I'm stepping outside to gather myself. The air is a ringing-iron cold with a Niagara-force wind, the snow winds into upward circles around the streetlamps like frosty Christmas double helixes; if Santa has a DNA code, it would look like this.
December 24, 12:17 AM, Berlin, New Hampshire. Pronounced Burrlen. The Ring; a smoky hot low-ceilinged bar that had been collecting spills, vomit, accusations, cigarette ash, and loosened teeth for three decades. The Ring is located on ground-level, directly underneath an ages-old boxing gym. The stale sweat of the underemployed and oversized still drifts down the staircase from upstairs, carried by an enormous stand-up fan which does a poor job of cooling off young boxers, stupid drunken boys with dreams of escaping the mills that run this town, wife-beaters in training, soldiers with no army and no cause greater than themselves and their untold, inexpressible viciousness.
At least that what it felt like to me. Why am I there? Good question. This is the first Christmas since my parents' deaths. Separate, as always, but within months: a heart attack and a car crash. To be honest, sad as it all has been; this year of death and its harsh contractual terms with the living; I don't think any of it has really hit me until yesterday and yesterday I started driving.
So here I am, officially Christmas Eve, accidentally snowed in and homeless, trapped in a rank dive bar with total strangers, trying to find a place to sleep. I was planning to sleep in my car, but the moose and the snowbank took care of that hope and aspiration. Sorry, long story. It's too ridiculous to tell here, too long and has nothing to do with what I need. Don't be fooled, I'm telling you this to explain what I need, not to entertain you.
Inside, there's a nauseus suspicion. Marijuana smoke is drifting from out of the men's room like a campfire smell on an autumn night. The White Mountains loom overhead, invisible in the green light swirling snowstorm; worst weather in the U.S., right there on top of Mt. Washington, ironically why I'm here. I was attracted to this information, which I retained from some Discovery channel show I saw while milling around after the second funeral in as many months.
Anyway, so this nauseus suspicion. It's no mystery I'm at this bar looking for a woman. I've made that clear. Small town, stranger, lots of rounds of drinks. Lots of drinks. Too many. I'm a pragmatist and I need a place to sleep. It seemed to be the easiest thing in the world. Wrong. The pot-smoking boxer men are watching. They instinctively know. They have their eyes on me. Before I stepped outside, I could feel their red eyes start to claim things, could feel their fists clenching. It was too much, and now I'm drunk. How drunk am I? I ask myself. Spider-eating drunk, I laugh into my cough, remembering one of my dad's old jokes.
I'm homeless for the night, in the middle of a wicked (as they say up here) snowstorm. I'm hoping one of those girls I've talked to will come outside in a few minutes, offer me a cigarette, take me home, away from those men with their slightly swollen faces. If not, there's a Dunkin' Donuts about a mile away. It should be open all night. I'll just sit here a bit more and try to stop my head from spinning. Try real hard not to puke. Try real hard not to drift off. It occurs to me that I am the opposite of my parents. I am unsteady.