I was waiting for my friends outside of the unisex bathroom of a semi-swanky Frisco club at around 11 PM when Chester first spotted me. He had dark hair, dark eyes, a perfectly tailored suit, and an intrigue I couldn’t back away from. We chatted and when he asked my name I gave him the one I give to all persons who, if they were to say my real name back to me would sound indescribably horrid. “My name is Laura”.
“Laura,” repeated Chester. “Pretty name.”
Chester and I began to make light conversation, about what I do not remember, and after a bit of time he reached into his left jacket pocket to pull out a business card. What happened next, as I have ruled out the rather unlikely possibility of an alcohol-induced hallucination, is completely true. As he slipped the card out of his pocket I instinctively jumped back; completely thrown off by the giant yellow fireball that burst from his pocket. The club goers in the nearby bathroom line simultaneously turned to look at us as I lightly coughed over the fumes of lighter fluid.
This incident lead me to believe that Chester was a magician who hung out in bars and enjoyed showcasing his talents on young females, but his business card was unable to confirm my theory. Chester was an “International Man of Memory.” The thing is, when a man in a fedora hands you a business card with a title as such adorned on it, the first place your mind goes is to all the lies you told him in the short time it took to get the card in the first place.
The four friends I was with saw the small explosion and joined us, understandably interested. Introductions were made and soon Chester was on to his next stunt. He motioned to my friend Shelby, “I bet you I can make this red hanky disappear.” He made a fist, mischievously smiled for effect, stuffed a hanky into his fist, opened his palm, and the hanky was gone. Seeing as we were mildly impressed and, at this point, drawing a crowd, Chester tried another one. “Hold out your hand,” he said to Shelby. Shelby complied and made a fist. He pulled the reappeared hanky out of his pants pocket and shoved it with his index finger into Shelby’s fist, waved his hands around it like he was a magic man, and told her to open her fist. There was red fabric still in her hand, only now in the form of a pair of red lacy underwear. Feeling slightly unsettled at Chester’s obvious display of intentions, we politely excused ourselves and made way for The Hemlock Tavern.
The first time I was introduced to the Hemlock, I got drunk off my ass on $5.00 – 24 oz beers and had an unruly two-hour argument about Canadian Nationalism with Shelby, so I knew that it would be a good place to continue the night with some fellow party-goers that Shelby and I had picked up earlier. Their names were Bridie, Jake, and Ryan; two Australians and a Coloradoan, respectively. Bridie was a 21-year-old financial planner looking for an adventure, Ryan was a tall 23-year-old in a Sub Pop t-shirt, and Jake was just looking to get laid. Ryan was the one I set my sights on.
“Hey, this bar is playing my favorite band.” I said out loud in Ryan’s general direction.
“They’re great; I got to see them a couple years ago.”
I was in love.
Once we were adequately smashed at The Hemlock, our group drifted over to a small, late-night karaoke bar above a Japanese restaurant in the Tenderloin district. We were led by a young man, who understandably looked rather unimpressed with our antics, to a small private room with neon lights, three couches and an atmosphere that couldn’t be beat. We ordered Sake and something that bubbled. We sang staples from The Ramones, The Libertines, and George Michael. Then, the earth shifted on its axis as Bruce Springsteen came through the stereo. “Born To Run” turned us all into maniacal screaming animals, once lost in the wilderness and brought together by the same silly tune. An amazing aura filled the small room at that moment and made us collectively feel gratefulness like we’ve never felt it before. Five kids, all from other lands, all finding each other, and all belting out the same song. Together we were, as cliché as it sounds, born to run. Arms around shoulders, microphones flying, alcohol sloshing to the floor, we were in bliss.
After stumbling out of the front doors of the Japanese restaurant at closing time, feeling more alive than ever, we made our way to a pizza shack just down the way from our hostel. Sitting at a small table under the florescent lights with Jake and Ryan chatting about lord knows what; I suddenly heard my alias being called out. “Laura!”
Not thinking that the yelling was being directed at me, I ignored it. A hopeless case though, as the caller was persistent. “Laura!” I turned to look at who was doing all the yelling. It was Chester; waving and smiling at me. Of all the late-night pizza joints in San Francisco, he walked into mine.
“I thought you said your name was Taylor?” said Ryan, a little too drunken-loudly. Chester’s face fell dramatically as he realized that he had been lied to. He took a bite of his pizza.
There was no coming back from this. My biggest defense-mechanism had failed me and had hurt the one person I have ever met who would surely remember every detail.
I apologized as best I could and with my head hung low, walked out with my friends back to the hostel under the guise that sleep would cure all.
As we entered the building, I remember talk about playing a game of pool in the common room. I remember seeing Bridie, Jake, and Ryan further along the lengthy main-floor hallway than Shelby and I. I remember Shelby diving into the elevator to the right of the two of us. I remember waving goodbye across the hallway to our new friends. I remember the realization that I would never see them again. I remember thinking, “how romantic.”
Story taken from My Name Is Laura (2015). Available for purchase here.