The ambulance doors were closing and I could see the young police officer talking to Mike through the shrinking gap between. They were standing across the parking lot, Mikey looking down at the oil-stained pavement as the officer spoke. We made eye contact just as the doors shut completely and I gave a guilty wave. He'd probably be in jail tonight because of me. Goddammit. The EMT was asking questions but I was — apart from being really drunk — afraid, and couldn't focus to answer clearly. And I didn't wanna lie.
We were at an izakaya now, reminiscing about this night back in Indiana.
We had been at a bar by the tracks — I forget the name, but the one on the north end of town, not the Franklin House — and the room was steadily filling up with an uneasy mix of “region rat”-type people: cologne-drenched frat bros, classic rock contractors, and macho cowboy types putting on cringey, stoic airs. Of course there were others, too. And the women were generally fun and nothing to worry about, because they didn't want to start fights or any dumb shit like that.
The music had devolved from a quiet wash of Beatles tunes in the background, and upbeat alternative rock staples during happy hour, to the current cacophony of Maroon 5's "This Love" clashing with drunk girls shout-singing the same, Flo Rida, TI, "Trapt" — Oh god — other such stultifying assaults. Well, the TI song was alright I guess. Of course, all selected on the LCD jukebox by squawking girls in tight jeans, tucked into faux-fur boots in various shades of tan. Mikey was much more drunk than I was. We started at 3pm and he was at least three ahead of me now.
Without warning, and as I fixated on a bottle of Midori high up behind the bar, thinking about the Japanese word and the way it was lit up from underneath, Mikey snuck to the door and then bolted across the parking lot. I turned around just in time to see him catapulting his now tiny form over the chainlink fence in the distance, enclosing the darkness of the warehouse adjacent.
It was a nice jump. He had used one arm to kind of slingshot himself way up into the air, and then swung both legs over in a wide, elegant arc as if they were glued together, like a gymnast doing a routine on the pommel horse. It was impressive. Then he vanished into the darkness and of course I followed.
We ended up on top of that warehouse. Or factory. Or whatever the fuck it was.
Look up there. Let’s climb it.
There was an old water tower on the roof.
I’m scared of heights but with the booze in me — and this technique of blurring my eyes and moving forward by feel more so than sight (I'd just read about this in a Carlos Castaneda novel) — we went rung-by-rickety-iron-rung, probably sixty feet, up to the very top. Halfway up, a car pulled around the corner of the building below us, braking abruptly.
We froze. It finally moved on after what seemed like minutes. There was a ledge at the top about two feet wide, with a guardrail we could push our stomachs against while we sat, legs dangling, surrounding the cone-capped reservoir. And from there, way out across sixty-some odd miles of interminable black space, the lights of the Sears Tower were blinking like tiny diamonds, blipping in and out of the crystal dark. Between were cornfields and factories and woods full of deer, and sleeping people in sleepy Midwest houses at night, across that perfect flatness.
The injury to my hand came later.
The rotten wood around the small panes of old, brittle glass gave easily. Laughing like idiots about this joke I made — something about the way I said "Biiiible paaages" in a thin, raspy voice while we were talking about Mikey's Christian aunt in Kansas — got me feeling so manic and happy I punched out what remained of one of the already broken sections with my hand, still laughing, and reached in to open the latch.
We ran around inside the factory and Mikey sprayed me with a fire extinguisher he found in one of the rooms. Those fucking things will suffocate you if you breathe it in, just FYI.
Choking and coughing and shrieking, we ran the dark corridors and mostly empty rooms of these weird-ass buildings. It was like being in a video game. Then we got the hell out and went back home. I was pulling my now-grease-streaked Goodwill corduroy blazer over my head every time we went through the factory area which was well lit, where I thought there might be cameras. Mikey found this to be hilarious.
I wouldn’t discover I was bleeding until we got back.
After seeing the bright red pool in his bathtub, Mike had wanted to drive me to the hospital right away. It surprised me, too. I was just trying to take a shower, looked down, and noticed my arm was sliced open and spilling blood everywhere.
Mike had been running around his house ass-naked screaming WE'RE GOING TO THE FUCKING HOSPITAL NOW! because the shower was full of my blood. He was in a state of total panic, and still covered in black grease from the factory — like an orphan from a Dickens novel or something. It was very hard to talk him down then, and convince him that if we got into any trouble with the cops like that, he’d go to jail just for looking like such a fucking moron.
I finally got him to shower, tied a thick towel around my filleted hand and forearm, and off we went in Mikey's tiny red 1990 Ford Ranger. I wasn't in any pain, really. The power of the booze, I guess. He was driving way too fucking fast as he seemed to think I'd be dead in minutes, the engine revving wildly as he hit the top of each gear and slammed the stick into the next position. It was almost 4am when the red Ford Ranger whipped out in front of a patrol car, causing them to slam on their brakes and skid sideways. Mikey shouted about slow the fuck down you assholes, and then saw the cherries and berries immediately pop on — OOHHHH FUCK.
So now we’re pulled over in the same parking lot — the frat bros and fur boots bar where we had begun the night. Aside from us, a cop car with the lights silently splashing the asphalt in blue and red, and two cops, it's desolate. The dome light is on. Mike tells me to shut up and don't say anything, and tosses the keys at my feet.
Knuckles rap on the window.
I’m looking straight at the floorboard and Mikey’s untied brown work boots on my feet, and the keys laying next to them, like a kid about to get scolded by his parents.
You almost hit us back there. What are you boys up to tonight?
Now, I'm not saying I believe in miracles, but what happened next comes damn close, I'd say.
Mikey began to weave this unbelievable story about how he had been helping me move all day long, getting ready to load up a U-Haul truck the next day, and we'd been drinking and moving furniture and that sort of thing. You know, just “stuff guys do.” He told the cop that I sliced my hand open on the metal bed frame, and he knew he was really drunk and shouldn't drive, and was extremely plagued with guilt about doing so, but it was a matter of saving my life so he just had to do it.
Holy fuck. There's no way they're going to believe this bullshit.
After listening to Mike, the young-looking officer cocked his head to the side and muttered something into his radio, and his older partner was scribbling down notes in the background. An ambulance arrived and they loaded me in, Mikey still talking to the cop. At the hospital they stitched me up — nothing major, after all — and sent me home the next morning. As for Mike. That young cop just...took him home.
When Mikey told me the story the next day I couldn't believe it. He was sure to immediately note, however, that there are still no good cops. But in that moment, that young officer did the right thing.
Sometimes, a pig chooses humanity.
This was the second week Mikey had been staying with me in Japan. And as fun as it was, I did get tired of rehashing all these drunken war stories from the past. I think Mike did, too, in a way. I also have a hard time relaxing when guests are around so I was ready for him to go home. As I faded into sleep that night, comfortable in the cool breeze from the oscillating fan blowing on my skin, slowly running my hand back and forth over the ridges of the apartment's smooth tatami floor, the futon soft and firm with the concrete below, I listened. Mikey's breathing in the other room was steady and calm like the sea. Like waves washing broadly in and out. The crosswalk on the street below chirped its cuckoo bird sounds into an empty shopping plaza, and it echoed off of the buildings opposite. The occasional group of cheerful, drunken merrymakers would pass, half-stumbling home from a drinking party in the city, not paying any mind to the people like me, laying silent and listening behind the wall of darkened windows above, opened to the unusually cool, summer night.
It's hard to say what it was, but nodding off I felt a great something gently, but unmistakably, break free in my chest, in a plate-tectonic shift, and crumble into the sea of all these sounds and feelings and people, and begin to dissolve.