After a bit of internet back and forth I agreed to meet J at the Lucky Devil on Powell in Portland. This place was better than its placement on one of the city’s shittiest streets. It’s a one pole strip joint aside the river with an excess of swill and shaved lady parts. I parked down a side street in case things broke awkward and I needed to flee in anonymity. I guzzled canned wine in the car bar to increase confidence then went to find the girl.She told me she’d be with a birthday party at a table near the stage. I’d seen enough photos to know her look but with the internet you never know. If the camera adds ten pounds then the internet subtracts fives years of beer. I walked into the bar and to my right was a naked woman onstage, her right arm wrapped to the pole. Though I was here in hopes of rolling ’round with a lady come night’s end I didn’t pay attention to the dancer. I paid a few bucks for a cup of swill and set to finding J.
I spotted her at a table with a few other folks. Thankfully she matched her picture, a brown haired hippie girl who looked like most traveler chicks but cleaned up and lacking dreads. She got up to hug me, introducing herself as a formality. She asked how old I was again and when I stated 27 not 25 she noted that she’d lied too: she was early 40s not mid 30s. I’d only shaved a couple years but she’d backed herself into to a brand new decade. I considered this change an upgrade.
I got her beer and we sat with her friends for some bullshitting and hurling dollars at the stage. As usual I was too poor to put my throwing arm in any danger of overuse. Though J and I just aged backwards a friend of hers was a year older and so we drank to that. I sat close to her, leaning in as I spoke. We drank our beers while trying to make conversation over the din of drunks and a series of stripper jams.
Outside we decided to make way to karaoke. We took her car as mine was down the street and she had less qualms about drunk driving than I. She drove a long, brown station wagon with a quarter million miles that was packed as if she were moving. She’d put it to good use traveling the country to follow her favorite jam bands: Widespread Panic and Phish. Her car only had a cassette deck and in that she played a live bootleg of Panic. It was fucking awful. Though I wasn’t into her music I’d also done my fair share of floating around. I told her how I’d spent the past few years sleeping in my car, going to music fests, and having drugs tested on me to make living. We talked about share riding with Craigslist people and how she used that to pay the gas bill. I told her of the goofy hitchers I’d scooped. We compared them to her CL rides and bonded over our mutual lifestyle of traveling and stranger hangs.
We got to karaoke and though now could’ve been the time for fingering we didn’t touch. Up to this point it was a platonic meeting though internet hookups often play out that way — there’s an unspoken understanding as to where the night is leading. Sometimes you’re fucking in five minutes, sometimes you dance at its edge for hours. At the very least I could tell there was an attraction between J and I.
We drank more in her car and then once inside got drinks again. She signed the list to sing but I abstained. My screeches sound of those pitched through a herpes spackled throat. We listened to song after song of bad to decent singing, friends of the performers dancing on the tiled patch near the DJ booth. J and I sat in a booth of our own, both on the same side, bullshitting our way through the night with beers and fine enough conversation. I let her pay for herself as I was poor. It came time for closing and she never got to sing. She was disappointed that she didn’t have her chance to perform. We got back in the car and she took me to mine near the strip club.
“Well should we head to my place or yours?” she asked. It was finally time.
I told her I had roomies and it’d be best to do hers. I followed her station wagon up into the western hills of Portland and then down a dead end street to where she lived. It was a big house that she shared with others. We came in quiet and sat next to the lit fireplace near a bay window that overlooked the city. Portland glowed down below through its many patches of black. We drank to the point of drunk and everything was funny. Our conversation came fast, the shared laughter stymied only in consideration of those asleep. She went to get weed and when she came back sat on my lap. This was our first physical affection. I gripped my hand to her thigh and it felt nice. I hadn’t touched a girl in a while.
Now wrapped around each other she took her hits and offered me the pipe. I declined. In consideration of my abstaining she blew it to the ceiling. Had she not I surely would’ve enjoyed my encirclement in her exhaust. As she smoked I kept my hands to her thighs, head rested against her arm. The fire warmed us. Her skin warmed me.
She had her laptop out and made me give my last name so she could add me on Facebook. No more hiding my details now. The best part of an internet hookup is that you can disappear into darkness forever. It goes both ways. But she was drunk and wanted a peek at my life, if only for a moment. My picture at the time was a tad embarrassing for a barely know each other hookup kind of situation — me wrapped in Christmas lights and slathered in fake blood. She didn’t seem to mind.
We went to her bedroom. It was packed with patterns and material. She worked at a bank but ran a side business making hippie clothes that she sold at shows and online. I’d seen people like her at fests with their wares on display atop laid out blankets. I always thought them a a tad attractive and now here I was with one at three in the morning.
After the clothes I noticed a cage atop a stand at the foot of her bed. It was a rat, the preferred animal companion of jam band hippies. I’ve had a lifelong fear of rodents and distaste for anyone who adores them. I immediately felt uncomfortable with this creature in the room. She tried convincing me of its cuteness and offered to take it from the cage to show me. I didn’t even want to look. I could hear it crawling through its chips, sucking water off the feeder. With this as our soundtrack we peeled off pants and crawled to bed.
We started kissing, the kind of kissing that’s manic, animalistic, pulling hair and biting necks. She turned from me to let me at her neck and back, my hands up her shirt on the front. I pressed against her panties in indication. She turned her head and told me she was on her period and would it be okay to skip the sex. I said yeah that’s cool, no worries. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. At least I’d had a night of story trades and silly laughs. Earlier on she’d mentioned not sleeping with anyone since her ex. I didn’t mind bathing in blood and so figured he was the real reason. I understood the feeling and let the matter be.
She went to sleep with my right hand resting on her breast, the rat still sucking water from its feeder. I squeezed her nipples once more, knowing this would be the last time I’d touch them. So much of sex is about the before and after and so it was fine to bypass the actual event. The internet’s so laden with lonely souls I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d have a chance to try again.
I thought of the rat and how he’s locked away for life in his container, waiting for J to throw him affection. Always seeking more from others. Over time I learned to abandon this search in order to focus inward. To control when I look out. These internet hangs quell the lonely and give enough to get by. So I lay there in the dark, J snoring away, me unable to move for fear of waking her. I kissed her back a final time then closed my eyes. In time I drifted off to dreamland, her slurping rat the only one left still hoping for more.