"Um, I used to love these," Tony thumbs through the surprise collection of Choose Your Own Adventure books littering the backseat of my car. "I used to skip ahead just to see how quickly I could die!"
"Me too!" I die.
For those not in the swirl of the vodka-spiked fondue pot that was the late '70s, Choose Your Own Adventure was a phenomenon of overtly proactive proportions. Before the combination of Ritalin and Atari, this extensive library of throwaway fantasies was the closest thing to self-control that any slightly abused latchkey could dream of.
"You put on your sea suit and go out to see what can be done. Once outside in the kelp, you realize that you can't free the Seeker. You start to swim for the surface, but then you are soon completely stuck in the clinging seaweed. You are trapped and unable to go forward or return to the Seeker," read one passage in No. 2, Journey Under the Sea. "If you decide to keep struggling towards the surface, turn to page 50. If you decide to rest quietly, gain strength and work out a plan, turn to page 53."
OK, but when do I die? How about now?
It's Monday night, and despite the 13 minutes of pleasure from my literary meth (acquired, I should say, from a going-away yard sale held by the Sexy Savannah, who has chosen her own adventure in New York City), Tony and I are stuck in Orlando, virtually adventure-free. If we try to incorporate seaweed, we'll just be shoving chopsticks up our asses at a sushi bar. The collective feeling here is one of slow-mo submersion. What we need tonight is a choice.
"You wanna go see Exene Cervenka at the Social?" I gurgle nonsensically.
Some conversation about "X" marking the spot in a sort of punk rock treasure hunt sputters, but never quite makes it to the surface; the seaweed seems inescapable.
If you want to go to the Social and see Exene Cervenka, move ahead to the next paragraph. If you'd rather die, skip forward to the last sentence of the column.
We arrive at the Social with our ancient hipster cred showing like exposed T-back underwear, convinced that this is going to be an "event" that is not to be missed. Minor guest list issues ensue, which only add to our heightened notions of exclusivity, and within moments we're thrown into late-'70s punk rock eyeliner abandon. Only we're not. In fact, it's 9 p.m. and we are literally the only two people in attendance who are not selling T-shirts or sleeping with a roadie. The opening band lingers in one corner, looking suspiciously like a mullet-bound 'Til Tuesday, and several employees walk the premises with made-up purpose. One member, presumably of Exene's flock, sports pink stretch pants and resembles Exene (not very pretty), but with a beard. You know, like John Doe.
"It looks like a ‘doors at 8, show at 3:30' situation," Tony downs a Bud.
"I don't think this is really happening," I momentarily pass out.
If you want to leave and give up on this whole shindig, opting instead for a place with both people and liquor in it, skip ahead to the paragraph starting with "A quick jaunt." If you want to stick it out, move gaily forward.
One drink in and things aren't getting any better. Even the annoying background music has been silenced, and if it weren't for the cumulative pain of boredom, one might suspect that time has stopped. This temporal illusion is only buoyed by the entrance of Exene herself: black-and-white polka-dot dress draped over a thick midsection and skinny ankles. She's a legend, though. Really.
"I can't be party to this tragedy," I snip. "Do you mind if we go somewhere else?"
A quick jaunt down a deserted Orange Avenue, and we're stuck staring at the pixilated faces of the Channel 13 news staff on a giant silent screen outside the Wachovia building. Some discussion of pixilation and its ability to suck the soul and ultimately remove identity percolates but never materializes into actual logic, and we're headed for the car.
If you want to go to Peacock Room, which is typically fabulous at any hour, stay with us. If you'd rather admit personal defeat and head to Wally's to have a conversation with an old girlfriend about domestic squabbles while staring at wallpaper nipples, jump ahead to the paragraph beginning with "Down at Wally's."
The Peacock's parking lot is frighteningly bare, and any hopes of spirits being lifted with something respectable and expensive are dashed by a mimeograph on the door proclaiming, "The Peacock Room will be closed on Monday, April 3." Seaweed hurts.
Down at Wally's, we run into an old girlfriend of mine who's grappling with the bruises of marital bliss; the jukebox is broken and the UF basketball championship is blaring. Everything here is awkward. And strong. Nobody pours stronger drinks than Wally's, and nobody ever, ever should. I place my finger over one of the brown(ed) wallpaper nipples and try a go at a linear moment, but my liver won't allow it. I'm underwater.
Outside, as we approach my car, a seeming vagrant wheels up on his bicycle with a "Good evening, your honor" — referring, I suppose, to my former life as a drunk political aspirant. Pleasantries follow, all leading up to a pecuniary pitch, which I accept, handing him $3 in exchange for, arguably, my life.
"Before you leave, can I tell you a joke?"
No. I say nothing.
"What do you get when you cross a gorilla with a cop?"
"An asshole gorilla."
And we're dead. All of us.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.