“Well, Christ,” Damon sighs, after we’ve finished chucking a sack full of potatoes at Alan’s door, door our stairwell, and finally at some apartments across the street, “we might as well walk down to Insomnia, see what those freaks are up to.”
Sobered fully by this exercise, both men toggle into altered emotional states. Damon achieves a restless wanderlust closely matching my own, while Alan levels off into the humorless, all business mien he’s always confounded me by assuming, sometimes, at the drop of a hat. Sudden collisions against a moment where nothing is funny, and everyone must leave. Due at the airport five short hours from now, he and Nicole are retiring, and could the rest of us kindly refrain from making any noise. They clean and tape their wounds, and our factions realign. In the brief instant spent exchanging prisoners, I notice Alan’s name spray painted in shaving cream upon his wall mounted mirror, the other army’s lone act of rebellion. September splits and the bedroom door slams shut behind us, as we remaining four begin our quarter hour hike.
A favored shortcut steers us south on Indianola, meets the sweeping arc of East 16th. In the orange radiance of streetlights struggling through the trees, parked cars clog both sides of the narrow street, ass to mouth. Past the nation’s first ever junior high school, still functional, and a brand new building OSU erected to accommodate its Jewish student body, where broad, crescent shaped brick steps bow before a glorious glass foyer. Bands forever carrying gear through the Bernie’s back door, as 16th dead ends with a club foot against the High Street sidewalk. A unique configuration that lessens traffic, abets our breezy stroll.
Regardless of hour, Insomnia is perpetually jampacked with bodies. Tonight, a few geeks studying even, as other clusters of bored roommates stoop over Jenga, cards, chess. Mostly, however, as is often the case, belligerent skinheads comprise a solid majority here, with a healthy dose of Maxwell’s goths thrown in for good measure. The Goff siblings share an uneasy glance, as Damon and I imagined they might. But for guys like us who live to keep the pot continually stirred, pairing our redneck allies with the weirdo contingent at this all night coffee shop is too rich a prospect to resist.
The only one among us with so much as a nickel in his pocket, I spend nearly every cent I have on a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Feeling sorry, as I do, for K.C., who looks about ready to cry over these croissants behind the glass case.
“Man I wish I had some money,” he whimpers, rocks on his heels, licks his lips, “those look good.”
We find an available seat near the room’s center, sneaking surreptitious glances at the pierced punks. Just as we marvel at the industrious students able to focus here, where the wondrous fragrances of a million varied coffee blends waft and mingle with an equally diverse conversational mosaic. Yet with the exception of my steaming hot beverage, we collectively have nothing else to hold our interest. Lacking other means of absorption, we’re the true freaks here, the only ones in the room paying attention to anybody else.
To our left, a well-dressed, clean cut kid, head shaved bald, stands talking to a pair of OSU pupils. Nearby, this black bum wanders in and out of the store, he shuffles around inside, mumbling to himself and harassing the customers with an occasional, unwarranted rude comment. He passes the kid with the shaved head, hisses “nazi!” before drifting outside again.
Slamming on the brakes mid sentence, the kid’s features harden and he follows the homeless figure, flying through the doorway with one hard shove. Located below ground level, with its entire front wall a sheet of glass, the layout here fulfills our voyeuristic impulses honed through years of channel surfing. A tidal wave ripples through the patrons as they too are glued, for this instant, to the scene unraveling outside. Lying just beyond the glass, ten or twelve cement steps rise to meet a half dozen exterior tables. Filled near capacity, this cramped arena hosts the bum and the skinhead, slinging incendiary threats at one another with commendable gusto. Sensing trouble, the counter help leaps into this potentially explosive fray, sprints out of bounds before this heated exchange escalates into something else. An employee escort removes the combatants from Insomnia’s culpability zone, though all parties involved continue sparring on the sidewalk.
“You guys ready to leave?” I ask.