Jungle Jim and the High Flying Swingers

by Amber Norwood

I

        Tuesday night after I turn 21, Catherine gets me all dolled up in her finest and hippest clothes.  She calls Jacob and tells him to pick us up and sneaks in to tell mom we'll be home very, very late.  Catherine's been waiting to initiate me into the wonderful world of binge drinking for maybe...oh, I don't know.  Four years or so.  Since she turned 21 and discovered how amazing alcoholism can be.  She convinced herself that she was morally obligated to perform her big-sisterly duty and take me out for my virginal bar experience.  Maybe to show me how to do it just right.  I'm a young 21.  My drinking experience has been limited to one party in high school that left me sick all night.  I have no boyfriend and I've never "done it."  I've never smoked a cigarette, let alone a joint, and I've never been a disappointment.  My entire life experience has been limited for fear of ending up like Catherine.  Who, strangely, I can't help but admire.

        Jacob honks his horn; Catherine skips for the door.  Mom kisses me goodbye and I try to calm those stomach butterflies.  I linger just a second before the mirror above the mantle, assuring myself that her pants are tight and black enough, the shirt sheer and cut low enough, and I rush to change my shoes into something Catherine would call "funkier."  She's a little bit taller and thinner than me, but I make it work.  I think.  I head out to the car and assume the position in the back seat.

II

        The music is so damn loud in here, I can hardly hear the cogs in my own head turning.  Catherine yells above the din, possibly at me, but I can't hear.

        "What?" I yell back, sticking my head between the bucket seats.  "I can't hear you.  The music's too loud!"

        "I said," Catherine says, turning the music down barely a notch and leaning her head way back so her voice bounces off the roof, "this should be, like, a totally innovative experience for you."

        I'm not sure what she means.  She probably isn't either.  I suspect Catherine is failing in an attempt to impress Jacob, the well-versed college student.  She herself has never attended college.  She didn't technically finish high school.  I am my mother's last hope.

        "I hope so," I say.  I lean back in the seat and stare out the window.  Jacob laughs and shakes his head.  He turns the music louder than it was before.  Catherine's hand is rubbing his crotch and I close my eyes.  I turn my nose to the crack in the backseat window and breathe in the cool Los Angeles air.

III

        The Marquee de Shots is on Melrose and something.  Looks like one of those Hollywood hangouts for the underground elite.  Perhaps it's the alley front entrance, the closet-sized stage depicted on polaroid pictures on the door, or the painted green-lit-pink walls, but I'm reminded of some David Lynch nightmare.  I take another deep breath.  It has been Catherine's goal to introduce me to maturity, as she loves to put it.  So I show Ed at the door my ID, accept his mumbled birthday benediciton, and walk in with deliberate steps.

        "This is so cool," Catherine whispers to me, in an uncharacteristically chummy tone.  I can't believe she's grabbing my arm.  She never touches me.  It's almost like we're friends.

        "Uh-huh," I whisper back, kinda excited to see the Catherine I've only imagined.  Catherine in her own element.  The real Catherine, not the product of the lies she tells my mom and me and expects us to believe.

        Jacob shakes his head and laughs.

        I can only watch when she floats down the hall and inside.  She heads for the bar like static cling, and kisses the man behind it "hello."  Jacob has a smile and manly pat on the back for everyone, from Ed at the door to Catherine's bartender, from the girl dressed like Elvis to the boy wearing only overalls.  I walk professionally to the bar and take my seat next to my big sister, and wait for her bartender buddy to liquor me up.  Catherine puts her well-manicured hand on my shoulder.

        "Billy, this is my little sister," she says with an open and condescending smile.  "Little sister, this is Billy.  She's never been in a bar before.  She just had her twenty-first birthday.  Isn't she cute?"

        I think I'm actually shrinking.  With each word that spills carelessly from her purple, pointed lips to the damp bar before me, my cheeks redden a little more.  Not only am I lacking any sort of identity (short of being Catherine's accessory, of course) but I am also now a known novice.  Forever shot now are any hopes I might have had about looking like I'd done this before.  I shoot her a look that I only hope conveys my disgust.  Billy the bartender shines a warm-hearted smile.

        "Well, happy birthday, Catherine's-little-sister," he says.  Ouch, I flinch.  "What'll you have for your first big drink?"

        I want to crawl beneath the stool I'm perched on and quietly expire, and I'm supposed to pick a drink?  Both Catherine and Billy grin inanely.

        "Rum and coke, thanks," I tell him.  I've never had rum before, and coke is at least familiar.  Catherine makes a nauseating face of approval and Billy gets to work.  I look around, checking to see if anyone heard my inexperience confessed.  Though the place is filling up, there is no one near by, and no one's staring.  I accept my drink, and my sister drops the money down.  She tips well.  I roll my eyes at her, take my shaking glass, and find a table where I can sit by myself.  Get my bearings straight.

 

You can read the rest of this story in volume III of the Moorpark Review.