Last call

by Tamuira Reid

“The world can't just fucking stop. It's ridiculous. We need to move on from this.” It's a week after the Ferguson ruling and Beverley sits across from me, poking ice cubes in her empty cocktail glass with a straw. I don't like her but I'm trying. There's no one else to talk to here. They're all too drunk to care anymore.

“I mean, like, leave art alone. The movies, TV, sports even. Every time anything bad happens in this country it just shuts off. We need dumb stuff, too. I need my Scandal. And my boys need some fucking baseball, yeah? Not CNN all day. ESPN!” She pauses to pull her long red hair into a messy knot on top of her head. Lighting a cigarette, she takes a deep concentrated drag, as if to illustrate the intensity of what she's saying.

“Every magazine, every radio station – all of it. Consumed by racism and hate crimes. I get it, okay? It's not like I don't care about the people that die,” she shakes her head wildly from side to side, striking an uncanny resemblance to a bobblehead doll. “Of course I care about those guys. But, like, why oppress the rest of us, you know? Life needs to go on.”

I begin to wonder how many crap movies, Lifetime specials, 60 Minutes segments will come out of this newest tragedy. What the profit margin will be. It's perfect Hollywood fodder.

“Watch,” Beverley continues. “Every awards show next year will have some fucking tribute to this. Some stupid montage, slow-mo crime scene shit.”

It becomes clear to me that Beverley is more obsessed with the impact of racial injustice on popular culture than anything else. This obsession seems to be fueled by another; chain-smoking some obscene little white cigarette, the skinny kind the trendy girls smoked in the bathroom of my high school.

“Censorship. Denying the public access to culture. That's the true crime here. That's where it's really at. I turn on the TV and it's nothing but old assholes in bad suits talking about this cop and that man and this fucking gun and this fucked-up town. It gets sooo old after a while, you know?” I don't.

Her voice carries to all four corners of the room and someone applauds her sentiment. “Fuck the fucking news!”

I think about my four year-old son back at home. How, without fail, he will approach any cop — on the street, in the train station, at a diner — and smile, say Hi and Good job, guys. He still believes, without absolute faith and certainty, that those in positions of power are helpers. That those in positions of power use all their superhero skills for good.

I'm in a college dive bar with kids light years younger than me. I swapped vodka for fake beer years ago and sip on club soda tonight. Sometimes the loneliness of my occupation, writer, pushes me out of the apartment and into places like this, with people like Beverley. I feel out of place and worried, worried that that humanity is going to Hell in a hand basket, as my grandmother used to say. Worried because my family is on the other side of the country and I am forgetting what they look like, feel like. Worried that an entire police force let a bullet-riddled teenager lay in the middle of a hot Missouri street for four hours before moving him into an SUV. Where's the ambulance, I remember thinking. Where's the fucking ambulance?

A tall, lanky twenty-something with heavy eyes and a serious slouch, invites himself to join us. “What a sad, sad world, huh?” he says, barely audible over the jukebox. “I mean, Jesus, how sad can things get?”

He's just way too deep for me, but Bev takes the bait.

“You fucking said it,” she sighs, her body rising then slowly melting back into her seat. “Amen to that. A travesty. That's what this all is. A big old American travesty.”

Our visitor introduces himself as Chad, and asks Beverley to play pool. “Oh God, yes,” she sort of squeals, swinging her legs out from underneath the table. I watch them saunter off to the back of the room, arms wrapping around waists. I almost wish some stupid guy would come sit close to me, invite me over to his house for a night of meaningless, probably shitty sex. But then I realize I'm not even up for that. I don't want anybody to touch me.

High-fives are being given, lighters flickering in the dark. Marvin Gaye's voice pours like silk into the air, What's going on? Yeah, What's going on?

Patrons gravitate towards the bar for last call, pressing up against each other, sweaty and wanting. Whipping out wads of cash and waving their hands in the air.

“Bartender!”

“Shut up for a sec,” he orders over the chaos, shooing them away with a quick gesture of his hand.

“Gimme a pint of Bass.”

“Bottle of Bud.”

“I want something sweet.”

He ignores them and turns up the television above the bar. The image of Michael Brown's grieving mother. The image of Michael Brown in a cap and gown. Darren Wilson's clear white face. And a hush falls over the room. For a moment we are left breathless.

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