Monday, March 21, 2011

The Evolution of Drinking in Contemporary Urban & Suburban America

If you grow up in a culture in the United States that does not condemn the consumption of alcohol (e.g. Mormons & Native Americans (ha!  Everyone knows that Native Americans are a myth just like unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and Social Security payouts past 2015) then the odds are that, at some point in your life, you will wind up drinking.  Now, obviously, there are exceptions to the rule: children of alcoholic parents, people with liver conditions, people born without mouths.  By and large, though, sooner or later--and especially if you attend college--you will consume at least one alcoholic beverage.

Random diatribe: I love how smokers bitch about being limited in where they can smoke and cite that consuming alcohol is far more dangerous than smoking and that they aren't harming anyone.  You find me one non-smoker who would elect to stand next to someone actively smoking for an hour over someone who is drunk and I will eat a hat made out of cooked bacon.  Seriously.  I might even wear it first just to prove that it's a hat.  But seriously--come on smokers!  Do people cough when they stand next to people who are drinking?  Nope, that would be people who are smoking.  Do people come away smelling like dumpsters after standing next to drunks (excluding, obviously, those who vomit in a projectile fashion)?  Clearly it is a smoker.

Fact: I would rather race a smoker than a drunk because I can almost guarantee that, over a long enough distance, I will win.  Drunks have superpowers and thus might find a way to beat me.  They are also angered easily and could thus, well, beat me (seriously--they get that sick crazy super drunk strength!)

Anyway, I am an active imbiber and have been since I turned twenty-one.  I was reflecting recently on the progression that my drinking has taken in terms of what I drink and the levels on which I enjoy said potent potable potations and I realized that there was an identifiable albeit variegated evolution between the point that I began drinking and now.  I thought about it further and I realized that, to some degree, there is a distinct--if not finite--set of pathways that people can embark upon in terms of their choice of drink.

And thus we begin our exploration of "The Evolution of the Drinking in Contemporary Urban & Suburban America."

Almost everyone starts with a sip of something as a kid.  It might be a beer, a rum and coke, or any other mixed drink (God save the child who starts off with a sip of bourbon or scotch!) but, invariably, it will happen.  Children are curious creatures and, when in attendance at family gatherings or any sort of large organized party, they are often mesmerized by the adults, always wondering what is going on in the grown-up section of the party instead of at the crummy kids' table.  Usually the conceding provider is a parent grown tired of the incessant needling of the child and he or she gives willingly of the drink knowing that the child will find it displeasing to its young palette.  Older children might be given a Shirley Temple to appease their curiosity and to help them to feel grown up but, by and large, there will be relatively few inquisitive instances after that initial taste (especially if that taste is of beer or bourbon).  Most kids will make a disgusted face and ask their parent(s) how they can stand to "drink that stuff!"

We reach our first node as we depart the sweet innocent waters of childhood nescience and reach the turgid tributaries of adolescence.  For some (like myself), drinking is still an off-limits activity--one that must wait until at least the age of adulthood (eighteen) if not the legal age of drinking (twenty-one).  I was never in a rush to attain adulthood and was thus content to avoid imbibing, for the most part.  I felt that there was a sequence that marked one's progression through the ranks of childhood--one that rewarded those who accepted each defining moment in its own time and punished those who sought such riches too soon.  Turning twenty-one should signify a coming-of-age--the final numerical point of significance before one would begin observing, mostly, the fives and zeroes.  At eighteen one would be eligible to vote, to drive, and to graduate high school.  Twenty-one represented the final transition into adulthood when one could drink legally.  After that...there really wasn't much to look forward to, so why rush it by engaging in serious underage drinking?

But I digress.  So around the burgeoning teenage years is when some people will break off and begin to drink with consistency.  Usually whatever is quaffed is done so in hurried secrecy, either in one's basement or bedroom when one's parents are not around or at some sort of party--either at a house or, in the case of my neighborhood growing up, in the fields away from prying eyes.  Generally what is consumed is of low quality: if it is beer, it tends to be cheap, readily available macrobrewed beer such as Budweiser and Coors (Light especially) or malt liquors such as Colt 45 and Olde English; if it is liquor it is usually of a basic variety and quite inexpensive (Georgi Vodka, for one); more often than not, though, it is of a sweet variety in the vein of wine coolers--things such as Mike's Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff/Bacardi drinks, and, depending on the area, possibly even Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers.

I wholeheartedly believe that the location and season hold a direct influence over the type of alcohol that is consumed.  If it is spring, summer, or autumn and an outdoor venue such as a keg party, then the odds are that beer and wine coolers will be the potations of choice.  If it is winter or perhaps late autumn/early spring and the venue is indoors, then liquor deserves equal consideration.  Generally, though, beer is going to be the star attraction and thus lifelong brand loyalty begins, born in suburban basements, urban parks (often behind handball walls), and possibly rural expanses.

The aforementioned beer/shoddy liquor/wine cooler trinity is often upheld in underage drinking through high school.  College is where things become interesting.  Here we have another node that spawns three likely scenarios: those who do not continue to college but maintain their drinking habits, those who do continue to college and maintain their drinking habits, and those who attend college but make the next jump along the evolutionary scale.  One's undergraduate years are a time of self-exploration, experimentation, and the exhilarating first taste of the freedom of adulthood, particularly for those who go away to school.  For those who do not move on to college, the harsh reality of (usually) having to find a job and then engaging in forty (or more) hour work-weeks will begin to settle in.  In many cases, independence reigns supreme and people will move out into their own space, thus affording them ample opportunity to engage in still underage drinking.  Typically, not much will change and, in such males in particular, beer becomes the primary alcohol consumed, especially for those in labor intensive jobs such as moving, construction, or trades like plumbing, carpentry, and electrical work.

Now something interesting happens to those who do go off to college--particularly for those who go away to college and to a party school at that: a sort of de-evolution occurs, at least with regards to drink quality, and a major change occurs in how drinks are consumed.  Generally, and especially in "college towns" or more rurally-located schools, money and variety of drinking venues/options are both quite limited.  House parties and frat parties become the primary locations of drinking for the underage imbiber (bars in college towns can be fickle so one cannot say with any sort of reliance whether or not underage drinkers can drink consistently in such spots) and both the quantity of drinks consumed and people present will increase substantially.  Binge drinking will occur, usually with beer as the culprit once again.  It is the drink most frequently used for, among other things, beer bongs, beer pong, and flip cup.  Other drinking games might entail the use of liquor or other swills but generally beer is consumed...

...and terrible beer at that.  Budweiser suddenly becomes the rich man's beer when money is no longer flowing and the underage college student is relegated to buying "whatever is cheapest and most readily available."  In most cases, at least in the northeast, that translates to: Natural Light (Natty Light) or Keystone Ice/Light.  Any variation of those two beers (Natural and Keystone) will be consumed in massive quantities primarily because it is easily purchased on the cheap in large amounts AND its watery nature allows for a slow, dull, throbbing buzz to develop over a long period of time (as they say--liquor gets it done quicker!)

College students in more urban areas (the five boroughs of New York City, in particular) are likely to branch off into insanely sugary mixed drinks at places like Applebees, Chevys, Chilis, and other such chain restaurants.  It really is hit or miss with which places will not check for IDs but, for some reason, ordering the fruitier drinks seems to work better as an 18-20 year old than, say, ordering two fingers of 15 year Macallan neat.  Perhaps it's the fact that the confidence that comes with age and experience with regards to ordering the latter is non-existent in the younger, illegal-age drinker.  The ever-present fear of getting caught, along with a hesitance sponsored by a fear of not wanting to sound stupid, will cause an awkward ordering situation--perhaps a quavering voice or a slightly shaking hand--both of which are sure-signs to a seasoned server that he or she is dealing with an underage person trying to buy an alcoholic libation.

Just as safe as the fruity drinks (we're talking Bahama Mamas, Blue Skies, Mai Tais, and their ilk) are the somewhat less shittier beers that we have discussed earlier--Coors/Light, Bud/Light, Miller Lite/MGD, and others on their level.  Again, for some reason, servers seem less inclined to break chops about a Bud Light than some other sort of beer.  I believe it is the confidence thing: most people asking for Buds/Coors have probably been doing it illegally for some time and already have an escape route mapped out in the event they are carded...or they just have a fake ID.  Either way--it's easier to stick with the status quo at this point.

The next node, though, comes for the FINALLY legal imbiber: the 21-24 crowd.  There will either be an extended stretch of branching out and experimenting if the drinker is interested in liquor as a whole (like me) or merely an increase in the same-old-shit if said drinker is content to wallow in the corn-piss flavored beer of his or her youth.  Some will stagnate and stick with the aforementioned beers but many will evolve into the world of mixed drinks: Jack & Cokes, Vodka Tonics (VINNY, HOLLA!), Cosmopolitans/Vodka Cranberry (for the ladies/dudes), and, the all-powerful, Long Island Iced Teas.  This will be arguably the first experience with quality liquor for many drinkers (any previous liquor experience, except at "away" party schools, will probably be limited to shitty well crap and not top shelf booze; at the party schools there is the possibility that some precocious late-teen will have developed a taste for fine liquor and will imbue his or her friends with the light of his or her respective experience).

Now it's important to note that something else is going on with the non-college and away-to-college crowds.  Once the members of both groups are of legal age, it is entirely possible that liquor will not enter the scene either right away or for quite awhile.  What might replace the Natty Light and such will be more Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade.  In other words: total Bro drinks.  Just think back to Stifler from the original American Pie movie if you can't envision what I mean by "Bro."

Sadly, we're near the end of our evolutionary road for the crowd that has managed to avoid college and/or has chosen a life-long career in menial labor.  Anyone who works their way up through the ranks of whatever job they take will likely avoid the fate I am about to lay out; it applies primarily to those who choose to avoid responsibility and elect to keep their careers at the most basic level possible.  These people are likely never to move beyond the Bud/Coors type beers and will probably venture only into straight liquor, usually bourbon, possibly vodka.  Depending upon the individual's level of financial success, even that experience might be only with rot-gut type stuff and not even reach a Jim Beam level (just kidding!  Jim Beam is TOTALLY rot-gut type stuff!).  Thus our journey with the non-college drinker is complete.

Between twenty-four and thirty, something amazing starts to happen with the collegiate crowd in terms of what they drink.  Though many of the away/party school college kids will go on just to be perennial partiers at shitty city clubs and Mexican/Floridian beach resorts and will thus stagnate at the "Bro Drink" level, many will find that their relationship with liquor--like any good whiskey--will have sweetened and deepened in complexity with age.  It is easy to get lost in the excitement that this generates in me, so let's break it up into beer and spirits to keep things organized.

For the mid-to-late-twenty-something drinker, it is likely that a graduation of sorts has occurred in terms of macrobrewed beer.  Buds might be replaced with Coronas and Heinekens; Bud Lights with Amstel Lights.  But after this happens...or perhaps even instead of it happening, the enthralling world of microbrewed beer might finally be discovered.  In the northeast, this will likely happen via Sam Adams but it can, obviously, occur in myriad ways.  Traveling and a desire to try something new (in terms of beer) will surely open up the realm of possibilities, as will eating at places that one would not ordinarily frequent, locally.  Indeed, my own experience with microbrewed beer really opened up after I ate at John Havard's out in Lake Grove, NY.  I was blown away by the varieties of beer that I could try and also by how crisp and clean they tasted; my eyes were opened and I have never viewed the world of beer in the same way since!

I suppose there are two nodes, then that might be worth establishing: one for the group that moves on to the higher quality macrobrews but who do not continue forward into microbrewed beer, and one for the group who moves on to the latter type of beer.

Between twenty-four and thirty, I would say, is when the final step in the beer evolution can and hopefully will take place.  By then, with enough microbrewery experience under their belts, the aging drinkers might now hopefully understand that there is beer beyond what is advertised during the Super Bowl.  With any luck, they will move on to Belgian beer, German beer, and the multitude of global assortments that are available.  Ideally, the final moment of evolution will transform the casual beer drinker into a beer connoisseur.  This person will be interested not simply in passively consuming beer but actively learning about it.  He or she will want not simply to explore different varieties of beer (as they will have done so, quite extensively, by this point) but also different brands of the same varieties.  This, in turn, might lead to visiting breweries and learning more about each individual brewer, what makes them different, what their brewing philosophy is, and anything else that will aid the eager philologist in attaining a level of erudition in all-things-beer.  Who knows--such a person might even go on to brew his or her own beer...and wouldn't THAT be something?

Back to liquor!

So from mixed drinks the next evolutionary step would be to move away from the sugary-sweet kids' shit pined after by underage college kids and to migrate instead towards somewhat classier ones.  This isn't to say that anything sweet is uncultured--a Jack and Coke is still my preferred mixed drink--but rather that a branching out beyond the Applebee's or TGIFriday's menu will occur.  Bahama Mamas and Mudslides will be replaced with Alabama Slammers and Soco and Limes.  Some might elect to go for some traditional drinks like martinis and Manhattans but this is not necessary for evolution to occur or to be recognized as occurring; any interest in trying a variety of liquors and drinks will suffice.

At this point we reach the penultimate point on our evolutionary scale: moving on to straight liquor.  I've clearly avoided discussing shots in terms of drinking because, truthfully, it's not "drinking" it's "getting drunk" and, for me, there is a HUGE difference between the two.  Anyone who would ask for a shot of Jameson 18 Year Special Reserve clearly has no idea of what they are doing and no respect for the liquor that they are requesting.  The person who orders Grey Goose on the rocks or a nice añejo or reposado tequila is clearly evolving beyond their previous state but this still does not represent the pinnacle of liquor-based evolution.

Finally--the ultimately evolved drinker of liquor--much like the similarly evolved lover of beer--is (s)he who embraces a spirit fully, desiring not simply an interaction with it but a relationship.  This person will want to know everything they possibly can about their spirit and, as they grow more perspicacious and their palette more experienced, they will begin to make better decisions about their respective spirit.  What needs to be understood here is that I am NOT talking about top shelf versus well liquors; not everyone can afford to play beer pong with bottles of Louis XIII or 60 year old MacCutcheon!  Instead, what defines the sagacious spirit-lover is his or her ability to determine what suits his or her respective palette to the best degree.  Anyone can purchase a bottle of 25 Year Macallan and say that it tastes good...but to know that your heart lies in Islay with the unique peatiness of a bottle of Laphroaig, whether it's 10 or 30 years in age, THAT is what denotes that evolution has occurred.

Usually the evolved party will pick one or two spirits at most to which they will engage themselves.  Over the course of one's lifetime it is possible to learn a great deal about all types of spirits but, for the truly evolved, a relationship with only a handful will prove to be much more valuable.  My love is with whiskey with a fleeting interest in rum that was inspired, primarily, by a trip down to the Bacardi distillery in San Juan. 

I suppose that I can use myself as an example for what I hope represents the fully evolved beer and spirits drinker (and what I hope, myself, to become someday).  To put it simply:

The fully evolved drinker of beer/spirits is one who embarks upon a life-long journey of learning about one's preferred alcoholic style, who perpetually matures one's palette by exposing it to an ever expanding panoply of similar and different styles, and, ultimately, who can then teach others thoroughly about the style.

I am just embarking upon my own respective journeys: my relationship with beer began back in 2006 and my relationship with whiskey was sparked last year in 2010.  I began keeping a list of all of the beers and whiskies that I have tried; I have attended numerous events aimed at enlightening and edifying the attendees in all-things-beer and whiskey, including the 2010 NY Brewfest, two separate Macallan scotch tasting events, a Johnnie Walker scotch event, and, most importantly, the completion of my Master of Beer Appreciation degree at Cloverleaf Tavern University (I am currently almost halfway through my first PhD--Professor of Hops and Draughts).  I have read up on my preferred alcohol styles and have completed reading numerous books on bartending and mixology.  Most importantly, though, is the fact that I have held my own tastings for friends of various scotches and beers and THEY have developed stronger interests as a result.

I still have far to go in my never-ending journey towards beer and whiskey enlightenment but it is rewarding to know that I have made the progress that I have.  I am beginning to know what I like with whiskey and am refining continually my beer palette.  I find that I am able, finally, to pick up on certain flavor notes and aromas in both beers and whiskies--something that I never would have dreamed to be possible only a few years ago.  There are still thousands of whiskies that I have yet to try and probably ten times as many beers...but I know what I enjoy and I continue to seek out new things to help me to define better just what I do like.

If you seek a higher state of drinking evolution then I implore you to take to heart this quotation by Oscar Wilde:

"I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best."

Find what you enjoy and enjoy what you find but never feel satisfied that you have reached the end of the journey.  You might always be satisfied with the best, just like Oscar Wilde, but you must keep in mind, too, that there will always be something better--something new, something different out there for you to try and that that experience, once had, will forever alter what you thought you enjoyed and what you thought you knew about liquor. 

May you always be satisfied with what you try but never satisfied that you have tried it all!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Perfect Ending

No one likes to think about their own mortality or the burial plans that must be carried out after one's demise; I am no different.  When one has an epiphany about one's ultimate end, though--a thought so mind-blowingly epic that it sends shivers rippling southward along the spine-highway--then that is an entirely different subject.  I enjoyed one such moment a few days ago and decided that it was worth sharing here...because I am just THAT excited about it!

Death has been afoot in my social surroundings, as of late (my great aunt passed away as did the grandfather of one of my tutees), so perhaps that is what inspired my morbid revelation.  The last thing I remember discussing before experiencing my life-altering thought was something about either wakes or funerals.  Needless to say, it stands to reason that I would conclude as I did:

I want to be buried in a Jack Daniel's barrel.

I know--it's perhaps a bit trite and possibly even cliché...if only because it seems both apt and preposterous for such a fan of whiskey as myself to desire such a resting place for all eternity.  But MORE than both of those things, it's just plain AWESOME!

I was giddy when I ran through my plan with Heather; she was less than pleased.  Obviously discussing your spouse's (or any loved one's) burial plans can be distressing...but I ignored the obvious implications that my plan entails for me (chiefly me having to be dead for this to pan out) and focused instead on the sheer kick-assness of the whole thing. 

Rocks glass half full, you might say. I reasoned that a coffin can cost easily in the neighborhood of $8,000 or more, depending on what you get (the GPS feature just seems ridiculous to're going either up or down and if you're not sure of which way you're headed, well...) PLUS the cost of the funeral service.  When the final tally is made, you're going to be WELL into the $10,000 plus region in terms of total cost.  Now, I have never bankrolled a funeral before so I cannot say that I am well versed in the expenses area of it but I have overheard a variety of conversations at wakes about the cost and I'm pretty sure that my estimate is on the lower end of the spectrum.

All that money spent to put a corpse in a box and then to bury the box.  Seems a bit ridiculous, doesn't it?

Enter the Jack Daniel's barrel.

One can purchase one's own barrel at the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, TN for anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 depending upon the purchaser's state of residence and applicable taxes.  Basically--it's on par with getting a coffin, right?  WRONG!  The difference is that, along WITH the barrel, one gets 237 750 ml bottles of Single Barrel Jack Daniel's, each individually numbered. 

And therein lies the first part of the awesomeness: a funeral with something for everyone.

Now, if I were to perish, I would want my family to be taken care of financially.  What better way to ensure this than to hold a raffle at the funeral?!  Everyone who would like to participate would purchase a raffle ticket with the chance of winning a coveted bottle of Jack from my funeral barrel.  I can't imagine more than five hundred tickets being sold for two hundred and thirty seven the odds are almost one in two that you would win a bottle.

Heather, Timmy, and any future kids would be taken care of; one out of every two people who come walk away with a bottle of Single Barrel Jack Daniel's with a HELLUVA lot of sentimental value.

But that's not even the most awesome part of all of this!

I want to be charcoal mellowed just like my favorite whiskey.

Now I'm not sure of the logistics of this but I'm pretty sure that it will involve wood and fire.  I doubt that Jack Daniel's distillery would allow me to be put into a bottle of Jack Daniel' we would need to figure out something else.  More than likely I would just have to settle for being laid to rest inside of the barrel...which is fine.  I mean, the problem is that the Catholic church condemns the crematory practice...but...come on, it's the Catholic church we're talking about here!  They have a price for EVERYTHING!  (Well, just 14th century indulgences and 20th century lawsuits I guess!)

No--seriously, I think the Church would balk at the idea of participating in a ceremony such as we might need to figure out something else.  Maybe we'll just get the shittiest, cheapest coffin possible--like something from Kmart or Home Depot--a do-it-yourself sort of affair--and then have a burial ceremony in my yard.  I don't think there are any Catholic stipulations about being buried in a cemetery so we do the "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" routine, they drop me down into the hole, toss some dirt on me, and then later take me back out.  We head over to a crematorium and get me zapped to miniscule charbroiled Matt particles and then Heather can dump me into the barrel, which would then be displayed in the bar I hope to have in my future home's basement--sort of like a shrine both to me, to Jack, and to the art of drinking.

If Timmy ever decides that he wants to distill his own spirits then maybe he can find a way to incorporate my ashes into either a whiskey or a smoked porter, depending upon what he makes.  Either way, a Jack Daniel's barrel offers A LOT more than a traditional casket does.

DISCLAIMER: this idea is INCREDIBLY awesome and I'm sure that people are VERY excited about the prospect of getting their raffle ticket(s) for the bottles.  Please note that anyone who has anything to do with my UNTIMELY or otherwise fishy demise will be BANNED from both the funeral and from purchasing a ticket through a third party (just like the fruit store guy banning Kramer on Seinfeld!)  In fact, just to be safe, this over is void before 6:56 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, March 29th, 2063.  We will reevaluate the offers validity at that time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Supermarket Shopper Nomenclature Part II: At The Register

Okay, so you've finally succeeded in crossing off everything from your shopping list and, more importantly, you've managed not to bludgeon any of your fellow shoppers with a loaf of stale Italian bread as a form of mercy killing to put an end to their stupidity.  Where do you go now?  There's only one choice, and that's where we meet our second batch of shoppers...

*~At The Register~*

# 1 The SWG (Single White Guy):  I figured that we should start off with something positive given all of the negativity that we've endured in the aisles.  The SWG is the ideal person to step behind at the register.  He can be anywhere from his mid-twenties up into his late forties or early fifties; anything earlier constitutes a teenager, which you would want to avoid simply because of their awkwardness and general inexperience with life.  You wouldn't want to encourage them with any unnecessary banter; they need tough love and your attention will only enable them into thinking that, yes, indeed, they are already adults.

Anyway, on to the explanation for why you want to seek out the SWG's at the register.  Most of the time they have less than twelve items (even at a regular register!), many of which are meals-for-one or common bachelor staples like chips and beer nuts (oddly enough you don't often see a SWG purchasing beer at the supermarket).  The SWG will almost always have his money or credit card out in advance, will make little to no eye contact and conversation with the register person (none if it is a male, little if it is an attractive young woman, none again if it is a woman with muttonchops), and, best of all, he will have no coupons.  He will be in an out of there in under a minute (much like his sporadic sexual encounters with someone not named "Left Hand" or "Right Hand") thus freeing you to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

Helpful hint with identifying the SWG: He will have a mostly empty shopping cart filled with a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated items.  Check the left hand for a ring on the finger to the right of the pinky.  Nothing there?  He's likely unmarried!  Good job--you've found one!  Remember--the SWG is his own express lane.  Congratulations.  You've saved yourself an hour of your life you would otherwise have never gotten back.

# 2 The Coupon Queen:  Getting stuck behind the Coupon Queen at a register is like reading a "Choose Your Own Ending!!!" book and getting eaten by zombies with your first choice...four pages in.  The problem with the Coupon Queen is that she's often difficult to identify until it's too late; she hides her overflowing coupon purse like a midget with a two-foot both cases, once it's whipped out, it's already too late.  Generally, the Coupon Queen will hint at her identity by frowning at the price that appears on the register as each item is scanned.  She might grunt, do that "tsk-tsk" teeth-sucking noise only the elderly can muster, or tug at her ear while swinging her head in an obtuse-angled arc.  Okay...maybe not the third one...if you see that shit you'd be best just to walk backwards veerrryyy slowly until you're in the clear and then make like hell for the exit.

Anywho, the Coupon Queen is often confrontational with the cashier, bickering exclusively about the price of certain items...but not until they have already been rung up.  Many thrifty or cost-conscious consumers will balk if something rings up at a price that differs either from the display they removed the item from or from the fantasy price they assigned to said item.  They will complain vociferously (it said, Filet Mignon--$0.39 per pound!) and whine until a manager is called over or the cashier makes a call to the respective department to prove the customer wrong.  The Coupon Queen, however, will wait until everything is bagged and rung up and she is asked the most dreaded question in the supermarket world: "Do you have any coupons?"  THIS is when she springs her trap, removing a wallet or purse of Costanzaesque proportions...filled entirely with coupons.  Now this is where the two variants of the Coupon Queen come into play.  The "Crazy Cat Lady Coupon Queen" is the one whose coupons are crumpled into an enormous single entity of crinkled paper (and in some cases cardboard).  You're pretty much screwed at this point because she'll usually have a coupon for every single thing she bought...she'll just have to find it...just give her a second...yep...that's  That one's expired?  Are you sure?  Are you sure you're sure?  Okay...give me a second...I know there's another one in here.

I'm getting aggravated just thinking about that one.

The other flavor of Coupon Queen is the O.C.D. one (Obsessive Coupon Dictator).  This variant is overly organized and not only has a coupon for each and every item, but knows the damn fine print on every money-saving paper.  "Ohhh no," she says, wagging her meaty finger in the cashier's face when he says she can't use two of a particular coupon.  She takes a deep breath...and she huffs...and she puffs...and, "THIS COUPON SHOULD BE DOUBLED WITH A LIMIT OF FOUR PER CUSTOMER."  (Deep Breath Number Two) "IT SAYS BUY ONE GET THREE FREE WHICH MEANS I CAN BUY FOUR AND GET TWELVE FREE BUT IT'S DOUBLED SO I CAN BUY EIGHT AND GET TWENTY FOUR FREE).  Expect to miss the 6 o'clock Sportscenter thanks to this one.  Her belligerence will wear quickly on both the register person and two or three managers who will inevitably come by to mediate.  Usually they will give up arguing and will accept any and all coupons just to get her out of their face.  This is when the Coupon Queen dons that smug, "I TOLD you so" look that is followed immediately by the turn around look and nod to you that says, "See?  They should have just listened to me from the start."

Helpful hint for avoiding the Coupon Queen: if she looks like that corpulent aunt who always plants enormous and sloppy kisses on your lips, points out that you've gained weight, asks when you're going to get married and/or have children, and tells you all about the wonderful things your shrimpy cousin has done and how they're better than all of your accomplishments, each time she sees you...she's probably a CQ.  Best to back up slowly and head to another line.

# 3 The Hands-Free Soloist:  Unlike the Soloist that we encountered in the aisles, the Hands-Free Soloist frequently makes his appearance at the register.  Always the person directly in front of you, usually two people away from the front, the HFS will suddenly make an utterance that sounds like the beginning of a conversation.  He will likely exhibit voice immodulation, using his "Outside Voice" instead of his "Inside Voice."   Talking to themselves much louder than the Soloist but they have a bluetooth device. Much better than the former as well as the one-hander. Unable to differentiate between their inside voice and their outside voice. On line behind you, make you think they are talking to you.

# 4 The Autobiographer: When you're stuck on a long line with people with lots of items and the person behind you (or possibly in front) sighs to get you to turn around, and then decides to tell you his or her life story.  Said autobiography will often start out innocently enough but will always reach a point where everything seems to focus on "MOTHER" if it's a male or "my cats" if it's an elderly woman (younger women will never engage in this type of behavior unless they're those creepy youthful cat ladies who wear burlap coats and horrendous glasses and STILL squint when they talk to you.  Usually you will find yourself trapped between at least a few people (or one person with a GIGUNDOUS quantity of items) in front of you and the autobiographer behind.

BEST ESCAPE TACTIC: Fake a cell phone call.  Or just turn around.  But do the latter at your own never want to piss off a crazy!

# 5 The Heavy Breather: The person behind you that clues you into their displeasure with you with exasperated sighs. Usually because you are using a number of coupons (possibly a Coupon Queen) with your payment, you are fumbling for your money, you are counting exact change very slowly, you are unaware of the restrictions on your food stamps, or, most often, something you did requires a manager coming over with "The Key."  Everyone dreads the moment when the key must be summoned and there seems to be no rhyme or reason for when it does happen.  The Heavy Breather will undoubtedly make his or her displeasure aware as soon as the light above the register begins flashing.

A variation on the Heavy Breather is the jerk who will sigh audibly to get you to turn around only to roll his eyes and give you a "Can you believe this, pal?!" kind of look.  I enjoy staring at these people without blinking until they refuse to make eye contact with me or just leave the line.  Seriously?  You can't believe that there are a ton of people on line at noon on a Sunday, pal?


# 6 The Sammy Sosa (or The Miguel Tejada): When someone tries to pay for something that is obviously not covered with food stamps and, when they are told by the cashier that they cannot make the purchase, they feign a lack of understanding of English (despite the fact that they were just speaking into their bluetooth in crystal clear Oxford English).  Usually a manager will be summoned and the person will either argue until they realize they won't get their way and will then leave in a huff or, if they appear to be crazy enough, the manager will put in some sort of overriding discount to get the miscreant out of the store.

# 7 The Inappropriate Talker: Not limited to the supermarket, this is the person speaking on their cell phone about a personal or private matter and doesn't seem to mind sharing it with everyone in the store.

" she told me it's Grundle Fungus...can you believe that? I googled it when I got burns like hell.  I KNOW!  I thought the SAME thing! hahaha  When she mentioned her sores I thought she meant, you know, from like, working out and stuff.  I totally should have asked her to have the lights on. I have to take these gross-tasting pills for a month, otherwise there is a chance that it might get infected.  Can you imagine that?  If it filled with PUS?  UGH!"

# 8 The Self-Checkout Technophobe (or Luddite): The person, usually old, who is unable to get the hang of this newfangled doohicky thing (a.k.a. the scanner at a self-checkout or the credit card swiper).  The latter is usually the most common where they will swipe their card a dozen achingly slow times before the register-person gets so aggravated that he or she swipes it and tells them to enter their PIN (why do they always have PINs, these people!?)  This, in turn, can last upwards of two minutes while they read EVERYTHING that comes up on the screen. 


#9 The Reader: Much like Kate Winslet, this person is either unable to read the express lane item limitation or, more likely, just chooses to ignore it, and enters a twelve items or less line with fifty or more things.  And then seduces a young German boy.

#10 The Clog: This person goes to the self-checkout lane with an overflowing shopping cart and creates a bottlenecking at the self-checkout area. Usually occurs with an open lane with a cashier in plain sight.

#11 Socrates: The person who argues about pricing, usually with a circular in hand, demanding an explanation as to why they are not being given the quoted price, despite the fact that the circular has clearly expired or that they are failing to meet the requirements for the price ("Must by 4" or "Limit 4 per item per variety").

#12 The Miser: The person who complains or questions every price on everything.  I will just skip to another line if I see this one...utterly obnoxious.

#13 The Browser: This winner reads the tabloids and speaks aloud to no one as if they are Gospel.

"Oh-Em-Gee--I KNEW Angelina was cheating on Brad!  That WHORE!"

#14 The David Copperfield: When a person decides to get "Oooh! One more thing!" while they are being rung up or discovers that they can get an additional item on sale to make something half off. They disappear into an aisle and usually do not return before you get fed up and storm off, leaving your groceries in the discount DVD bin.  Occasionally, though, like eponymous illusionist, you will turn around, not see them, turn back in exasperation to the register and find them completing their purchase.


#15 The Inconsiderate Basterd: The person (usually a woman) with a full shopping cart ahead of you who does not acknowledge the fact that you have only one item (perhaps a loaf of bread) and refused to allow you to go ahead of her. It is a well established part of the unwritten supermarket etiquette that you cannot ask to be bumped up, much like requesting to go from coach to first class. Notgonnahappen.  Thus, common courtesy says that you allow this poor soul with only one grocery to go ahead.  Aren't they suffering enough?

#16 The Double-Checker: Having finally survived your encounter with these imbeciles, you proudly return your wallet, pocket your receipt, grab hold of your cart, and make the turn down that final walkway that is missing only the red carpet to confirm the auspicious moment of your departure from the store...only to find that there is someone blocking the entire way out, standing with an open bag or purse on their cart, double checking their receipt, that they have all of their change, that everything is in order in the cart, and that they weren't overcharged for everything.

A final note on THE KEYHOLDER: This is perhaps the most mythical person in the supermarket realm if for nothing other than the fact that this individual is not a shopper. Have you ever noticed how everyone stops and looks when the Keyholder is called for? It's like an electric pulse is discharged throughout the register lanes. People crane their necks to get a good look at this omnipotent being with the power of "THE KEY!" And isn't it amazing how the person, whoever it is that day, will come over, pop the key into the register, turn it, and with a few button presses, the crisis is averted and the problem is matter WHAT IT IS!? Could you imagine what the world would be like if we could shove global hunger, all of those nasty pathogens like AIDS and cancer, and poverty into a register somewhere? All we would need to do would be to call for the Keyholder and all of our problems would be solved! The register would become like a reverse Pandora's Box.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 14: "The Fire: An Epilogue"

The Fire: An Epilogue

As noted previously in the "Death Delivery" episode, the Dénouement of our tale is bittersweet, having both a positive, heartwarming resolution, and a catastrophic...catastrophe.

Sadly, there really isn't much of a story to be told here, which makes for a really shitty a little juryrigging is in order here.

In order to boost the awesomeness of this final episode up a few notches, take a minute (or three...and then fourteen more seconds...) to watch this clip of the ending scene to Stand By Me--this way you'll have the narrator's voice in your head when you read what I'm about to write...and it'll make it seem more important and amazing.

or if you're more old school, you can hit up the final scene of the final episode of The Wonder Years.

All set?


So eventually I got tired of putting up with all of the bullshit that the store's owner threw out at us.  He had grown more bitter and cantankerous and more than a few of us were noticing our ever diminishing paychecks.  I was afraid of being viewed as a quitter by my friends and family and thus I dreaded the prospect of walking away from the job...but I was more stressed out about staying.  Thankfully, I opted to discuss it with everyone and I found that, unanimously, they all supported my decision to leave.

I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified by the prospect of telling my boss that I was leaving.  I expected him to cast me out of the store, exiling me forever, cursing my name as he chased after me with some sort of weapon, threatening to bludgeon or slice me to bits depending upon its ratio of heaviness to sharpness.  When the big day came, though, I approached him with resolve in my heart and was pleasantly surprised that the whole encounter went smoothly.  He said that he would tally my wages and that I could come back for them at the end of the week, that he wished me well, and that was pretty much it.

I went on to obtain a position in another deli closer to my home and enjoyed a much longer tenure there; it was easily my second most enjoyable job ever behind my time at Baruch.  I was relieved that I was leaving the stress of the previous store behind and looked forward to working at a job I had wanted since I was eight or nine years old...

...but the old store wasn't entirely out of my life.

(Cue Wonder Years/Stand By Me narrator voice)

Years later, after even Lumiere had left, I had found out that the owner did indeed grow more bitter with age.  It turned out that he had engaged in some heated quarrels with the owners of the corner store, at times even nearly coming to blows over whatever spurred their spats.  Eventually, he sold his ownership of the store and left Brooklyn for good.  Whether or not he sold it to the owners of the corner store or not, no one knows for sure...but my money would be that he did.

You see--only a few months after the supermarket shut down, both it, and the corner store, were lost in a terrible fire...and by terrible I mean terribly suspect.  Arson investigators don't fuck around and clearly there were a few things that stood out to whoever perused the wreckage because an investigation occurred almost immediately.  Apparently, the owners of the corner store had taken out a SIZEABLE insurance policy either on their store or both it and the supermarket.  That was a red flag.  Shortly after everything went down, from what I understand, all of the men involved vanished, likely dipping back to whatever countries they hailed from.

As far as I can tell my boss had nothing to do with it.  He was mean-spirited and thrifty but, despite lopping off a few dollars here and there from his employees, he was a far cry from a criminal.  My gut says that those fights were somehow localized around the upcoming insurance scheme and he wanted a) not to lose his store and, more importantly, b) not to be involved in any way, shape, or form with what was being contrived.  Unlike the other dopes involved, my boss was shrewd and intelligent and thus could see the danger coming from quite a distance. 

I saw Gigantor years later working as a security guard at a women's clothing store in a local mall.  From what he told me, it sounded as if his father was doing fine.  I had forgotten about his smokin' hot sister and thus blew a golden opportunity to heckle him about her attractiveness while he was held captive by the shackles of his then-current position; he couldn't exactly abandon his post to chase me down and strangle me.  Still, I wish him well too; it's probably not his fault that he was such an angry person.

The liquor store is still there, going strong like a beacon in the night.  I still see the lottery winner and the other guy with the recognizable raiment sitting outside on fair-weather days, seemingly immune to the ineluctable erosion caused by the sands of time slipping one-by-one through the hourglass of life.  I toss them a wave from time-to-time--one that is always met with a returning gesture of good-natured geniality.  I am unsure of whether they recognize me or even remember who I am but it doesn't matter either way because they, along with Lumiere, Gigantor, Herbert, and all of the other cast of characters will remain etched indelibly in my heart and in the annals of my recollection, encased, forever, in the amber that is: The Associated Year...

...annals.  LOL!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 13: "The Contest"

The Contest

Relax--not that contest...that's an entirely different story that I will refrain from going into.

No, THIS contest took place towards the end of my time at the store.  Lumiere had told me that we were participating in a ticket giveaway for the Yankees.  We had a small box set up near the store's entrance with little tear-off sheets of paper.  Customers could come, fill out the paper, and place it into the box as an entry for the contest.

Fortunately, Lumiere was paying attention.  He noticed that very few people were filling out the slips of paper and, those that were chose to fill out only one.  Though we, as store employees, were precluding from filling our own slips, nothing could prevent us from having a friend or two come in to do just that.

And so we waited.

And waited.

Finally, the last day of the contest arrived.  We asked Vinny Vodka Tonic to come and help us out, offering him two of the four tickets in exchange for his deft penmanship and strong, supple wrists.  Since a customer could fill out an unlimited number of entries, we had Vinny fill out every single remaining slip on the box until there were none left.  To our credit, we waited until the end of the work day leaving every opportunity for customers to come in and take advantage of the free ticket giveaway. 

All said, I think Vin filled out something like thirty or forty entries.  Lumiere felt like it was a sure thing but I knew my luck with such endeavors and kept my fingers crossed...

The next day, I came into work and found Lumiere grinning ear-to-ear with the three tickets splayed out in his hand.  We high-fived and I finally allowed the excitement to take over.  I noticed pretty much everyone else laughing, shaking their heads.

"What?" I asked, worried that I had somehow missed a joke being played on me.

"You seemed surprised that you guys won the tickets."

"Well, yeah?  Why wouldn't I be?"

The boss shook his head and pointed to a pile of papers on one of the register conveyor belts.  In total, there were roughly forty entries: two or three from customers and the rest from Vinny.

We stacked the odds and came out on top!  It was a glorious moment.

We reveled in our teenage brilliance and looked forward to the game.  When the big day came, Vinny's father drove us to the Bronx after accepting the fourth ticket.

Apparently, I had never gone the way he took us before...because I had never seen the giant, woman's correctional facility near Yankee Stadium (Note: the building was giant...not the women...that would just be freaky...and probably unconstitutional...maybe heightism or something).

We get to the game and work our way up to our seats...

and up...

and up...

and up.

I felt like Sir Edmund Hilary.  Seriously--I was higher than Charlie Sheen by the time we got to our seats roughly three hundred rows above and behind home plate.  I felt like I could see Iowa from where we were...

...but still, the seats were free!

I don't recall much from the game other than the fact that there was some wacky squirrel who had climbed to the top of the foul pole but was too afraid to come back down.  I remember the pole getting hit by a ball and shaking and the poor rodent hanging on for dear life...but the rest of it is a bit hazy.  I know the people in our section cheered when he finally made his way down to the bottom, but the rest of the recollection has been lost to the stains of time and copious amounts of Jack Daniel's.

After conferring with VVT about the whole episode, I was reminded that we technically saw our first nipple in public during the game.  There was a white trash woman three or four rows behind us who was absolutely SHITHOUSE--I mean she was hammered like Danny DeVito after a night out on the town with George Clooney.

Anyway, so all of a sudden we hear a commotion behind us.  VVT, Lumiere, and I all turn around simultaneously and see this absolute trainwreck of a woman wobble and fall.  I shit you not--she skidded down three rows of seats before landing RIGHT BEHIND US (and spilling probably her twentieth beer all around us).  Worse, she was wearing some chintzy cheap ass tank top that couldn't possibly prevented what happened next.  As she got up, her gigantic, pale, pasty slab of mammary meat flopped out, revealing a very dark areola...and deep blue veins.  Think blue cheese...but worse.

Blue cheese boobies.

You can't make this shit up.

VVT was stoked because he caught a nipple flash but it pretty much scarred me for life.  It's probably the real reason why I couldn't remember much of this story.

Just kidding--it's the Jack Daniel's!
Finally, it was time to head back home.  Vinny's Dad offered to come and pick us up, which was great because it was INSANELY late and I was exhausted (I think Lumiere and I had worked earlier in the day).  We get into the car with Vinny riding shotgun and me and Lumiere in the back.  The four of us banter a bit but the rhythmic lull of the jostling car ride mingling with the steady pattern of street lamps and shadows was too much and the three of us started dozing off (thankfully Vinny's Dad did not opt to do the same).

Then...all of a sudden, I open my eyes.  At first, I don't know why; one moment I was fast asleep, the next I was awake.  I look around and see Lumiere passed out in the back and Vinny drooling with mouth agape up front.  The latter's father had his eyes on the road and all seemed fine. I just started dozing off again...


A shrieking cry pierces the darkness of the night and the silence in the car.  No joke--I'm pretty sure a brief squirt of urine escape me.  My heart was POUNDING!  It was as if some banshee bomb-blast exploded in the car.  My pulse was doing a scat-man dance and I looked frantically around...

...only to see Lumiere and Vinny fast asleep, and the latter's father with his eyes on the road.

Seriously--it was as if nothing had happened.

I thought I was going crazy.  I KNEW I had heard something and surmised that the same sound was what had awoken me initially.  Now unable to fall asleep I sat up ramrod straight in my seat, staring around wide-eyed, determined to uncover the phantom source of the distressing sound.

I think it took a half an hour (and probably me dozing off at least another two times) before it happened again...and THIS time I managed to catch it: it was Vinny's father's sneeze.

You know how everyone has their own unique laugh?  Well, most people also have a unique sneeze, and this man's almost made me shit my pants.  It was like a full bodied Zulu war cry but with flat affect!  He never reacted to it!  Never even flinched!  The last time it happened, though, it woke up Lumiere, which was comical for me.  He did one of those sharp intakes of breath and he scrambled up and back in his seat as if he was just about to fall off a cliff in his dream.  It was great.

"What was that?" he whispered frantically in the darkness of the car.

I'd like to tell you that I was a good friend and passed on the results of my observation...and I wasn't and I didn't.

"What are you talking about?" I asked.


Did it happen again?

You bet.

Did Lumiere jump like someone riding the lightning?

Uh huh.

And did I keep my poker face?

You bet your ass I did.

I think it was well after the fact that Lumiere finally found out from Vinny what the source of the sound was...but even knowing what it is cannot prepare you for it.

The Boogeyman takes many faces and shapes...and on that night?  It was a kind, generous, sneezing older man who terrified me out of my wits.

Or maybe it was the giant Amazon inmates.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 12: "The Lottery Winner" or "I'm Not Drinking THAT!"

The Lottery Winner
I'm Not Drinking THAT!

The supermarket where I worked was part of a very small strip of stores that included a liquor store at one end and a tiny corner store typical of Brooklyn neighborhoods.  There was a complicated relationship between the owners of all three that will be explored, ultimately, in the final episode.  Fortunately, the relationship with the liquor store guys were great because, well, they were great guys.  I know the owner was an older guy, probably in his fifties, but the two guys that primarily ran the show were younger--late twenties, early thirties at best.

During the summer, they would often just hang out in lawn chairs outside on the sidewalk, smoking, possibly drinking, but otherwise just having a great time.  Lumiere and I were both teenagers at the time and were thus probably insignificant in the eyes of these two gentlemen...but we wanted them to like us or at least to think we were cool...and they did, or at least they seemed to.  They were always cool with us and were cordial enough if and when we attempted to strike up a conversation with them.

One day, either in the summer or autumn, I noticed that one of the guys--the more gregarious of the two--had been noticeably missing for a good week or two.  Though I liked the other guy, this missing dude was my favorite of the two.  Eventually, I built up the nerve to ask what had happened.  I figured he might've left the store...but you never know.

Never know indeed.

Dude won the LOTTERY!

It was the first time in my life that I could say that I knew someone who had hit it big through Lotto.  I think he won something like $30,000, which, though not dream level money in theory, was still a significant sum.  The guy had taken himself on a vacation and would be coming back to work in another week or two.

You can imagine what this news did to his aura of coolness.  It went nova.


A few months later, after I had already left my job at the store, it was getting close to St. Patrick's Day.  I was only sixteen or seventeen at the time and Lumiere had told me that he had just tried Bailey's Irish Cream.  He RAVED about it as if it were the nectar of the Gods (it least of the Tuatha Dé Danann) and told me that I should try to get some for St. Patrick's Day.

I got butterflies in my stomach at the thought.

I've always had a heightened fear of getting into trouble.  In many ways, it's one of the primary reasons why I've never done drugs, never smoked, never stolen anything, and never cheated.  When a situation involves an authority figure, that fear goes through the roof.  I think it's more a matter of a fear of disappointment--disappointing the authority figure, myself, my parents, my friends...hell, anyone, probably--than a fear of getting into trouble, per se.

Anyway...the thought of trying to buy liquor and being underage...and by quite a margin, made me sweat.  Immediately I conjured up images of me exiting the liquor store with brown paper bag in hand only to find six squad cars skidding to a stop in front of the store, sirens blaring, cops flying from every direction with pistols drawn.

Then Lumiere told me where he had gotten his from.  I won't say where but I'm sure you can figure it out.

So it gets close to St. Paddy's Day...or it WAS St. Paddy's Day, I'm not sure of which, and I discussed the idea of getting a small bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream with Vinny Vodka Tonic and Corduroy the Liar.  Both were as excited and nervous as I was about the whole thing.  Obviously, dabbling in anything remotely illegal was not how we rolled and thus we were amped up by something that I'm sure many of our peers had been doing for years by that point.  We discussed our plan of action (I would go into the store to try to purchase the Bailey's while they went to grab a bottle or two of Starbucks Frappuccino) and set it into motion.

You should've seen us walking over to the stores that night...we looked like Robin Hood's Merry Men.  We were giddy with the rush of what we were attempting to do.  When we got to the block with the stores, Vinny and Corduroy went to snag the Starbucks while I headed into the liquor store.  I'm pretty certain that it was my first time ever in a liquor store and it was certainly the first time I was ever there to make a purchase.  I had my plan all lined up.  I would ask if they had Bailey's Irish Cream and if they asked me for I.D. I would don a quizzical look and ask why I would need identification if Bailey's didn't have alcohol in it.  I would tell them that I thought I just couldn't buy liquor at a liquor store but that non-alcoholic stuff was fair game.  They would tell me that I was mistaken, that it did have alcohol and I would apologize immediately, tuck my tail between my legs, and run out of that store like the pussy that I was.

I took a deep breath and headed inside.  I must've looked so ridiculously suspect it would have been hysterical to anyone but me.  Seriously--I remember doing the whole "just act normal" thing...which never resembles anything close to normal.  Now I had already decided that the only way I was going to try to go through with the purchase would be if one of the two guys I knew was behind the register...otherwise, what would be the point?  I could see as I stepped in that one of the guys was there and so I headed straight for him.  I said what up and asked if they sold Bailey's Irish Cream.  He nodded and asked what size I wanted.  I asked him what they had.  I didn't want the tiny bottle but I also didn't want a gigantic bottle.  I couldn't take this shit home so we would have to finish it but we had to have enough for the three of us.

He pointed to what was probably a pint (I don't remember just how large it was) and I nodded (again, trying to act all cool like I made underage liquor purchases all the time).  He grabbed it and put it on the counter and my heart skipped double-time and went straight for super-speed arrhythmia.  I asked him how much it was and he punched it into the register. 

Then came the moment of truth.

I pulled out my money and reached it out to him.  A million thoughts ran through my head. 

Would he take it?
What if he took my money but then said he couldn't sell me the liquor?
Would he make me wait a second and call the cops?
What if someone walked in?
What if he asked me for ID and I froze?


He broke my reverie by handing me my change, the Bailey's in a small brown paper bag, and wished me a Happy St. Paddy's Day.  I laughed in nervous disbelief and headed outside, fully expecting to see Vinny and Corduroy splayed out across the hood of a cop car looking at me with doe eyes...

...but instead they were standing a few yards ahead hanging out near the curb.

"Did you get it?" Vinny asked with awe in his voice.

"Yup," I said, holding up the bag and patting the bottle within.

I saw that they had gotten the Starbucks--one Coffee and one Vanilla flavored Frappuccino--and so we headed off on our way back home.

The plan was to hang out in Vinny's basement (as we were wont to do) under the pretense of working out or something.  His parents were usually cool and would leave us be down there and thus we had the greatest chance of imbibing without either being interrupted or caught.  We weren't worried about getting drunk because the Bailey's didn't seem to be very alcoholic (not that we had any idea how much alcohol was a lot or what its effect would be on us) and so we figured we would be able to have it and then escape parental observation without any ill-effect.

And so we headed towards Vinny's house.  Let me tell you--for all of the boisterous gregariousness of our conversation on the way to the liquor store, we could not have gone in a more opposite direction with our chatter than we did on the way home.  No joke--I think we spoke a total of maybe five words to each other the entire way.  We were so solemn and quiet that you would've thought we were carrying the One Ring To Rule Them All in a shitty brown paper bag instead of a bottle of irish cream.  We each kept looking at the bag in disbelief that we had pulled off what we had intended to and then engaged in silent reflection on that which remained for us to do.

Or so I thought.  At least I was still contemplating the culmination of our adventure.

We get to Vinny's house and me and Corduroy immediately head downstairs to the basement.  His parents were cordial people and I was afraid of getting caught up in conversation whilst attempting to conceal the bag.  Vinny told them that we were going to hang out downstairs and that we'd be done in an hour or so.  They had already known that we were coming so they didn't even get off of the was perfect.

Until we got downstairs.

I asked, "Okay boys, so how are we going to do this?" and all I was met with were blank, horrified stares.

I knew what they meant before either of them opened their mouths.  Vinny went first.

"Dude...I can't have a whole drink!  My parents are right upstairs!  What if I get caught!  I'll be screwed!"

Before I could even react, Corduroy chimed in.

"Yeah man...I don't feel so good.  I think I'm going to sit this one out."

"You sons-of-bitches!  What the fuck!?"

I was pissed and I did my best first to persuade them calmly that everything would be fine, that we wouldn't get caught, that no one would get sick, and that everything would be fine.  To his credit, VVT consented and at least tried the concoction. 

Corduroy, on the other hand, wouldn't budge.  And of course HE was the one playing up the entire thing as we walked to the store in the first place.  I should have known by the prick's overexuberance that he was going to bail.  Ultimately, when my soothing attempts at reassuring him failed, I ridiculed him mercilessly in an attempt to shame him into drinking it with me.  When that didn't work I knew it wasn't going to happen.

In total, I finished the bottle of Bailey's and one of the Frappuccinos by myself (I kept the other one for consumption later and as a tax for Corduroy's pussyness).

I think we spent a total of fifteen minutes downstairs.  When I had finished the bottle (which, in retrospect, was probably a 200ml one), I was still too pissed off to want to hang out with Corduroy and he wanted to get as far away from the situation as he could.  VVT, naturally, wanted to get the evidence out of his house as quickly as possible and thus we disbanded.

I was livid.  I mean we all kept to the straight-and-narrow...but we had agreed to do this together!  We had started out like the Three Musketeers and ended up like the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings (I don't actually remember how they wound up but it seemed like an appropriate comparison to make).

Needless to say, it was the last time I bought liquor AND listened to Corduroy when he would say that he wanted to do something daring.  To his credit, though, Vincenzo did try other things that I ultimately brought home from a future job like Zima, Doc Otis' Lemonade, Mike's Hard Lemonade and its ilk, but the memory of Corduroy's betrayal still rests in my mind and liver in a pool of Irish cream flavored bile.

Oh well, at least I got to be Frodo.

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 11: "The Dumpster" or "Eve's Scorn"

The Dumpster
Eve's Scorn

Towards the end of the summer, or possibly even during the very early autumn, I knew that I wouldn't be at the job for much longer.  It was a huge relief to know that all of the bullshit that I was dealing with would come to an end at my discretion.  I started coming to work with a smile on my face and, every time I was mistreated, I met it with an "Aw shucks, it's okay!" type of mentality.

I was just counting down the days until I would say goodbye to that shithole forever.

Surprisingly, that far into my tenure I was given a task that was theretofore never undertaken.  The boss had replaced some of the fluorescent bulbs in the store...and the effect was amazing.  It transformed the store from a drab, sad looking place into a bright, enervating one; it really did blow me away.

Naturally, a small supermarket has a number of overhead lights, each of which usually consists of two fluorescent bulbs.  If you estimate that there were something like twelve aisles and each aisle had anywhere from four to six light bulb can imagine how many bulbs were replaced during this little project.

And what do you do with dead fluorescent light bulbs?  Well, throw them out, naturally...

...however, as I would come to learn, you can't just throw them into the dumpster or into garbage bags (they wouldn't fit into the latter, anyway).

Needless to say, once the bulbs were all changed, it became my task to dispose of them properly.  Fortunately, Lumiere had given me enough of a heads up that I was as careful as I could least to some extent.  If he hadn't prepped me...Lord only knows what would have transpired.

I still remember the entire episode clearly: it was a drab, overcast day, and I was standing in the empty lot behind the store in between two dumpsters with my stash of bulbs.  There was a very specific way to break them and I was sure to follow this least at first.

You see, the problem with breaking fluorescent bulbs (or neon, xenon, and any other gaseous bulbs) is that they are filled with some seriously toxic and potentially explosive materials: mercury, phosphor powder, and some type of gas, typically argon. 

Guess what happens when you crack the bulb?


Like another Pandora's box, that shit escapes with the quickness.  You have to be careful not to breathe in the gas or to get the mercury/phosphor powder on your skin.

Usually, you would just break them against the dumpster wall inside of the container.  The dumpsters tended to be a few feet deep so you would want to crack the glass down near one of the electrodes, breaking off said conductor, and allowing all of the bad shit to escape.  Then it would just be a matter of breaking the bulb down bit by bit...

...which leads to problem number two: the glass is very, very fine, meaning that, if one were not careful, one could potentially breathe in bits of shattered glass!
Ever breathe in glass particles before?


Anyway, so for the first dozen or so bulbs I was as careful as I could be...but then something happened.  I started to get careless...and dopey.  I started just slamming the bulbs against the inside of the dumpster, breaking them into a million pieces...and giggling like a baby playing peek-a-boo.  I'm pretty certain that it was a direct side-effect of breathing in shit I wasn't supposed to be breathing in...but that wasn't the worst part.

I had two dumpsters at my disposal and I had positioned myself in between both of them.  I'm sure you've seen the type of receptacle that I am referring to: the big green ones with the handles that extend out to either side at the top, typically with a rounded end on both.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words...but this one's worth only twenty-three:

So the dumpsters weren't exactly like the one above (for one, they didn't have those weird square things on the side) but you can get an idea of what they were like.

I'm almost done destroying the bulbs, getting more and more reckless as I go...and then it happens.  I wound up breaking a bulb on the top of the dumpster, sending glass and gas particles flying everywhere.  Something hit me in the face and I FREAKED.  Immediately I brought my shirt up to my eye (because my hands were filthy) in an attempt to wipe away whatever might have hit me and I attempted to jump out of the way of the floating cloud of shit...and I slammed the right side of my rib cage DIRECTLY into the round handle-like protrusion on the side of one of the dumpsters.

I wasn't expecting it and thus my body reacted instinctually: it felt pain from the impact on my right side...and thus my legs received the signal to jump away from the danger, back to the left...

...except that the OTHER dumpster was less than a foot away, and so I slammed the LEFT side of my ribs into THAT one. 

I wish I could tell you that the pain ended there...but it didn't.  I slammed BACK into the right one a second time before I just crumpled to the floor.

Seriously--I felt like I had just taken a flurry of body shots from Tyson in his prime.  The pain was excruciating.  I stopped worrying about my eyes and wondered whether or not I had either broken some of my ribs or punctured a vital organ--it was that bad.

I remember just lying on the ground laughing because it hurt so much.  Then when the ludicrous nature of the whole situation settled in upon me, I began guffawing.  I vaguely remember people passing by on the street, looking at me, and scurrying along at a quickened pace.  I can't say that I blame them, either: I probably looked like a lunatic trainwreck.

Ultimately, I blame Eve for the entire thing.  Apparently ONE rib wasn't enough for her and thus she tried to rob me of a few more by attempting to poison me, blind me, and then perform dumpster surgery.

Hell hath no fury like a Biblical woman's scorn.

And to think--I was on the verge of forgiving her for the whole "Original Sin" thing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Associated Year": A Memoir. Episode 10: "The Death Delivery"

The Death Delivery

Now, I know that they say that you should save the best for last but in this case I'm opting for Freytag's pyramid (the traditional dramatic structure in literary and cinematic works): 

Rising Action
Falling Action
Dénouement, resolution, or catastrophe

In the case of this memoir, I've done a decent job of following the outline.  The first entry served as the exposition as it set up the rest of the entries; everything between then and now would be the rising action; this entry will serve as the climax; then three of the remaining four stories will serve as the falling action, with the ultimate Dénouement having both a resolution and a catastrophe.

Good times., without further ado, here we go with episode ten.

The day started out like a typical weekday afternoon at the deli: I showed up to work, got cracking right away, and did what I had to do.  I was told I would be going on a delivery later on and that the butcher--let's call him Herbert--would be driving me and so I looked forward to it.

Little did I know that a piece of my innocence would be lost as a result.

I was excited as we loaded up the two gigantic boxes of groceries into Herbert's car because I had never been to this particular residence before and it sounded like a decent place.  Plus, I enjoyed Herbert's conversation and company, despite his idiosyncracies (you remember, right?  The talking to the meat in the refrigerator and such?)

So off we went.  Herbert started jabbering away and I, ever grateful to escape the store, listened in good spirits, as we drove down to the highway.  We didn't actually have to get on but we needed to cross over it to get near the apartment complex.  Herbert eventually reaches the service road on the other side of the highway and begins to make the turn onto the street...

...and slams the brakes.

There were cop cars and ambulances everywhere.  I remember counting at least two of not three of the latter and at least five of the former.

"Who died?" Herbert offered with a creepy butcher chuckle.

I didn't know what was going on but I DID have a silly, naive thought that makes the future twenty-eight year old version of my cringe.

"Gee...I wonder if that's the building I'm going to be delivering to!?"

Eventually, we were able to get close enough to the front of the building to see that, yes, indeed, it was.

Herbert helped me to unload the two boxes on to the street and then he started bullshitting with one of the cops; I was on my own from that point on.

Naturally, neither of these boxes weighed less than thirty pounds.  I did my best to carry them both but they were so gigantic I could barely see over or around them; I was lucky I made it through the open doorway instead of smashing into the metal frame.

Don't worry though--that luck lasted another two seconds when the bottom box ripped open (thirty pounds in a cardboard box with no reinforcement at the bottom!) and all of its contents went rolling around in every direction.  The lobby was mercifully empty save for a few cops and EMTs who just glared at me in disdain and dull disbelief.

As quickly as I could, I scurried about trying to round up the escaping groceries like a palsy shepherd rounding up his excited flock. 

Seriously--if knuckle-fuck was in the Oxford English Dictionary, a snapshot of that moment would be right next to it for elucidation.

Anyway, so I manage finally to get all of the groceries back in the box and I realize that I can no longer lift said container off of the floor as its bottom was destroyed.  After removing all of the goods (due to a lack of foresight on my part), I folded over the four panels as best I could, replaced the items, and then set about dragging both boxes. 

Do you know what happens when you try to drag sixty pounds worth of groceries in two shitty cardboard boxes?

I do.

The other one rips.

So now I'm waiting by the elevator with a box that's all fucked up on the bottom and another one splitting at the top.

And then I smell it.

At first, it was just a wang--something unpleasant floating in the background.  I looked back at the cops and EMTs and no one seemed to notice it.

"Is it just me?" I thought, again, naively.

The elevator returns to the lobby, the door opens up, two cops walk off, and I get on, attempting to drag the groceries inside before the doors could shut and likely crush both the boxes and what was left of my young spirit.

I press the button for the floor I had to go to and the doors shut.

It happened almost immediately.

I took a deep breath (as a result of my exertion with the boxes) and almost gagged.  Whatever faint scent had wafted down to the lobby had clearly come from the elevator.  The stink was a skunk's shit bespattered ass...or like something died.

Third floor passes.

Or like someONE.

Fourth floor.

"Oh God..."

(You know both the thought and the result that are coming.)

"What if someone died?  That could be why all of the cops and ambulances are outside!"

Fifth floor.

"Oh fuck...what if the person died on the floor I'm going to?"

Sixth floor.

The doors open and I received all the answer I would need.  My gorge rose instantly and my eyes watered like I had just been kicked in the balls.  I sucked in my breath and tried to hold it.  Then, when I thought I was going to pass out, I did my best to breath only through my mouth (you know, the way most Knicks fans do?)

I was moving on autopilot as I dragged the boxes out of the elevator and onto the carpeting of the sixth floor.  I looked down at the paper I had brought with me that had the apartment number and building address on it and looked to the right.  The apartment numbers were increasing and I needed a lower one.  Shuddering, I looked to the left and sat a gaggle of cops hovering outside of a door.

"Oh Jesus...what if the apartment I'm delivering to is right across from the one with the smell?"

You already know the answer.

I think that, at first, I thought it was THE apartment I was delivering to but I realized that the woman had just called right before we left and that there was no way such a response could have been mounted by the police and medical crews in such a short amount of time.

And so I sucked it up, dragging the two boxes closer and closer to what I imagined could only be some sort of portal into a shit-laden hell hole where every rotten, putrid, decaying odor seemed to mingle and fornicate to create this deadly, wicked, heavy aroma that was taking over the entire floor (not to mention my lungs).  Ignoring the cops' quizzical stares as I drag my mangled boxes, I finally reached the apartment...DIRECTLY across the hallway from the quarantine zone.

A well-put-together older woman opened the door and let me in.  She was probably in her sixties and had that air of class about her that comes only with good breeding.  I don't mean to imply that she was haughty or snobbish in any way--quite the contrary.  She had a quiet elegance about her--something that existed in polar opposition to the absolutely horrendous reeking odor that was penetrating the sanctum of her apartment (which had a PHENOMENAL view of the water, for what it's worth).

I didn't want to ask and was fortunate not to have to--she began to explain what had happened almost immediately.  Apparently, the neighbor across the hall (I don't remember if the person was male or female, not that it matters) had died and noone knew...

(See--that's bad.  Let's graduate to worse.)

...and by "no one knew" I mean no one discovered the body for SIX WEEKS...

(deeper still down the worse mineshaft)

...and the apartment was sealed shut, like a crypt...

(bottom level: we've arrived at the worst)

...and so the body essentially decayed and cooked, since the six weeks occurred during July and August (did I forget to mention that it was a sweltering summer's day?) and the heat in the apartment was trapped and thus continued to rise, which served only to amplify the decaying process that the body was undergoing...

...for six weeks... July and August.

Rest assured, fair reader--the smell that escaped from that apartment after they opened the door was and remains, to this day, unspeakable and nigh indescribable.  Approximations can be attempted but nothing would really do the horror of it justice.

And so I collect both the money for the groceries and my tip and I return, shaken, to the car.  Herbert was sitting inside listening to the radio. 

"Whoa?  Whatsamatta Mattyboy?" he asked.

I explained what happened, in great detail.

"Oh..." he said, pulling the car out and beginning the drive back to the store.

Looking out throught he window with a gaze not unlike that of a survivor of a terrible calamity, I begin to lose myself in my thoughts about the horror of what I had just experienced and its impact on me as a person.

Then, he began talking to me... if nothing had happened.

"Matty my boy, you've gotta listen to me, listen to Herbert when I tell you that YOU are a good-looking young guy, okay?  You are going to wind up having sex with A LOT of lucky, lucky ladies..."

I turned and looked at him, agape, with a look of dull disbelief.

"...that's why, you gotta promise me, that, no matter WHAT, you'll ALWAYS use a rubber.  I'm SERIOUS Matty.  ALWAYS.  USE.  A RUBBER.  A good looking young guy like you?"

He nodded in self-assurance.

"LOTS of pussy."

I'm staring at him blankly at this point.


I don't even think I blinked.

He smiled at me.

"Don't worry though--old The Butcher has got you covered.  If you ever need any condoms you just tell Herbert (he might've even said "Uncle Herbert"...I probably blocked that part out though), okay?  I've got tons--tons of 'em, so if you ever need, you just tell me how many you want and they're yours.  Okay?"

I haven't moved my stunned face away since this conversation started.  Apparently he thought I nodded.

"Okay, good!  And, Matty?  Seriously--you will be rolling in pussy."

He reaches over and pats me on the arm in atta'boy fashion.

I finally turned my eyes back to the road in front of us, the putrescent scent of rotten defecation caked to the inside of my nostrils, as I tried to figure out whether or not this creepy but possibly well-meaning old man just made a pass at me.

I desperately wanted to take a shower...but, at long last, my naievete was finally dissolving and I knew that doing so wouldn't accomplish much.  Sure, it might get rid of that god-awful stench that was hanging on to my nose hairs for dear life...but it wouldn't wipe my soul clean of the stain it received on that dark, terrible day, thanks to my first close encounter with both death and Herbert's creepy avuncular obsession with prophylactics.

I probably would have just curled up in the fetal position beneath the shower head screaming "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" at the top of my lungs while hitting myself atop the head with a bar of soap.

Some days you're the dog, some days you're the fire hydrant.

At least he didn't make a comment about my creamy hamstrings.