"Best Laid Plans . . ."
When I was little, my mother would throw these huge birthday shindigs for me. She’d make cookies, buy cupcakes for my class at elementary school, bring a cake to my daycare for the kids, and turn our house into the candy-colored place of celebration. Her working woman guilt allowed me to gorge myself once a year on marble cake and ice cream. I figured if this was feminism in action, I would have to become a card-carrying member of National Organization for Women when I got older.
But eventually, I got too old for these parties. One can only act so excited by a musical number at Chuckie Cheese for so long. After awhile I just gave up having big fiestas for my birthday and instead had small, dignified dinners with my parents.
My 23rd birthday seemed like it was going to fall into that tradition. I was back in La Crosse after spending the holidays in Chicago with family and having graduated a few weeks prior from UW-RF. I was preparing to spend another birthday with just my parents and marble cake when my mother sent my father a message saying that she wanted us to come to her in Altoona for my birthday. With Altoona being just an hour away from River Falls, I decided this was the perfect occasion to have a wholly undignified birthday for the first time in years.
"What do you think about going to RF for my birthday?" I asked my friend "Meg", this compact little thing with a helium voice that grated on some people’s nerves but I always found to be one of her cutest attributes.
"I can do that," she said in her usual, chirpy manner. "I’ll just take time off Saturday morning so we can stay Friday night."
Being my mother’s child, I threw myself head first into planning things. Thankfully for me, my friends and I all had found a mutual addiction: Facebook. Through Facebook I was able to leave messages for Duran, Agatha, Julia, Julia’s roommate "Whitney", my friend "Margaret," Thad the Cad, my metro friends Pretty and Prettier, and anyone else I could think of.
But I should have known, whenever anything concerns a social event, myself, and my friends, drama always manages to get invited and even politely RSVPs.
"Hopefully Meg won’t flake out on you," Julia told me over the phone, her voice filled with melodramatic concern. "She does it all the time."
It was true. Meg ditched us as frequently Kevin Federline abandons illegitimate children so Julia’s concern wasn’t all that unwarranted.
I shook off my concerns over Meg and went back to my party planning. I talked to Denton the bartender while I was in a Facebook messaging break.
"Well happy birthday in advance," he wrote to me. "Have you talked to Nikolai recently?"
I grimaced. Nikolai aka The Undergraduate Formerly Known as The Russian and I hadn’t talked to each other all that much since I had drunkenly declared my love to him. Fortunately, it turned out he hadn’t been signed on at the time so that I had spared me some humiliation.
"No, he only likes to talk to me when he’s bored or needs someone to go out with," I replied.
"He’s kind of a user I guess," Denton said.
"He’s a vortex of fucked-up," I added. "A vortex you once propositioned for sex if I remember correctly."
"You’re never going to let me forget that," he typed back.
"Probably not," I said.
I paused for a moment.
"I have the worst taste in men," I stated.
"Well that’s not completely true," Denton said. "You like me or at least you did."
I rolled my eyes. "I’m intrigued by you. Watching the way you burn through relationships is like slowing down at the scene of a car accident."
"Love is a big no-no for me," he confessed, oblivious to the obviousness of his statement.
"I sensed this as well," I sighed. "Less love, more lubricant. I should probably go."
"Well happy birthday again," he said right before I logged off.
". . . Often Go Horribly Wrong"
A few days later, I was in the passenger seat of my father’s CR-V as he drove me to River Falls while the Pussycat Dolls’ played on the radio. This was not what was supposed to happen but I should have foreseen the fact that relying on Meg to drive up to River Falls on Friday the 13th wasn’t just tempting fate, it was giving fate a lapdance in the champagne room.
At six that evening, Meg gave my mother’s condo a phone call. Her voice was as high-pitch as ever.
"I’m sorry but I’m having car troubles," she said with perky lilt to her voice. "Can’t go to River Falls."
She spoke in such a jovial manner that it took a few seconds for me to register what she was saying and a few more moments for my anger to set in. She was flaking out again. Her car always managed to have troubles only when she was supposed to visit River Falls. Either she was lying all the time or her car was allergic to the small town.
"When did you find this out Meg?" I said, doing my best to channel all of the self-righteous indignation years of watching Designing Women had taught me.
"This morning before work," she said with a bit of a giggle.
"And you didn’t feel the need of calling and telling me this because?" I said, adding an actual Southern drawl to "because" to accentuate my anger. "I told you if you had any problems to call me and I could’ve figured something out."
"Well," she said, slowly and deliberately, "they don’t let us have cellphones at work and it was so early in the morning and couldn’t you just have Julia come down tomorrow and get you."
"People took off work for tonight Meg," I hissed.
She just let out a bemused sigh and went silent on her end of the phone. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Meg had always fashioned herself a Mid-Western version of Karen Walker from Will & Grace since they both had high-pitch voices, were incredibly self-absorbed, and merrily wallowed in social retardation.
After a few minutes more of awkward Laguna Beach-like stop/start conversation, I hung up the phone and started to dial my friends to tell them that I wasn’t coming to River Falls. I was just about to hear Julia’s voice when my father came in.
"I’m driving you to River Falls," he said as he put on his beige newsboy cap over the remaining sprouts of gray hair. "And make sure to put Meg on your shit list because that kind of behavior is unacceptable."
So that’s why I was in my Dad’s CR-V, listening to the Pussycat Dolls, trying to figure out what I was going to drink while out with friends and thanking God that my father considered flakiness a mortal sin.
"Now We Can Observe the Bar Slut In Her Natural Environment . . ."
"Quit trying to find better people to sit with," Agatha snapped playfully. "You’re not going to."
"You know I love to people watch," I replied.
Agatha, Duran, and myself sat at a little table in Bo’s, each of us enjoying our drinks. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized how much I missed the smell of cheap cologne, cigarettes, and fruity drinks all wafting around the place as Ram Jam’s "Black Betty" blares in the background and commercials for Dancing With The Star plays on the large television next to the popcorn machine.
"I spot a drunk girl," Agatha said giddily.
As Duran whipped his head back and forth, scanning the bar, I said, "Could you be a little less vague. Saying you see a drunk girl at a bar is like saying, ‘I spot a homo’ at the Oscars."
"She’s right over there," Agatha said, pointing across the bar to a tiny little thing of a female who kept swaying back and forth and throwing crumpled napkins at some guy with a faux hawk.
"I know her," I said with the kind of enthusiasm a normal person would’ve reserved for celebrating discovering the cure for the common cold or the day Santino is voted off of Project Runway. "That’s Crash Girl."
"She’s Crash Girl?" Duran said, staring intently at her.
It had been towards the end of the fall semester and I was busily trying to get through Moll Flanders when a commotion across the whole broke out. The couple across the hallway had been watching the movie Crash and things had been going smoothly until a large argument had erupted. There was screaming, yelling, and several accusations of racism hurled by the girl at her boyfriend as his roommate of color sat by in shock at the proceeding. The argument was resolved in a true, mature fashion with the boyfriend throwing her shoes out of his room, hitting my door with a resounding one-two knock, and the slamming of his door.
I sat in my room silently for a second. Then I got up and picked up the phone and dialed Agatha’s number. "I know a movie we just have to see now," I exclaimed.
We never saw Crash but the breakup due to Crash became the story of the weekend at Agatha’s home.
I sensed a little disappointment in Agatha’s and Duran’s faces since Crash Girl didn’t look like the Starting Over house, batshit crazy one imagined but you had to give her an A for effort as stumbled around the bar like a more fully-clothed Tara Reid.
My friend "Carmen" came breezing in a soft pink number, her black cell clipped to her zip-up hoodie and her purse slung on her shoulder, as we were watching a girl in a knit white floppy hat circulate with all the confidence that somebody wearing a floppy knit white hat shouldn’t have.
"Wow that is unfortunate," Carmen said before focusing her attention back on the table.
"She’s sitting at the bar with some of her friends," I said, pointing her out. "Her psuedo-boyfriend Casper the Friendly Drunk is floating around here somewhere. I don’t think Whitney is going to make it. Her and Bobby were having one of their, how shall I put this, heated verbal discourses. It’s like I got a shitstorm pinata and all the prizes are tumbling out now."
The time spent at Bo’s turned into a blur of bons mots, UV Lemonade, and far too many cigarettes. The place was packed with people, a sea of message t-shirts, questionable accessories, and Razor cellphones. I had found myself back in my natural environment.