Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Sunshine State [Intro and Day 1]

I’ve come to learn that, in life, a little success is a dangerous thing.

Five years ago, I attended the wedding of my friends Ton and Mrs. Ton. The occasion, as I said in the ensuing blog, was as close to perfect as I’d ever seen a wedding get. The presence of an insane amount of alcohol and zero amount of dress code, in a barn deep in Ohio farmland, meant the dial was cranked to “lit”—maybe the only time that’s ever been true of a barn.

That blog enjoyed a brief moment of fame. The happy couple shared it with their relatives and friends, and On the Rocks’ page hits soared to a level rarely seen without the involvement of a half-naked Playboy Playmate.

The best man at that wedding was TK. The following year he met a beautiful, charismatic little maniac of his own. He brought her to Pittsburgh that summer, and seconds after being introduced to “Tide,” she and I were best friends. Despite her being an Alabama grad, and me a lifelong Auburn fan. Despite us not being in the same location again until the night before their wedding, four years later. Homies. 4. Life.

In planning her wedding, Tide took cues from the stories she had heard about Ton’s. The location would be unconventional: on the beach in St. Pete, where the couple met and lived. The abundance of alcohol would be measured, targeted, and then intentionally exceeded. The dress code would be non-existent, and she encouraged Dupa to let his creativity take the wheel. And she ever-so-subtly hinted that she wanted me to blog about the event.

I did my best to casually dissuade her from expecting the dust to be blown off my keyboard. Life had moved me away from the carefree days of scribing tales of drunken adventures. Respectability had crept up my walls and rendered me unrecognizable behind tangled, ivy-like swaths of adulthood. I spent my workday combing through business plans, not internet articles about blotto Rummy Award candidates. I was out of the game. A ghost. A minor footnote on a long-forgotten page of a book buried in a time capsule.

Then, as TK and I tossed back shots at his bachelor party, he said he wanted my wedding gift to be a blog about his nuptials.


Thursday, May 25

I landed in Tampa for the first time since 2012 (ironically, the year of Ton’s wedding). A couple from my flight, who had seemed perfectly calm until that point, took five steps out into the humid air outside of baggage claim and began yelling at each other, while strangers like me watched. Florida’s crazy is an airborne virus.

I texted Dupa, my roommate for the weekend, as my Lyft ride cruised away from the airport. He had landed an hour or so before me and was, of course, already at the bar. So, when I got to the condo we had rented on Airbnb, I dropped my bag, changed into a pair of shorts, and headed out to catch up. A frozen margarita with a Modelo Especial floater was waiting for me when I arrived at the waterfront location.

After dinner, we found Ton—who was returning the favor by serving as TK’s best man—and two other groomsmen at Hooters, just up the boardwalk. Before long the man of honor and Balls, another groomsman, arrived to officially kick off the bachelor party. We caught up in the way old friends with new lives do, cold beer and big laughs punctuating each sentence. A beautiful brunette by the name of Svana, wearing innocent glasses over I-might-be-crazier-than-you-think eyes, was our beer concierge. She provided us with a steady supply of Corona and Modelo buckets, walking up to our table seemingly each time someone in our group was finishing a highly contextualized sentence.

One of us: “…and I get a text from him saying, ‘Be right back. Just tore my ass.’”
Svana: *stands there blinking*

Some members of the party were Cavs fans, intently watching Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Others, such as myself, were Pens fans, intently watching Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. With the latter headed towards a late finish and Hooters closing, we moved our collective to a bar called CJ’s on the Island.

The Pens fans gravitated towards a giant projection screen in the back of the bar. There we found that the game was being closely followed by a bachelorette party, a lively group of 20-something gals from Pittsburgh. One of them had even graduated from the same high school as I did—albeit 10 years later. *sigh*

I’d reached that special stage of the night, when you’re never without a drink in your hand, but you have little to no idea what you’re drinking, or how you obtained it. I do know that at one point, as my head swam with (beer and) euphoria and relief from the Pens’ overtime win, I stood at the bar talking to someone when a voice called out over the speaker system.

“♫Defi’s a bitch…♫”

I turned to find Dupa smiling at me from a nearby stage, with a mic in his hand and five bachelorettes in pink shirts crammed around him and a karaoke machine.

I shook my head and returned to my regularly-scheduled drunk.

I took comfort in not being the drunkest among us, though. Our boy “Hemsworth” had been rocked from about an hour into our stay at Hooters. At one point, he appeared before Ton with a lollipop in his mouth.

Ton: “Where’d you get the sucker, buddy?”
Hemsworth: “The nice man in the bathroom gave me this.”

CJ’s doesn’t have a bathroom attendant.

Our next stop was Mermaids, a strip club (because of course). But how we transitioned there is a question I can’t answer, since I remember none of it. Not the conversation about going, not leaving CJ’s, not the Uber ride. And I don’t remember feeling queasy upon arrival. But I do remember unceremoniously hunching over and hurling in the club’s parking lot.

It was as though I’d stepped out of the car and found God waiting there to sucker punch me in the stomach. Ton patted me on the back while beer, margarita, shots, and my self-respect evacuated me under the dim street lights. Then I stood up, took a breath, and into the club we went.

I was, as one might imagine, not in the best frame of mind for a strip club. I tried my best to participate, swigging back a few beers while trying to shake off my advanced state of “wrecked.” Mrs. Ton seemed to materialize from out of nowhere, and she and others tried to nurse me back to health. Our buddy, “Tiger Blood” [he was the Charlie Sheen-est thing since Charlie Sheen that weekend, as you’ll soon see], handed me a wad of 20 fresh $1 bills to make it rain on a dancer. I threw them without loosening the wad first, and the bulk of the bills smacked her in the rib with a thud. I think that was the moment when I decided I needed to leave.

As my Uber pulled away from Mermaids, I got a text from TK. “I just made it rain!”

It’s a minor miracle I guided the driver back to the correct location. And another one that I remembered the security code to the front door. Dupa had disappeared while we were at Mermaids; as I stumbled through the condo in the direction of my bedroom, I saw his closed bedroom door and let out a “Ha!” Then I crashed into my bed and gave in to the darkness. Day One in Florida was a wrap.

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