Since all he had was spare time, Tyler had spent much of it acquainting himself with his new laptop. The other day Mickey had left him a note, which listed, simply the following websites: Facebook.com, Craigslist.org, indeed.com, and Monster.com. By this point Tyler had already learned a bit about surfing the internet and he checked these sites out. Of course he’d already heard of Facebook. The others, he learned, were places where you look for a job. Unfortunately he had nothing to put on his resumé, but he had also tried his hand at using Microsoft Word, an application he’d bought included with his laptop. It seemed a whole world of possibilities were at least theoretically open to him. Shortly after creating a Facebook account he received a friend invitation from Cather, which he was happy to accept. This site too seemed limitless in its potential for the enabling of procrastination. Anyway it would be a good way to get in touch and stay in touch with people from his past, and his present. He sent Cather a message as soon as he’d heard from him: “Hey Cather! I bought myself a laptop. Good to hear from you!” “See ya around, buddy,” Cather replied.
But there was another happenstance on this particular January 8th, 2009. It was Tyler’s birthday. He was twenty-two. He couldn’t think of a good way to celebrate it, however, so he was still on Mickey’s couch when the homeowner himself came back from work.
“What’s up, bro?” Mickey said, closing the door behind him.
“Still getting shit done on the laptop I see.”
“I am. It’s addictive. Grabbing my future by the balls.”
“Well somebody’s got to.”
Mickey walked past him and Tyler heard him puttering around in the kitchen. Mickey usually had a snack right after getting off work. They’d been taking turns cooking for each other. Tonight it was Mickey’s responsibility.
A few minutes later he came back into the living room.
“Happy birthday, by the way,” he said.
Tyler smiled. “You remembered.”
“I sure did. I want to take you out in celebration. I was thinking we could get some Chinese food then have a drink. You want?”
“Yeah man, that sounds awesome.”
“Great. Put something nice on. We’ll paint the town red.”
Tyler closed his laptop and went into his luggage. He had a dress shirt and a pair of khakis, the only items he owned that might qualify as “nice.” He hadn’t been drinking today, something which had become a semi-regular occurrence. Truth be told he’d recently felt like he was getting somewhere in his slow acculturation to civilian life. It was gratifying also that Mickey had remembered his birthday. Mickey was a Virgo, a sign known for its attention to detail, something Tyler, as a Capricorn, appreciated.
About an hour later, around 7:30, they left Mickey’s house and got into his car, a blue 2002 Toyota Tercel, and headed for Chinatown. They hadn’t spoken much the last few days. Mickey started the conversation.
“It’s good to see you on your laptop, Ty,” he said. “Computer literacy really helps the job hunt these days.”
“Man, I don’t even know where to start. I don’t have any experience at all. I’m not even sure being a veteran is a good thing or not.”
“Yeah, I hear you. It’s something though.”
“You know what I’ve been thinking?”
“I’m thinking about taking classes at Laney the next semester. I think that would be a good place to start.”
“Bro, that’s a great idea. When would that be?”
“Well, I missed registration for spring, but this summer I could make it a full-time thing. I’ll still be getting unemployment. It’s not like I don’t have the money.”
“As long as you still want to stay on my couch I guess. You still might want to try to find a job, just to give yourself some structure.”
“Yeah but where?”
“We do a lot of hiring at Wal-Mart you know.”
“That’s a thought. I don’t know. I might not be up to it yet. You have no idea how much I appreciate being able to stay with you.”
“Do your thing bro. But maybe pushing yourself some is just what you need.”
They crossed Lake Merritt’s South shore and took a left on Webster. They found a parking spot on 10th St., which was about as far North as Chinatown extended before it became Downtown.
They got out of Mickey’s car and went to the sidewalk.
“You know where you want to go?” Tyler asked.
“There’s a good spot on Ninth Street.”
“And I guess you’re picking up the tab, right? It being my birthday and all.”
“Goes without saying, my man.”
They found the restaurant Mickey had mentioned, and found it less than busy, it being a Wednesday, and not at peak hour.
One of the waiters directed them to a table by the window and gave them hot tea, water, and menus.
Tyler was in good spirits. It was probably the first time he’d felt that way since coming to Oakland, which means, considering his prior four years had been spent in Iraq, it might have been the first time he’d felt that way in years. It was a relief. It was progress.
A few minutes later the waiter came back and they ordered: Tyler’s sweet and sour chicken and Mickey’s beef and broccoli. The waiter left.
Mickey poured Tyler and himself some tea, as it had had time to steep. Tyler took a sip. They sat in silence a moment.
“Where you wanna go after this?” Tyler asked.
“I’ve got a bar I like going to. It’s on 14th Street. It’s called the Ruby Room.”
“It’s a white folks joint?”
“A bit of everyone. We won’t be out of place.”
“Do you have work tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but not until the afternoon.”
“I’ll get first round.”
“We’ll get to that when we get there, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
The food came some ten minutes later and they ate. Mickey talked some about his day, how hard it could be to keep the staff productive, and his own issues with patience. Tyler mostly listened. For some reason he kept getting the feeling that Mickey was hiding something, like he had a plan Tyler wasn’t hip to, but then again Mickey had never been the incredibly loquacious type. Tyler himself didn’t have much to talk about. He hadn’t seen any of his friends, that is, the Fantastic Four, for almost a month. Rather than initiate it this time he was willing to wait. After they finished their food and waited for the waiter to come back with Mickey’s debit card thoughts of Laura crossed Tyler’s mind, and he wondered what the status of things were between she and Jim. Maybe it was none of his business any more. Still, sometimes he thought about it.
About half an hour later they left the restaurant and walked back up Webster Street to Mickey’s car. It was only a short drive North to a parking space on 14th. They crossed the street to a nondescript doorway with an overhang that read simply “Ruby Room.”
The bar on the other side was dark and, indeed, lit with ruby-colored lights. It was about 9:00. There were a few patrons seated at the bar itself, and more at the tables in the back. There was also a security guard just on the other side of the front door, and he checked both Mickey’s and Tyler’s IDs before permitting them entry.
“Let’s sit at the bar,” Mickey said.
They did as Mickey bid. There was a pretty brunette white girl bartender at the section they sat down in.
“What’ll it be, gents?” she asked, wiping up some stray liquid in front of where they sat.
“Mickey?” Tyler asked.
“Scotch and soda,” Mickey said.
“Make that two,” Tyler said.
Tyler held out a twenty and the bartender took it, then made their drinks and came back with them and Tyler’s change. He left a dollar on the counter and started to drink. He thought it might be fun to make a night of it, whether Mickey wanted to or not. If Mickey left early Tyler had no problem walking home.
“You come here a lot?” Tyler asked.
“From time to time.”
“It’s dark. I like it. I hate those bars that are lit up like football stadiums. I don’t need people looking at me while I drink.”
“Beats drinking alone though.”
“Yeah. I’ve been doing that some. I think I’m snapping out of it.”
“It’s a good thing you have money.”
“Just about the only thing I’ve got going for me these days. I don’t know, getting a job… it sounds pretty daunting to me.”
“Going back to school’s a good idea. You have a high school degree, don’t you?”
“I do, for what it’s worth. Maybe I’ll get a car at some point. No rush in that arena either, but I still have a valid license. Mom taught me, up in Roseville.”
“You still in touch with the folks?”
“Sometimes. Every now and then. I think they’re just glad I made it home in one piece.”
“They aren’t the only ones.”
“Your concern is appreciated.”
The bar was slowly filling with more patrons, most of them young, most of them white. A Raiders game was playing on one of the television sets positioned above their heads. Conversation between Mickey and Tyler slowed down and then ceased altogether. Tyler decided to watch the football game. He hadn’t been following them since coming back home, though every now and then he’d caught a game in Mickey’s living room.
Soon the two of them ordered another round. Time started to get away from them. At one point Mickey checked his watch, and then turned toward Tyler with a grin on his face. He clapped a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“It was a good idea for us to come out tonight,” Mickey said. “I’m going to check in the other room, I think I saw someone I know.”
“Enjoy yourself. I’m right around the corner.”
Mickey took his drink and left. Tyler turned his attention back to the television. A few minutes later someone sat down next to him, a woman, who noisily produced her purse and ordered a glass of wine. When Tyler looked at her her face lit up and she grinned back at him. She wasn’t bad looking. Looked Chinese, maybe a few years older than Tyler.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello yourself,” Tyler replied.
“Do you know who’s winning?”
“You’re watching football. Are we winning?”
“The Raiders, of course, silly.”
Tyler laughed a little. “I don’t know, honestly I’m not paying attention.”
“You’re funny. Who looks at a television but doesn’t know what’s happening on it?”
“I guess I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
The bartender came back with the Chinese woman’s order.
“Thanks girl,” the woman said, and paid and left a dollar on the counter.
“Here’s to clearing our minds, the only way we can,” the Chinese woman said. “You want to cheers me?”
It occurred to Tyler that this sort of interaction hadn’t happened with him since he’d been back in Oakland. It was actually kind of annoying, but the woman was pretty.
He took his glass and raised it towards her and their glasses clinked.
“Sorry, what’s your name?” he asked.
“Jasmine,” she answered.
“My name’s Tyler,” he said, even though she hadn’t asked. “I’m here with my brother.”
“Oh yeah? Mickey, right? I think I know him too.”
“How do you know my brother?”
“We can get to that now or we can save it for later.”
“Save it for what?”
Jasmine giggled and seemed to pout a little.
“I don’t know, I’m just being goofy,” she said. “Don’t take me too seriously.”
Tyler furrowed his brow and looked at the bartender, who was busy with another customer. He took another drink.
“Are you here with anyone?” he asked.
“Nope. Your brother told me you would be here.”
“Come on, how do you know Mickey?”
“Okay, I’ll tell you, but first answer this question.”
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
“Well, yeah, now that you mention it.”
“You like me?”
“Moving a little fast, but sure, yeah.”
“Sorry, I hope I’m not being annoying. Your brother told me you would be here. Do you get my drift?”
Tyler regarded her now with more interest. A few minutes later it hit him. What he’d perceived as Mickey’s withholding some secret plan now made more sense.
He couldn’t help it. He laughed. For some reason it was a relief.
Jasmine batted her eyelashes at him.
“Buy me a drink?” she asked.
“Sure, once you finish with that one.”
He watched her drink more of her wine.
“Just one more,” she said, “or I won’t want to drive.”
“Where would we drive to?”
“Mickey took care of that too. Maybe you want it to be a surprise?”
“Damn, my brother’s something else ain’t he?”
“I don’t know him very well, unfortunately.”
“Just my type, too,” Tyler said. It occurred to him that it might be exactly what he needed. He hadn’t had intimate female companionship since high school. Jasmine wasn’t bad looking either. You could do worse for a twenty-second birthday. “Thanks for showing interest. I wish my life were more interesting to talk about.”
“That’s okay. I can be a chatter bug. You look like the silent type.”
Tyler shook his head and had some more scotch and soda. He turned his barstool towards the mystery woman and touched her shoe with one of his. Like a cat, she accepted this overture with a slight movement towards him. She finished her wine and set the glass down. Tyler flagged down the bartender and asked for more of the same for the both of them.
“They won’t like me here if they know who I am,” Jasmine said. “Let’s not make it too obvious.”
“Sorry, don’t mean to be obvious.”
“It’s okay, I’m one to talk.”
Tyler kept regarding her as he drank. A fantastic means for clearing his head seemed shortly inevitable. He thought he would always appreciate his brother for this.
A little while later they both finished their drinks and left the Ruby Room. Jasmine’s car was parked down 14th Street. She drove them down Broadway to Jack London Square and parked on Embarcadero. As it turned out there was a hotel room waiting for them at the Jack London Waterfront Hotel. They passed the time ably and stayed all night. Upon waking in the morning, alone, Tyler found himself all but certain that he had, indeed, turned some kind of corner, as if re-entry into society had finally become a conceivable affair.
He bought himself breakfast in the hotel’s buffet, and returned to Mickey’s house. He watched TV, screwed around on his laptop, and tucked Jasmine’s business card into a secure place in his luggage where it wouldn’t be lost. What would happen to him next, that is, life, was anybody’s guess.