Holy Jesus Christ that was drunk. That was the kind of drunk that I can still feel reverberating through my body twelve hours later. The kind I don’t think I’ve yet experienced in this country. I remember that sort of drunk. Or I remember not remembering that sort of drunk. I stumbled in at about eight a.m. and slept like a dead man with the shutters closed until five in the afternoon. When I woke my hands were shaking slightly in a true case of delirium tremens. I am trying to regard this as some sort of achievement.
Washington, Clemenceau and I make a formidable team. Washington is from Colorado and was captain of the wrestling team, with all the experience of college excess behind him. He says he’s woken up in jail or detox six times. We have long since decided that he is the founder and preeminent academic of the Washington School of Good Decisions. Clemenceau is the Frenchiest Frenchman you ever did see, especially while drunk: the disgusted visage, the constant gesticulation, the world-weary tone. I represent the Davies St Massif, a property that once filled up an entire room of our house with inflated goon bags. Between the three of us, three of the world’s great drinking cultures are put together at last. We’re really only missing a Russian.
So last night. (I’m going to switch to present tense to put you in the thick of the action.) We decide to go to La Plata, a city an hour away from BA, the three of us and Clemenceau’s French friend Carmen. My friend Gustavo has a restaurant in La Plata, and tonight is the grand opening party. Gustavo was the pastry chef on the ship to Antarctica. He speaks no English and I was one of about two people of the 150 on board who spoke Spanish. So we ended up hanging out and shooting the breeze quite a bit, him leaning on the lower deck rail, shivering in his chef’s whites as he sucked back a cigarette. (I never did understand why so many chefs do something that kills their taste buds.)
The restaurant is small, low key, set well back off the street so it’s quiet and private. The food comes around in little pieces on trays – tasty, but modestly sized. The wine comes around more frequently and in full glasses. You can probably extrapolate how this equation balances out. In a very short time everyone is very jolly indeed. The four of us chat with some Argentine guys at the bar. Gonzalo is the centre of their group, engaging and irrepressible. He thoroughly approves of our travelling regimen. “I haven’t had a job for a year and a half!” he says delightedly. “Soy un vago profesional.” (“I’m a professional bum.”)
I seem to specialise in befriending little kids at the moment. Hooning around the restaurant is a six-year-old named Francisco. I take aim at him with an empty wine bottle and fire off a few rounds. He ducks and weaves around the tables. I lob a cork grenade at him outside on the patio. He hurls it back.. This game apparently has no possibility of growing old for him. It continues and continues. Gonzalo joins in. Fran runs up after foraging for a lost cork. He has found three, and is very pleased with himself. “Creo que no podes encontrar quarto corchos,” challenges Gonzalo. (“I bet you can’t find four corks.”) Fran zooms off and is back in about twenty seconds with a fourth. “I bet you can’t find six,” says Gonzalo. This time it takes a couple of minutes.
And so the stakes are raised, even as the scene at the bar grows more chaotic. Clemenceau pours a glass of wine down my leg to make a point. I can’t remember what it was. “Seis corrrrrrrrchos!” yells Fran, beaming a grin as wide as the moon. His trilled rrrrs (the most foreign thing about this language to a native English speaker) are so exaggerated with excitement that even the Argentines begin to notice them. “Corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrchos!” trills back Gonzalo. Soon it seems like half the restaurant is yelling “corrrrrrrrrrrcho!” to the ceiling and the sky, tongues drilling against their palates. There are bottles of wine on all the tables now, and they circulate freely. My Spanish is shit-hot tonight. My three compadres all speak better than me, but tonight I can understand every word the Argentines say, and can reciprocate. I’m cracking jokes right left and centre, and they’re understanding me. It’s a beautiful feeling when you hit this sort of groove. Something that’s been bugging me all night finally becomes clear. “Parece como George Clooney!” I suddenly say about one of the guys. (“He looks like George Clooney.”) I’d been struggling to place the resemblance for hours. The Argentines erupt in agreement. “Jorge Clooney!” they say, “Jorge Clooney!” George Clooney looks quite pleased. “This is a good person to resemble,” he says. Then I remember a guy in a pizza shop a few days ago telling us that Washington looked like Wayne Rooney. “Y Wayne Rooney,” I say. They erupt again. “Wayne Rrrrooney! Clooney y Rrrooney! Clooney y Rrrooney!”
Fran pops up in the middle of us like a persistent meerkat. “Quinze corrrrrrrrrchos!” he cries triumphantly. “No te creo,” we say. “No te creo!” (“I don’t believe you.”) We make him line them all up like soldiers on the tabletop, struggling to make them stand on their puffy wine-soaked heads. My head is starting to feel similar. He is true to his word. There are indeed fifteen. By the time he is led away home by his parents, his little pocket is distended with his final prize of seventeen hard-won corks. If he is anything like me he will hoard them in a tin until about the age of twenty, when he will finally bring himself to throw them away.
Then there is wine. A lot more wine. Then we are leaving. There are embraces in the street. Gonzalo tells me we’re going to “the Pav”, which confuses me for a long while until I figure out that this is Argentine pronunciation of “pub”. There has been a fine fuzz over everything up until this point, but this is when shit starts to get real hazy. I vaguely remember being in a car. I don’t remember who with. I don’t remember going into The Pub. My night starts to segment itself, a stack of Polaroids fallen from someone else’s pocket at a bus stop in Dunedin and scattering away down the street in the strong New Zealand wind. Some I can see, some take several hours to flip end-over-end and land face up. Some are lost down stormwater drains forever. We all float down here.
Snap. Click. Here’s Gonzalo crowing something indecipherable at the rafters. Snap. Click. Here’s Washington pounding another drink. Snap. Click. Here’s me in the middle of a writhing dancefloor. I hate dancefloors. I am having a really good time. Here’s me with my hands in the air. Here’s me getting hugged by a guy in a cowboy hat. Here’s me falling over onto my back and then rolling straight back up onto my feet again in what I was sure at the time was a seamless dance manoeuvre. Here’s Clemenceau – he has left his jacket in some room that is now off-limits and is arguing passionately with a bouncer. Here’s Carmen, making out with George Clooney. Here I am, talking loudly in somebody’s ear about what the Clooney and Rooney television program could involve. Now all these people have those cans of aerosol foam and are spraying them around. Here’s me getting copped in the face. Now I have one. I don’t know how that happened. Here’s me unloading a forty-five second stream at Washington from about four yards away across the crowd (double entendre of the day). He stands and splutters and gapes like a fish until the can runs out, with no fucking idea what the hell has hit him and from where. Here’s me looking around and god, suddenly it’s like a scene from a party film, the whole place filled with golden light while foam floats through the air and down over the seething mass of people. It could be some sort of epiphany or final seeing of the light.
And just as suddenly it’s gone. The aperture snaps to a pinhole. The next Polaroid is dark, the three of us stumbling through a quiet street and arguing over where to go and how to find taxis. There are no taxis. Clemenceau is angry and spitting at the world. I don’t know where we are or how we got there. I deduce that we decided to abandon Carmen to George Clooney. I decide that given he is George Clooney, this is what nature intended. At least we still have Rooney. Snap. Click. Now I’m trying to climb a set of traffic lights. I don’t know why. I don’t remember starting. All I know is I’m halfway up. I yell at Washington to give me a boost. I’m able to clamber up. From there the curving neck of the pole reaches out over the street until ending in a horizontal and a streetlight. I brace myself to shimmy out to the end of it, slung beneath it by my arms and legs. There is no way I can do this in my current state without landing on my back in the street five metres below. I’m going to try anyway. I need some voice of reason to intercede. Washington yells out “If you make it there and back I’ll give you ten pesos!” God bless friends. At that moment a taxi pulls up out of nowhere. “Come on, get in the fucking car!” says Clemenceau, and I have to climb down. A higher power has interceded. I remember none of this until the following night in the shower when I wonder why my shins are so chewed up, and then all of it pounds back into my head like vomiting in reverse
Now we’re at the bus station. It is an undisclosed time. Still dark, but there are commuters. Maybe six-thirty. There are tickets. There is a bus. We are on it. Wait. Washington isn’t. Clemenceau runs to the front but the bus is pulling away. The driver won’t stop. We have now lost Clooney and Rooney. There is nothing we can do. We sleep a remorseless sleep and only wake at the BA terminal, well after we should have got off. I do, at least. Clemenceau will not be moved. I am no state to deal with this. I get off and tell the driver there’s someone asleep in the back. Two drivers half-drag him off. I keep him upright and move him toward the subway.
We’re on the platform going in the wrong direction. To cross involves a labyrinth of stairs, underpasses, and commuter traffic. But of course, Clemenceau suggests, why don’t we just ride it to the end and back again? It has to come back. The path of least resistance wins out. We ride it to the last stop. Past the last stop. Down into a deserted tunnel where no sign of life flickers. The lights shut off. He is almost asleep. I am not. I am concentrating on not vomiting. Just as I’m starting to wonder if this train has been decommissioned and we’ll have to start a new life down here with the mutants and the rats, we start back the other way. The train fills up. A reassuring train announcer voice fills my head. “You are not going to vomit on the subway,” it says. “That is one of things you are not going to do. Vomiting on the subway is not one of those things. There are many things you could do, and they do not include vomiting on the subway. No they do not.”
I don’t. I get Clemenceau home and make it to mine. Incredibly, despite having stopped drinking when we left the restaurant six hours ago, I have become increasingly drunk ever since. Only now has it levelled out. This is some great pre-emptive management by my internal workings. I am impressed. It’s only after sleep that I remember we lost Washington in La Plata. Washington is nowhere to be found. He’s not online. His mobile is off. ‘Nope,’ his housemate says the next day. ‘Haven’t seen him.’ Two days on, just as I’m worrying that I’ll have to be the one to have that talk with his parents, we track him down. Washington, it seems, has been having adventures of his own.
When we lose him in La Plata Washington has gone to a different bus line, to a different part of BA. He wonders where we are for a while but the bus comes, so he takes it. When he gets to Plaza Miserere in BA the sun is shining. He doesn’t feel so great. He thinks maybe this looks like a nice spot for a little nap. So he passes out in the sun. He stirs an undisclosed amount of time later to someone shaking him awake. A concerned looking Argentine man tells him not to worry. He hands him some food, a bottle of water, and a five-peso note. “Take it,” the man insists. “Porque?” slurs Washington. “Porque Dios existe. Buscalo,” says the man. (“Because God exists. Search for Him.”) The man walks off. Washington looks down. His jeans have been torn in a fall, and at some stage along the way he appears to have lost his shirt. He is sleeping on the ground in one of BA’s principal plazas. He begins to see the guy’s point.
So he tries to take the subway home, but goes down the wrong line. When he finally gets back to the hub station to change lines, he passes a bar in the subway terminal. Now, we know that Washington is the founder of the Washington School of Good Decisions. And he doesn’t feel so good. So he decides to stop in for a quick beer. As previously discussed, the beer in BA only comes in litres. While I am in bed, mercifully asleep because no doubt I would feel like death were I awake, Washington is finishing his fourth litre and heading out of the bar. The plaza, he thinks to himself, was so nice before that he might just stop off for another quick snooze before subjecting himself to the public transit system on his way home. In his current state this idea seems quite the appealing option. (He is, after all, the founder of the Washington School of Good Decisions.) For a second instance today, some unknown period of time later, he is shaken awake. This time it’s by two police officers. “Where are you from?” they ask him. “The United States,” he says. They look confused. “I live here,” he tells them. They look at each other. “Now would be a good time to get on the bus and go home,” says one of them. The founder of the Washington School of Good Decisions decides that now would be a good time to agree with the officers of the law.
It’s only once he gets to the bus stop that he realises he has no coins in his pockets. On further inspection he has no wallet. No phone. No debit card. He has been completely cleaned out. Various Argentines have since suggested that for those sleeping in Plaza Miserere, this is a not entirely unexpected outcome. The only dim silver lining is that the kind folks who visited him while he slept so soundly have unaccountably left him his cigarettes. And so the late afternoon sunlight finds a suffering and confused founder of the Washington School of Good Decisions, squinting into the glare, sparking up a Camel and starting the long walk home.