Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Drunkard's Baptism

A week or so ago I encountered a woman here in my little town (in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, to be exact) who informed me that she was a life-long teetotaler, and gosh-darn proud of it. Nothing good, she claimed—absolutely nothing—had ever or would ever come of booze. She was an elderly woman, sporting the pinched-up expression of the professional Baptist.

Responding to her dopey assertion would have taken more energy than I had, and besides that, the odds that she would have listened to one word of what I had to say were about the same as James Dobson grand marshalling a LAMBDA parade, so I simply walked away. But for the rest of the afternoon Miss Pinchy’s words clung to my mind—just like the foam rings in a glass of properly poured Guinness—until they eventually called up a memory…

Middle of last summer was a bleak time in the life of your friendly neighborhood Wine God. I’m not going to get specific. Suffice it to say that the sky above my head was darkened by the Great Cloaca, and She was a-gushin’.

I used to collect beer cans (that’s not a non sequitur; just roll with me). Started when I was 9 and living in Milwaukee. When I ceased serious acquisition maybe fifteen years ago, I had near to 1,800 different cans from all over the world. Some of them were worth over a hundred bucks a piece. I didn’t want to, but seeing as I was forcibly rooted in the flood plain of the Great Cloaca, it had become clear that I had no other recourse but to sell my collection.

Now, in the can-collecting world (a small and pot-bellied, yet genial, subset of society) a beer can is worth more coin if it is full. However, since I was going to entertain bids from far and wide, I felt I needed to empty my full cans, if only to facilitate less costly shipping. However, a third of my collection—something like 700 cans—were still sloshing with twenty- to thirty-five-year-old beer, and decanting the stuff was a task I looked forward to with approximately the same level of enthusiasm as tongue bathing Margaret Thatcher.

But I felt I had to be done. And so, at about four o’clock one sunny afternoon last June, I dragged the old door I use as a work table into the back yard, laid it across a couple of saw horses, and commenced hauling boxes of beer cans from the storage shed, arranging the full ones on the door. When it was covered with standing cans I went back to the garage and retrieved a smallish phillips-head screwdriver and a two-pound sledge hammer. (Another thing about maintaining the highest value of a collectable can is this: if you must empty it don’t pop its top. Instead, punch a pair of small holes in its bottom and drain the contents that way. Now you know. Try to contain yourself.) I flipped a can upside down, positioned the screwdriver near the edge of its concave base and raised the sledge.

I paused before striking, however, wondering what would happen when twelve to fourteen ounces of stale thirty-year-old beer was suddenly reintroduced to the world. The cans hadn’t been shaken, I knew, which was a plus, and they had been designed to be airtight, but still. A whole wallop of additional fermentation must’ve taken place over the years, which would have caused a heightening in internal pressure. Upon puncturing the can’s metal hide, would I be rewarded with a sloppy spray or but a lackluster foosh? Well, the only way of discovering the answer was to do the deed. And so I did.

And got my answer. It came in the form of a dark brown, yeast-scented geyser; a geriatric suds slurry; an Old Milwaukee Faithful of beer from yesteryear.

The stuff went up my nose. It went in my eyes. It squirted all over my shirt, and clots of foamy gunk clung to my hair like a spider’s egg sacks. And since you need two holes for the fluid to drain effectively, I whacked a second one in the can. This time the beer came out, not in a splash, but in a thick, arterial gush. It didn’t violate my face, either. Instead it ran off the table and soaked my sneakers, right on through to my socks.

Well, I thought, squelching in my shoes and spluttering stale beer off my tongue. This is gonna suck more ass than a porn star.

As it turned out, though, it didn’t.

It didn’t at all.

For three hours I kept knocking holes in cans, and the beer rain kept falling. Before long I was standing almost ankle deep in a frothy puddle. My hair was pasted to my head, and I was soaked through to the skin. As the sun dropped lower, its light angling across my yard, each new fountain of beer created a little rainbow in the air around me. My dogs, Sadie and Sam, who had been completely perplexed by my actions (all that noisy whacking), slowly warmed to the situation, until they were dancing and yipping around beneath the now flooded and dripping table trying to score a few rounds for themselves. All three of us were laughing—Canis lupis familiaris and Homo sapiens sapiens sharing an intoxicated and totally sober giggle. And the wetter I got, and the more I laughed, the more my mood lightened. All the hateful, tedious shit that had been assaulting my person and my world was washed away; my soul scrubbed free of fear and worry in a baptism of beer.

As it finally grew too dark to continue working, I wiped my face, smoothed back my hair, and looked upon what I had wrought.

A good hundred beer cans lay atop the door-table, their contents dribbling onto the sodden grass, and at least two hundred more stood like cylindrical metal soldiers all about the yard. Sam and Sadie were positively marinated in beer, but seemed no more or less tipsy than they ordinarily do, seeing as they are of the border collie and terrier persuasions, respectively. I was thoroughly saturated, quite tired, and I smelled like bread, but…


But I felt better than I had in months. Glorious, in fact. The Great Cloaca was still loitering about up there, of course, but I felt ready to take Her best shitty shot.

Beer had once again worked its singular magic and I hadn’t taken even a single sip.

So…that’s the story I wish I would’ve told Miss Pinchy. Would she have listened? Would she have seen that booze is good, even when taken externally? Would my tale have cracked through her rigid Baptist shell? I seriously doubt it, but here’s the thing:

Who cares.

Her life is hers, and mine is mine. And mine is better.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Piece of Oklahoma That Surpasseth All Understanding

This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Really.

One day I will write something blithe and Wobegonian about the “joys” of hamlet life, but this is not that day. Today I have other fish to fry.

See, I’ve been here close to a year and still find the place —specifically the people and their behavior— mystifying. There is a certain predilection among the locals to consciously, even blissfully, engage in activities which are demonstrably stupid and which generally result in harm—mental, physical, even metaphysical—to their persons.

By way of illustration: a true story.

I managed a now-defunct retail concern here in town. Early one weekday morning my phone rings. It’s one of my employees, asking if I can cover her shift.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“It’s hard to explain,” she says. “I’ll come by the store later and talk to you.”

“Wait,” I say. “You can’t come to work, but you can come by work to tell me why?”

“Uh-huh. You’ll understand when you see.”

“Oh. OK. Whatever. I’ll cover your shift. Come see me soon as you can.”

“I will.”

So, I head to the store, auto-pilot my way through the morning routine, blah-blah-blah, and at around eleven, in she rolls.

I’m not drawn up short often, but that’s exactly what happens when I get an eyeful of her.

Someone has kicked the living crap out of the woman. Two black eyes. Broken nose. Small cuts on her face. And best of all, bruises on her neck shaped like fingers.

“What the fuck?” I shout “What happened?”

“My Ex. We got in a fight.”

And me thinking: Yeah, no fucking shit.

She’s told me stories about this asshole. He’s violent, paranoid, and subject to fits of irrational jealousy, all side effects of his ongoing crystal-meth pastime. He spent three years in the can for repeatedly abusing a woman, and choke-slamming her four-year-old son through a coffee table. I don't pester my employee for any details about her adventure, though she does divulge that the cocksucker had broken her nose via the delightful expedient of hitting it with a propane tank.

“You go to the hospital?” I ask.

“No,” she answers, with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“Call the cops?”

The question makes her mad. “Fuck no! Why?

“Why?!” I holler, stopping myself just short of adding: Why the fuck do you think?!

“It wouldn’t do anything. Most’a the cops in this town would take his side.”

“Oh, horseshit!”

To which she responds by changing directions. “So… I don’t really want to be out in public for a few days.”

“Sure. Of course. I’ll help cover your shifts for the rest of the week. Is that long enough?”

“Hopefully. Thanks.”

“Of course.” I wasn’t done, though, trying to spark some glimmer of survival knowledge in the woman. “You know, the more women report shit like this, eventually the cops will have to react.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I don’t want to talk about it, OK?”


And off she goes.

Flash forward about six weeks.

I’m working the day shift, and she’s closing. She bops through the door all grins and giggles, practically vibrating with some giddy inner energy.

“What’s with you?” I ask. “You look like Sylvester with a mouthful of Tweety’s ass.”

Her response comes in pantomime. She waggles her finger at me. Her ring finger. It’s sporting a fair sized rock set in a white gold band.

“I’m engaged!” she hoots.

Yes. Engaged. Docketed to exchange vows with the same dipshit who’d pulped her face not two months ago.

“What?” she asks, perplexed, perhaps wondering why I’m not flailing around in paroxysms of delight.



“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

And she stares at me, genuinely, nakedly surprised that I’d say such a horrible thing. Then, after an inward-looking pause —a brief inward-looking pause— she defends her plans by saying, in a tone that indicates both my profound ignorance and overall assholery: “He’s off meth.”

As I understand it, they stood up in front of a clergyman ten days ago.

Do I feel for this woman? Of course I do, but only up to a point. My sympathies went south about a nanosecond after she announced her impending nuptials. I mean, what the fuck? It’s not like she’s some dopy kid, or anything. She’s in her thirties, for fuck’s sake. No one forced her to do a half-gainer into what will certainly turn out to be a matrimonial cesspool. No, her own surreal decisions got her there, and if she’s too needy, or weak, or —let’s face it— stupid, to suss out the big-ass-fuckin’-neon writing on the wall, then ya know what?

Fuck her.

I’m sure I’ll hear all too soon that they’ve procreated. And thus will the Great Wheel of Stupidity will keep right on turning.

Jesus Christ…

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Wilds of Oklahoma--Update!

Here’s a short update from the Wilds of Oklahoma.

Small town weirdness comes in forms both funny and horrifying. I’m interested in the funny bits, most of the time. Sure, my little puddle of Americana is colonized by its share of mouth-breathing, semi-literate crackers blithering on about “Obama Care,” but you can experience run-of-the-uterus witlessness like that every afternoon on Fox News, and it’s generally more tedious than it is entertaining. So…

First up, a tale of homelessness and deprivation.

I’m sitting in one of my local watering holes, enjoying a frosty mug of beer and a few shots of Wild Turkey. A guy wanders in, settles himself on a stool a couple down from mine. He’s maybe 50, thin, graying. He orders a beer, pays for it from a roll of quarters, then asks the bartender if she has a small box.

“What for?” says she.

“Nothin’. Just…do you have a box?” He holds his hands about a foot apart. “A small one.”

The bartender chuckles, then a look of dawning awareness pops into her eyes. “Oh yeah. Oh shit. I heard she threw you out. Sorry. You want me to check if we have some bigger ones back there? For your stuff?”

“No. Just a small one. Like this:” He holds up his hands again.

The bartender appears confused, so the guy finally rolls his eyes, and reaches in the side pocket of his coat—from which he extracts a gray and white guinea pig.

“He’s been living in there three days, and it’s making him mad. He bites me.”


His lady gives him the ol’ heave-ho and all he’s got left is a pocketful of cranky rodent.

Poor, sad bastard...

So, then, on to Part II of today’s news update.

It’s a tale so mind-numbingly bizarre, shocking, and unsettling, I still can’t decide whether to cry, laugh, or laugh really, really hard.

Just the other evening I found myself in a round of chit-chat with a local high-school kid. He is, I think, 16. He’s all happy with himself, having spent the last few days undertaking a bit of genealogical research vis-à-vis his forebears. There are, he informs me, both “good parts” and “bad parts” to his ancestry. I ask about the bad parts. It turns out he’s some kind of distant cousin to Jesse James, who, the kid says, with complete accuracy, “was kind of a scumbag.” And the good parts? Well, the kid says, preening, “my great-great grandfather, was a Grand Dragon in the Klan.”

Kind of puts a whole new slant on the concepts of “Good” and “Bad,” don’t it?

Fuck me…

And that’s the news from the Wilds of Oklahoma, where the men are toothless, the women are potbellied, and the children are beyond freakish.