I'm drinking at a bar called the Dirty Horse on Hollywood Boulevard. Well, that's not the real name but I never got a look at the sign and that name seemed right.
It fits the place, with its plastic pitchers of beer, painted clowns on black velvet, bowls of peanuts and the fast-talking, baseball-hat-wearing guy at the end of the bar who clutches a clipboard and swears he can hook you up with tickets to a taping of "Yes, Dear."
That's the nature of the place, a bar -- where as you can probably imagine -- a half-pretty girl in a three-quarters-dark room gets served a pretty stiff drink. I'm drinking martinis for the simple reason that they work fast and I'm on a bit of a schedule. I've been on the road working for all but four days of the past six weeks and I'm wound up tight. I keep thinking about my perpetually overheating Taurus, the way the mechanic's gloved hand slowly loosens the radiator cap and lets the steam out.
At some point, the line between Mickey Rourke and me blurs. I slur. I buy drinks for strangers. I spill the contents of my purse onto the floor. By the end of the night, I have no cash, none.
In the interest of making sure the cliché train doesn't miss a single stop, I make out with my ex-boyfriend, who is my designated driver and seated on the stool next to mine. It is later reported to me that without warning, I burst into tears and had an impassioned discussion about not much in said ex's ear.
Hold that thought.
Several months before the Dirty Horse, I was out with a guy my girlfriend dubbed Sexy Pete. Pete's in the music industry, dresses well, appears to take his workout regime very seriously and would never let you pay for dinner. Sexy Pete has been around. Normally, I'd never go out with a guy who exudes more sex appeal that mensch appeal, but my friend talked me into it.
"Now that you're 30, things are different. In your 30s, you don't worry so much. You just have fun," she explained.
Not to shock you, but it turns out Sexy Pete just "wasn't into a relationship right now." Still, we went out a couple times before that last date, which ended up with me back at his place, very late at night. We talked on his couch. It got late, then early. He fell asleep and I was stuck there, not knowing whether to extricate myself from Sexy Pete's sleepy grip or stay.
I thought to myself, "I'm in the apartment of a guy who couldn't care less about me. He barely speaks. He has no interest in a relationship; a sentiment I finally understand has no hidden meaning for men. This is about to get really sad if I don't leave now."
Out I went. Pete, with all the enthusiasm of a catatonic patient at a hospital square dance, muttered, "Don't leave."
The door was already half shut and it closed. I was out on an unfamiliar street in last night's boots and skirt. I spotted my car in the harsh light of early morning and the old Taurus had a brand new ticket.
This is what I call a Karma Ticket, the kind you get when you are where you shouldn't be. It never fails. You may also be familiar with the Nobility Ticket, the kind you get when you couldn't move your car because you were working and didn't want to lose your flow, listening to a friend discuss her divorce or otherwise doing good in the world. You feel good when you pay these and almost want to write in the memo line of your check, "Fee for being such a good person."
Because I'm 30, I don't cram the Karma Ticket in the glove compartment and forget about it until it doubles. I pay it.
Now back to painted clowns.
I wake up after my evening at the Dark Horse. In my 20s, I would have had a series of concerns, sort of a self-administered shame questionnaire: Why did I do that? Should I still be dating that ex? What does it all mean? Why do I have to be such a jackass?
But now, it's about slack. Just like my friend predicted, I don't worry so much. I'm old enough to know what it costs to get wrapped up with a guy like Sexy Pete, which doesn't mean I don't get close, but it's three dates and out. I don't need to interpret what's wrong with him or with me. I just move on with the mollifying impact of slack easing the way. I call the ex and we go over the highlights of the Dark Horse. It was the most fun I've had in a long time.
Here's the thing, if you spend the night where you shouldn't or get crazy on martinis once a year, there's no need to judge yourself. When it comes down to it, a few painted clowns doesn't make your life a circus.
Teresa Strasser can be seen Fridays 8-10 p.m. and weekdays at 5 p.m. on TLC's "While You Were Out" and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.