I got paid, and it was about time.
It was a Friday, I had overdrawn $25.74 from my bank account and would be charged a $50.00 fee if I didn’t drop in cash within five days. So I went over to the store I was working at the time where I unloaded boxes from a truck and put them in a big room.
The store was a busy since it was a Summer Friday, two in the afternoon, and all those high school kids had vacation and needed somewhere to hang out. So I walked in and headed to the office where the manager was on the phone with some other employee who wanted to know next week’s schedule.
“Hey, Lisa, quit chattin’ it up with Susan and give me my check, I only have a dollar on me and less everywhere else.” She gave me a jokingly frustrated look and kept talking on the phone. After hanging up, she handed me a stack of checks and a list of names. I looked through it, got my check and signed the sheet of paper next to my name.
The next stop was the bank ATM, which allowed me to only spend $95.26 of the $343.62 check I put in. That got rid of one problem and I headed out to solve the next.
There was a great liquor store just down the street from the bank, terrific selection though maybe a bit overpriced. I stayed in there for a good forty-five minutes just going up and down the whiskey isle looking at different bottles of scotch and wishing I could take all of them. But I eventually settle for one and walked over to the cash register as I got a phone-call.
I was called in to work a closing shift since somebody decided not to show up, I said sure since I need the cash. They asked me to come in at five. I showed up at three-thirty with my bottle of scotch, I didn’t want to go home only to come right back, so I just went right after I bought the scotch. I had nothing to do so I figured I could just wait-out the time in the break room till it was time for my shift.
So I waited there, eyeing the scotch as though it could just jump up and get away. The manager walked in and I jokingly asked her for the store policy about drinking on the job. After dismissing my comments, and me in general, she asked if I wanted to clock in now and work six instead of five hours. I figured it was another $8.50 in my next check, so I agreed and clocked in.
I busted my ass off for six hours with a couple of breaks somewhere along the way and I eventually made it to ten o’clock. Closing time. I clocked out and grabbed the bottle, I got home at about eleven.
I usually didn’t work Fridays, and a few of my friends had gotten into the tradition of a Fifth Friday, whereupon we gather every Friday around, at the very least, a fifth of whiskey and have at it. I had to cancel on them for this particular Friday since I was called in to work. It was too late for my friends to come over but not too late for me to drink.
There’s a certain overwhelming feeling that I get whenever I tear the tin-foil or screw the cap off of a bottle of whiskey, like I’m about to take on something I can’t handle, something unexpected and dark. That’s part of the thrill, some people like scary movies, I like whiskey.
So I put on a Dean Martin record and took a swig of scotch and I started belting along with Dino. I knew all the songs by heart.
And it got later, I got drunker, the music kept playing, I kept singing. I was two-thirds through the fifth and was feeling good when I felt like having a cigarette. The problem was that I ran out earlier at work and forgot to buy some on the way back, and now I had it bad for a Pall Mall. I sat there trying to gather my thoughts which had been slowly spilling onto the floor with every swig I took.
It was two in the morning and the closest place to get a pack was a little over a mile away, so roughly two miles back and forth. Driving there was out of the question since I knew better than to even try in the shape I was in. So I did the only thing I could, I walked it. I set out and tried to keep a steady line, though I doubt I was able to. The part of town I lived in wasn’t the worse, but that’s not to say it was the best, it was at the very least in the bottom rung. But I never had any trouble and wouldn’t mind if I got into any so long as it was kept mildly fair. And besides, I was walking down the main street so I set out without worries.
I was ten minutes out and half-way to the store when I was nearing the end of a block when some stereotype of a gangster walked out from the small street and towards me. You know the sort, shaved head and oversized everything, likely a waste of breadth. I noticed him and didn’t give him a second thought, I was going to keep walking. At about five feet away I hear the guy say “Was-good, homie?” This guy.
“Right now,” I replied, “just about everything.” And I kept walking.
“Hold up, homie.” This bastard got in my way so I stopped, “I’m trying to get back home, you got any cash you can spare?”
This guy, I didn’t even bother reaching for my wallet. “Nope, I have nothing to spare.” I stepped aside to continue walking and he got in my way again.
“You sure you don’t have any?”
“Quit the shit and let me through, I got important business to get to.” I suddenly remembered a fable but I couldn’t remember the name, the one with the troll at the bridge.
He shoved me and I stumble back a little, “Cash and cell phone before I lay you out flat.”
“Easy, I don’t want any trouble,” at least not in the state I was in, “so take it easy.”
“Give me your shit or you will have trouble.”
I sighed and said “I hate toll booths” under my breadth as I reached for my back pocket.
And I reached for a whole lot of nothing, “You’re kidding me!”
“Make it fast, homie.”
“Oh quit the crap, I forgot my damn wallet at home, just great, now I’ll have to go back.”
“Nah, fuck that, don’t play me and give me your shit before I bust your ass.”
“Cram it already, you think I’m happy about this? I just doubled the trip.” I turned around and stuck my hands in my back pockets, “You see these pockets? They’re goddamn empty! Nothing!” I patted them so he could notice, I turned around and stuck out my front pockets, “These are no different.”
He got a frustrated look, but I’m sure I was annoyed a lot more than he was. I had nothing on me, I was a vagrant. He shoved me again, with more force this time and I fell on the floor. The bastard turned around and ran off, I grabbed a rock and threw it at him, I think I missed.
I got up and cleaned myself up, and walked back to my place to get my wallet. At least I found out I had forgotten my wallet half way there instead of while I was about to pay. So I got back and made sure I had everything this time, the whole ordeal had also sobered me up a bit, so I took another swig right before I left.
And almost on cue, in the same intersection, out comes the same guy, this time with a buddy. But now I just wanted my smokes and that’s it.
He walks towards me and says, “Sup, homie, you find your wallet?”
I wasn’t about to waste my time, “Alright, listen up you fatherless bitch,” I had no idea where I got that from, but that’s what came out. “You better have a gun or a mob,” and I took out my knife and opened it in the same movement, “’cause I’m drunk enough to cut both your goddamn heads of.” I slashed towards both of them in a wide swing, they stepped back, I said “C’mon.”
The whole thing was probably too much for them, they got spooked since I probably looked like a mad-man, they said a few curse words and ran off. I gave a deep breath and was surprised that my heart wasn’t beating out of control, so I thanked the monks for making whiskey and kept on my way.
I got to the store and had to explain to the cashier that I wanted the soft pack Pall Malls and not the hard pack, then I paid my $6.62 and chained them all the way back home without interruption. There’s something about the mixture of tobacco and whiskey that sends me to a state I don’t quite know or understand but also don’t want to get away from. That dry leaf and that charred oak: it’s cool, it’s beat, it’s down, it’s groovy, it’s grand, it’s top-shelf, it’s perfection, it’s my exception to reality. The whiskey riles up my mind into a riot of thought and the cigarette smoke clears up the debris and synchronizes it into orchestrated chaos. And so I walked back home with this organized quagmire of notions in my head like a bebop song that won’t end until the band passes out from not giving a damn.