Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bud Light Forties, Hockey Pucks, and Big Labatt Blues

Back in January I went to a Columbus Blue Jackets game. I got the ticket free through my job with a Columbus magazine, and took the opportunity to spend some time with my coworkers and watch sweaty, muscular men slide around and smash into each other (and restrain myself from tossing my underwear at Rostislav Klesla).

This is the story of that Saturday night:

 “Excuse me, I think you’re in my seat.”

I looked up to see a downright gorgeous face: blond hair, blue eyes, chiseled jaw, dimples. It was a face that had “Hollywood” written all over it. I really can’t stress it enough. When I use words like “handsome” and “beautiful” and “holy hot damn,” I mean them.

I actually stuttered as I first talked to Hollywood, apologizing for the unnecessary seating mix up and the drink I’d left in his cup-holder. How embarrassing.

He waved a tall can of Labatt Blue, “It’s okay, we both have the same beer anyway.”

The same beer? This is fate, right?

Throughout the game I bonded with Hollywood and his group of friends. Most of them were coworkers in the same office, and a few, including Hollywood, were gay. I learned Hollywood’s name was Justin (we already had so much in common!). I referred to his friends as Hockey Girl, Gorgeous Redhead, Glasses Guy, Buzzcut Guy, and the Couple. The Couple were boring in that way that people who have been dating for a long time but still have mostly single friends are. They probably aren’t actually boring, but compared to their friends still out in the dating world, their stories just don’t compete.

The group and I bonded over Labatt Blue and hockey and celebrated getting free tickets through our jobs. We bonded over mutual intoxication and shouting profanities around children and giant bags of cotton candy.

“Hey,” Hockey Girl whispered in my ear, “You should come drink victory forties with us in the parking garage after the game.”

Like I’m going to say no to that.

After the game finished I left the stadium with my coworkers and wished them a good night. Hockey Girl called me and gave me directions to their location in a nearby parking garage, and soon a small group of us were sitting in a car drinking Bud Light forties.

Justin and I decided we should depart from the group and find a dark corner to make out in. Because if you have a chance to get drunk at a hockey game and have a celebratory make-out session with somebody completely out of your league that shares the same name as you, you’d be a jackass not to take it. He tasted like Labatt Blue and sugar and a smokey flavor I couldn't quite discern, like wood or coal.

You guys, hockey is the best sport ever.

I should really start determining what sports I like based on the sports themselves and not whether attending their games result in sloppily kissing a stranger in a parking garage.

“Justin!” Hockey Girl shouted after several minutes, “Come on! It’s time to go!”

“In a minute!” I yelled back.

“Not you,” she said with her drunken little giggle, “Other Justin.”

The group insisted I come to a nearby bar with them, but I declined, having made plans with friends on campus. I promised Hockey Girl we’d be in touch and I’d come find them later in the evening, and she clapped her hands in excitement.

I ran around campus with some friends, stumbling into house parties and bars until Hockey Girl’s text messages ordering that I come hang out with them became too much for me to resist. I missed Hockey Girl, and in my inebriated state I knew that I just had to see her.

I met up with my friend Niraj, who found the entire situation of going out with strangers I’d met at a hockey game hilarious (although as a mild-mannered, quiet person he finds most of my behavior hilarious), and we called Hockey Girl to see where she was.

We met them at a bar in Columbus’s Victorian Village, a neighborhood filled with old, well-lit homes and small businesses, close enough to the Arena District to be considered part of the city but far enough away to avoid the problems the city brings. The group took a liking to Niraj, and kept trying to get him to drink even though he hasn’t had a sip of alcohol in years.

After an hour of drinking and hogging the jukebox, Hockey Girl decided it was time to get the party moving. We stopped at Glasses Guy’s apartment, collected some Labatt Blue tall boys (for hockey!) and hit the sidewalks of Victorian Village, oversized cans pouring out of purses and pockets.

We danced in front of a fortune teller’s shop to music from Gorgeous Redhead’s phone. We played a game of street hockey with the pucks that had been given out for free at the game, and not having sticks, made due with our feet.

We stumbled and slipped through the park, down alleys, past homes of people smart enough to go to bed at a decent hour and not wander around in the cold drinking in public.

At one point Glasses Guy collected several empty cans off the ground, saying, “You guys, littering is not okay. We have to find somewhere to put these.”

He proceeded to leave a can pyramid on the welcome mat of a nearby home.

Throughout the night Justin would whisper nice things in my ear, take me by the hand, leave kisses on my forehead.

He slipped and fell on the ice, and when I attempted to help him up, he pulled me down with him.

Later, as we walked down yet another street, Hockey Girl loudly whispered, “Justin, You should be careful around Justin. He’s a player.” Justin made a face of mock surprise.

I mouthed the words “I know.”

As the night was coming to a close, members of the group hugged and wished each other safe walks home. Niraj clapped me on the back and said good night.

Justin and I were left alone on a quiet street. He intertwined his fingers with mine, rubbing his thumbs along my hands. With Labatt Blue breath he said, “Do you want to sleep at my place tonight?” Sleep? Justin, you crack me up.

As I imagined his sure-to-be incredible body intertwined with mine, about the inevitable pleasure that he was sure to provide, about a morning that would be slightly awkward but in a sort of charming way that would leave behind no emotional residue, I heard myself say, “No. Not tonight.”

He playfully patted his chest and said, “Ouch.”

“You don’t hear ‘no’ very often, do you?” I asked with a raise of my eyebrow.

“There’s a first time for everything.”

I pulled him into a hug and thanked him for an entertaining night. His body was warm in the chill of the wind and he whispered one more time into my ear.

“Are you sure?”

“Are you talking into my right ear because you know people are more responsive to that side?”

He tightened his embrace for a moment before releasing and said, “You know only players and car salesmen know that. Which one are you?”

He said it in a way that sounded scripted, a line repeated over the years that dozens of others have heard.

In reality Justin and I weren’t really interested in each other. We were interested in making a story. We wanted to be able to tell the story of the time we went to a hockey game and made out with a stranger of the same name who just happened to be in the adjoining seat.

We were just two Justins who wanted to, if only for a moment, be assured we were capable of being loved.

So while I know that Justin and his Hollywood looks weren’t meant to be mine, that we didn’t share the true compatibility necessary to build something real, and while I might ever-so-slightly regret not going home with him, I’ll fondly look back on our one ridiculous evening together. Every time I drink a Labatt Blue, I’ll raise it to him.

We’ll always have the parking garage.

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