“Welp, that got out of hand. No one saw that coming.”
Swag began the first Sunday of his 31st year with a blatant lie—albeit one saturated with sarcasm. He knew everyone else could obviously see what was coming two weeks before that, when we got the Facebook event invite for his birthday party. You don’t put “Swag,” “Saturday,” “birthday,” and “McFadden’s” into the same calendar entry and come away with something sensible and understated, in much the same way that you don’t put Justin Bieber, a microphone, an auto-tune machine, and peppermint schnapps into the same room and expect to get good music.
When I got to his place just before 7 p.m. that night, I was stunned. He had told me to come over anytime between 2 and 7; surely, I assumed, getting there at the tail end of that window could only mean finding the man of honor in a rapidly worsening, blindingly drunk state. Instead he was calm and alert, as though the Miller Lite in his hand was secretly a Fresca in an elaborate disguise. I guess not starting your day with Four Loko has a positive endgame. Ah, maturity.
Also on hand: TD, Skeets, Tony, Bobbo, MoPaddle, and Mr. MoPaddle. JL showed up not long after I did. We all BS’d on the deck for another hour or so, empty beer cans falling everywhere like bullet casings in a Rambo movie. By 8 we were grabbing roadies and heading out the door to catch the T. Swag, JL, and Bobbo took a few swigs from a Fireball Whiskey bottle before they got past the dining room, and squinted as they emerged into the cooling August twilight. Upon reaching the T station, Swag admitted, “That shot of Fireball was probably a bad idea.”
When we stepped off the train, we were on the North Shore, which at this point feels like home. Weatherman was waiting for us at McFaddens when we walked in. T.C. and Gaelic Gangsta stopped by after leaving the Stealers preseason game not much later. If Swag remembers any of them being there, I’d be amazed.
We found a table out on the patio, and set up shop with the Pittsburgh skyline behind us. Most of our party ordered beers; JL, though, decided gin & tonics for himself and Swag were the best course of action; I sensed the beginning of the end.
But if his ship’s already sinking, why not send Swag off in style? I voyaged inside to the bar to get him a shot of Crown. Along the way, I (literally) ran into a fella named Adam. Being cool people, he laughed off the accident. Since he had been on the way to buy a shot of his own, he asked if I wanted one too. It’s not my birthday, but…ok. Have you ever felt booze change your odds? Like, you feel as though you have an 80% chance of making it home alive that night, and then you pour a specific cup of alcohol down your throat, and that number plummets to 40%? Yeah, welcome to my world.
I thanked Adam for the shot, collected the drinks I’d ordered for Swag and I, and headed back to our base. The pride I felt over spilling the bare minimum of alcohol on my way back was quickly subdued by having to drink the shot I hadn’t spilled. Hadn’t counted on that…
An hour or so later, I was due for another trip to the bar. Noticing Swag was near the bottom of his beer, I asked, “Want another one?”
Swag: “Yeah, I’ll take a shot.”
Inside at the bar, I flagged down the bartender and ordered two shots and two beers. Weatherman appeared a little further down the rail, and noticed me as he was about to place his own order. “You want a shot?”
Me: “I’m buying shots for Swag and me.”
Weatherman: *beat* “…so do you want a shot?”
Me: *beat* “Yeah, sure.”
It’s not like I expected this night to go any differently.
It wasn’t much later that, while laughing with everyone on the patio, I turned to find an ominous sight: Three bouncers were lined up outside the railing, waiting for Swag to fall into their grasp. “He’s too drunk to be here,” one of them called out. JL, Bobbo, and I formed a human wall between Swag and the vultures, and held it while Skeets got him cups of water and he worked to reestablish himself in the human race. Once he was well enough to walk under his own power, JL and Skeets took Swag back to the T station. It wasn’t even midnight yet.
With the man of honor heading home on a train, the rest of the party quickly dissolved. Tony and I switched venues to Rivers, and in doing so caught up with Special K and Shelly, who were out for K’s niece’s birthday. A short time later he and I found ourselves at the casino’s central bar, Levels, talking to a couple of girls who were the Tim Tebows of interesting conversation; they probably got a lot of false praise from critics with ulterior motives while they were in college, but they had no business being on a field with pros. After one had droned on for a solid five minutes about some pointless story, Tony just laughed and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this bored before!”
They were not amused. There was a lot of squawking that I immediately tuned out, focusing instead on my beer. Tony laughed uncontrollably at himself as they stormed off. Apparently they headed for the ladies’ room, where Shelly happened to be; she said that they were still denouncing our respective lineages when they got there. We must’ve really won their hearts.
It’s probably worth noting that I have no clue what either of those two women looks like. And that’s not even due to the two weeks that have passed since that night. *shrug* Thank god they didn’t ambush us outside the casino. I never would have been able to identify them in a police lineup.
Sooner or later the homie and I made our way back to Swag’s via taxi. I initially fell asleep on a recliner in the living room. After a short time there, though, I remembered that Mitch Canada was out of state, and his bed was wide open. I went upstairs and passed out. I next awoke around 8 a.m.; I was back on the recliner, and Tony was upstairs in Mitch’s bed. The “hows” and “whys” of that game of musical chairs will never be settled.
When I awoke in the living room that second time, an episode of The Golden Girls was playing on the TV. I fell back asleep for another hour and a half; when I awoke again, The Golden Girls was still playing on the TV. Just when I thought I was going crazy, Swag—who had come downstairs feeling brand new—asked, “Why is Golden Girls still on?”
“you're a pal and a confidant.
And if you threw a party,
Invited everyone you knew,
You would see the biggest gift would be from me,
And the card attached would say thank you for being a friend…”
Tony headed home. Swag, JL, and I tried to piece together the previous 24 hours. Skeets came downstairs for a brief appearance, aided our efforts, and then went back upstairs. Swag anxiously awaited an 11 o’clock readout on the cable box, which would signal that Fiori’s had opened for the day. After some pizza and a few more episodes of Golden Girls, I made the move towards my car. The sunlight blinded my eyes, and my head thumped with every breath of fresh air.
I most certainly saw that coming.