You will meet a tall, dark stranger.
“Okay people,” Janel said. “Scorpion bowl race. Whichever group drinks theirs the fastest wins.”
“Terrible idea,” I said.
“Drink it, Judson,” Alex said.
The first time I went to Hong Kong, a seedy four-story bar in Harvard Square, I thought I had found Wonderland. On the ground floor was a Chinese restaurant, open late, taunting drunkards with greasy, MSG-laced cheap cuisine. The second floor was an overcrowded bar, famous for its potent Scorpion Bowls, meant to be shared by three or four people with extra-long straws. A dance floor and DJ who played loud, pulsing mixes of the Billboard Top 40 was found on the third floor. And on the fourth, a comedy club of all things (I’ve never made up to the comedy club, but I hear its a hoot.) Usually nights at Hong Kong begin with Scorpion Bowls and end with Chinese food and bad decisions, and its hardly the place you go to meet the love of your life. When you enter the dark recesses of Hong Kong, you know you’re in for a whole lot of something. As many of my friends say, nothing good comes from Hong Kong. And yet, like a moth to a flame, we all go back, perhaps for the amusement of it all.
“I’m going to get another one,” Alex shouted over the music.
I grabbed the tail of his shirt. “I’ll go with you,” I shouted back.
We maneuvered our way with some difficulty through the throng of people on the second floor, pushing through to the front of the line at the bar. “Two more scorpion bowls please,” I heard Alex say as he leaned over the bar to put his order in with the bartender. I looked around me. Nearby, a tall guy in a plaid shirt, ever my weakness, was standing alone, sipping on a Jack and Coke. I nudged Alex with my elbow and motioned toward him. At first glance, he looked calm amongst the chaos of drunk co-eds from Harvard who had stumbled across the street from the Yard, but I could see through the dim that he was furtively looking around, searching for someone to talk to. Alex peeked at him, then nodded with approval. “Cute,” he confirmed. “Go for it.”
I took one of the Scorpion Bowls in my hands and carefully pivoted away from the bar, walking toward Cute Tall Boy in Plaid Shirt. “Hi,” I said, grinning.
He lowered his drink from his lips. “Hi there.”
He shrugged. “Sure. How about you?”
I lifted the bowl a little higher into the air and raised my eyebrows. “Second bowl of the night. Not so bad.”
He shifted his weight a little. “Nice pants.”
I looked down, remembering what I was wearing. Bright fuchsia parachute pants, a decision that I had toyed with for an hour before leaving my apartment. “Thanks. They’re new, so I’m taking them for a spin.”
We exchanged more details about each other. A grad student studying computer science at MIT, from some midwestern state, a few years older than me, with a dry sense of humor. Cute Tall Boy in Plaid Shirt was a winner, as far as Hong Kong flirtations were concerned.
I looked up at him, squinting a little, a habit I’ve acquired whenever I’m drunk to help me focus on a fixed point. Eye on the prize, as they say. “You look just like Jimmy Stewart.”
He sipped more of his Jack and Coke. “Who is that?” he asked.
Damn. Wrong answer, buddy.
“You know,” I said. “It’s A Wonderful Life, or Little Shop Around the Corner? Big old movies star.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.
We stood there for a few more minutes, an awkward silence between us. We had run out of things to talk about, and I was, perhaps unfairly, a little disappointed that he didn’t know my old movie reference. The end of the night passed by in a bit of a blur, but I do know that Cute Tall Boy in Plaid Shirt Resembling Jimmy Stewart did join my friends and I for a 2 am round at the Chinese restaurant downstairs. He started talking to another girl at the table when my lo mein came, and I gave up. Maybe it wasn’t how I wanted the night to end, but hey, it could have been a lot worse.