Red Light Bar – Greta Schledorn

The bar had red lights. We called it red light bar. We went there on Fridays while we decided where to go. We ordered mezcal sodas topped with Montenegro. We asked the bartender for free popcorn and he gave it to us in a little paper boat. We sat on a zebra print couch under a disco ball and we scanned the room for men who might have coke.

“I think he might have BPD or something,” Sara says. We’re diagnosing her on-again off-again ex-boyfriend. They just broke up again and now he’s acting crazy. 

“Can men have that?” I ask. I stir my drink with my straw but don’t drink it. It tastes too much like liquor and I need the ice to melt. 

“He’s just autistic,” Cassandra says. 

He spends all his time in his room trading crypto and making noise music on his computer. When he’s not in his room, he disappears for days at a time. No one knows where he goes or who he goes there with. 

“That’s just BPD for boys,” I say.

“He has a strange relationship with his mother,” Sara says.

“I thought he liked his family,” I say.

“He does,” Sara says. “That’s the problem. His mother loved him too much, gave him an unrealistic view of the world and now reality won’t stop hitting him over the head over and over and over again. It’s too painful for him, the disappointment of everything.” 

“I think his main problem is he’s addicted to meth,” I say. Sara and Cassandra stare at me.

“Don’t you think that’s kind of judgmental?” Sara asks.

“It’s not like he’s a bad person or anything,” Cassandra says.

“I’m not saying he’s a bad person,” I say. 

But he is. A bad person. This time he threw all of Sara’s clothes out onto the street. Didn’t even bag them up, just threw them out the window. Her vintage Miu Miu dress landed in a puddle next to a pile of trash and a leopard print thong that wasn’t hers. He called the cops on her when she came by to pick them up and when she’d left, he called her crying because he felt so sorry.

“I’m just saying the meth might be making him do crazy shit,” I say. 

I’m tired of talking about men. It’s all we talk about. It’s all we’ve talked about since we were kids. We should talk about something that matters, like investing or the genocide or art or why it seems like vegetables don’t last as long in the fridge as they used to. But now Cassandra’s talking about her Hinge date and I’m thinking about Sara’s ex and my ex and my dad and what could possibly be wrong with them all. 

Outside the bar, I search my purse for cigarettes but I can’t find them. I must have left them on the table by the door. Instead I hit my vape, which I could have done inside but the air feels nice and hitting my vape inside makes me feel like a child, like a person with no sense of her surroundings. A man walks up beside me. Unwraps a pack of cigarettes. I ask if I can have one. He looks at me, then puts the pack back in his pocket.

“No,” he says. He shakes his head. I stare at him. His hair looks damp from the summer. It’s dark and curly. He has an earring in one ear and wears these baggy pants that make him look short even though he’s tall. 

“What do you mean no?” I say. 

“You have a vape,” he says. 

“It’s two different things,” I say. He shrugs.

“You know that’s bad karma,” I say. 

“I don’t believe in karma,” he says. 

“You’ve never bummed a cigarette off someone?” I ask. 

“No,” he says, “I always have my own.”

“My mother,” he says. 

“She wouldn’t let you have a cigarette?” I say. 

“She didn’t hold me as a child.” 

He laughs and then he hands me one, a cigarette. Hands me his lighter, too. Every time I start to love a man they say or do something that disgusts me. I look at them and all I can see is how ugly they are, how ugly the whole world is.