Guy walks into a bar, carrying (unbeknownst to anybody) three, white-tailed darts in a wood, velvet-lined case.
Guy picks random drunk-and-depressed barfly who lives a block away from the most convenient watering hole, The Stuffed Duck. It is known in the area as “The Fucked Duck.” Depressed drunk hasn’t played darts since, like, age 12. Thinks it’s all about the bull’s eye, or proximity to the bull’s eye.
Dart Guy, a short and squat and unassuming fellow, picks his dart partners based on gut-level assumption of some sort of competence. He just needs somebody who hits the board while he takes on the house and cleans up. I am that somebody who has been cursorily scouted enough so Dart Guy figures I won’t lose for him.
Drunk Guy does not realize that there is a dart marathon unfolding, largely due to a Saturday night crowd filled with wannabe alpha boys and their far-superior girlfriends who feel like playing a game at a silly level of intensity. Fist bumps must be exchanged to preclude competitive tensions from turning into, you know, fisticuffs. This is Laramie, Wyoming, where you walk into a bar for a genial drink and sometimes find you have to fight your way out.
The dart competition seems to unfold endlessly, which puzzles Drunk Guy, who won’t realize until the morning that there has been a time change, and the local pub is packed and the dartboard has become a gladiator drome because there is an extra hour on the clock to get even drunker. In Laramie, it is like a national holiday, that extra hour at the bar.
Drunk Guy hits close to center home fairly often. Dart Guy is working the board like a chessmaster in ways I do not quite get. People ask Drunk Guy, who does not talk like a cowboy, where he is from. “Detroit.” Drunk Guy is now Detroit Guy.
I think I am losing after each duo comes up to take us on, but they hang their heads in the bitterness of losing at drunken darts. I nailed two of my three during one turn right at the outer ring of the bullseye, then lost one that hit the outer ring of the whole board. Dart Guy lets out a whoop.
What the fuck just happened?
— “We won,” says Dart Guy.
Apparently, there is more to dart strategy than hitting the eye of the bull.
Dart Guy quietly folds his three, white-tailed darts into their wooden case. Drunk Guy rocks on his heels and tries to comprehend what just happened. Towering redhead sidles up and talks about the game. I look away from her green eyes to see Dart Guy slip out of the bar. I selfishly turn back to my new friend. I do not go home alone.
I wonder about the nature of winning and losing. Dart Guy took a mess and won the night. My evening was won purely by being picked to be the sidekick of somebody with an uncanny and obscure skill that, for one evening, elevated my life, before it went back to shit.
Mark Fritz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent, cutting-edge investigative reporter, award-winning author. Finder of fresh stories both global and national as a staff writer for The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal. Relief worker in Darfur and war crimes investigator in Uganda. Twice a visiting lecturer at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. A sport-touring motorcyclist whose greatest talent is surviving completely unnecessary crashes.