By Jensen Beach
My wife can attest to my lack of skill with pick-up lines—we are married in spite of my abilities not because them. I never really went out to clubs and bars to meet women, so I was never that practiced in the art of the pick-up line. My entire repertoire: “Want to get a drink sometime?” Occasionally: “Let’s get a drink sometime.” An obviously impressive range. But I’ve witnessed some terrific failures. The best of these happened on New Year’s Eve 1999. I used to live in Oakland. There was this bar next door to the café where I worked, and I spent most of my time going back and forth between the two places. They never carded at the bar, they let us smoke inside, and everyone I knew had a tab they’d never been asked to pay. Basically, it was the best place in the world, is what I mean. That New Year’s Eve, I got to the bar at about 10:30 with some friends. We were playing pool when this guy I knew from the neighborhood showed up. He was a loud drunk and even when he was sober he had this way of spilling out from his orbit and into other people’s spaces. Really annoying. He sort of careened around the bar from group to group and eventually locked on to this group of girls who’d occupied a long table in the back, near the staircase that led up to the second floor. Upstairs there was an uncomfortably low ceiling, a couple more pool tables. It was often empty up there because there was no bar and it smelled extra bad—I’m not really doing this bar justice. It was truly kind of amazing. The guy, whose real name I can’t remember but who after this night we called Superman (you’ll see why in a second) was like a pack of lions trying to pick off a baby antelope. He tried everything with these girls. He tried talking to them. Didn’t work. He tried to sit down at the table. No luck. He tried dancing directly in front of the table. Surprisingly, this also did not work. Eventually, as Superman was out on one of this stray orbits around the bar, the girls quietly all slipped upstairs. Superman made his way back over to the now empty table and kind of looked around like he was lost for a second and then he too went upstairs. The world was going to end so you can understand his desperation. By this point a lot of people in the bar were starting to be interested in Superman—he was the kind of guy that just caused shit to happen wherever he went. After about twenty minutes, there was this loud banging noise upstairs, following by a deep scratching sound, like someone was moving furniture up there, then a man’s scream, and Superman came flying, head first, arms straight out in front of him, down the stairs. He’d kind of skipped over the first couple stairs, trying to get his footing but the momentum was too much and his body shifted forward, so about half way down he was more or less parallel with the ground. He landed with a hard slap flat on his belly. The entire bar went quiet. A couple of the girls appeared in the stairwell. Someone rushed over to check if he was OK. He brushed the person off and stood up. It took him a second to get his balance. He didn’t look hurt, just a little dazed. After a second, he got this enormous dumb smile on his face and said, “I supermanned those stairs!” When midnight struck like a half hour later, I don’t think there was near the same amount of cheering and laughing as there was after he said that. Anyway, the world obviously didn’t end that night (thanks, computers!), and a few months after that, the bar closed for “renovations” which I think meant the city had gotten tired of fining the owners for indoor smoking (and probably all sorts of other) violations. When I moved almost exactly a year later away from Oakland, the bar still hadn’t opened but Superman was still around, still annoying, and probably still trying, desperately, to go home with somebody.
Jensen Beach is the author of the story collection For out of the Heart Proceed. He lives in Illinois with his family.