It is January something-th, 2017, and I am drunk. I am unjustly unemployed and have convinced myself that I am loving it. I am sliding into alcoholism but in my rare moments of self-reflection, I stubbornly insist that this new hobby is a noble martyrdom. Even though I live in Los Angeles there is, against all odds, an affordable bar within walking distance of my shitty apartment. I, for the first time in my life, am a regular.
Sometimes I bring a book. I read it and wait to be interrupted. Someone will always interrupt you if you bring a book to a bar. I think this annoys me but actually it’s what I want. The book is a plea: “I am alone. Help.” Sometimes it sparks a drunken meandering bar conversation but mostly people just want to know what kind of weirdo reads a book at a moderately crowded dive bar.
The staff knows me. Brian brings me boiled peanuts, his recipe, and, in flagrant violation of the health code, eats out of my bowl. He does not charge me. Brian is a good dude, but truly it’s Ellie that I come to see. I’ve spent so little time around a true Southern drawl that I almost believe she’s the only person in the world that has one. There’s a canoe hanging upside down over the broad side of the bar, and Ellie’s drawl reverberates through it, echoing above my head like the voice of God. If it’s busy when I arrive, she sets a beer down in front of me with a wink, barely stopping as she pinballs up and down the bar. Some nights she has on a dark shade of lipstick, or a sundress that bares her shoulders and her back, or on a slow night she’ll lean over the pool table, her leg stretched and braced as she lowers her eyes to the secondhand felt. They only have Budweiser on draft but it’s only three dollars and I never want anything different. They serve the beer in an icy cold mug: I think I am happy. For a long time I’m not sure if I am in love with Ellie, or with the bar. In the end it is neither.
One time she and I play pool together, on a team, and we win. I remember the smoothness of her cool skin as we embraced in victory, so cool despite the way the neon light made it glow orange, southern style breasts and thighs that I devoured with my eyes and ears, a taste of a world I’d never been to but that she—or was it the bar— could offer for a night. But the end of the night always comes, even that night. Brian packs up the slow-cooker and its leftover peanuts, and eventually there’s nothing to do but settle up and be gently tossed to the warmth of January in LA.
Whatever comfort I found behind twenty to forty dollars worth of Budweiser lasted only as long as the ensuing beer jacket. They know your name, sure, they’re glad you came, given, but all that finishes up around one AM, and then it’s back to living in the commercials. But there is comfort in the saccharine colored world of the advertisements: my nightly hopes of salvation do not end at the bar’s closed door. There’s another place for me in the bright lights of LA after midnight. Next door, a hearth that was never cold, a way station I could always stop at on the stumble home. Next door was the twenty four hour walk-up Taco Bell.
And so even though Ellie never left the bar with me, I never arrived home alone. I returned home wrapped in the supreme crunch, bathed in the restorative glory of industrial cheese and cool ranch shells. Holed up in my room, away from the prying eyes of my estranged roommates, I devoured manna nightly. Four blocks in any direction would get me to a legitimate taco truck, but I didn’t want legitimate tacos, I wanted Taco Bell, that lukewarm plastic foodstuff to clog my arteries, just the way mom used to purchase it. Two Doritos Locos and a Crunchwrap Supreme later, the monarch of beers in my belly was satiated, my ventricles’ pumping slowed to a comforting churn, my tastebuds occupied with the combination of fire sauce and bedtime bong hit.
Eventually, I stop going to the bar. I start going to school, a redemption story of sorts. When I reflect on my bar daze, I don’t miss Brian, or the peanuts, the ice cold bud, the pool table, the neon, or even Ellie. I miss the moment before bed, drunkenly leering over a thousand calories of comfort, the promise of a dead drunk’s full belly sleep in front of me. There was a protection afforded to me all wrapped up in a Gordita’s embrace, a thin barrier of fatty comfort that shielded me from the rocks on the bottom, a nacho-cheese fueled transubstantiation that was not just insurance against tomorrow’s hangover but against falling down a darker, drunker hole than the one I was already in. My pink-yellow-and-purple cheese-filled life preserver.
Sam Roos (he/him/his) is a writer, smartass, law student, and taco enthusiast originally from Portland, Maine. He currently lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with his fiancée Jackie and his french bulldog, Noodles, where he attends Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A graduate of The New School’s creative writing MFA program, Sam’s work can be found in McSweeney’s, Brooklyn magazine, Robot Butt and a few other appropriately obscure digital lit mags. Follow him on Twitter as he begins his journey to becoming a public interest lawyer who occasionally writes fiction, humor, and whatever this was, @Sam_Roos.