March 14, 2013

A New Short Story By Brian Sloan: HAPPY BEER DAY

Many who know my work as a writer/filmmaker also know that I started out writing short stories, some of which were published in magazines like CHRISTOPHER STREET and GENRE as well as anthologies like NOT THE ONLY ONE and MEN ON MEN 7. These days, there are fewer venues for short stories in print but the online world is picking up the slack. So today on the blog, an experiment...and, hopefully, a treat. :)  I am presenting a new short story I wrote called HAPPY BEER DAY.

HBD was originally written for a collection of short stories I was enlisted in a few years back about The Ides of March (aka March 15) which bounced around to a few imprints but was never published. So, as the Ides approaches, it seemed like the perfect time to put this out there. The story, which will be presented in two parts today and on Friday the 15th, is about a group of NYU students on spring break, one of whom is in a post-breakup funk as he celebrates his 21st birthday.  

I'm posting this story here instead of publishing it traditionally. Thus, I encourage you to "pay what you want" using the PayPal link here on your right. Also, if you like the story, please feel free to link to it on FB, Tweet it out, or just tell your friends IRL. Thanks so much for reading/supporting my work and I look forward to reading your comments/feedback.

a short story by 
Brian Sloan

I look in the mirror and I look old.   I actually have a wrinkle on my forehead.  Wait—I have two.  Crap.  Not to mention the gray hair.  Yeah, I know…21 years old and I have gray hair.  Absurd.  The truth is I’ve had gray hair for years now, since I was a junior in high school.  Most people don’t notice as it sorta blends into my dirty blond.  But I notice it.  I live with it.  Except today, the morning after my birthday, I look in the mirror and I really look old. 

It’s Spring Break.  I am standing in the bathroom of our hotel room in the South Padre Island Best Western and it is almost noon.  I just woke up and took a piss, a very long one.  There was a lot of beer last night in celebration of my big birthday.  And shots.  Oh man--lots of shots.  And now I am staring at my face to see if I really look 21 or maybe something closer to 31.  This is not good.  

I have been doing this a lot lately.  I look in the mirror and think I’m an old man.  Maybe I’m having an early mid-life crisis.  Why?  Well, this year has been a total suck-fest so maybe that has something to do with it.  

“Yo—you get stuck in there, man?”

Ty is at the door, knocking.  Ty is my roommate.  We used to be boyfriends and now he just annoys me.  Actually, he annoyed me when we were dating way back during freshman year but at least then I got something for my troubles; hot sex.  Ty is built like a god, deeply muscular and perfectly proportioned and smooth as marble.  Not that any of that matters at the moment of my breakdown.

“In a minute,” I say.

I scan the sink top, layered with all sorts of cosmetics.  It’s Celia and Vernie’s crap and, I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty alarming they have all this.  I thought lesbians were supposed to wear plaid shirts, not makeup.  But I’m almost grateful for their indulgence in womanly things when I feel this old.  I find some L’Oreal Daytime Facial RepairTM and slather it on my forehead, rubbing furiously to sand down my two wrinkles.  No luck.  More knocking.

“Darren—I got a deuce brewin’,” says Ty.  “Hurry it up, man!”

This is Ty’s cute slang for taking a dump.  A number two.  Get it?  He thinks he’s hilarious sometimes.  But at this moment, he doesn’t sound that funny.  He just sounds like he really has to go.  Still, I’ve got some work to do.

“In a sec.”

I spy some CoverGirl Instant CoverUpTM  and, dabbing my index finger in it, I trace over the two age lines on my forehead.  I’m hoping this stuff is magic maybe, like invisible ink.  I’m betting that it will just make my wrinkles disappear.  Wait a minute--magic? Invisible ink?  It’s at this point that I realize I’m still a little bit drunk.

I come out of the bathroom and Ty is nearly doubled-over standing by the door. Without even looking at me, he scurries in and shuts the door with hurried force.  BAM!  That’s enough to rouse the ladies, who stir to life underneath the covers of their queen bed.

“What the fuck?” says Vernie, squinting at me, mistakenly thinking I’m the one slamming the door. 

“That was Ty,” I say in protest.  “Not me.”

“Fuckin-goddamn-asshole,” says Vernie, who has a mouth on her.

Vernie rubs her temples methodically.  Her long black hair, streaked with violet at professionally random intervals, shoots out in multiple directions from her head.  Usually her hair looks great.  Usually she looks great.  Neither is the case on the morning after my boozy 21st birthday party.

“So—how you feeling?” I ask chirpily as I plop down on the other queen bed that Ty and I share (which we’ve taken to calling “The Queens Bed”).

“I hope you never turn 21 again,” says Vernie.  “That shit was too fucking much.”

“Seriously,” I say.  “I think I’m still drunk.”

“Lucky you,” she says, cradling her forehead. 

I click the remote, making sure the TV is on mute, and flip through the channels.  Staring at the TV, I start to remember pieces of the night.  They come to me like scenes from a party montage in a bad teen movie.  The chugging.  The dancing.  The trashed hotel room.  The making out with a girl? 

“I think I made out with a girl.”

“No fucking way,” says Vernie, slowly directing her attention towards me.  “That’s hot.”

I get more detail in my montage.  Said “girl” has long, dyed-blond hair, decent-sized breasts, glittery peach lipstick.  Cara.  No…Karen.  Then, her saying something about me being the best dancer as we bounced to that Killers song.  She told me how most guys suck at dancing. I’m guessing she didn’t know many gays.  I think she was also Southern.  And then, during “Sexy-Back”, she leaned in and said I was cute and I told her it was my birthday and she said she had something for me and….

“She started it,” I say, trying to defend my gay cred.

“Uh-huh,” says Vernie, hardly believing my defense. 

Suddenly, a rippingly loud fart explodes in the bathroom. 

“Holy shit,” I say.  “That is revolting.”

“Ty,” says Vernie sternly.  “You better light a fucking incense bomb in there before you come out.”

And then, the sound of laughter.  It is Ty’s annoying, machine-gun laugh.  Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.  This makes me start to laugh too.  Despite the condition of her head, Vernie starts laughing as well, so hard that her mascara which is still on from the night before starts to run.  Finally, all this hilarity wakes up Celia.

“What’s goin’ on?” she says, drowsily rubbing at her eyes.

Vernie can’t answer as she is too busy laughing.  She points to me to be her designated speaker.  Not that I’m much better when it comes to not laughing at this moment but I give it a shot.

“Ty is….is stinking…up the…bathroom.”

“And this is funny?” says Celia as she turns over.  Too tired to have a sense of humor, she goes back to sleep.

Still laughing, I look over at the TV.  It’s now on CNN.  Someone being interviewed is captioned as “NYU Student”.  This makes me pay attention.  Then a headline flashes across the bottom—“Police Shootout In New York City”.

“Why the fuck are you watching CNN?” says Vernie, reaching for the remote.  “It’s spring break!”

I try to block her but she grabs it and clicks away to MTV. She is, after all, bigger than me.  Turning the mute off, the wails of Fall Out Boy fill the room.  And I forget about CNN and the headline.  At least for a while…

It’s been five days and I still don’t have a tan.  This is not because of the Gulf Coast weather, which has been as advertised.  That is, gorgeous.  It’s because I am whiter than Napoleon Dynamite.

“Do you have any more 30?” I ask Celia.

She is equally pale and Irish. She rustles through Vernie’s faux-Dolce & Gabbanna tote filled with organic cosmetics, low-fat snack foods and chick magazines. 

“I thought you had your own,” she says.

“I did, past tense.  It’s all gone.”

Reluctantly, she tosses a big blue tube of Coppertone across the towel and it lands with a smack on my stomach.  Ouch. 

“You know, it wasn’t my idea to do this,” I say in protest of our sunny, cancerous locale.  “I wanted to go skiing and was voted down.”

Ty groans, sounding like a husband to my wife.  Which I’m so not.  Well, not anymore.

“Yeah—we know,” he says wearily, sitting up and scanning the coastline for hot straight guys.  “You also like to forget that you’re the only one of us who knows how to ski.”

“You know what,” says Celia, talking to Ty like I’m not there.  “I think he’s getting cranky in his old age.”

I am now, officially, the sage of our group.  Everyone else is solidly 20 and won’t be crossing over until our senior year.  I’ve got a jump on the adult action due to my parents having me skip a grade because of my abilities as a master of penmanship at age 7.

“Not cranky…just hungover,” I say, trying to get everyone off the topic of my birthday.  There was so much buildup to it that I’m relieved it’s finally the day after March 14th.  Yet still, much to my annoyance, the birthday topic persists. 

“I hear that hangovers are rougher when you get older,” says Ty, keeping my demons alive.  After all, that what ex’s are for.  “The bounce-back is longer.”

He is laughing that rat-a-tat-tat laugh of his. I turn to him and grin, trying to be above it all.  

“Sure—laugh it up now,” I say, feeling superior if only for a moment.  “Just see how you feel when I won’t buy you a drink back in the city when your fake ID fails.”

“Harsh,” says Celia, putting on her sunglasses and picking up a rolled copy of STAR magazine with Britney on the cover. “Hey—did Ryan call you for your birthday?”

 “I don’t know,” I say, lying.  “Haven’t checked my phone yet.”

There is silence for a moment.  The lonely sound of the Gulf lapping against the flat, pebbly beach fills the conversational  gap.  That and the sound of Ty breathing.  Thinking and breathing. 

“That’s such a lie, Darren,” he says, propping himself on his elbows to accuse me directly of my misdemeanor.  “I texted you when I went to 7-11 to get coffee. And you replied.”

The thing I hate the most about Ty is how he always feels the need to point out my lame lies. I know that means that I probably shouldn’t lie about lame things in the first place.  But I do.  I have this habit of petty dishonesty when it comes to things that don’t matter.  Like whether or not I checked my phone to see if Ryan called me on my birthday.  Which, of course, he didn’t.

Celia, not even looking up from her engrossing tales of Britney, shakes her head and sighs.

“So I guess that’s a ‘no’ then,” she says re; Ryan.  “That’s too bad.”

I shrug and put on my sunglasses. 

Actually, it wasn’t that bad.  I didn’t expect Ryan to call me.  In fact, no person in their right mind could have reasonably expected that Ryan would call me on birthday. The reason is that Ryan and I haven’t talked since February 14th.  That was the day that I gave up on Ryan.  No—it wasn’t one of those tragic Valentine’s Day horror story breakups.  It all happened the night before VD when we got into this colossal fight that started with Ryan cruising a random guy on the L train and ended with me telling Ryan that I loved him (which he already sorta knew and pretended he didn’t) but that I just couldn’t deal with his non-committal crap anymore. In the month since, Ryan hasn’t called or emailed or even texted me which, I’m guessing, means he gave up on me too.  And that’s probably for the best since, after only being together for barely 5 months, we both clearly hated each other enough to not care anymore.  Even if one of us was turning 21.

“Hey—did you all hear about this shooting at NYU?” says Vernie, returning to our towel with a large Iced Mocchachino and a pack of Parliaments.

“I think there was something on CNN,” I say. “But you changed the channel.”

So Vernie tells us how she ran into Paul and Martine from Third Avenue North at the local Starbucks.  They’d gotten a call from a friend in who stayed in New York over break who’d relayed the details.  Apparently, there was a Wild West-style shootout on Sullivan Street, just a block south of the Square.  60 shots fired.  Four people dead.  Two of them cops. In the end, the killer was gunned down next to 1849, a popular senior hangout known for its Dollar Beer Happy Hour.

“That’s insane,” says Ty. 

“There’s never shootings in the Village,” I add.

“I know,” says Vernie.  “It’s totally fucked up.”

“Doesn’t Ryan live on Sullivan?” asks Celia.

“Not really,” I say, trying to be blasé about it.  “He’s on Houston. Between Sullivan and McDougal.”

“That’s where the pizza place was,” says Vernie, getting a bit spastic. “DeMarcos!  That’s where it all started.”

I know DeMarcos.  I’d been there with Ryan a number of times for a late night slice.  We’d even had one of our big fights in there when he claimed I never had any money and always made him buy my slice.  It was true that I never had money.  However, I couldn’t “make” Ryan do anything.  If that were true, we would still be together.

“Some guy walked in and shot the bartender,” she says, exhaling a plume of smoke for emphasis. “15 times in the back.”

“Fuck,” says Ty.

“Ohmygod,” says Celia.

“That’s insane, “I say, thinking about Ryan living in the midst of this madness.  “Maybe I should call him.”

“Uh-oh,” says Ty shaking his head.  “Here we go…”

Ty doesn’t like Ryan for one reason and one reason only; because I love him.  Ryan, of course.  Not Ty.  I certainly felt a lot of things about Ty.  (Did I mention the hot sex?)  But never exactly that.  And Ty will never let me forget it.

“I think you should,” says Celia.  “Just to see if he’s okay.”

“That’s Ryan’s block,” adds Vernie.

“But if he got shot, don’t you think we woulda heard about it?” says Ty, a little too callously.

“Ty you are too fucking much,” says Vernie, taking a deep drag.  “People are dead.  On his street.  Jesus.”

There is a solemn moment.  Even Ty is silenced by the simple fact that four strangers died violent deaths in our neighborhood.  The sound of the Gulf waters sloshing against the shore make it hard to imagine the bloody reality of lifeless bodies on the street.  Ryan’s street.

“Maybe I’ll try him later,” I say. 

I say this but, honestly, I don’t really mean it.  As much as I’m concerned, calling Ryan would be problematic.  Extremely.  But I say this anyway, figuring it will end the conversation.  It does. 

Celia nods and returns to her magazine.  Vernie gets comfortable on the towel, smoking horizontally.  Ty, plugs his ears up with his iPod and settles back into another of his tanning naps.  I absentmindedly rub on more sunscreen and think about Ryan and wonder, and maybe even worry a little, if he actually is okay.