Strange Wine

Tomorrow is the one Saturday of the year where everyone as one organism will wake up by 11am full of laughter and loudness and likely liquor.  Tomorrow is the anticipated Football Game. Tomorrow representatives from our school will throw themselves artfully at representatives from their school and we will yell at the appropriate times, responding with gladness, or sadness, or glory, or rage. Tomorrow some of our eyes will be directed towards our immediate surroundings, rather than the field, to receive cues for all of these simple complicated things. Tomorrow someone will likely stand naked in the biting cold on the barrier between seats and field, because tomorrow shame has a day off.

But as for tonight, Friday night, the streets are flooded with people you have not seen before. But they designate themselves in different colors, so you can tell who you are not supposed to have seen before. Contained packets of people in red and blue move up and down the sidewalks, crosshatch the streets. From above, it looks like a cartoon of blood circulating, exchanging oxygen. Only some of the cells are inebriated, and zig-zag through vessels before re-aligning.

You are in one of these packets, looking for something, anything, to do. Your group senses noise and light from a nearby building and changes direction like a moth having just found a lamp. Others nearby do the same. Soon, you are all crammed on the steps at the door – people yell from inside, people yell from outside. People from inside yell at the people outside. Vice-versa. Next to you, someone says, “Man, we were just looking for somewhere to go. Something to do.” You say the same. Somehow, everyone is looking, and no one is doing.

Half an hour passes and you are standing at a different door. This time it opens. You and company are shoved in as if an air-lock had suddenly burst. The smell is awful, but people are dancing, you recognize some faces. Someone asks you what you’re doing here. You say, “Just looking for somewhere to go. Something to do.” They say the same. You are all here, in the room, moving erratically together – and still, everyone looking. The turnover is so fast the room stays full but nobody stops looking, not for more than a minute.

This repeats several times. Finally, you are all tired. You walk into one of the Grilles, willing it to open. No chance – the shutter is pulled down over the counter, while the menu announces in bright colors and drawings all the food you cannot order. You all sit down in a booth anyway. Something odd hangs in the booths of empty Grilles at four in the morning, and it draws other odd things to it.

A man passes by with an entire plastic carton of grocery store grapes. You look up and remark on it briefly, quietly. He comes back, as if having heard. “Care for a grape?” he asks the table.

You all look around as if this were the first time you had ever seen a grape in your collective life. He looks back, as if you all had never seen a grape in your collective life. The moment hangs on a brittle grocery store grape stem. You break it, say “Sure.”

He sits down and starts to chat. You’ve never seen him before, and he is not wearing a color, so you do not know if you are supposed to have seen him before. He introduces himself in a London accent as Max, and says he is here from Columbia. A few minutes later, another man appears, greeting him as if long-time friends. He introduces himself with a thick Slavic affect, calls himself Mikhail. He gestures to the man with the grapes and says, “Have you met my friend Marc? He used to go here. Now he’s an adult.”

You look around at each other, as if both are telling the truth simultaneously, and take another grape. Another man appears, as if the taking of a grape somehow correlates to strangers appearing in the night in this booth. They all greet each other heartily, as if strangers in the night all know each other. His tame is Tomasz. He does not go here either. No one seems to know where Mikhail is from.

Someone finally asks: “What’s with the grapes?”

The many-named Man with the Grapes answers: “Well, they’re just grapes. Good for making friends, see?” Tomasz and Mikhail nod heartily, as if this is well-known wisdom. Mikhail adds: “You always have to have grapes with you for times like these. Max does well.” Tomasz adds: “Yes, this is how I met Marc too. You always have to have the Grapes.”

About halfway through the conversation Mikhail’s accent turns Italian. No one seems to notice.

Three hours later, no one knows where anyone is from, and everyone has three names. The three trade names and alma maters as easily as Grapes. It turns out that Max does not have a room for the night.

“Then why are you here? Can’t you stay with one of these guys? Don’t you know each other?”

“Ah, good questions. No, and no. They don’t live here either. And we don’t know each other.”

“You don’t know each other?”

“Of course not. I’ve never seen these men in my life. Nico here is from Italy. I myself am from Columbia. Ted isn’t even in school.”

“But you sat down as if you knew each other? You introduced each other?”

The man formerly known as Mikhail responds, “Well of course, it’s the Grapes!”

Max looks at us as if we are dull. “Always got to have the Grapes!”

Somehow, at the end of the night, Marc is offered a place on your friend’s floor. Everyone goes home. You have not drank a drop, but the memory of the past few hours is clogged halfway up your brain as if stopped by gin. You text your friend around 8AM just to check on the status of the Man with the Grapes, and his relation to her. She responds: “We lost him on the way back. Just turned around and he wasn’t there. Going back to sleep for a couple hours.”

You go back to sleep for a couple hours. Around 11AM, you find a single broken grape stem in your pocket.

5 months ago

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