"Counting Ones"






I really knew how bad it was, how truly ugly it was going to get, when I found myself surprised at the darkness outside despite the fact that it happened to be the middle of the night, and indeed just an hour till bartime. Still, it shocked me to some rather exaggerated point, like when they move one of your favorite items to another aisle at the grocery store, and although I felt that I handled the situation exceedingly smoothly for my state, I knew that the terminal velocity of my spiral had already taken me past the point of recovery.


Reed, good old Reed, fucking-moron-birthday-boy Reed, had told us to drive practically to Utah to meet up with him and his entourage at some really poor excuse of a bar, so of course we did, since it was his birthday, and since I hadn't come upon anything else that seemed more charming yet, like running into an old friend I'd lost track of for a while, or stumbling upon a better than average chance of getting laid without effort. We did have to abandon a mildly intriguing game which involved shooting different kinds of liquor based on the various formations of a set of three dice. It was amusing, and the bar was comfortably industrial, but shit, it was our duty to ensure at least the partial destruction of Reed, so we paid for our mess and bolted.



Edie had a car, but wasn't in any shape to drive. Don't get me wrong, none of us actually were, but driving drunk during the most dangerous time periods has always been somewhat of a strangely fulfilling social contest to me, so I took to the wheel and stabbed it. We made it to Utah no problem.

A problem became apparent once we arrived-however safe, secure, and soundly sloshed-for Reed, good old Reed, hadn't made it to Havana himself. Me and Henry were hip to split a pitcher despite Reed's absence; Art was way too far past gone to care, and Edie I still hadn't figured out to save my life, but it's better that way, and she was up for some beer. We drained a pitcher and split.

Outside, fully aware that I was driving again, I noticed that the dark wasn't nearly so obscure this time. I can't really remember who voted to hit one last bar, but eventually I pulled up at this hole-in-the-wall joint and, on my third try, I counted four of us, gaining great comfort at the notion of our enduring completeness. Counting, sometimes, whatever way it works, acts as a real soothing kind of activity, so whenever I get a chance to tally things that aren't too bland, I jump at it. People walking by on streets is always a promising opportunity, although it doesn't quite hold the thrill out here as it might in, say, Manhattan or something. But we were a set still, minus Reed, fucking Reed, and we drained a cheap pitcher wherever the hell we were before heading back to Edie's place, since Edie's place was also Reed's, and if he hadn't been branded with a birthday DUI, eventually we knew he'd turn up there.


Fucking Reed! What a character. On his birthday and all, you'd hope he might stumbling into the bed of some truly enchanting sprite, but I figured that just wasn't going to happen. I mean, he wasn't like some social reject, and he didn't look too bad or anything, but you just sense an energy that comes from people who can play the kind of game that it takes to not sleep alone very often, and Reed didn't strike me as a guy who knew the rules very well.

It's really quite a club the true players run. I think it has to be innate, like always in your blood or something. A taste-no, more a smell, I guess-for those intricate wounds from which the deeper soul spills out. Those who can pick up the scent can determine the weakness. And after the weakness is determined, everything secondary comes clean. Fucking players! How can it all be so easy? And sad?



Well, Reed showed up all right, and with the rest of them, too, even though I guess that only means Suzanne and whoever the fuck that other guy was. People. It's such an incredible pain to keep track of them. Suzanne was Reed's other roommate. The other character, I have no idea. There might have even been another one after that, a girl, but my mind was far past the point of analyzing new subjects, so I sucked slowly on a beer and watched them start to get Reed's cake ready. Chocolate. I do remember that. Chocolate icing. Yellow cake with chocolate icing and red writing to boot, which eventually ended up strung across the carpet like fresh strands of blood. God! All the training I have. And not just in the arts. How could I have missed the foreshadowing?

"You want some cake?" They were passing it all around, and Edie offered me up a slice, but I can't remember if I took it or not. Reed had this big chocolate grin plastered across his face, and everyone had a delightful bottle of honey-wheat brown beer. What a scene. Honey beer and chocolate icing. If it hadn't been for the yellow cake, I'm sure I would have lost it. I really did try counting the candles, but they blurred and lost the tranquility that they possessed before Reed blew them out. Good old Reed!

There was a video on tv, which I suddenly noticed everyone was watching, and it cheaply mimicked The Wizard of Oz in some rather blatant way. Wow! What do people really dig these days anyhow? The moral is, ruby slippers can take you home. Which reminded me of the red icing bleeding slowly into the carpet. Tragic. That's what I kept thinking.

When I realized almost everyone had gone downstairs, I also realized how hard I'd been hitting on Edie for about the last hour, and I was disappointed, but I couldn't figure out why. It could have been because, as she was downstairs and I was upstairs, I apparently hadn't been successful. But I think I was too fucked up to really be concerned about anything that transparent, so maybe I was simply disappointed in myself, for slipping into the mode where something like this would be allowed to happen. But that was lame, too, and I wandered outside, where it was incredibly cool and comfortable, and under a really fine set of suburban stars I concluded that my biggest problem was more obvious than I had imagined. I was lonely, and my state was as simple as that. Simple, yes, but darker than I could presently deal with. Darker, in fact, than the cloud in my mind, which was presently choking any clarity of future. Darker, now that I think about it, than even the night, which had practically paralyzed me earlier, when we first stopped our counting of ones.

So I was contemplating darkness, and my tendencies to deal with it poorly, when Edie popped out from the kitchen.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I really am. I mean, I'm attracted to you and everything, but I have a boyfriend."

This caught me way off guard because, even though I knew how relentless my tactics can tend to be, I usually don't expect people to take them seriously. Especially people I can't figure out.

I stammered something to the effect that I was ok, really not too bad off at all.

"I just thought you were mad or something." She really was being congenial.

I assured her that wasn't the case, and in fact, it wasn't, I'm still sure of it now. I wasn't mad. I wasn't really even disappointed, now that I think about it. Just lonely. That's all. Just alone and lonesome and incredibly lonely. Sensations like that don't usually grip me, and I was deeply contemplative despite the impossibility of the fact.



In the end, I think, I offered her friendship, which was chivalrous of me, I'm sure, but which was really stupid also. Not because I didn't like her, or that my friendship was fickle or anything, but rather that I knew how the situation would play out, as they always play out that way, one time after another. When my senses returned, and I met her again, maybe even for the third time, either I'd still want to sleep with her after so much drunken bullshit, or I wouldn't. If not, we'd comfortably slide into one of two things: a hollow friendship, which is the usual outcome no matter who you meet, or a deep and significant relationship, which is a really rare thing anymore, now that people will call anyone they have a beer with a friend. Whatever the outcome, it really was stupid, because the irrelevance of a boyfriend in any of the above scenarios struck me as absurd. At a certain point, social protocol dissipates into a stew of pure humanity. Past that transformation, nothing is sacred, and very little worthwhile.

She'd left again, I couldn't really remember when, and I continued to ponder just how my predicament was turning. I had made a tired and unimpressive attempt to rid myself of a searing lonely feeling, only to sweep the ruins of it away under a plastic facade of undetermined indifference, and finally, removed that mask to reveal an expression bent hard on destroying everything sacred. I marveled at what a prick I was. Evil, almost! Incredible!


I eventually stumbled back inside and resumed a fresh display of drunken foolishness that could only be described as pathetic. Really, past that final revelation under dawn-fading stars, I recall very little about the remainder of Reed's birthday, or my behavior relative to those in a similar state of impairment. I do remember that I never did figure her out, but it's probably better that way anyhow. I also remember giving her one kiss, lightly on the cheek, before I marched into dawn with Art and Henry. Everything else, I'm sure I lost count of. Even the stuff so important.




 "Counting Ones" © 1995, 1996 by MYC MOSES

 Original Graphics © 1996 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal



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