Life and Liquor

Rooftop Conversations with Strangers

I’m attending a party, a rooftop event with a crowd of ties and jackets draped on men drinking champagne and martinis. It’s no different than the fundraisers and networking events I’ve been attending across the Valley, like the fundraiser where I met the stranger who brought me to this party as his guest.

Leaning on the railing, I watch the people below, people wearing tank tops and mini-skirts, people who never look up. The air is cool and crisp for the first time in months. Summer is coming to a close and the relentless desert heat is finally starting to give the Valley of the Sun a break.

From behind I feel an arm wrap around me, the silky forearm brushing against my neck and the hand gently gripping my right shoulder. The hand is joined by a chin that rests near mine. I can feel a chest against my shoulders.

“I know you like to disappear at parties but you’ve been over here for awhile,” he says into my right ear. He says it in a tone that attempts to increase the volume of his concern to drown out the tinge of annoyance. It’s okay that he’s annoyed, but I appreciate that he tries to cover it up.

“Just being weird again,” I say.

“‘Weird’ is easier to say than ‘sad,’ isn’t it?” he says. I don’t reply.

His right hand grips the bottom of my thin, black tie and wraps it around his knuckle one, two times. His bright, white teeth smile to reassure me everything will be okay. His teeth are always perfect, it’s a job requirement. His job is to assure people everything will be okay while casually reporting rape and murder, famine and war, disease and disaster.

He’s one of the talking heads on the local news. Perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect jawline.

He always says what he’s supposed to and he’s always dressed just right. He achieves perfection that borders on intimidation.

I take a drink a hide my expression.

“I’m sorry I don’t know what to do when you get like this,” he says. He tightens his embrace.

“It’s okay,” I say, “I don’t know either.”

“Well, even if you spend the rest of the night being weird, I look forward to you coming home with me tonight.”

“Is that supposed to be sexy or romantic?”

“…I don’t know.”

With that he plants a kiss on my cheek and returns to the party.

I stay leaned against the railing, watching the lights of the valley hum and flicker.

Later we ride a cab back to the stranger’s home like we’ve done so many times before.

“Have you figured out what’s wrong?” he asks. I rest my head on his shoulder.

“No, not yet. I mean, I’m close. I just don’t want to say anything until I have it figured out. I don’t want to say something and not make any sense. I never make any sense.”

I’m tired. I’m rambling. I’m not making any sense.

“You always make sense.”

I don’t have the internal teleprompter he does, one that tells him exactly what to say.

In the morning we’ll still be strangers. He’ll go back to being a talking head on the news and I’ll go back to being a weird guy with an Internet job.

At his place we collapse into his bed. As I start to loosen my tie he brushes my hand away and unties it for me.

That’s all the news we have for tonight. Sleep tight Phoenix.

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