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.