Unorthodox Angles/Andrew Gramling


Tales Across Time: The Devil Lurks in Dark Places Part 1

Jared and I had drunk together plenty of times back in Madison more than a year earlier, but we had never been to the bars together before, though I did have about a year-long stint with other groups of friends right after I turned 21. Those were rough nights where reality seemed to bend and anything could end up happening. I had told Jared about Lillian's, which I had gone to a couple of times with people from work. It was a pretty relaxed place, although it could still get packed on the weekends. It was such an evening.

Lillian's was across from a small park that was like a square that had road and buildings going all around it. Because of my size, I wasn't the best at handling alcohol, but I slowly got better over time, and after several incidents. It wasn't easy to find that right level. On this particular night, I found the right level, at least that's what I perceived. I wasn't worried about anything and talking loudly about whatever I wanted. Suddenly, I realized that a couple of girls sat next to us and were paying attention to us. I turned to the one nearest to me after she said hello.

"You see all these people dressed up all nice? I'm not dressed like that because I don't give a s***!" I said, clearly not in full possession of my own consciousness.

I was wearing a beige shirt that had design crinkles on it and some blue jeans.

"I know. That's why I wanted to talk to you. You seem different than other people here," the girl said.

Then Jared said something and I turned to face him, completely forgetting about the two girls because I was in the zone. I had never been approached by a young woman at the bar before. Florida girls were different. They weren't shy.

"Florida girls will let you know!” my coworker Pokie said.

I did notice that. I was at the video rental store one time, and a couple of girls a little younger than me were standing there talking about me. I saw them in my peripheral and heard what they were saying. Usually it was guys who did that stuff back in Wisconsin. I also remember a long time ago at Busch Gardens when I was only in seventh grade going on a water ride with my father and his girlfriend's daughter Pam. There was another group of either high school or college students on the raft, and one of them named Rachel kept shouting to her friends how "cute" I was. Tamara, my coworker Greg's girlfriend, a server who just gave birth to his baby winked at me once, but that could go either way. I just didn't need to give him a new reason to kill me after we had been doing so well since our burst incident.

Steve mentioned another server named Tess and said she was after me. I didn't believe him until the next time I talked to her. She couldn't lift her eyes to meet mine the entire time I talked to her. Tess had the same birthday as Steve in late October, but she was nothing like Steve. Nobody was. She was almost as bold as he was, though. One day manager Paul said something to her and she stuck out her tongue at him.

"Don't stick out your tongue unless you're gonna use it," Paul said.

"Shut up, b****!" Tess said with a big smile on her face.

It's funny that anything goes at Ryan's. Back in Wisconsin, I'd never hear a conversation between manager and employee like that.

The directness of women in Florida almost put into perspective all the stories I would hear about female teachers on the news.

"Hey, they went away!" Jared said.

I looked at the empty space where they had just been sitting.

"I don't give a s***!" I said.

I wasn't trying to be cruel. I just literally did not care right now.

"I'm gonna see if I can find them!" Jared said.

I wasn't about to leave him by himself, so I followed him out the bar. We walked across the street to the small park that was in the middle of the square. There was a group of under a dozen people our age, but no trace of the girls anywhere. We approached the group and introduced ourselves, as did they. We talked for a few minutes, and then one of them asked if I was drunk, which I denied.

"What's my name then?" he asked.

That wouldn't have been a fair question even if I was sober.

Suddenly, I felt someone lift me up in the air from behind. Without hesitating, I put my hand on top of whosever's head it was and pushed down as hard as I could with an adrenaline burst. I wasn't trying to get snuck up on. There was some defiance of gravity because I don't think you're supposed to be able to slam someone while you're in mid-air being held up by the person. I looked down at the ground to see who it was.

"What??? You??!?" I shouted in disbelief.

I looked down to see Jared lying on his back with his eyes closed. He started laughing with his eyes still closed as I helped him back up.

"Damn. They beating EACH OTHER'S a****!" one of the young adults said.

That wasn't a smart move by Jared, doing something like that while we're surrounded by strangers. Jared was a leap and ask questions mid-air kind of person. A couple of years earlier he jumped down the stairs at his friend's apartment and forgot about the slanted part just over one's head. He busted his head pretty hard and passed out when he got outside. He woke up in an ambulance as his head was bleeding and they asked him what his address was.

"Have you been drinking?" the EMT asked.

He tried to deny it, but it was super obvious. Jared's impulsive nature got him into a lot of situations nobody would want to be in.

There was a girl sitting on a bench next to another guy and I started talking to her, but she had a strange reaction to me.

"Can you, like, stop looking at me? It looks like you're trying to see into my soul," the girl said.

One of the other guys looked at me.

"You do got some intense eyes," he said.

I was genuinely confused. No one had mentioned anything like that to me before, but there was one person I had thought the same thing about recently...Steve. Whenever he looked at me it was like he had x-ray vision and could see straight through me. But why were these people saying the same thing about me? Was I becoming more like those crazy guys I worked with, or was it possible that I wasn't as different than them as I wanted to believe?

The girl repeated herself.

"Can you back up? You're like all up in my grill," she said.

I didn't understand because I was at least four feet away from her.

"What are you talking about?” I said as I shook my head.

"Don't make me stand up!" said the hired goon number two sitting next to her.

"Stand up then!" I said.

The guy stood up and I jumped back into a defensive posture. He was looking at the ground and avoiding eye contact.

"Don't look at me like you're gonna do something!" he said.

"I AM gonna do something. Are you?" I asked.

"If I have to," he said, still looking at the ground.

Suddenly Jared appeared in front of me with his arms out and de-escalated the confrontation. I was done with the whole thing and started walking away first without saying anything.

"We can hang out sometime. Just don't bring Andrew," one of them said to Jared.

"We kinda have a thing that where I go, he goes, and vice-versa," Jared said.

It seemed like I couldn't get a rest from the hostility anywhere. I wasn't sure what I was doing that triggered people so badly.

Jared started going to a chiropractor a few weeks later.

"Did someone, like, slam you on your back, or something?" they asked him.

They were good at their job.

The Fourth of July had come. Not knowing what kind of celebration to expect in Ybor City, Jared and I hopped into my car that night and took the interstate towards Tampa.

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