Sixteen

What I wouldn’t give to drink like I was sixteen again. When two six packs, a pint of peach schnapps and two joints in a Sucrets tin could last a weekend at the cabin but would not be enough to even make the drive now. To not have to spend forty dollars on high end IPA’s and brown liquor just to bend the mood enough to make me tolerable at home in the evening. Back then I’d be smiling on a half can of Stroh’s and laughing out loud by the time it was finished. Those. Those were the days.

Girls

The kiosk to order custom cakes was all the way at the back of the store, which really was a warehouse. Enter through the garage doors and past the computers, televisions and other electronics, past outerwear (seasons change, hoodies gone), past books, furniture (again, seasons, so it’s patio tables and pergolas), batteries, then the produce, then the packaged cookies and bread, then finally, after a half mile of smooth concrete, the kiosk.

Typically deserted, today a young woman in an apron was bent slightly digging with a pair of scissors in the slot that should have held the order forms. Her round bottom challenged her jeans and threatened to squeeze her phone out of her pocket like a watermelon seed.

“That’s where all the pens go”, I said looking over her shoulder. She smelled of icing.

“They tear them off of this”, she indicated the squiggly cord that usually held a pen, “And toss them in here or walk off with them…I mean, really…then people come looking for me, I have to find a pen…” Through all this she kept digging.

I proudly held out my pen. “I bring one with me-just in case.”

Having fished out three pens and a quarter she paused and smiled. “Well done! You here a lot?”

“Every month.”

A little light went off. “Oh, you’re the five-cake guy.”

“Yep. That’s my mob name, ‘Tommy Five Cakes’ “.

She laughed, flashing a tiny dab of lipstick on her front tooth. “Let me know if you need anything”, she said walking away.

“I’m fine…”

Next stop was the liquor store two blocks down for a couple of bottles and a box. She liked box red as our “maintenance” wine-what we drank instead of killing all the good stuff too quickly. They never had my favorite bourbon so I substituted another that would do the trick. And a bottle of cold Chardonnay for the ride home.

Sliding carefully by, I tried to avoid the pretty girl at the near register. Purple lipstick, same color nails and upswept blonde hair. I imagined a nose stud but wouldn’t look. Nothing but trouble this one. She caught my eye.

“I’ll take you over here”, she said.  I stood in front of her register avoiding eye contact waiting for the total so I could insert my card.

“You want your box in a bag?” she asked.

“No”, I said looking up but only slightly. “Nor do I want my bag in a box.”

She froze a moment, then continued with a slight uptick to the corner of her mouth. “You had me for a second.”

“But only for a second”, I said. “You’re too quick for that.”

“Maybe.” It was a real smile when she slid the box and bag my way.

“Have a day”, she said.

“You too.”

This is me flirting now.

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

The drear gray of another rainy April morning

Almost made me long for February when darkness

At least had the decency to hang around awhile.

The back bar was full of loud nurses off the night shift

At the hospital up the street.

Front bar was us, the shiftless,

Remembering when a morning’s drinking felt earned

By a hard night’s work.

A familiar face at the end of the bar,

I raise a glass, he nods a lifted eyebrow.

Dated his sister years ago.

City detective; don’t know if he’s

coming off or going on.

Vodka and OJ-perfect cover.

Used to call them screwdrivers,

Don’t know if they still do.

This isn’t the kind of place where drinks have names.

There was an empty stool beside me but he stood

Leaning-here but not here-eyes covering the door.

Don’t ask how I know, but he keeps a boyfriend

In an apartment a few blocks up the hill.

Cute kid. College student.

Too young for him but who am I to say?

Both TV’s were muted against the chatter

But you could see they were talking about drugs;

The words OPIOID EPIDEMIC slid across the screen

Like a banner pulled behind a plane.

There were pictures of pills and flashing red lights

And serious faces trying to explain the scourge.

Don’t know what’s so hard, he said.

You feel shitty.

You take a pill.

You feel better.

How tough is that?

The drugs ain’t the problem, he said.

It’s the feeling shitty.

That’s what we gotta get a handle on.

Outside you could reach up and touch the dark, pressing clouds.

It might snow yet, the fucker.

At the VFW

 

I’m BOOZER! he roared

Slamming his fists on the bar,

Rattling glasses and tipping Baldy’s beer.

Jesus Walter, Baldy said catching what he could.

He’d been quiet, blinking behind his glasses for hours.

A man and his whiskey.

Now this.

I’m BIG BOOZER!

You’re Walter Tattalega, old white shirt said,

His officious head up his ass.

That was it from them for now.

When Boozer got started they melted into the dark paneling like oil

Leaving me alone to manage him

Because I was the bartender and bigger than them

But no way the size of Boozer.

Plus, I was a kid. The only battles I’d fought were on the football field-

Which counted for shit.

He had a bad war, they said. Whatever that meant.

Didn’t seem to be having a good peace neither.

He’d a killed me if he had a mind to. But he didn’t.

Word was he served with my uncle who didn’t come home.

He’d always let me walk him to the door, my hand resting on his shoulder

A giant breathing, ham.

Never pushing-just resting there-feeling the strength and the tension.

He touched me on the chin as he left-a soft cuff that

Made me wince.

They oozed back around the bar once Boozer was gone.

You think you could play ball, one said. You shoulda seen Walter when he was a boy.

Shame what happened to him.

Shame what they did to him.

I was suddenly too small to see over the bar.

Had to jump up to sit, legs dangling, on a stool,

Having a Pepsi and chips while the old man shot pool.

Christ, he’d a killed me if he had a mind. to.

 

©TDR-2018

Lines

I knew there was a line. Plenty of them-actually. Too fucking many of them. And they always moved, sometimes blurred, but they were there. And why were they scratching at the door so early, the cats? By rights, they were hers and she should have taken them with her. Some bullshit about no room, allergies, carpets, whatever-she just said what came into her mind at the time. So she’s gone, the cats are here. Three years of cooing, baby talk, petting and combing-out the fucking window. So I hadda get up-they wouldn’t stop. I stepped into the hallway dragging my feet so I wouldn’t trip over them-or stomp them-and went downstairs not turning a light on, so they would know somehow that it was the middle of the night and not time to be getting up. With only the streetlight watching I opened the can, split it into two bowls, added warm water and leaned back, listening to them lapping in the dark. I sure as hell wasn’t going to make coffee-had to be too early for that-so I opened the fridge for orange juice. None, of course. But there was a beer. A few actually, left from last night. How long ago could that have been? An hour? Two? It mattered somehow: was it still night, or morning? Quickly tired of waiting for an answer, I popped the top on one and closed the door, slipping back into the shadows. I expected to shiver at the first swallow, but it went down so nice. Nothing had felt that smooth in weeks. My cigarettes were in the jacket pocket over the chair. I grabbed the pack and headed for the door to smoke on the porch but caught myself. My fucking house now. Using a cat’s bowl for an ashtray I sat at the table and drained my first, or one of my last, beers of the day.

Drinking Alone

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I decided to stay in and drink alone today.

Not as dire as it might seem.

We shoveled snow for two hours this morning-

Before she could get the truck out to visit her family.

Then I needed some eggs and a pain pill before

Hooking up the new hot water tank.

Course I needed another pill after an hour on the concrete floor.

Feel free to go out and grab a meal, she said on her way out.

I’ll be late.

My back has begun to loosen;

And my knee to straighten.

Both hands can now open flat on the table.

You got anything to say old man? I ask the empty room;

Startled by the growl of my own voice.

He was quiet for now, but I’m sure he’ll be around later.

My head feels light on my neck-airy;

Like a beach ball in a breeze.

I decided to stay in and drink alone today.