On the rooftop of Whole Foods last night, here in Austin, Texas, the Whole Foods marketing team plays a free showing of Amélie.
Not necessarily stone-cold sober, but sober nonetheless, I ride my mountain bike there and lock it up outside among all the sedans and SUVs in the parking lot.
Rarely am I a man with purpose, but tonight I have a vision in mind: Walk straight to the beer freezer in the center of Whole Foods, find my Dogfish Head for two bucks, and head up to the rooftop to find a chair among the gathering of moviegoers.
Everything works out perfectly, except when I reach the dregs of my 12-ounce bottle before the movie even begins. I want another, so I ask the girls behind me to watch my PERU bag.
“Ok,” they say. They say, “No problem.”
I hurry downstairs so as not to miss the beginning of the movie and beeline to the beer freezer for a second time. While my Dogfish Head gets my attention, I go with a bigger bottle of beer, Ranger, the better to last through the night.
At the self-checkout lane, the girl asks for my ID. I’m about to show it to her, I really am, but I get caught up and instead say, “Do you have a bottle opener?”
My question distracts her from her purpose. She says, “Yea,” and she opens my bottle of beer before I even complete my transaction.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No problem,” she says.
“You saved my teeth,” I say, and I bare my grill.
Se laughs at my stupid joke.
Back on the rooftop, I thank the girls for watching my PERU bag and sit down with my big beer and watch the opening sequence of Amélie.
Such great sound effects. Every detail seems to be frozen forever on film. I’ve seen this movie several times before. It is one of those movies that will stay the same while I get older. It is an achievement.
This is the first time I see it with a gathering of people. I look at Audrey Tautou when she turns to face the camera as an adult. Big eyes, pouty lips. There she is with that haircut: The girl who didn’t have friends growing up. The girl who thinks about others before she thinks about herself. The girl who skips smooth rocks and creates her own mysteries to keep her company.
I may or may not notice new details on this viewing, like how the blue bag matches the blue arrows, either way, I leave thirty minutes early. The night is cooling down fast and I don’t have my Mr. Rogers sweater in tow. I unlock my mountain bike and begin the ride home.
Yes, I am drunk and probably shouldn’t be riding a bike at night, one with only reflectors, but the thrill of wind nipping at my cheeks is too much to forgo in the name of safety.
When I hit Townlake Trail it is exceedingly dark. Pitch black even. I derail off course and have to brake hard in gravel. I laugh to myself and look around me. No one is around. My nostrils drink the unsettled dirt.
I turn my bike around and find the trail. The sound of my laughter makes me think I have little to no regard for my well-being, and possibly I don’t. Possibly I’m crazy.
Farther along, street lights illuminate the way. I cut through a park. Ahead is a Willow Tree I always see and always want to pass straight through its hanging branches, like something romantic.
At night I can’t see anything that seems substantial inside its willowy spread, so I say, “Fuck it,” and I pedal hard, duck down to become more aerodynamic, and brace myself for a pass-through that will, I’m hoping, inject a dosage of pure exhileration into my bloodstream, make me howl.
The leaves wisp against my ears.
The leaves whip against my face.
The leaves rope around my neck and begin to strangle me.
The leaves lance my upper lip.
The leaves tug at my mole.
The leaves aren’t willowy at all, at least not at this speed.
I feel my bike seat getting away from me. The mess of willowy branches are stubborn. They don’t want to let go of my throat.
When I make it through to the other side I immediately touch my lip and see a smidgeon of blood.
“Shit,” I say. I say, “Fuck.”
I douse my face with water from the drinking fountain. I douse my neck with water. I shake my head and spit, amazed at how dangerous I am to myself. This is not something new or shocking to me. This is yet another episode in my life that begs me to wonder how everything is going to end.
The rest of the ride home a few cars pass me, and the drivers stare a little at what must be a psychotic expression on my face.
“It’s just a face,” I say. I say, “Just a face.”
And I pedal uphill, pedal at an astounding rate. My upper lip swells to twice its normal size. The skin around my neck feels like it’s on fire. When I look at myself in the mirror in my bathroom, the smile staring back at me is like the opening rimshot to Like A Rolling Stone.