Is this the beginning or is it the end? Splashed up like a barnacled seashell on the vacant coast of Bar-BQ-Bar's early-Wednesday-night liquor drip, a few — very few — thoughts come to mind. A television descending from the ceiling is playing out the '70s rock-god posturing of Almost Famous ("He's taking notes with his eyes!" the closed captioning reminds me), and I trip over some self-referential irony usually reserved for passing out. The jukebox is wah-wahing a wall of sound, unraveling the ribbons tied around so many twice-bloodied valentines of mine, drowning itself into a blur that should evoke swaying, ratty-haired nostalgia, but nobody is here to hear it. A little neon sign behind my eyes is flashing "I'm too old for this" off and on, while my face points toward a Def Leppard vanity license plate on the wall. Stop me.

"Oh. My. God. Lauren!" Eddie creeps into the frame in a vintage Eddie Money baseball T-shirt. "You were not supposed to be at Stephanie's birthday party!"

"Heidi, I told you not to come!" My hair flips back while my eyes roll. "I just wanted to come out and party. This is going to be so drama!"

Alas, The Hills are alive!

"Wow, Heidi, you look like you've lost some weight," I sneer while slurping.

"Yeah, I spent a month on a coke diet," Eddie sniffles. "Now I'm just doing bulimia. You're looking a little peaked, Lauren."

"I know, right?"

"You should probably stop. Maybe get some sunless tanner and some wrinkle cream."

This is what it comes down to. Bereft of any real reason to be still rubbing scaly elbows with the jean-shorted, snot-nosed youth brigade terrorizing themselves and each other in a giant sociological furball of cutting and cocaine, we're treating downtown to a bullet-vial puff of scripted reality for pretty people. Anything less would be uncivilized.

"This is lame," I grab my imaginary diamond-encrusted clutch. "Let's get out of here. We need to find Stephanie."

Out on Orange Avenue, the Central Florida News 13 Jumbotron is just large enough to remind us that the only life that matters is that which is broadcast. There are body farms, trunk stenches, girl-on-girl kisses and ridiculous parents in T-shirts to be witnessed. The devolution will be televised, right?

"Well, at least you're not a dead pizza baby," I pepperoni. "That would stink."

"I wouldn't want them digging up my backyard," etc.

But the real odor comes during an ill-advised foray onto the Church Street midway. Inside Mako's, the lowest-common-denominator date-rape stagnancy is puffing its smoky murk. A girl in a nurse costume squats down on the bar, while broken, bloated action figures re-enact the lazy sins of their accidental conceptions some 21 years ago. In slow motion.

Over at Hamburger Mary's, the equal and opposite extremes are being played out as Dame Edna is encouraging lackluster karaoke from the childless gays, while forking her tongue in my general direction. Inside the Dessert Lady Café, somebody just heckled singer Eugene Snowden to "play some more Smokey Robinson" and meant it. A pudgy girl outside Ceviche is wearing a plastic birthday tiara and toting some pink Mylar balloons that either resemble slowly deflating stars or, well, pigs. Ugh.

"Omigod," Eddie perks up. "It's Stephanie!"

"I hate her," I grab his arm and hold my mouth ever-so-slightly agape. "Let's go."

Back at Bar-BQ-Bar things have picked up substantially, but not enough to add any actual script to our glamorous reality. We meet up with Shawn, Ben and Chris — whom we rename Doug the Burrito Heir, Brody and Spencer, naturally — but are unable to stir up any kind of fingernail fight or eyebrow cock. The Hills, it would seem, are dying.

"Have you found any drama yet?" Weekly musico Bao Le-Huu's mop of hair sways over and parts open.

"No, not really," I sigh.

And then he slaps me. Not just some kind of pantomime slap intended for yawning audiences in community theaters, but a full-on slam of the hand across my gloriously peaked cheek. I'm floored. No, literally: I'm on the floor.

"What the hell! You're not even on The Hills!" I mock up a tear.

He goes on to explain that slapping is something he and his girlfriend actually partake in regularly, thereby implying that if I intend to keep up with the ever-evolving politics of libido in my own relationship, I should probably consider playful abuse, too. So I slap him back.

"Heidi, did you just see that drama?" I drop my tingling jaw.

"Totally," Eddie drops his, too. "Let's get out of here!"

Next door at the Independent Bar, the night is clearly reaching its denouement, mostly because I've already been hit and exhausted my full cache of overstated facial expressions, but also because here the hanging television screen is showing naked blond girls simulating sexual acts. Also, I'm drunk now and rattling on nonsensically about the small allegiances implied by beating off about somebody and just how important these minutiae really are. In reality, I'm looking at my watch and searching for a breaking-off point, but without the presence of slow-burning power-pop dust of musical meaninglessness to run the credits over, I'm at a loss. What would Lauren do?

"So, how's your little dog Francesca?" Ben (or Brody) doesn't realize that he is indeed ending this show by invoking my own dead baby.

"Francesca died in May," I muffle a sob before reaching for my iPhone and dialing up the Fray's "How to Save a Life" at full volume.

This is definitely the end.

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