Gwen was one hell of a broad.
Picture it. Gaudy earrings the size of coke cans. Jewelery that would offend a Gypsy. Sequined blouses that would frighten clowns and shoes that would make children cry.
This was Gwen, and she was my very dear friend.
I met her on an afternoon at the iconic Coffee Table in The Short North. She was sitting among her gaggle of gay men, sipping on Tea (that most certainly was Chardonnay over ice) and shuffling her cards before starting a game of Uno.
It'd be hard not to notice her. She had a cigarette in one hand and an attitude in the other. She had a soft and genteel voice yet was clearly the picture of what hard living can lead to. In her mind she was a glorious 36-year-old fag-hag; in everyone else's mind she was a 56 year-old hag who had taken too many pills and fallen asleep in too many tanning beds.
Without question, I had to be her friend.
It turned out that ten years prior Gwen survived a surgery--something to do with her liver, maybe it was the binge-drinking--but somehow during the ordeal the surgeon left a car key inside of her. She lived for years with this car key relaxing comfortably between her colon and her spleen, and once learning of the egregious misfortune, it wasn't long until she received an exorbitant settlement for the havoc it wrecked on her body (and her mind too, though that had been shot for years). However, part of the settlement was that she could never work again, since the state of her body was questionable and the surgeons did not want to be liable for any further damage. 24-hours of free time, every day, for the rest of her life.
This is not a good mix for a recovering alcoholic.
As one with an innate propensity for insanity, I spent many afternoons at The Coffee Table with Gwen. Rarely would a conversation be forgetful or insular: we'd talk about life in the city, current events, politics, philosophy and many other broad and grandiose topics. It was like our friendship was a surreal tale that would only work in a French film or short story. She spent every day reading the paper, smoking cigarettes, sipping on Chardonnay and hanging out with the gay men of Columbus, and I made it a point to be a part of this woman's life. But Gwen had a temper, and it loved to rear its ugly, plastered face usually at the ninth Cosmo.
Sometime after the second bottle of Chardonnay, she'd begin to believe she was in a relationship with a man named Raymond. This was usually around 3 in the afternoon, so from then on the stories she spewed about her "lover" were utter mendacity. Mind you, Raymond was 44, gay, in a relationship with the same man for 6 years and had never even spoken to Gwen. Yet after the vino, Gwen would begin to convince her young gay neophytes to actively work on destroying him. Strangely enough, due to her enormous influence, it actually worked--he now lives in Cincinnati.
It seems the most peculiar things happen once the sun sets, and my last night with Gwen was no different. We had dinner on the patio at the former Zola (now Union), and while walking her back to her home she struck up a conversation with a black girl 30 years her junior and about 30 times her size. The conversation began with something like, "Bitch, whatchu looking at?". Generally this would be a shocking introduction, but this was a line that I had heard many times from an inebriated Gwen.
After a contentious exchange, Gwen had said something along the lines of, "The only reason yo' momma is pro-choice is 'cause once you popped out she wanted the right to change her choice!"
And then it went down. Girls screaming. Hair pulling. Bitch slapping. Nail scratching. And gays taking photos with their camera phones, naturally.
I could have jumped in. I should have jumped in. But it was only mere seconds until the cops broke them up, and truthfully I was more in a daze: it was at this moment that I realized that perhaps striking up a friendship with a pill-poppin', aging alcoholic was not a good idea.
But, I won't lie. I do miss those days.