Scene from a hearty hipster beer tasting
“Destiny is totally different away from work,” Valerie’s telling him, the afternoon of the beer tasting.
“Oh, I’m sure,” he says.
This impromptu discussion has cropped up on the back loading dock, on this glorious late spring day. Edgar had been wandering the building, looking for Craig, to ask him a burning question about the latest invoice. And eventually found him out here, smoking a cigarette with Valerie. The question was long since answered and Craig went back to work some minutes ago, but Valerie’s in a talkative mood and the conversation has continued flowing freely between them. Edgar almost never even takes the two paid fifteen minute breaks he’s allotted per day — just a quick trip to the closest coffee pot, ordinarily, a half dozen times each shift — so he’s not really sweating the time spent out here. As for Valerie, she is surely over her allotted fifteen, but doesn’t seem all that concerned, either.
He’s not entirely certain how they even got on this topic, discussing Destiny. If sitting around idly contemplating the matter, he could probably reconstruct it, but this isn’t something you can think your way through while still paying attention to the current words reverberating through the air. Craig and Valerie were talking about Chef Anthony, which caused Edgar to chuckle and mention the engagement conversation. That he was all but convinced Anthony was going to show him Valerie’s picture, because he always spots the two of them sitting together. This is when Valerie groans and rolls her eyes, grumbles that the chef is instead constantly filling her head with foul tales about his sexual exploits with Christie.
This led in roundabout fashion to the current topic. Valerie mildly agitated, claiming that her old friend Destiny seems extremely humorless here on the job, has almost no interaction with her and is somewhat bitchy when she does. Which somewhat vibes with Edgar’s take, although he would say Destiny’s mostly friendly with him. One thing he has discovered, though, is that Southside’s long tenured store manager does not wish to take on any more work. Anything that is going to create Destiny more work will put her in a horrible mood, indeed.
He had paid almost no attention to such until that day Tonya casually mentioned this to him. Sure, it’s possible she planted a seed in his head that warped his perceptions. But he tends to think it’s more a case of overlooking something somewhat obvious, until his attention is drawn to it. For example, though observing that Destiny seemed to spend almost the entirety of every day running a cash register — unless stocking beer, that is — he assumed it was the usual scenario, encountered endlessly in retail through the years, where the front end’s understaffed and store managers are running registers constantly because the owners think this saves them money.
But then he happened to notice, this almost never applies here at Southside. They typically have plenty of personnel up front. Destiny prefers to run a cash register all day. She sends a bunch of other people around, performing her tasks, so that she can be paid a store manager’s salary to play cashier.
Not that he mentions any of this to Valerie. He remains exceptionally careful about anything said to anyone else, when it comes to their fellow coworkers. Agrees that she probably is a lot cooler away from here, and leaves it at that. Although also thinking that she’s really not that horrible here, either.
Like for instance, allowing people to continue smoking on this loading dock, in light of the HR lady’s recent decree. This is not something Destiny would give two fucks about. Whereas for example Corey pissed off half his store a few days ago when it came to this subject. He had driven past his own loading dock, parked within sight of it, and called Doris to rat out which specific figures were out there at that moment, puffing away. This seemed unspeakably lame to many because you can’t even see the back dock from the road, would have to drive around behind the building to do so. Which also applies to Southside, although in this instance, this war-torn scene looks unaltered from the district’s not so distant downtrodden days. As in, you probably wouldn’t want to be out here alone after dark.
“You going to that beer tasting tonight?” Valerie asks him.
“Beer tasting?” Edgar replies. He knows they’ve done plenty of wine tastings here, during late afternoons and evenings, especially when Pierre was present. But for whatever reason this isn’t as common a practice with the beer vendors. He hasn’t heard anything about such an event here, though, and the thought of encouraging Jake Gifford’s department in any fashion kind of turns his stomach.
“Yeah, you know. Over at Southside Market. It’s free. I think a bunch of people from here are going.”
“Eh, I don’t know. It’s a Wednesday. I can’t be getting too crazy,” he says. One of his first lessons learned on this job, about a couple weeks into it, was that you positively do not want to be showing up for this number-crunching gig with a hangover. And has successfully avoided doing so ever since.
“It’s a beer tasting. How crazy can it get?” Valerie retorts, extinguishing her cigarette as she prepares to get back to work.
He’s heard of Southside Market, of course, but not yet visited, despite it sitting less than ten minutes away from their store. It’s basically a corner convenience shop, albeit with a back patio large enough to host live music and other events, with a deli counter serving sandwiches inside, in one tiny back alcove.
Edgar manages to hang out around the workplace until six, finding plenty to occupy him in the meantime. By the time he rolls up to Southside Market, the back patio only features a handful of souls, scattered about, among them at least two familiar ones: Destiny and Valerie. There are a pair of young boys running around, also, one belonging to each, and then he’s also introduced to the only male seated at the metal picnic-shaped table, Destiny’s husband Jerry, along with some other chick, a friend of theirs nobody immediately bothers introducing. Although impressively enough, he discovers that they’re discussing books as he first approaches the table, and this is without any of his own nerdy input or influence.
As the tasting itself isn’t set to begin for another half hour, and everyone else already has beverages, he too dips inside, in the name of research, to grab one himself. He emerges with something called a Black Boss Porter, which they carry at the store, though he’s never tried. Destiny mentioned that these were on sale and pretty decent, both of which assessments are right on the mark. As for Southside Market’s interior, though this isn’t the infamous guy across the street that Jake Gifford is constantly referencing, the selection is still fairly impressive for such a cramped, oddly configured store, a tiny L with just two long perimeter aisles and a few short connecting ones across.
By the time he returns to the patio, Willie the cashier has joined them, which is a welcomed development. And though a light drizzle kicks up out of nowhere, locally based Triumph Distributing has set up a cloth covered table at the far end, as people begin lining up for samples. They have four different offerings on tap out here today, from different Chesboro breweries, though only dispensing one at a time per person. While they make their way through lines multiple times, in varying combinations, Edgar thinks he spots something curious the second occasion through, confirmed upon the third.
“Hey!” he protests to Willie, who is with him during this trip, “I noticed they’re giving bigger pours to all the females. Check it out! What’s up with that?”
“Eh…uh…ah…well…,” Willie helpfully offers, rocking back and forth on his feet.
Edgar somehow never realized this before, until standing in line behind the guy, but Willie is a somewhat towering figure, positively looming above his own slightly below average height. And if unsure what to say in this spot, this isn’t to suggest their affable cashier, almost like a Southside if not company-wide mascot, can’t carry himself just fine socially. After all, as evening starts to descend and some live entertainment begins performing, Willie is the only one among them who has invited an actual date to the proceedings. She arrives early into this act, and is a tall, surprisingly good looking blonde in a flashy red dress and heels.
“I met her on the internet,” Willie sheepishly admits, after she strolls off for a beverage.
“That’s fine! That’s totally cool!” Valerie tells him, “it doesn’t matter!”
“Yeah, that doesn’t matter, Willie,” Destiny agrees.
Like nearly everyone else on the patio, they are standing now — not quite elbow to elbow, though close to it, for traffic has increased as the night has advanced. Taken in conjunction with the light rain, this indicates that the show is a greater draw than any beer tasting, and with good reason. A short haired blonde girl in a leather stripper outfit, who otherwise has the look of a classic beauty about her, like a 1950s starlet, is merely prancing about, back and forth in her performance area, grinding a saw on her metal breastplate. Sparks fly, as the DJ currently spins Voodoo Lady by Ween. Which is fitting, but seems crazier than it is maybe in that Edgar was asking Valerie at work earlier today if she liked those guys.
Elsewhere, some other girl lies on a bed of nails for awhile, will also breathe fire on occasion. The classic beauty, the blonde, also demonstrates on a couple of occasions, by singing atop some instrumental tracks, that she has a great a voice. Which Edgar is able to compliment her on, just once, when he has drifted inside to purchase another of those porters. The tasting has long since ended, and she is in line for something else.
Valerie and Destiny drift out to the latter’s car for…a suspiciously long interval. Every so often Edgar will spot one or both of their kids zipping around the patio, on skateboards they somehow acquired. The opening act leaves the scene, during which time Edgar and Willie leave everyone else to stand in a separate line at the back of the store and wait on a sandwich. When they return, some younger bearded dudes are playing ironic mountain music, with mandolins and such.
Are the blondes out in waves this evening? Another tall one, well dressed, professional and quite pretty, if Edgar says so, butts into their conversation, then launches from this starting block into a chat with him alone. It’s immediately obvious that she’s intelligent, and doesn’t seem like a wild woman or a drunkard, so this is a promising development. At the very least, it must mean that he looks okay tonight, and is holding his own conversationally. It’s also not lost on him that being here with some other girls is surely not hurting his cause any.
She just moved to Chesboro all the way from Idaho, for work, but doesn’t want to stay. By happenstance it turns out she briefly lived in the same city up north as he, during a similar time frame, having attended the major university there for her first year or two of college. They share a hearty laugh agreeing that the school’s football fans are obnoxious nutcases.
At some point, she meanders to rejoin her party, which is fine. This is probably a good moment to play it cool. He does intend to at the very least grab her phone number, however, even though it occurs to him they must have chatted for fifteen minutes straight and never exchanged names. But then all manner of chaos breaks out, relatively speaking, and he forgets about her entirely.
After she pulls away, he returns his attention to the band, although recognizing that everybody else he was here with seems to have gone. And he too, intends to leave, as soon as he finishes this beer. Then he spots Valerie’s kid carving his way through the patio, via skateboard, albeit much slower now, owing to the crowd. So he’s guessing the boy’s momma must still be on site somewhere, if no one else is. A minute or so later, Valerie materializes at his side, too, announcing that a) she is somewhat hammered, but also that b) she cannot seem to locate her keys.
So what is to be done about this? It turns out that indeed everyone else they knew here has left. But she lives about five minutes away from this place, she says, and if Edgar doesn’t mind giving her a lift, she’ll get her boyfriend on the horn and see if he can meet them there with her spare house key. Only now, somewhat curiously, does Valerie wonder aloud as to the whereabouts of her son, casting her eyes around the still crowded patio.
“I haven’t seen him for awhile, now that I think about it…,” she mutters.
“I just saw him go thataway on his skateboard,” Edgar explains, pointing toward the store itself, then adds, laughing, “you’re lucky to have people around who are paying attention!”
She pauses long enough to give Edgar a huffy, hands on hips glance, but then takes off in the direction he’d pointed. So maybe that wasn’t such a hot humor angle. Nonetheless, within five minutes the three of them are in Edgar’s car, driving a handful of residential blocks west near Chesboro’s downtown. The kid is goofing around with some drumsticks he found in Edgar’s backseat, pounding on things and asking why these are in here.
Meanwhile the driver is thinking that maybe this is the new gimmick, giving chicks rides home from beer soaked outings. Considering the parallels between this one and that happy hour excursion with Tonya, et cetera. Not that he’s getting the same vibes here, not at all. But in a night where the theme seems to be starlets of yore, a retro Hollywood style that might be coming back, glimpsed everywhere, he’s noticing for the first time that this woman in the passenger seat has that look about her, too, from say the Black Dahlia era — short, skinny, with the wavy black hair, the cute yet crooked smile. She’s also fairly hot, which he somehow never paid much attention to before. Then again, most of the time at work, squinting at her computer screen, she’s wearing glasses. And not sexy secretarial ones, but an almost Mr. Potato Head type specimen, as in too small and plastic.
His thoughts might have drifted here anyway, but he’s also trying to keep himself occupied and avoid eavesdropping, impossible though that is, because right now she’s arguing with her boyfriend. The first two times she dialed his number, he didn’t even answer, but on the third consecutive back-to-back-to-back dial, he finally has. Although the jury’s still out on whether this will get Valerie off the hook, concerning this case of the lost keyring.
“Well so what if it’s a pain in the ass!? So sorry to disturb you! Let’s see, do you have to work in the morning? No! Which one of us has to work in the morning? Jackass,” she curses, and hangs up the phone abruptly.
“Everything good?” Edgar asks, more to break up the interminable, angst filled silence more than anything else.
Even while both are staring straight ahead, he can peripherally spot her furrowed brow, as she turns and eyes him with disbelieving smirk. “What do you think? Did that sound good?”
“Well I mean what…”
“He’s coming with a spare key,” Valerie nods, “allegedly. But, it’s like, do you have to be such a dickhead about it? Probably not.”
Yikes. He wonders if this one always gets so feisty on alcohol, or if these are extenuating circumstances. He also wonders how serious the boyfriend can possibly be, in light of these revelations, and considering that they don’t live together. Come to think of it, it’s a mystery why they wouldn’t have just remained at Southside Market to wait on him — unless considering Valerie probably held strong suspicions about this outcome already. Well, whatever. As she continues giving directions, and they pull up in front of this tiny house she’s renting, with its minuscule, overgrown yard, this plot of land is a dim void in an even darker, quieter, inner city street, and he’s thinking it might be a good idea for safety’s sake to stick around, until the cavalry arrives.
A good half hour transpires, as the two of them half lean, half sit against his car hood, chatting, while the kid first wanders around the yard, drumsticks in hand, before sitting down on the front porch steps and half the time banging around some more, half the time staring off into space. Edgar doesn’t pry, but Valerie launches into an extended diatribe, listing the boyfriend’s offenses. She wishes he would get a little more involved and show some interest in the child, but isn’t convinced they need to share a place just yet. Meanwhile, somewhere around the fifteen or twenty minute mark, she started dialing his number again, but these continually went to voicemail. And have continued doing so ever since.
“Oh my god!” it suddenly occurs to her, slipping the phone back into her pants pocket, “I totally forgot!”
“The bathroom window’s busted!”
“Busted, like, how?”
“Oh, it doesn’t latch. Like the wood’s warped now or something. Come on, let’s go take a look at it,” she says.
They drift around to the side of this house, where the lawn slopes slightly downhill. As it so happens, the first window along this wall belongs to the bathroom, yet it’s situated about halfway along. Meaning that while located on the ground floor, the yard is sloping away just enough so that for either one of them to reach that window is out of the question.
Without an assistant, that is. Displaying some impressive dexterity, given the partial drunkenness and near total darkness over here, further enhanced by a strand of trees an arm’s length away, separating this property from the next, Valerie braces herself against the wall with one hand, while Edgar stoops and laces both of his together. Planting one sneaker between them, she pivots and springs off of this boost, reaching up to flip the window open. As he continues to rise, she wiggles her way into the opening, incrementally through it. Up until the moment her progress slams to a halt, feet dangling in the air above him.
“Fuck. I’m stuck,” she announces, high above him.
“Stuck? You can’t be stuck. You’re too skinny.”
“Aw, thanks! No, but seriously. I’m, like, caught on something, or something. I can’t move.” She makes a convoluted effort at halfway turning in the window, but can’t seem to shift in this direction, either.
Edgar tries pushing on her feet, though this reminds him of attempting to shove water uphill, and is about as effective. Even upon instructing her to straighten them out, and lock her knees, this doesn’t seem to accomplish anything.
“Can’t you, like, just fall out onto the floor?” he questions.
“I’m stuck, bro! Remember? Or did you forget?”
“Heh. Well what about…can’t you reach anything?”
“No,”she grunts, yet is thrashing about, therefore must be attempting such up there. “I mean, I can almost reach the sink, but…fuck. So close.”
“Hmm. Well, maybe I can find you a stick or….,” he trails off, glancing around on the ground, attempting to spot a stray fallen branch, “otherwise, we might have to bring you back down.”
“Can you reach my ass? Just push my ass.”
“Wha-ha-haat?” he says, laughing, as he spins back around to confront this dilemma again. Truth is, the thought had occurred to him, but decorum suggested that he dare not mention this. The window itself is probably out of his slam dunk range, but he believes with a spirited hop he could plant his palms on her backside. “I mean, yeah, I think so, but…”
“Good. Just give my ass a nice hard shove, then.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yep. Totally. It just doesn’t even fucking matter at this point. Just give my ass a nice hard shove, with both hands. That should do the trick.”
And it does. As he’s lining up to take this shot, he can’t help but notice that said posterior is a shapely specimen, brought into sharp relief by these tight black jeans she’s wearing. But, again, he doesn’t catch even a whiff of any flirtatious vibe emanating from their marketing specialist, only maybe, if he’s lucky, maybe the kind of hilarious tale they might be spinning to colleagues five or ten years down the road, at holiday parties, or around the breakroom, or weird afternoons where everyone’s in a frisky mood in the merchandisers’ office.
The last image he has is her standing on the other side of that open, pitch black maw, all but a ghost as she smiles and waves to him. To which he returns the same, before jumping into his car and leaving. And yet, fascinating though this episode might be, something which occurs to him maybe a quarter of the way along his long drive home is even more so, and he can’t stop returning to it: he was just out on the town, socially, with three different coworkers, and absolutely no one discussed that place the entire night. It just never came up. In Edgar’s experience, this is a remarkable, and perhaps unprecedented, occurrence.