It's not the volume of the screams that's so troubling; it's the pitch. "Shrill" is the first adjective that comes to mind, then "piercing." We're sitting on the back patio of Sengers on the Fax (3014 East Colfax Avenue), trying not to stare as a table of sequined tank tops carries on at almost inhuman frequencies. Making matters worse is another group of gawkers two tables away who have become so annoyed that they shriek back in an awkward showing of passive aggression. This elicits an explicit response from the poor girl who can't do a damn thing about the effect her voice has on strangers and feral dogs: "Oh! Gee! Sorry that we know how to have a good time!" she retorts in all directions. The whole spectacle is hard to watch and even more difficult to listen to.
That situation finally subsides, but then we find ourselves in another deci-battle — this time with the house P.A. The music — strange techno remixes of '80s not-so classics — is just too loud for a 9:30 p.m. crowd not even large enough to fill every table. We ask our eager yet overworked waiter if he can turn it down, but ten minutes later we're still having those cumbersome exchanges where you have to yell in order to be heard and the listener has to lean away in order to avoid pain. This circumstance, too, rights itself when the sound is switched to an exciting track-and-field relay playing out on the projection screen to our left. Suddenly everyone is standing, cheering and fist-pumping as the American women eke out a gold in one of the final competitions of the Beijing Olympics. "Go, America!" the collective consciousness screams. Then, when the event ends: "Hooray, booze!"
Calling this secluded oasis a "rooftop" patio strikes all of us as a bit of a misnomer: Yes, you have to climb a flight of stairs to get here, and yes, there seems to be a roof beneath us. But when building walls and tall fences restrict the view to little more than hanging branches and pockets of sky, it's tough to compare the space to others that have the same label. There's no denying, however, that we're in the open air. Bluish-gray smoke floats beneath every umbrella, and occasional storm-front winds send shudders through every bone.
I am, for whatever reason, the only beer drinker in our group of eight. I would prefer to order from the taps, but with only four forgettable flavors — Miller Lite, Newcastle, Blue Moon and Heineken — to choose from, I rely on ice-cold Bud bottles ($3 each) to do the trick. Maggie nurses house red out of heavily watermarked glasses that clearly haven't seen a clean rag since leaving the dishwasher. No biggie, she says as she rotates the glass near the flickering candle casting shadows across our faces. Still, even the infinite patience of a kindergarten teacher can't withstand the smudges of lip gloss smearing her second glass. Ew, says the table; send it back. So she does. But when the glass reappears simply wiped and not replaced, we begin the tedious process of running tabs and making new plans.
By 11:30 p.m., when everyone has their plastic back and we're on our final sips, the patio is standing room only, and even then there's almost nowhere to stand. With the music again at an unthinkable volume, we wiggle and wade our way through the throng and toward the door leading back down to the main bar. I am mere strides from freedom when I spot a current college student of mine pointing and gaping at me in mock horror. "Oh, my God!" she screams. (More screaming? Sweet Jesus.) "It's my English teacher!" I smile. Her friends laugh. "What are you doing here?" wonders her face, still agape.
Mine says: I have no idea.