"Hello, Clarice." These are the two haunting words that mentally echo every time we leave our flat. Our door faces our new neighbor's, and often, he's the first person we see when we set out into the world off to our left, sitting in a lawn chair on his porch, silently smoking a cigarette. It doesn't seem to matter what time we come or go, there he is, sitting and smoking and greeting us, like an especially cordial phantom: "Hello, Drink of the Week." He's made us alter our lives a bit, as we now precariously step one foot out the door, then poke our head around to see if he's there when we're leaving and strain our eyes through the darkness when coming home. To our roommate, we refer to him as "Clarice" once we're safely out of earshot.
After going through our vigilant leaving-home routine and exiting our apartment with roommate in tow, we hit St. Louis Sports Zone. The Cardinals are on the cusp of first place, but just as important, the Cubs and the Brewers are playing, and if there's one nearby place to keep tabs on teams, it's here. It's a Tuesday and it's packed, oozing testosterone. Dudes are everywhere tables and tables of them and before we can spit out, "Doesn't any guy in this city have a job?" we hear it: "Hello, Drink of the Week." And there's Clarice, smoking a cigarette at the bar. He gives our roommate a hearty slap on the back as we try to calm ourselves, sure it's just a coincidence.
This is not the time or place for a scaredy-cat drink, so we order an Effen Black Cherry Vodka on the rocks. We think it smells like Diet Cherry Coke not a very tough observation and tastes a touch syrupy, but we appreciate the no-nonsense look of the clear liquor. We order another three of them, eyeing Clarice semi-obsessively all the while. But when not tracking our neighbor's whereabouts, we take in the action on some 35 visible televisions without even turning in our chair. The Cardinals are playing well.
The topics of conversation with our roommate veer toward masculine ones and this makes us feel bold, even with the specter lurking somewhere in the background. But like the vodka, we add saccharine undertones that betray our essence: Labor unions ("Well, if they're really his friends, they'll understand."), hunting ("Aren't you afraid you'll shoot your dog?") and relationships ("We broke up with that douchebag.").
After a Cardinals win and a couple less-newsworthy NTN trivia victories of our own, we're back at our doorstep. We fumble for our keys, cursing ourselves for forgetting to leave the porch light on. And out of the dark: "Hello, Drink of the Week." We jump, startled. Clarice talks about Rally Squirrel's major-league debut at Busch Stadium and launches into a tale about the black cat that circled the Cubs' Ron Santo back in '69. But it's been a good night, what with the win and everything. We briefly consider (figuratively) embracing Clarice as an omen of our own. Perhaps his appearance auspiciously forecasts six more weeks of summer or even a Redbirds win whenever we hear his haunting voice or see his shadow waiting to wave us home.