Mexican Red Bull

By David Lenoe

7.1 I-small don’t want to make excuses for Hunter, but it was probably the Mexican Red Bull that fucked everyone up so bad my wedding night. Or our wedding night, Jess’s and my wedding night. And it wasn’t just Hunter either; he’s the one who everyone remembers, the bald, skinny, bulbous-nosed standard bearer of the shit-faced. But I literally saw eight different people fall down drunkenly that night, sometimes taking others down with them. I was buzzed but it was my wedding night, and I wanted to make sure I could perform later—so I was sober enough to track this stuff closely, like an old-timer keeping meticulous score by hand at a baseball game. Walking around that ridiculous, giant beach house in Sayulita, Mexico, looking down from the spiral staircase into the grand room, watching the wild dancing on the hardwood floors once we pushed the leather couches back—it wasn’t like I was just observing, watching for people in suits, ties, and dresses falling; but at a certain point, I started to pay attention to the phenomenon.

There was Rhonda, singing along to “Bad Medicine” with her new asshole boyfriend, who was new enough that everyone was afraid to talk about the fact that he was an asshole—the two of them were leaning into each other and one of them overcorrected, and they both toppled over and nearly gashed their heads on the fireplace footing. And my cousin Jerry—this was after he threw the full beer at Hunter when Hunter was lighting his chest hair on fire—Jerry was walking in the kitchen, and his feet slipped out from under him; like in a cartoon, his body was parallel to the ground, like three feet up. There were at least five others falling—leaning for a table that was a few inches further, being savagely tickle-attacked from behind by another cousin, etc. My point is Hunter was absolutely plowed, but so were a lot of other people.

Sure, Hunter fell down, multiple times—but I’m convinced that the Mexican Red Bull was primarily at fault. It was Hunter who insisted on making everyone, including aunts and even Jess’s grandmother, do a Crown Drop shot (Crown Royal + Red Bull) at the beginning of the reception. And then insisted that we all do another one when we got back to the house for the after-party, when it was mostly us young people. He should have brought the Red Bull down from California, like he did the Crown Royal, but he said he didn’t have the space in his Mini-Cooper. That was where he erred. Who knows what they put in that stuff down there.

* * *

Hunter and I have a long history. Here’s Hunter’s mom and my mom meeting each other at Lamaze class in Richardson, Texas, wearing the same ’80s teal maternity dress. Toby and Hunter. We went together, like peanut butter and jelly, our moms said. Here’s me being born ten days before Hunter. Here’s the two of us posing on our tricycles, wearing plaid overalls with no shirt underneath, looking badass. Him with blonde curls—that later turned brown and then thinned out until he just started shaving his head—and me with red hair and freckles—the freckles thankfully faded, and Jess never fails to express her gratitude that I didn’t have my early high school shoulder-length, Axl Rose-inspired tresses when we met later.

Here’s Hunter and me ruling the sandbox in preschool; watching Star Wars together on VHS seventy-three times (we kept count). Here’s us lighting firecrackers and playing capture the flag in junior high. Here’s the two of us having our first beer our junior year in high school—we had a pact for a while where we had promised each other we wouldn’t drink, since we’d grown up watching our parents (well, mainly Hunter’s parents) dance with the dog, do terrible Ronald Reagan impressions, and generally act like idiots when they were drunk at parties.

Junior year is where our friend Sean finally wore us down—his parents were out of town, and there were actually girls at his house. And that was that—we couldn’t believe how lame we’d been not drinking all through high school to that point. In later years we’d marvel at this—how had we spent our weekend nights? Movies, we figured, accounted for some of the time—but we’d played Risk and pinochle as well, we had read magazines together (!?) and went through an ill-conceived roller skating phase that involved Hunter, who was even skinnier at the time and hadn’t gotten contacts yet, wearing shoulder pads and me purchasing a cassingle of “Double Dutch Bus.”

So it was only natural that I chose Hunter as my best man. Jess has a sister and a bunch of best friends from different periods in her life and agonized over the maid of honor decision, talking to me before we went to sleep about the pros and cons of each and how they might respond to “just” being a bridesmaid. I didn’t have a choice—I mean there literally was no one else to think about. Hunter, case closed. For better or for worse.

* * *

I had just quit Disney, where Hunter and I had both been doing web design, and hanging out a lot at Tony’s Darts Away bar on West Magnolia, when I met Jess at my new job in a boutique design firm. She was the chief operating officer, which Hunter said later was basically a glorified office manager, but don’t tell her Hunter said that. She had a blonde faux hawk, a silver nose stud, and wore these tight jeans that were really, really distracting. I thought she was way out of my league, which I guess helped my cause because I would have been shitting my drawers if I thought I had any shot. I figured maybe we could be friends and other girls would see me hanging out with a hot chick, which, according to some show on the Discovery Channel, would lead to said other girls thinking I was desirable.

Anyway, it turned out I was a late bloomer—I started doing Tae Kwon Do even though Hunter made fun of me for it, and I shaved off my poorly executed Fu Manchu moustache. It’s not something I noticed in myself, day-to-day—just more like suddenly my skinny, teenaged, redhead Anthony Michael Hall self-image didn’t fit the more filled-out, post-braces, stronger-chinned guy who shopped at Diesel and wasn’t revolting to attractive, edgy women like Jess.

Hunter also transformed—he filled out too, no need for shoulder pads anymore; he got contacts and he was running regularly. But he kept going to Tony’s Darts Away and lamenting his failure with women, as if these two things weren’t mutually exclusive. Long story short—I got lucky meeting Jess, and Hunter dated here and there but ended up drinking with the boys and then pulling the pud most nights.

You know how it is when you’ve got a friend you hang out with all the time, and then you meet someone and start dating, and eventually the two have to meet? Awkward. But you want them to like each other, so badly. Hunter insisted I bring her to Tony’s that first night that they met. I’d been going out with Jess for about a month after an initial period of overtures (by her), confusion (from me), and eventually a dinner date at the Smoke House (my idea) and invitation to Lebowski Fest (her idea). I hadn’t seen as much of Hunter for a while, and he said he was psyched to meet Jess.

Hunter was in the back, sitting in his usual spot by the pool table. Comforting wafts of fried food and beer played around my nostrils. It was when Jess and I approached that I started to feel awkward. There was Hunter, in his milieu, hanging out with a beer in his hand. And there I was, holding Jess’s hand.

“So this is the harlot who’s been dominating all your time, eh?” Hunter said, looking like a skinny elephant seal who’d had his lunch pilfered.

“That’s me,” Jess responded, ruffling my hair. “But doesn’t he just beg to be dominated? Sometimes I make him wear a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit and order him around the bedroom,” she continued without missing a beat.

“Little Lord Fauntleroy, huh,” Hunter said. “That’s not bad, although I prefer him as a French maid. Did you know one time I ALMOST convinced him to dress up like Princess Leia for Halloween?” And we were off. The rest of the evening was spent drinking heavily and continuing in this vein as Hunter told Jess embarrassing stories of me pooping my pants at Bill McDevitt’s birthday party, splitting my corduroy pants at the West Junior High dance while attempting to breakdance during an Ace of Base song, etc. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it, partly because it’s never fun to have your most cringe-inducing moments picked over in excruciating detail, like an autopsy of a child star gone to seed. But also because I wanted them to like each other so much. The fried russet potatoes and let’s charitably say half a dozen or so draft beers probably didn’t help, but by the end of the night, my stomach felt like my “Double Dutch Bus” cassingle after it had been chewed up and mangled by the tape deck in my mom’s Dodge Stratus.

“That Hunter’s a piece of work,” Jess said to me the next morning as we lay in bed listening to my stomach moan mournfully. I was on my back, she was on her side.

“I can’t believe he told you about the time I tried to ask Maria Vallejo to Prom in Spanish,” I said, and my stomach groaned at the memory. Jess laughed.

“I still can’t understand how you got coño confused with conmigo,” she said. “I’m really glad I know what a dork you were growing up,” she continued, snuggling up to me. I patted her arm. If my stomach wasn’t so unhappy, I would have returned the affection more wholeheartedly.

“I’ve been telling you what a dork I was,” I said to her. I really had been, like it was penance for my past painful awkwardness. I still couldn’t quite believe that I was going out with Jess, was lying in bed with her, her smooth, warm, ivory legs wrapped around mine. I turned my head to look at her. Yup, there she was—dark lashes, blond hair, nose stud, dimples when she smiled, which she was doing now in a sleepy way. Unbelievable.

“Do you guys always drink that much?” she asked.

“Kind of,” I replied after thinking about it.

* * *

It was college when we really drank like champions—tailgating before the UT football games, frat parties, random “Wino Wednesdays.” I actually blacked out a couple of nights, once freshman year and once again during senior week, when I threw up in my hotpot. Hunter was another story. Blacking out was his specialty. In college I saved up his desperate voicemails—he would get liquored up and lost on campus and call me, expecting I could tell him where he was or possibly pick him up. The voicemails involved him pleading for help in a small, high-pitched voice, sounding like Princess Leia in her hologram message to Obi Wan Kenobi. I was apparently his only hope. I always woke up, no matter how hard I was passed out. I would let the phone go to voicemail, cursing Hunter. Then I would listen to the message. And then I’d try to go back to sleep, and I never could, and then I’d answer the next call.

I had a knack for figuring out where he was. I was like a Drunk Hunter Whisperer. He would start off all grateful—thank you, Toby, I love you, man—then would turn belligerent—why the hell did you leave me, bro?—and finally I would get him to give me landmarks. “Dick building” meant the main tower on the west side of campus. “Toilet Thing” meant the football stadium. You get the idea. Sometimes I’d be able to orient him over the phone. Sometimes I’d have to get up and pull on jeans over my boxers and venture back out.

We moved to California after dicking around Richardson and traveling together for a little while after graduation. Oh, and we had girlfriends here and there—in college, after college—it’s not like we were virgins or totally socially inept. But there wasn’t anything too serious—meeting parents, yes; official move-ins, no.

After four years at Disney, I was ready to move on—they’d promoted me to managing a small team, thankfully not including Hunter, but I wasn’t so into middle management. Plus I was frankly getting a little tired of hanging out at Tony’s all the time, thus the Tae Kwan Do and other extracurricular activities and finally the new job. Hunter was comfortable at Disney, clearly—a few of the younger guys on the team liked to hang out with him, he had a little posse who frisked about him and bleated approvingly at his jokes.

So Hunter kept on plugging away, and I spread my wings a bit, shaving off the facial hair and paying more than $15 for a haircut, becoming a “Managing Director of Rich Media” at the new place, and of course dating a wonderful woman who generally made me feel like I was Luke Skywalker right after he’d blown up the Deathstar. I’ve already beaten nearly to death the point of her good looks, but what I really loved about her was, well, everything—she was funny, she was irreverent, she could explain all kinds of things to me (movies, wine, how toilets worked), she made awesome homemade pizza, and she was fair and kind and…basically, I was pretty infatuated.

* * *

As chummy as things started out that first night, relations between Hunter and Jess were bound to cool off a bit, and they did. Sometimes it was something dumb, like whether Battlestar Galactica was a good show or how bad movie popcorn was for you (Hunter said he ran three times a week and therefore could eat whatever he wanted, Jess asserting that people working in popcorn topping plants had shorter lifespans than tsetse flies). Sometimes it was more serious—like the time that Hunter got all pissy when I said I was going home after the conclusion of the bar-hopping Scooby Doo Olympics (teams competing in bar games like skeet ball, darts, shuffle puck), and Jess told him to STFU and that if he wanted to get even more shit-faced he was welcome to but that she and I had a life and it was already midnight and we planned on doing something productive the next day. Which I think was stretching the truth a bit since we ended up watching a Mythbusters marathon, but all the same I didn’t need to drink any more.

So by the time I proposed and Jess thankfully accepted, there was a bit of discord between the two of them. It wasn’t terrible—they were friendly enough but didn’t exactly seek each other out.

The Mexican wedding idea was Jess’s—good value for the money, and we found a place where everyone could stay at the same estate together for the whole weekend. There were tons of guest cottages scattered around this giant twenty-acre property, so we maximized the time we got to spend with family and friends.

We got married outside, under a palm tree on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean in front of the big house. I got all kinds of advice before the ceremony—remember to breathe, don’t lock your knees, make lots of eye contact with Jess—so by the time it actually happened, I was in a semi-squat so my knees didn’t lock, breathing stertorously, and staring at Jess like a crazy person.

By the time the reception rolled around, I was relieved—the ceremony was complete; all the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were accounted for and had been greeted, kissed, etc.; and I had successfully not passed out from inadvertently holding my breath. When I walked into the courtyard where the tables were set for the reception, candles were burning a warm glow as the sun set. There was Hunter greeting me with a Crown Drop—Crown Royal whiskey and the aforementioned Mexican Red Bull. I downed it without a second thought. The drink tasted toxic and at the same time medicinal, burning all the way down my throat. There was a salty sea smell on the breeze, mixed with just the faintest touch of burning trash.

“Congratulations, Toby,” Hunter said, his droopy, elephant-seal eyes burning with conviction. “May your marriage not end in a terrible, hateful divorce.”

“Thanks, Hunter,” I said and hugged him.

Before long everyone was seated, and Jess’s dad, a congenial weekend biker type with a handlebar moustache and a decent-sized gut, introduced Hunter for the best man’s speech.

“Oh shit,” I said. “I kind of forgot about the toast.” At some point during my bachelor party, which had involved a mini bus driving us around to various dodgy bars in the greater LA area and a stripper cop, Hunter had told me he was really going to “give it to me” during the speech.

Jess looked worried.

“Should I be worried?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “But I should be.”

“People say that Toby and I are like brothers,” Hunter said, holding the mic in one hand and inserting his other in his pocket in a casual, commanding way. His tux jacket was off, but he was still wearing the dark-green bowtie to match mine. His bald head shone, like he’d been greasing it up with cocoa butter.

“But we’re not like brothers. I mean, first of all, his hair’s red. Thank God I don’t have red hair,” Hunter continued. “No offense,” he added to my side of the wedding, which was about thirty percent redhead.

“You’re bald, dude!” my cousin Jerry pointed out in a loud voice.

“Better bald than ginger,” Hunter snapped back. “Second of all, brothers don’t go off and desert brothers by getting married,” he said, shaking his head.

“Yes they do, all the time!” Jerry interjected again. “Literally a vast majority of brothers do exactly that!”

Hunter ignored him, clearly warming up.

“It’s my job to embarrass the groom tonight, so here goes.” He started ticking things off one by one. “One: Toby used to pleasure himself to Olympic volleyball. Two: Toby has a recurring sexual dream involving clowns and bestiality, aka sex with his old cat Fluffles. Three: Toby once cried watching an episode of Oprah when he was home sick—this was only three years ago. Four: Toby thinks the phrase ‘in other words’ is ‘another words,’ like another starting with an A, words. Five: Toby is a secret heroin addict. I will note here that one of these five things is not true. Find me at the reception if you want to guess which. Thank you all!” And with that he dropped the mic. I heard a few aunts gasp. Jerry applauded loudly, but otherwise there was just some light clapping.

Some part of me understood that Hunter was trying to be funny, and that maybe he’d spent too much time around ironic hipsters and had lost touch with the general population. But most of me was clenching-my-fork-and-trying-to-refrain-from-sticking-it-in-Hunter’s-right-eye livid.

“I’m guessing you’re not a secret heroin addict?” Jess asked. I nodded. “Ouch,” she said and managed a smile. I guzzled my champagne, since Hunter had forgotten to actually lead us in a toast.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Tobe,” Jess said and grabbed my hand. “It’ll make for a good story later.”

* * *

When Hunter lit his chest hair on fire later at the after party, once all the adults had gone to bed, he said it was a tribute to Jess, since Jerry had pointed out that he’d forgotten to sing her praises during his “toast.” This prompted Jerry to throw the can of Tecate at him, which Hunter deftly dodged, to my disappointment.

When Hunter tried to dirty dance with Jess’s cousin Audrey, who is nineteen and also a lesbian, she fended him off with a well-placed elbow to the ribs. I didn’t feel the need to intercede.

When Hunter picked up one of the orange and blue handpainted ceramic plates and held it over his head like he was going to smash it, I went over and politely asked him to stop. And he did.

The problem was the Mexican Red Bull kept everyone, especially Hunter, awake way past the point they would normally be functioning. When Hunter suggested yet another round of Crown Drops, that’s when I grabbed Jess’s hand and pulled her toward me.

“We can sneak out, right?” I asked her. “We don’t need to say good-bye, do we? They’re not even going to remember.”

“Good call,” she said and we slipped out the door without anyone noticing.

I’m happy to say I performed, and so did Jess, and we had two good, solid rounds of coitus on our wedding night. So I was ass out when my cell phone rang—but of course I still woke up. I looked over at Jess—she was on her back, eyes still closed and mouth open, snoring.

I picked up the phone to see who was calling—as if I needed to check. I let it go to voicemail.

“Toby,” Hunter breathed heavily, “Toby, I’m so lost.” His voice was an octave and a half higher than usual. I could hear him fighting through brush or something in the background. “Help me, Toby. I’m in the bushes… I think I’m in Mexico. You need to help me.”

I turned off the phone and rolled back into bed, put my arms around Jess, and closed my eyes.


David Lenoe grew up in the Boston area, spent some formative years in Tokyo and currently resides in San Francisco. This is his first time being published. Yay!

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