,” Laura balked, brandishing the margarita with gusto. “None of your motivational, cat-hanging-from-a-clothesline poster bullshit. I’ve heard that story before.”
Nancy let her own hands fall limp in her lap, knitting them tightly together. She was stonewalled. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Tequila is, after all, a much more commanding mistress than a best friend in a J. Crew Outlet sweater with little to offer besides a sympathetic shoulder and a few good intentions. The only thing to do now was hide in the storm cellar and wait for the tornado to blow over.
On her left, Laura had once again flagged down the bartender. He plodded over to them with a look that said, in no uncertain terms, that there was no way in hell she was getting a refill. Stopping just short of her swaying profile, the bartender resumed the arrogant sentry-stance he’d probably honed over years of judging closet/functioning/recovering alcoholics. Apparently requiring solace from the cramped, damp barriers of the black tee, his pasty gut even made an encore appearance.
“I hope you don’t really think I’m adding any more fuel to this dumpster fire,” he chuckled. His eyes darted over Laura’s runny mascara and stained, baggy sweatshirt. The sticky, come-hither smile plastered on her face. She looked like a character from one of those sappy rom-coms— the one that gets dumped halfway through the movie.
“Truthfully? No, I don’t,” she retorted. The corners of her mouth curled slightly. “Actually, good sir, I was hoping that you might provide me with a job application.” Her peripheral vision caught the movement of Nancy’s jaw dropping. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m a recent failure, and (hiccup) I do believe that working for the fine people of Chili’s, slinging frozen eggrolls and greasy fajitas might just be my (hiccup) ticket to happiness.” Laura raised her eyebrows in faux wisdom. “And I mean, come on, have you tried those baby back ribs?”
“I’m calling you a cab,” the bartender sneered. He stalked away, muttering something about entitled millennials.
Laura turned to Nancy and smiled bigger. Her friend nervously returned the expression, uncertain whether it would be followed by a “thank you” or a “fuck you.”
It turned out to be neither.
Because at that exact moment, Laura threw up.