Me and Priscilla and Lulu at the — Hotel. Nashville. Christmas Day. The place is a dive but they offer a goldfish service, meaning you can get a fishbowl delivered to your room with live goldfish swimming around in it. We huddle around the fishbowl and take group selfies in our lingerie. The fish swim around in circles. Priscilla asks if she can be cropped out of the selfies. Too risque for work, she says. Lulu says: “Girl why don’t you just take the photos then, if you don’t want to be in them.” So she does.
Priscilla says the pop star Kesha posted a video on Snapchat where she appears to be at Santa’s Pub, a bar here in Nashville. It’s called Santa’s Pub because the guy who owns it looks like Santa, Priscilla says, and his name is Santa, too. Priscilla says the bar is decorated to look like Christmas all year round. Lights, trees, snowflakes, the works. The bar sounds stupid but we have to meet Kesha. Kesha…Kesha…Kesha. It’s all I can think. We get dressed and fix our makeup and talk about Kesha. What is she like in person, will she be best friends with us, is she from Nashville, why is she here? And what is she doing in a bar on Christmas? We are suffused with a sense of near-divine purpose. We are single-minded in our quest to find Kesha. Kesha…Kesha…Kesha.
Lulu drives the van because me and Priscilla are already both drunk, and maybe Lulu is drunk too, because she can’t angle the van into a parking spot outside the bar. Me and Priscilla get out and give instructions through the open window. The gravel lot is full of parked cars. There’s only one space open. It’s a tight fit. Lulu backs up and pulls forward, backs up and pulls forward. It’s a warm night, and humid. We are not wearing jackets. My purse is bursting with cash from the tricks I’d seen earlier that day and I’m itching to spend it. I want an adventure, a magical night. I want it to be a special Christmas, one I’ll remember forever. I think about taking selfies with Kesha. I think about becoming Kesha’s best friend. I never cared about Kesha before, but now the only thing I care about is Kesha. I try to remember the lyrics to one of her songs. I’m not even sure I know any.
“Hurry,” I say, as Lulu slams the door.
We hustle up the stairs on the front patio and into the bar. The place is full of hipsters wearing flannels and beanie hats. Everyone seems to be staring at us, in a non-menacing way that still makes us uncomfortable. We light cigarettes and order beers and push through the crowd. The bar is in a converted double wide trailer with an addition built on the back with tables and a jukebox. There are Christmas lights strung up across the walls, the multi-colored ones with big chunky bulbs. A haze of blue cigarette smoke hovers in the air. Rock music plays from the jukebox. All the tables are full. Standing room only. I see no sign of Santa. No sign of Kesha, either.
“When did she post the video?” I ask, but I can already tell she’s not here. I would sense her presence if she was. I feel connected to Kesha in some special way I can’t articulate. I can feel her absence, the space she’d taken up, the ripples she made in the atmosphere when she left.
Priscilla looks at her phone.
“Like…four hours ago?” she says. “I think they had karaoke earlier.”
We chug our beers and light new cigarettes off the ends of the old ones. We go out on the front porch and take a group selfie, cigarettes dangling from our lips. Priscilla posts the photo to Instagram. The caption reads: We didn’t meet Kesha 😦 😦 😦
“Maybe she went somewhere else,” Lulu says.
“Maybe she’s at Trax,” I say.
Priscilla checks Snapchat. There are no new updates about Kesha, no clue to her current whereabouts. The night is a bust. Our mission, a failure.
“We should probably just go to Trax,” someone says. So we do.
The mood at Trax is cheery yet somehow also bleak. It’s nearly empty. A few bodies cluster around the pool table. Junkies, alkies, a random solitary drag queen. The usual suspects. We order mixed drinks and play pool with a white guy named Chandler and a Mexican named Kay. After a couple of rounds Chandler takes me aside and asks if I want to come to the bathroom to smoke crack.
“Okay,” I say.
I don’t know how to light a crack pipe so Chandler lights it for me. We each take a couple hits, but for me nothing happens. Chandler gets down on his knees in the stall and lifts my dress and pulls down my tights. He puts me in his mouth and begins to suck, and I realize he’s missing several teeth. In the darkness of the bar I hadn’t gotten a good look at him. Beneath the bathroom’s blinking fluorescent light I take in his stringy hair, his natty clothes, his greasy, pockmarked skin. He’s older than I thought. I realize he’s probably homeless. I don’t get hard. I don’t feel high.
“I think I smoked it wrong,” I say.
Chandler pretends he didn’t hear me. He stands up and starts fumbling with his zipper.
“My turn,” he says.
“You know,” I say, “I think I’m good.”
I push out of the stall and rejoin my friends by the pool table. Kay is still there, the Mexican. He hands me a drink, and we talk a little, laughing and flirting. His English is bad. Every time I say something he looks confused. He’s very drunk also, and slurring his words. He’s cute though, cuter than Chandler, and he seems like less of a bum.
“You want…come…my car?” he says with a wink.
Fuck it, I think. “Sure.”
We leave the bar and cross the parking lot. Kay stops next to a Taurus of indeterminate color and unlocks the door. We smush into the backseat and begin to make out. Kay is all elbows and knees. We’ve barely even arranged ourselves in a moderately passable grinding position when I hear my name being called. I untangle myself from the Mexican and push the car door halfway open. I look back at the bar. Priscilla is there, framed in the doorway, backlit by the dingy yellow light of the bar.
“Mabel!” she yells again.
I’m hanging out the backseat of Kay’s Taurus, and Kay is trying to pull me back inside, and Priscilla is trying to get me to come back out, and Lulu is coming up behind Priscilla, and suddenly I’m laughing harder than I’ve laughed in years. I’m laughing like Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding, like Sam Neill in In the Mouth of Madness. It’s like I’m outside myself, for just that moment, and I’m able to take in the absurdity of it all, how crazy this is: who I am, who I’m with, the fact that it’s Christmas. Chandler, Kay, Priscilla, Lulu, the goldfish. The fact that we didn’t meet Kesha.
I push my way out of the Taurus and run back across the parking lot to Priscilla. The heels of my Forever 21 boots clack against the pavement.
“I thought you were leaving me,” Priscilla says.
“I would never leave you,” I say.
We drive back to the hotel and ride the elevator up to our floor. We strip off our clothes and drink whatever liquor is left in the room and snuggle under the covers. The goldfish swim around in their bowl. We didn’t get our miracle. We didn’t meet Kesha. But I’m here with my girlfriends and I’m drunk and it’s Christmas. We’re alive. We’re together. And it’s enough.
Miss Unity is the stage name of Mathias Todd Mietzelfeld, an American writer, drag queen, and singer-songwriter. His first book, WHO KILLED MABEL FROST? is forthcoming in 2023 from SF/LD Books.
image: MM Kaufman