Sunday night was kind of weird. My afternoon nap went way longer than I intended — essentially, I got ready for the evening at 11 p.m. and headed out not really knowing where I wanted to go or why I wanted to go out at all. I’d spent the past couple of days in near-constant social interaction, and I probably should’ve remained solitary just to recharge my brain. And yet there I was, nursing a Budweiser at a back table at The Chat Room around midnight, wary of the little crowd that had sprouted around the patio’s picnic tables. Reaching the bottom of the bottle, I snuck out the back for ostensibly greener pastures.
Eventually I found myself rolling through the West 7th Street corridor, just to see if anything looked open but empty. M Lounge looked closed for good, and nearby Bottlecap Alley looked busy-ish. I felt like a moth, exhaustedly bonging between neon beer signs. The brightest spot, Reservoir, was also the busiest, lousy with purple-clad kids busily working their phones, apparently making late-night plans. It looked like a nightmare. Creeping down Foch Street, I noticed the patio at The Local was similarly thronged. Foch, evidently, was hopping with Horned Frogs. But as I was piloting my vehicle away, I caught the yellow gleam of a Street Fighter II game beaming at me through The Local’s open windows. I parked.
The Local’s patio might have been crowded, but there were only a couple of people inside. Better still, the arcade area was empty. And as I dumped a few quarters into the game, I realized that, for me, these pixilated distractions are more than a nostalgic escape to middle-school memories. They also function as a submersible of sorts, allowing me to breathe beneath waves of social anxiety. What I tend to forget, however, is that arcade games are almost universally designed to accommodate two or more players. My bubble burst when some dude and his friends popped up behind me and slapped down quarters to call next game.
I sort of quit trying to win, made easier because the fierce kick button on that particular machine is sticky on Player 1’s side. It’s a button that’s crucial to my entire offensive strategy, so I left after I lost. It was 1:40 a.m., and, wanting one last drink, I made my way to Landmark Bar & Kitchen, now convinced that the entire back-to-school weekend was crazy in this part of town.
For one thing, the message on Landmark’s marquee had been haphazardly rearranged to make zero sense. It made me think of how closed-caption satellite TV gets scrambled during a thunderstorm. That was about when some dickweed in a red Miata peeled two 360s in the middle of the intersection of Morton and Norwood streets, whipping in my direction in a screech of burned rubber and chased by a black Mitsubishi Eclipse. Seemed like a bad omen, but I still wanted one more drink. Inside, staffers were wiping tables and stacking chairs, but there was one guy at the bar with a full glass of beer, so I ordered a Budweiser and posted up in front of Landmark’s Street Fighter II, taking advantage of its free play setting. I quit before I’d even finished the first game, though –– the control panel sort of lifted when I twisted the joystick a certain way. OK, I privately groused to the meddling mother figure in my mind. I’ll go home now.
On my way out the door after chugging my beer, I stopped in the middle of the patio to examine a long Plexiglas box built into the top of a rectangular cocktail table. The box was full of what looked like pink aquarium rocks and was littered with cigarette butts. I wondered if it was some weird, massive ashtray or if Landmark had spent the weekend weathering the assault of dozens of inconsiderate jerkoffs. Given the marquee’s wacky jumble and since the panel at the end of the box looked as if it had been pried loose, I kinda guessed the latter. I’m glad I wasn’t around to see ’em. People like that are mostly why I’m not nuts about crowds. –– Steve Steward
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