Although all six of us had to show our licenses, only the men had to pay a cover charge. We were each given two small faded tickets with blocky, flavorful type, patterned after speakeasy cards.
“What are these?” the blonde asked, holding one up to try to get better light.
I began, “Back during Prohibition,” at the same time that Kimberly started, “In the nineteen-twenties,” and we stopped. I joined in with the low-key laughter that followed.
I gestured at Kimberly, and she explained. “In the nineteen twenties, during Prohibition,” a nod to me, “secret clubs called speakeasies served alcohol. They used cards to limit who could get in, trying to evade authorities and keep the place underground.”
“It’s a cute way to do drink tickets,” I added.
This late in the season, the Tin Roof ran on two levels. We entered on the ground floor, where more than half the area was taken up by the open central space. Fifty people were already dancing in tight knots. A large bar stood off to one side with its customary stool seats; tables at standing height peppered the stage with the band stationed at the back. The area above the dance floor was open to the second level, where sit-down tables and booths ringed the room.
In warmer weather, the club opened the roof to a second band and packed patrons with the novelty of open-air music and dancing, but not in late November. The band occupying the stage as we walked in was pleasant, an eight-player outfit with a couple of brass and a saxophone. Their up-tempo swing piece was catchy.
The six of us settled at a table far enough away from the band to allow for talking. I asked to buy Kimberly a drink, and she nodded.
The bar wasn’t too crowded, and a young bartender made eye contact with me within a couple of minutes. She limited her reaction to a raised eyebrow when I pulled out my black card, and nodded at my requests.
I don’t try to fool myself about the thrill it gives me to have money. While I prefer a small house in the same sort of middle class neighborhood I grew up in, and a car I can park around town without immediately becoming a target, I don’t think there’s any particular virtue in living below your means. Throwing cash around on a night out – starting a tab on a card with no limit – is fun.
“No luck?” Kimberly asked when I approached the table empty-handed.
“Drinks are coming.” I nodded to a server as he came our way. He sat two tall beer glasses in front of me and Kimberly, then placed a bottled water next to each one. “This is my favorite dark draft they have.”
Kim picked hers up and took a generous gulp. Her lips pursed in a way I found very cute. “It’s good. What’s with the water?” The server walked away with the other orders, and the table’s attention turned their curiosity on my answer.
“A lot of hangover symptoms are from dehydration. I chase each beer with a water, and I feel a lot better for it in the morning.” I took another gulp of my own beer, and prompted, “You were saying that feminism pushes against culture?”
“That’s the purpose of progressivism generally, yeah.” She kept eye contact with me while taking another pull from her glass. It left a fleck of foam on her upper lip that she absently wiped off with the back of her hand. “Its goal is to change something in society it doesn’t like. Some combination of structure, status, and culture.”
“What’s the feminist approach?” I drank deeply as I enjoyed her explanation.
“There is no unified approach. Feminism has become a major driving component of academia for two generations now; it encompasses three main waves each with contradictory movements and subgroups.”
“That sounds like a lot to put under a single label.” My beer was drained; I signaled for another at the server who was dropping off bottles for the other four. I looked at the water distastefully but took a dutiful mouthful.
Kimberly shrugged. “A lot of people agree, but there are good historical reasons for everyone to want to stay under the umbrella term.” She was nursing her own drink more slowly.
“Is that what you study at Wayne?”
Smiling, she shook her head. “I’m pursuing a master’s in law and policy. I have a bachelor’s in sociology that I’m applying to my thesis.”
“A grad student,” I acknowledged cheerfully.
“There aren’t that many twenty-five-year-old undergrads.”
We continued to chat, and enjoyed a couple of other dark drafts. The women got the men out on the dance floor when the band started in with a trumpet solo that promised something fast. To my surprise, I joined in.
I’m not a terrible dancer, but normally I’m too self-conscious to enjoy it much. Kimberly didn’t give me that chance. As we moved onto the floor, she had slipped out of her college jacket and revealed a dazzling dress in teal and gold that she filled out exceptionally. The dress flared out over her hips and then just ended, with black leggings below.
She flounced playfully onto the floor and I was helpless to resist following. Her attention never left me for a moment during the dance, and she moved with arms and hips and feet in a way I had no hope to match. It didn’t matter; I provided a focal point for her movements, and move she did.
Kimberly’s eyes were flecked with gold, and she wore a pale pink lipstick that emphasized her darting tongue when it appeared. By the end of that first dance I was thoroughly entranced. We didn’t leave the floor until the band had finished their first set.
I noticed the two girls were by themselves at the table as we returned to it; the boys were still circulating on the dance floor. After catching our breath and draining a bottle of water, Kimberly introduced me to her friends over another beer.
It turned out that the four students were in a political science course for which Kimberly was a TA. Since the five of them were all sticking to campus over the holiday, they decided to go out together. Kimberly had been out with the two girls, Kylie and Michelle, before, but they only knew the two guys, Rick and Joseph, from class.
We had a decent amount of time to talk, because the DJ hired to fill in between the live sets was a cringeworthy performer. He took three trips to wheel all of his equipment onstage, which included custom lights and large speakers in addition to… yes, a fog machine. As we chatted about Michelle’s majors (education and history), I noticed the DJ plug each of his devices into the same multi-outlet extension cord, which he in turn plugged into the wall. I saw a spark at the wall even from across the room; the wiring in this building was not very robust, and I considered how easy it would be for a circuit overload to shut down the whole place.
The question kept nagging at me while Michelle and Kimberly swapped unflattering observations about Wayne polisci profs, and I finally decided to seek an answer. I closed my eyes and sank into my View. The building was laid out as expected – a basement boiler room with a central fuse box, helpfully open and clearly labeled. A single circuit with a 50-amp breaker covered the entire ground floor of the club, except the washroom areas. The basement opened to outside steps at the rear –
I opened my eyes in reaction to a sharp elbow from Kimberly. “Sorry?” I squeaked.
“You didn’t say what you studied at Michigan,” Kylie repeated. I spared an eye at Kimberly, who looked amused rather than annoyed at me.
“Didn’t I? Electrical engineering.” A partial answer, but reasonable for the conversation.
“Finding the squishy science too boring, huh?” Kimberly quipped, nudging me more broadly with her arm.
“Sorry,” I repeated. “I’m a very visual thinker -”
“Oh, we could tell!” Michelle cut in; the two younger girls giggled while Kimberly’s grin broadened again.
“- I close my eyes to think through things sometimes. It’s a bad habit.”
“I’ll say,” Michelle said. “We spend way too much effort on ourselves for you guys to not to look.”
“And drool,” Kylie agreed. “But in fairness, he’s not looking much at us anyway.”
There was a moment’s awkward pause before Kimberly backtracked. “I take it that EE wasn’t on your list?” she asked Kylie, who was still undeclared as to her major.
“Nothing in engineering, thanks. CS would be the closest.”
Michelle nodded. “Kylie’s really good with computers. She’s resident tech support in our dorm.”
The blonde rolled her eyes. “Not by choice. With a building full of freshman girls, there’s always some sort of virus being passed around. You’d think they’d be better at using protection,” she smirked.
“Bareback is more fun,” Michelle quipped, and the three girls succumbed to a round of giggling again.
The conversation moved on to hometowns, and Kimberly traded stories about Baltimore for mine about Detroit. Michelle was jumping in with her own anecdote when the DJ announced the return of the live band for another set.
The four of us decided to return to the floor as a group to begin with, and I allowed the three coeds to share me amongst them with wry forbearance. By the second song, however, Kimberly had moved close enough to stake her exclusive claim. The two friends spun off in eager search of prey.
Kimberly and I had kept sampling different drafts during the evening, and despite a sanguine pace and interwoven hydration, we were both noticeably inebriated by now. I was as entranced as before, but now the source was other than visual… it was closeness, warmth, and a wonderful smell mixing blooming flowers with green earth. Our hands stayed affixed to each other as we tangled and untangled in slow spins and uncoordinated grinds. It was delightful chaos.
We returned to the table to catch our breath after half the set. The first face I saw standing there was unfamiliar, and I prepared to apologize and go. I then noticed that the arm around her belonged to one of the two polisci boys from Wayne.
The two men had drawn a group of three girls to our table, who were listening with amused attention at an animated story. We squeezed in – seven being beyond the modest surface’s planned capacity – and listened while drinking water.
“So they toss the guy the ball, right? And then a second ball, and a third. He’s bouncing them around a bit like he’s about to drop them, and suddenly… he’s up in the air, fifteen feet above the ground.” He held his arms out and pantomimed looking down. “The stands are going crazy, cheering, and he flies back and forth between the two nets, dropping one ball in one, then one in the second, then back to the first. Then he just flies back to the center of the field and stretches out his arms for applause,” the student stretched his armed up and out from the shoulders in a wide V, “and the crowd eats it up. I’ll be honest, it was the most fun I had watching the games last season.”
“So, what, the mascot was like a super?” one of the girls asked. She and her friends were decked in clubwear with unnatural makeup colors and an unhealthy amount of glitter.
“Right,” the other male student spoke up, his arm still around the tallest of the three women. “A sophomore student that can fly. I don’t know how they talked him into putting on that bird costume. Hope he’s getting a scholarship or something.”
“I’m sure some hero has him bankrolled,” the woman replied. “Team was from Saginaw, right? I bet the Midland Super Team roster has a new flier listed already.”
That earned a nod from the other two, but not from Kimberly: “That’s not as likely as you’d think.”
The three women had, after the initial greeting, pointedly not included the newcomer in the conversation. Now they turned their attention in her direction. “Oh? Why not?”
Kimberly took the attention in stride. “Most powered individuals don’t work for the super teams.” She raised her glass while adding, “If you meet a super at random, ninety-seven times out of hundred you’ve just met a civilian with an unusual talent.” She took a good gulp of beer, her mouth pursing in appreciation – a look I liked even better each time I saw it on her face.
The girl scoffed. “Yeah, right. Three percent? There’s like a thousand costumed heroes in the states alone.”
“And fifty thousand not in costume. Most of whom are about as likely to tell you they’re a super as someone is to tell you if they have an extra toe. The two conditions are about as common, by the way.” She took another substantial pull from her beer, nearly finishing it.
“Where do you get your numbers?” I asked. The looks from the others at the table were skeptical, but I was simply curious.
“A couple of large cohort studies, one based out of Portland and one in Helsinki. It also fits self-reporting data from clinical surveys if you correct for certain substantiated self-selection biases.” I stared as she finished her beer, then she put on a mischievous smile. “That’s my master’s thesis, anyway. I’ll tell you if it holds up when I’m done writing it.”
The look on the other girl’s face melted from challenge to admiration with that last line. “Oh! You’re, like, a scientist?” Kim shrugged, which was enough. “That’s so cool! Do you know Joseph?”
The student with his arm around her smiled, and I finally learned his name as he said, “Yes, Kimberly teaches political science at the university.”
“Didn’t you say law and policy?” I asked.
“Law and Policy is a masters program under polisci,” she explained. “It’s considered an interdisciplinary subject. Which is another way of saying they don’t have a clear label for what I’m studying.”
Joseph said, “Yeah, what exactly is it that you’re studying?”
Kimberly cleared her throat. “Civilian power use. How powered individuals that don’t join super teams use their abilities, and how we regulate those uses.”
“Like that super construction crew in Texas?” one of the girls asked.
Kimberly nodded. “I’m glad Joseph mentioned the Saginaw Valley mascot; I hadn’t heard about that, and I will probably try to get an interview with him.”
The conversation drifted back into college sports. Our breath reclaimed, Kimberly and I made to stand up and rejoin the dancers when the live set came to an end. We looked at each other as the DJ began playing something fast, and with a mutual shrug, we joined the floor anyway.
Patrons had gradually filled the building over time, and even the less popular generic dance music of the DJ still drew a crowd to the floor. Visibility was cut as mist billowed out from the stage, fluorescing with rapidly cycling colors. The DJ’s oversized speakers boomed, and Kimberly and I shook and writhed along with a hundred other bodies.
The unnatural quiet that followed the sudden silencing of all of the DJ’s equipment was the most jarring part of the experience, even more than having all of the overhead and wall lights on the first floor of the club go out. The lull only lasted a few heartbeats before the ambient volume increased with the querulous murmurs of clubgoers, but this was enough for me to solidify my own course of action.
Kimberly’s arms that had been resting loosely on my shoulders tightened around me, drawing me close. “What happened?” she asked in my ear.
“Tripped the breaker,” I explained, moving my head back enough to meet her eyes. “Let’s fix it.”
Her eyes narrowed in confusion for just a moment before widening in clear delight, and she nodded. I kept hold of her hand as I quickly maneuvered us around milling dancers surrounded by dark fog who suddenly had nothing to dance to.
Kimberly and I stepped up onto the stage, where the DJ – an undersized teenager – flipped switches on his equipment in flustered bewilderment. He didn’t notice my approach, yanking his thick orange extension cord at that moment. Nobody tried to stop us as I headed out the door below the red glow of the ‘EXIT’ sign and to the right of the stage, Kimberly in tow.
The alley behind the long building shared by the Tin Roof and three other businesses provided a discarded panel of cardboard with which we wedged the exit door open. The concrete steps down to the building basement bore cracks from settling and long use, but were free of detritus and surface grime – signs of regular upkeep.
I sighed in relief when the catch on the metal door handle depressed, opening into the basement. It was the biggest gamble in my plan, since the multi-tool in my pocket didn’t include real lock picks. The basement light was on, dimly illuminating a space cluttered with tools and equipment.
I knocked an empty mop bucket over while picking my way across to the open breaker box. Gesturing at the box, I stepped back and allowed Kimberly the honor of reaching up and resetting the one switch that was moved in the opposite direction of all the others. We traded a nod and made our way out.
I paused a moment on the way out of the basement to look around and find a long orange extension cord connected to a floor cleaner. I disconnected the cord and hung it on my shoulder, following my companion out.
Back in the Tin Roof, the crowd’s volume level had increased since the lights came back up. At the back door, I handed the female end of the cord to Kimberly. “See if you can get the speakers plugged in here.” She nodded. The men’s bathroom had a covered outlet just inside the front door that opened easily to a flathead screwdriver.
I joined Kimberly on the stage just as she and the DJ finished connecting the two speakers to a splitter now plugged into the orange cord. “Hey man, thanks for helping me out,” the young man said when he saw me. “I don’t know what made the fuse blow; it’s never happened before.”
“The circuit breaker tripped,” I explained. “You need to keep an eye on the total current pulled by your equipment against the maximum load a building’s circuit will allow. Split the load between two circuits when you need to.” The boy nodded, murmuring gratitude, but I didn’t think he retained what I’d said. With the load now split between two building circuits, I was confident he wouldn’t trip the breaker again; what happened during his next gig was his own problem.
When he resumed playing some inanely-spun dance number, the crowd fell back into enthusiastic revelry as though nothing had happened. We made our way back to our home table, where we found plenty of room: Joseph and Rick were still there, and each had a woman from earlier plastered closely to his side. The third member of their glittery trio was nowhere to be seen.
“Were you guys out on the floor when the lights went down? That was crazy, right?” the talkative blonde greeted us.
Kimberly nodded, and announced with a big grin, “Hector fixed it.”
“Who’s Hector?” the other girl asked.
Her shorter friend smacked her playfully with the back of her hand. “He’s Hector,” she chided loudly.
“Oh, sorry! I missed your boyfriend’s name,” she said. Her speech had the pronounced slur of someone with senses dulled by alcohol, something she seemed quite content with.
“It’s fine,” Kimberly said quickly, but she was already shifting her gaze to me. “You knew exactly where to go and what to do. It was fun to watch,” she leaned into me, placing her chin on my shoulder. I felt a thrill shoot up through me.
“What did you do?” Rick asked.
Kimberly pulled back and looked to me to answer. I had the attention of everyone at the table for only the third time that evening. I explained, “He had too many things plugged into the same circuit. Older retail buildings are often wired just like residences, and it’s not hard to overload them if you plug in too many appliances that draw a lot of power.”
“So you just went down and reset the breaker?” Rick asked. “How did you know where to go?”
“He figured it out earlier,” Kimberly said. “When Hector first saw the DJ setting up tonight, I watched him zone out and close his eyes. You were picturing the building layout and the location of the breaker box, weren’t you.” She didn’t state it as a question. “You were thinking through the steps to fix the problem if the circuit tripped.”
“That’s so cool,” the blonde said. “How do you do that?”
I shook my head. “It’s a flattering idea, but I don’t have that sort of genius. I was really just clearing my head.” Lifting my beer, I proclaimed, “These have a nice kick.”
Conversation again drifted to other topics and the evening proceeded apace. Even with breaks for dancing and frequent hydration, I was consuming more beer than Kimberly and the difference in our buzz was starting to get noticeable, so I slowed down. We drank less and danced more.
At half past midnight, as we pressed against each other during a slow number with a wailing sax solo, Kimberly grabbed my shoulders and pulled me down until my ear was next to her lips. “Let’s get out of here,” she said.
It’s amazing how fast you can move toward something you want unambiguously. Two full minutes did not pass from the time her last word hit my ear to the moment we stepped out of the front door of the Tin Roof, her coat donned and my credit card back in my pocket. Her grin and wave to Kylie on the way out had been returned, which was the extent of her need to explain anything to her student companions. They all had seemed quite happy with Kimberly’s find, and I knew they’d be pleasantly surprised when they went to leave and discovered they’d been drinking on my tab.
It was a short walk to Kimberly’s off-campus apartment, a snug two-bedroom affair that she explained she shared with two roommates. They were fortunately asleep, and soon Kimberly and I were back to a fascinating and snappy dialog in an environment with far less ambient noise… and, shortly thereafter considerably less clothing.
Neither my thoughts nor my vision left that small bedroom for a quite pleasant interval thereafter.