"How in the hell did we let it get this bad?" That question kept playing over again and again in my mind. I glanced around the room, taking in my surroundings. The police station was bustling with activity, even this late at night. Weekends are big nights for Cops. Drunks, domestic disturbances, fights, it was like Christmas come early for the boys in blue. They had us, we knew that much. I looked over at Steve sitting across from me, his eyes still red and bleary from the alcohol, leaves sticking out of his hair like some kind of drunk-ass cornucopia. Brian sat on the opposite side of our holding cell, head in his hands, muttering to himself like a deranged mental patient. I stood up and walked around, pacing back and forth, trying to collect my thoughts. I caught sight of my reflection in the metallic lidless toilet in the corner of our cell. I looked like shit. Black eye, split lip, the very picture of debauchery gone awry.
"We're so fucked," I said to Steve, "We never should have let it get this bad."
"How were we supposed to know," Steve retorted. "I've never seen anything like it. He was like a different person tonight. We couldn't control him. We were completely in over our heads. Besides, you bought him all those shots, Randy."
"You started force feeding him whiskey and beer funnels before I even got there! If it's anybody's fault it's…."
Brian looked up from the floor and cut us off. "Quit your bitching, the both of you. We all had a hand in this. That fucking Cat, why'd he have to go and turn twenty one?"
We all shared a collective glance to the corner. There, in a rumpled pile on the floor, our friend Cat was sleeping off a bender. His mohawk was in tatters, his dress shirt and white tie stained with blood and vomit. His pants were torn and scraped. One of his shoes was gone. He had a strange little smile on his face.
"That fucking Cat…." we all sighed.
10 o'clock that night
"Randy, hurry your ass up! We don't want to miss the best parts!" I could hear Brian calling to me from some distant place in our apartment. It was a big night for us. Our friend Jeremy, otherwise known as "The Cat" for reasons we can no longer remember, was turning the big 21. It was our patriotic duty as his closet friends to get him drunk off his ass, so schnockered he wouldn't remember his own name by the end of the night. Anything else would be treasonous best friend behavior.
"I'll be right out," I shouted back at him, "Just putting on the finishing touches!" I glanced at myself in the mirror, making sure I didn't have any unsightly blemishes or missed spots shaving. I went into my closet and found a classy, yet sophisticated Hawaiian shirt, ran a comb through my hair, and popped on my favorite hat to complete my drinking ensemble. It's very important, when dressing for a 21st birthday, to not wear anything you wouldn't want to get alcohol or vomit on. I felt I had chosen wisely. There came a loud pounding on my door. Brian was getting impatient.
"Jesus, Randy, it's like Cinderella getting ready for the ball in there. Seriously, let's get moving. Steve is already getting Cat loaded!"
I emerged from the bathroom mid knock, scaring the shit out of Brian. Brian was a much classier dresser than I was, I had to admit that. He liked to squeeze tight Polo's over his athletic build, so tight that they appeared to restrict his movement and cut off his circulation. His black hair was unruly and unkempt, kind of a "Jew fro," though Brian wasn't Jewish.
"Good lord, you're wearing a Hawaiian shirt?" Brian asked with genuine concern. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"You just watch, women say they hate them, but deep down they're all swooning for big Kahuna" I told him. Sharing a laugh, we bounded down the steps to the parking garage like giddy children, climbed into my truck, and sped off to meet our friends, who were already in the process of pregaming at Steve's house. It was going to be a good night.
Driving over to Steve's house, I couldn't help thinking about what Cat would be like drunk. He wasn't a very heavy drinker, but the few times I'd seen him cut loose and get hammered were memorable experiences. One night, after a particularly painful breakup, Cat had downed a large amount of tequila, crashed through a coffee table, and woke up in a pool of his own blood. We could be in for a rough night, there was no denying that. Still, I felt confident in our abilities to control our friend if the situation got out of hand.
"So what's the game plan for tonight?" I asked Brian. I knew very well that 21st birthday parties very rarely had any solid form of game plan, but it never hurt to have a loose script to stick to.
"I think we're gonna have a few drinks at Steve's place and then head out to a bar or two," Brian said.
"What's the point of turning 21 if you don't use that ID?"
I had to agree with him there; not actually taking our friend out to run free on his 21st birthday would be a serious breach of bro code. To be honest, Cat would probably be so drunk he wouldn't know the difference between a bar and a McDonald's, but once he sobered up and realized he never made it to a bar, he would never forgive us. We couldn't let that happen.
Pulling into the driveway at Steve's house, we could already tell we'd be walking into a war zone. Steve's pregaming was legendary, it often approached dangerous levels. The music was loud and boisterous, we could hear it clearly from the inside my truck. My guess is Steve's neighbors could hear it too, and probably weren't pleased, but Steve was never one to let little things like common decency and feelings get in the way of a good time.
"We better get in there and see what kind of damage has been inflicted," Brian said. "Jesus, I just hope Cat is conscious."
"I'll settle for alive at this point," I mumbled.
As we walked up the tastefully landscaped and well manicured front walk that led to Steve's front door I began to pick up the faint sound of muffled chanting resonating from the interior of the residence. A sense of foreboding came over me, and fear crept into the pit of my stomach. I turned to look at Brian, whose face was aghast and ashen. We both knew.
"Jesus, no!" Brian said.
"Sounds like they're doing shots," I said, trying my best to hide my fear. "We better go in and get Cat, while we still can." We opened up the front door and stepped inside, silently fearing that there wouldn't be much Cat left for us to get.
The smell of beer hit us with tremendous force when we walked through the door. Exchanging knowing glances, Brian and I waded through a sea of empty beer cans and other paraphernalia, following the sound of the chanting to the kitchen area. There, in the middle of a herd of drunken, screaming twenty something's, we saw the star the show, the main event for the night……Jeremy "Cat" Hofferman, lying sprawled out on the kitchen table, beating his chest with primal fury. I had to admit, The Cat had really gone all out for his "21 ensemble." He was wearing a blue button up dress shirt, the kind that grad students or young professionals often don to appear "hip and studious." The irony was not lost on me. A bright white "skinny tie" was more or less knotted around his neck. His white pants were stained already with booze, and his look was topped off with a kind of half assed mohawk. There was a funnel in his mouth. Our friend Steve was on the other end of said funnel, his shirt off, a "21" bandanna tied around his head, his eyes gleaming like some sort of deranged raccoon. He was pouring a pitcher of beer in the general direction of Cat's face, cackling like a Hyena.
"We gotta get Cat out of here, or he'll never make it to a bar!" Brian yelled in my ear. I was thinking the same thing. Sprinting over to the table we knocked the funnel loose from Cat's wanton mouth and pulled him to his feet.
"Whhhaaa da fuck are you dooin?" Cat slurred at us. "I'm just starrtin to get a good buzz going." Jesus. He was loaded.
"Hey, come on now, big guy, don't want to waste your bullets all in one place, do ya?" I tried to sound comforting, but I was going to have to start getting insistent. I knew that if we got him out of Steve's maniacal clutches and out to a nice, safe bar, we'd be in more control of his intoxication.
"Who said anything about bullets?" Cat inquired with general flummoxing interest. "I just wanna get drunk.
ITS MA BURTHDAY!"
"Yeah it is!" Brian enthused, slapping Cat on the back. "How bout we go out and celebrate, you wanna go to a bar?"
"You bet your ass I do!" Cat yowled. "I'll get my keys."
After wrestling the keys away from Cat, it was decided that Steve, Cat, Brian, and myself would head out to a bar in my truck. We knew most classy establishments wouldn't let him in, as drunk as he was, but we knew of a dive ass dance bar on the edge of town that didn't really give a shit about "ethics." I could respect that. It was called "The Loose Cannon," aptly named considering our circumstances.
I'd never been to "The Loose Cannon" before, but I knew of its existence, and its reputation for being classless and wild. I knew it was generally frequented by a roughneck kind of crowd: bikers, ex cons, gang bangers, etc. Seemed about the perfect place for Cat to spread his drunken wings. Well, maybe not perfect, but it was all we had. The building itself kind of had its own panache. If a Honky Tonk and a Disco Club mated, this would be they're offspring. It was one story high, neon beer signs hung in all the windows, beer bottles littered the parking lot like an adult Easter Egg hunt, the door was ajar, and the Jukebox howled it's sad notes from inside the gloomy interior.
"Guys, it's perfect!" Cat said.
"As long as your happy, Cat," I told him.
"I've never been to a bar before!" Cat screamed. "Let's go dance up on some ho's!"
"I don't think this is that kind of place, buddy…." I started to tell him, but Steve, always the voice of reason, cut me off.
"He's the birthday boy, he wants to dance, let him dance!" Steve said, putting his arm around Cat. "Don't worry guy, I've got your back."
It's been said that "birds of a feather flock together." The same can be said of drunks. Brian and I knew Cat and Steve were loaded. We knew they would most likely make an ass of themselves. We knew we were in over our heads, but what were we to do? Here was Cat, all dressed up with nowhere to drink, outside a bar on his 21st birthday. Who were we to deny him?
"Let's head in boys," Brian said. "Please try not to do anything too stupid….." Brian was looking at Steve as he said it. Steve was a massive enabler, good at two things: having parties, and making bad decisions. One of those had already happened tonight. We could only imagine what he had left in the tank.
Inside the bar, my eyes adjusted to the dim, smoky light, and I scanned my surroundings. I can't say I was surprised. Broken down pool table, a few cheap looking tables and chairs, Jukebox humming in the corner, puddles of god knows what on the floor, and a bar heavily crowded with middle aged, furry looking gentleman wearing a disturbing amount of leather. To my surprise there were a few couples listlessly dancing in the corner, something that caught Cat's attention right away. He half ran, half staggered off in the direction of the dancers, eyes aglow with enthusiasm. Brian slapped me on the back. "Come on, we've been dry all night, let's go order a few drinks from the bar." It was a wonderful idea. I needed to loosen up. Steve, Brian, and I headed over towards the bar tender to wet our whistles and commune with the frightening looking "regulars."
A few Jack and Cokes later, all my worries seemed to fade away. Shooting the shit with the guys, watching a bit of the grainy bar TV with half interest, and reveling in our "good deed" for Cat left us all feeling great, kings among men. We ordered a few shots and took turns bringing Cat his drinks, he wouldn't leave the dance floor.
"Would you look at our boy, there?" Brian said with amusement, pointing in Cat's direction, "Look at him go!"
Cat was in the process of tearing the dance floor a new one as we looked on like proud, drunken fathers. His hips and legs were a blur as he undulated and heaved himself around the floor, caught up in the time honored tradition of dancing hammered by yourself. He was even attracting attention. "Would ya look at that, Cat's got company! And she's a hottie!" Steve observed.
I assure you, Steve was using "hottie" in the loosest sense of the word. Cat had, indeed though, found himself a dancing partner. She was a middle aged woman, possibly early 40's, in a bright red hoochie dress, a dress that seemed to say "I used to be a knockout, but now I probably have one or more kids." She was stunning, in a cougar sort of way. She was also, by the way her legs appeared to flail and stumble, very drunk. Perfect for Cat. He bowed to her, and they began to grind.
Watching Cat dance seductively with the drunken older woman, time seemed to slow to a crawl. I became immersed in the beauty of it all, the way they dipped, the way they swirled, the way Cat grinned at her, how graceful and swan-like they appeared on the floor, the way Cat reached up and honked at her boob……wait……Cat just honked that woman's boob. Jesus, he'd done it again. Instantly the woman's startled scream jerked me back into reality.
"YOU PERVERT!" The woman swatted Cat across the face.
"Waaa? Waaaa you so upset about? Waaaaa?" Cat inquired, genuinely perplexed by his romantic misstep.
We all got up and ran to his aide. "Listen, he's drunk" I started to say, trying to make the woman stop making a scene. I became aware of heavy footsteps behind me. Turning, I found myself looking up at a largish man, classily dressed in a "Canadian Tuxedo" and a large beard. He didn't appear pleased.
"He had his hands on Becky," the man growled at us.
I pointed at the woman in distress. "Ah, your name is Becky, I'm Randy, these are my friends Brian and Steve, and this drunken fellow here, this is Jeremy. You can call him Cat. It's his 21st, we've all been there, right guy?" I patted the large gentleman on the arm. God, what a fucking huge arm. "You see, it's really not his fault sir, Becky here started dancing with Cat, and I think he got the wrong impression…so you can see how there was some confus…"
The fist caught me square in the mouth, and as I toppled downward, the side of the pool table broke my landing. It wasn't pleasant. Brian and Steve grabbed my arm and pulled me up. "We gotta get the fuck out of here," they shouted. "Big boy's friends are heading over!"
The next few moments were somewhat of a blur. Maybe it's the alcohol, maybe it's the head trauma I had recently suffered at the hands of Becky's enraged lover, but with the speed and athletic fineness that only the drunk possess, the four of us bolted out the door of the bar, with large, angry men in hot pursuit.
Halfway to the safety of my truck, Cat, scared, lovelorn, and hammered drunk, began to express his sadness with projectile vomiting, at a most inopportune time. He never broke stride, we all would have been impressed had our situation not been so perilous.
"Throw Cat in the bed!" I yelled as I climbed into the driver's seat. Quickly, Brian and Steve hoisted Cat into the bed of my truck and jumped in beside him as I took off down the road. "Lay down guys, get Cat down!" I hollered. Cat continued to expel the night's alcohol, all over himself and my truck.
"Fuck laying down!" Cat yelled. "If I lay down, I'll puke all over myself!" Pulling himself into a kneeling position, he began to vomit over the side of the vehicle. It was about then that I saw the red and blue lights begin flashing behind me.
"License and registration, please," the officer deadpanned in my direction. Sheepishly I handed over my identification and looked down. "Stay in the vehicle sir, while we go check out your friends in the back." My head was alive with thoughts. "How much trouble am I in? How many laws have I broken, how will my Mom take this? Where is Cat going?" That last one caused me to stop and snap back to reality. In my rearview mirror I saw Cat midflight as he leaped over the side of my truck and scampered off into the night, Brian and Steve in hot pursuit. I was so enthralled with the glory of their daring escape, I momentarily forgot my own situation.
"Run, Harriet Tubman! Run to freedom!" I said softly to myself, as I watched Cat's long strides gliding through the night, his tie bouncing in the moonlight. Maybe he could do it. Maybe he could beat the odds, maybe he could escape. Then suddenly, he wasn't there anymore. He had fallen into a bush.
"It took us five fucking minutes to get him out of that bush," Brian scoffed. "Now we have fleeing capture to add to public intoxication and all that other shit."
"I have to admit, this isn't how I saw the night going," Steve said. "We really screwed up bad on this one. If only he hadn't pawed at that old tramp like that."
"What do you expect, pawing things is what Cat's do," Brian reminded us. "That's why he's The Cat."
We all had to laugh at that one. Brian had a point.