Chapter 25: From Port Clinton

August 14, 2011

I arrived in Louisville yesterday several hours earlier than expected. I parked on Bonnycastle and walked to WHY Louisville. It started to rain, and I was the only customer in the store, so I sat on the counter and began talking with the female cashier who was keeping busy playing on the Internet. I mentioned how I think the rain has been following me across the country. It started in Louisville, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. She responded by telling me it hasn’t rained since early July. I said that was when I was last in town, and introduced myself. She told me her name was Stephanie.

Stephanie is twenty-five years old, with blonde hair, and a fresh tattoo that stretched across her shoulders. The skin around the ink still looked red and raw. She asked where I was from and what brought me to Louisville, so I launched into my story. I spent more time than usual on the explanation of my travels, made sure to mention all the details from my first visit to Louisville and told her how impressed I was during my first visit. She asked me about my impressions of the city. I answered by stating it’s very rare to find a place where the locals are so fervent in their pride for art and culture. I said that it seemed like an artist’s paradise, and those with ambition might easily create and thrive here without too much worry about cost-of-living expenses.

The conversation shifted to writing and school. Stephanie told me that she had studied massage therapy in a two-year program. WHY Louisville is where she works when she is not building a clientele for her private practice. She bashfully confessed that she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life. Suddenly feeling like I was her superior, I told her how fascinating it was that pretty much everyone I’d met in the past six weeks—who was in our age bracket—has confessed to feeling lost. We wondered if our generation doesn’t have the passion of previous generations, or if a lot of our creative peers fear being unable to eke out a living doing what they love. Stephanie added that a lot of negative attributes are also heaped upon us by older generations. We agreed that—in certain instances—it’s warranted. A lot of kids are age are as spoiled, if not more so, than their parents’ generation. The conversation continued with talk of politics and music. Stephanie and I spoke for an hour before the skies began to clear. I could tell she was starting to get antsy about getting back to her computer, so I purchased two t-shirts and a CD and left her to call Beth.

That’s when my stay Louisville turned sour. Beth car pulled up to the 3rd Avenue café. She introduced him to me as Jeff. At first I thought he might have been her brother, and later I thought maybe he was an old friend. They spoke like old friends. At the café, they drank Corona and I drank Blue Moon. It was “Dead Elvis Night,” so we listened to terrible Elvis karaoke. One dead Elvis-dressed waitress bungled “Baby Got Back”. I wasn’t even sure that was possible. Beth and Jeff spoke to each other about work and friends. I came into the conversation, sometimes. We finished eating and drove to a bar called the Outlook Inn.

Jim James from My Morning Jacket walked over to our table and Jeff introduced Beth as his girlfriend. Odd, you’d think she might have mentioned that at some point. He introduced me to Jim and mentioned my travels and the interviews I was conducting. Jim seemed slightly intrigued, but was quickly whisked away by the remaining members of My Morning Jacket, who were crowded around the pool table with members of VHS or Beta. Only in Louisville…

Perhaps it was in the spirit of finally being back in the presence of people I knew after too much alone time, perhaps it was the Who’s-Who crowd at the bar, but I decided at that moment to get really, really drunk. Jeff, Beth and I, we chatted like best friends. We bought rounds of drinks and chain-smoked. Patrick, My Morning Jacket’s drummer, pumped enough quarters into the jukebox to play Radiohead’s OK Computer in its entirety. Afterwards, selected tracks from Nirvana’s Nevermind were chosen. Jeff and I drunkenly critiqued Dave Grohl’s drumming. He continued to point out Grohl’s “signature” drum sound—something about doubling-up on the snare for one measure at random intervals in songs. Meanwhile, Beth was getting smashed on bottles of  La Fin Du Monde.

Then, a female friend of Jeff’s showed up, and joined us at our corner table in the back room. The girl, Karen, came to the Outlook alone, but she was waiting on a girlfriend of hers named Elizabeth. Jeff mentioned that both Karen and Elizabeth were dating members of another Louisville band who shall remain nameless.

Karen was of average height—maybe slightly petite—and cute. She had shoulder-length dirty-blonde hair and wore thin wire-framed glasses. She had a kewpie face green eyes. Karen sat down looking depressed. Jeff asked her what was wrong. She told us a story about her boyfriend sending mixed signals while on tour in Australia. She was afraid that he was going to come home and break up with her because he told to her that he didn’t want her at the airport to meet him upon his arrival in the States.

Now completely obliterated, Beth decided to get involved in the conversation. She began talking about men and how “they’re all dogs.” She said, “There is no need to treat them like princes. They’re all the same. They’re shit.”

Karen, whose interest in Beth’s thought process was piqued, asked her if she would go so far as to say that about Jeff, but Beth just kept generalizing about men and their evils. Karen then asked her if she cared about her boyfriend—who, Karen loudly reminded Beth, was a good friend of hers. She still neglected to answer. Karen demanded an answer, and Beth suddenly rose from her seat and asked her if she wanted to fight. Jeff and I instantly jumped to our feet, he grabbed Beth’s right arm and I her left. She wriggled out of Jeff’s grasp, and—palm open—swung at Karen’s face. The slap-punch landed awkwardly on Karen’s nose, knocking off her glasses. Karen, who was more stunned than anything, sat down and calmly collected her glasses from the table. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as Jeff stood up and restrained Beth, who was screaming threats at Karen.

Karen quickly apologized and excused herself from the table. Within two minutes, Beth couldn’t even remember how the “fight” even started. It seemed no one could, really. Jeff continued to try and calm her down. He turned to me, and asked for a moment alone with her. I grabbed the cigarettes off the table and headed outside through the front room of the bar.

I thought about whom I should call to ask for advice, and I began dialing Molly’s number when I noticed Karen sitting on a little tree stump twenty yards away. I walked over to her, placed my hand on her shoulder, and asked if she was feeling all right. We began to talk, and, after a few minutes, she spotted Elizabeth approaching the entrance to the bar. Karen called her over, and after a very brief introduction we moved to the front room of the bar. Once seated we recounted the events of the night. I bought the girls drinks, and we continued to talk for twenty or thirty minutes.

Elizabeth was very attractive. She had short brown hair that fell just shy of her shoulders, thin lips and vibrant green eyes. Her nose was slightly upturned. She had the body of a girl who should be dating a world-touring rock ‘n roller. As Karen’s sniffles subsided, Elizabeth asked how I knew Beth. I mentioned my travels and how she’d offered me a place to stay my last time in town. I admitted I barely knew her, but she had been very nice and accommodating when we met—granted, there was no alcohol involved. Neither of the girls were surprised that Beth invited me in without mention of her boyfriend or that she had acted like a charming do-gooder when alone in my company.

I found out that both Elizabeth and Karen were my seniors, and both had studied similar subjects in school. Karen  informed me that she had more than enough credits to graduate, but not enough in any one area of concentration. Elizabeth said she wrote poetry. Soon Beth and Jeff found us at our table. Jeff stopped to tell me that he lived a few doors down the street, and I could sleep on his floor if I wanted. I told him that would be cool. I didn’t tell him she had offered to put me up for the night already because I didn’t know if she’d mentioned it to him. Meanwhile, a still-very-drunk Beth offered Karen a half-apology as well as a challenge to another fight. Karen’s sarcastic response incensed Beth, who once again began issuing loud threats. Jeff quickly apologized, took his girlfriend by the arm, and escorted her out of the Outlook.

Karen, Elizabeth and I were in our booth, drinking and smoking, when suddenly both girls started dishing gossip about Beth. I acted unsurprised as they regaled me with stories, though it was all coming as a complete shock. I even stoked the fire by mentioning how I’d received messages from her throughout my trip that could have been construed as suggestive. When they asked if I knew before tonight that Beth had a boyfriend my smile confirmed their suspicions.

I had a lot of alcohol in me, but the girls  seemed like genuinely good people in spite of the nature of our conversation. When we actually spoke about world news, the arts and Louisville, they expressed themselves eloquently. We shared similar opinions. We liked to booze. I was at a popular bar with two attractive girls. What wasn’t to like about them?

Karen and Elizabeth began to talk about their own relationships. Karen was still visibly shaken from the night’s events. I felt bad for her. She came seeking refuge from the tumult of her relationship and wound up getting hit in the face by her good friend’s girlfriend. It took maybe five minutes of relationship talk before Karen broke down and said she wanted to leave. Both girls apologized and asked if I had a place to stay for the night. I said, “I guess so,” and allowed the two of them to leave me in the bar. I sat alone in the booth and finished their unfinished drinks. Very slowly, I got up the strength to leave the Outlook and walk to Jeff’s house.

I knocked softly on his front door.  There was no reply. I counted to thirty and knocked again, but there was still no answer. I glanced over my shoulder to where Red Volvo was parked, and contemplated starting the drive to Port Clinton, Ohio. Then I remembered that I was very drunk, and thought about sleeping in my car. From down the street, I heard Beth call my name, and I looked up to see them approaching. The couple had taken a walk around the block to talk things over. They apologized for leaving the bar, and for the events of the night.

I could not sleep. The combination of an uncomfortable floor and frenzied, drunken thoughts flooding my brain kept me awake. I replayed the events of my day. From Stephanie to My Morning Jacket to Beth’s inebriated antics, I replayed it all multiple times. Jeff let a recent Slint bootleg play through his stereo as he and Beth passed out in his room. I was still awake when his alarm clock began to buzz. The sky was beginning to brighten. I pretended to sleep as he tip-toed around my sleeping bag to the front door. I was still awake when Beth left for the day. I pretended to be asleep when she slipped a handwritten note under my cellphone next to my pillow. She whispered my name and I blinked open my eyes. She said something about locking the front door when I left. The note said that I was “awesome”.

***

Here I am in Port Clinton, at the residence of Steve and Lisa Marie. They’re family friends who have a newborn son named Ethan, who seemed to take an instant liking to me. Tonight—after almost falling asleep in the car on the drive over—we had seafood at a nice restaurant near lake Eerie. Over a dinner of perch, I ran through every unusual and surreal story I could remember from my travels. I had to force my thoughts away from the fact that I won’t have any more stories to tell after tomorrow. I had to force my thoughts away from the fact that, at this time tomorrow, I’ll be home.

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