I was done with work, but I didn’t feel like going home. Instead I biked down the hill to see what was happening in the throbbing Pike/Pine corridor. Little drops of moisture stuck to my coat and the pavement shone slick with the lights of cars.
Outside of the Wild Rose, a woman flagged me down, suggested I step inside for a beer. It was karaoke night. I shrugged and locked up my bike, went inside. The crowd was thin. I ordered a Ranier; it was $4, which seemed kind of steep, but I guess is pretty normal.
(When I was in Idaho last summer, my friend and I stumbled into a small-town bar that could’ve been frozen in 1975. Beers were $2, shots of whiskey (good whiskey), $4. The jukebox took quarters, and was stocked with Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Charlie Pride, Pasty Cline. There was a pot-bellied stove, a strict cash-only policy, indoor smoking. The proprietor was a half-deaf old guy. The only other patrons were three young men and one woman. It was her birthday. She crossed her arms and complained that she was tired; she just wanted to be in Twin Falls, with her kid.
My friend and I played pool against each other, then shuffleboard with the locals. We listened to one of them rambling about his desire to go to culinary school, interwoven with a vague story about a recent arrest. When we’d been there a while and everyone was standing outside, passing a pipe, I remembered that I had presents in my car.
I’d sent a care package to a soldier in Afghanistan a couple of Christmases before, but it had gotten sent back (my pen pal was fine – she’d gone home). I’d left it, unopened, at my grandparent’s house in Colorado and retrieved it on this trip. There was a little fancy pad of paper, a Calvin and Hobbes comic, some Oreos, all prettily wrapped. I gave the Calvin and Hobbes book and a jar of almond chocolate spread to the woman for her birthday. She exclaimed, over and over, that this was the most random thing that had ever happened to her.)
At the Wild Rose, I sang one song (the Doors, “Backdoor Man”) and left before the karaoke contest started. I went into Big Mario’s to get a slice. I was hoping to find an appealing stranger to banter with, but all I got was a guy commenting on the steam rising from my pizza as I wadded it inelegantly into my mouth. Everyone was with someone, and the bar was loud and crowded.
I ate my pizza and drank a Hamm’s and watched a closed-captioned Mark Wahlberg get slapped around by apes on the TV. Hamm’s tastes like passion fruit. It’s good with oily hot pizza.
I thought about getting another slice, decided against it. A guy out on the sidewalk cheerfully touted his wares (weed, blow) to passersby. I got back on my bike, coasted down the sidewalk towards downtown. At Third and Pike, the usual nighttime assortment of addicts in various stages of decay. The D Line to Ballard was 15 minutes out. Still restless, I biked down to Second, thinking of the Clever Bottle and vinegary cocktails in frosty copper cups.
On the way was a tattoo studio I’d often seen from the window of a bus. I’d always thought it looked pretty dubious: stridently glowing against Belltown’s darkness, open late. I walked in. There were three people working, all women, all really nice in a refreshing no-bullshit way. Even though it was 11:30 pm, they gave me some paper and a pen. I signed forms, used the bathroom. A sign above the sink read “employees must carve Slayer into forearms before returning to work.” I realized that, as of this year, I’ll have been tattooed for half my life. I remembered a time when having a tattoo was still sort of edgy. I lay down on the table.