There was an early moment there in this Saturday-night flow-chart process of keeping up appearances where I almost turned into a social clot. There I was at Ethos Vegan Kitchen, at a table of disheveled 20-somethings celebrating a visiting friend's dropping out of college, and all of the sudden my mouth opened and nothing came out save some verbal fart of colonic regularity.

To my right, dropout friend Anna-now-from-New-York seemed to be facing her uncertain future with all of the aplomb of an early Madonna, all pink hotpants and vintage Bowie T-shirt, bottomed out by hooker heels. To my left, another friend, Ben, slouched toward his own grad-school uncertainty by chewing silence and blank stares to a broken-video-game nowhere. And me, monkey-in-the-middle, adding nothing to the proceedings except a shaky-legged nervousness about a futureless past and a past-less future, just an aging misfit amongst misfits who are still allowed to be misfits by virtue of nubility. Still.

"Well, this has been great!" I picked something green from a broken tooth. "Maybe I'll see you guys later? Like, at I-Bar?"

In a post-digestive panic, I crack the glass around my emergency communication device and try to get the fight back into Saturday night. "Everything's broken and everything's boring, babe," I babe into David's phone ear. "Let's just go out on the town tonight like we own this fucking place. Just me and you, babe."

"About that," David's voice begins to flat-line on the monitor. "I'm kind of tired."

"Oh, baaaaabe," I wince the wince of an orphaned child on Christmas. "I guess I can just find something else to do. Maybe I'll just die, because I guess it's time for that and who would really miss me, anyway?"

"God, babe," David penetrates my guilt trip lexicon, but realizes by doing so he's part of the problem. "I'll be right there."

David is the most uncontroversial perfect specimen of a man in my mental entourage; the hot, protective big-brother type with lofty points of reference and impeccable taste that, although strictly heterosexual, could easily fit into my user's dreams as a large loving penis that would swallow me in one incestuous gulp, smile and still be cute. He is a fortress of driven platitudes that never cracks, and he drives a Volvo station wagon he's named Timmy.

"I'm glad my other gay husband drives a Volvo," I tumble into his passenger seat. "So, what's it gonna be? Dinner with the Rockefellers? A quick shimmy through the Met costume ball? Nasal delights with Parker Posey?"

"Shhh," David's growing goosebumps hush me prohibitively.

"What's this, Tool!?" I begin to remember David's Achilles heel, and its name is Maynard James Keenan.

"Ignorant fibbers in the congregation/Gather around spewing sympathy/Spare me," an unlistenable drone disturbs the Volvo's peace. "None of them can even hold a candle up to you/Blinded by choices these hypocrites won't see/But enough about the collective Judas/Who could deny you were the one who illuminated my little piece of the divine."

"The first time I heard this song, I bawled my eyes out," David has officially trapped me. "It's about his mom dying."


Dave pulls into the Metro Muscle parking lot, another sign that this isn't going to be the date rape I've fantasized about, and reveals that he's allowed to because he works out here every day and "they know Timmy." OK.

Following an obligatory "as long as we don't end up at I-Bar" caveat, David and I take to separating the wind — and the hipster grocery aisle of horrors that is a Saturday-night stroll down Orange Avenue — on our way to some kind of fabulous destination. Another out-of-town friend of mine, Angela, is supposed to be out here somewhere bringing her own particular flavor of Hawaii-by-way-of-New-York-by-way-of-Central-Georgia charms into the oonce-oonce apocalypse into which we've happened, and I'm almost certain this distraction will wash the Tool from my brain.

"But just where is this Crooked Bayou she speaks of?" I press my eyelids to make a mental compass.

"Oh, that," David's brow cocks. "It's next to Casey's on Central," meaning somewhere between a sandal and jean short.

What follows is an alchemist's fatal accident of pressing too many distractions into one high-top table. Angela, chewing on tater tots and hot wings, makes fun of David for being a musclehead, while David, between citations of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and gratuitous eye-rolls, finds humor in Angela's regular Hawaiian diet of naked drum circles and "sustainability." Angela's hot Alabama-accented friend, Nick, chimes in with some bit of dirty involving Angela giving head to strangers in bathrooms, and somebody blurts out a memory of "shitting the bed." In the background, DJs Nate Laurence and the Late Night Society spin the dry rot of pre-millennial house music, while ugly girls wearing matching black dresses pretend that every night is a bachelorette party and grind vulvas next to a dirty couch.

"You know, this used to be Po'Boys," I muffuletta. "I was in a Po'Boys commercial in Tallahassee once, except while they were filming me and my curly eggplant bob in silence, I was actually telling all of my friends at the table that I was just about to kill myself. Funny, right?"

Nope. "You wanna go to I-Bar, right?" David scowls.

But even that doesn't work out. One cashless slur of credentials at the doorgirl and the bouncer — something like "I just have a few friends in there, one in pink hotpants that I have to say goodbye to, real quick!" — is met with a strong arm and a big fat "no," so we cross the street, presumably bidding adieu to another failed attempt at a very good time.

"Wait, do you hear that?" David's face lights up at the awful pouring out of the Wall Street tool pen.

"There's a shadow just behind me/Shrouding every step I take/Making every promise empty/Pointing every finger at me," heaves the Maynard.

"Yes, it's Tool," my collapsed flow chart is duly stented. "And I am sober."

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