our hours into the graveyard shift, Larry said, “Fuck it, man. Let’s go to the house. I got some Hennessey, some Canadian Mist, some Bacardi Gold and a fifth of hundred proof vodka.”
As much as I hated turning my back on Sunday night double time, I was easily swayed. I’d been working midnights in the chrome shop for thirty consecutive nights. I needed to get out.
Harley ended up deciding for us. He wasn’t on the clock. He worked second shift which went a long way toward explaining the sort of life Harley led when he showed up at the factory on his day off. I suppose hanging out with his co-workers was preferable to another lonely night in his empty house, lifting weights and listening to aggressive music that sent the latest, experimental, momentarily legal steroid coursing through his garden snake sized veins. Still... it’s not like the strip joints were closed.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Harley said. “I’ll treat at the Huddle House.”
Fortified with a bacon double cheeseburger and fries (and a salad for Harley) we swung by the gas station where I splurged on chocolate flavored cigars. Though Larry provided sixty dollars worth of hard liquor and Harley dropped twenty five dollars on dinner, I begrudgingly gave up the five dollars for the smokes. It was like the poor old lady who tithed a penny except Jesus wasn’t there to pat me on the back. Instead I got a “Didn’t they have any of them green apple cigars?” from Harley.
Larry lived in a rented trailer off in the woods which gave an Evil Dead by way of Raising Arizona vibe. The place was lived in, which is to say there was a lot of shit laying around. Clothes, power tools, porno magazines. A ceiling fan sat on the coffee table. There was an empty milk crate on the second hand couch. His entertainment center impressed me. A Reservoir Dogs poster hung from the front room wall. Mr. Blonde looking bad ass. Had I not been married to a woman who preferred Home Interior mediocrity, I’d like to think I’d have a Michael Madsen poster hanging from my wall as well.
Larry withdrew the bottles from the refrigerator and lined them along the kitchen counter. The unopened bottles looked pretty like a summer’s day field of sunflowers. The way the chipped ashtray, a souvenir from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (a place, incidentally, Larry had never visited) accentuated the sleek contours of the seventeen dollar pint of cognac flooded me with uncharacteristic good will and fleeting elation.
I opened the cupboard. There were three coffee mugs and the desiccated corpse of a mouse. I took the cup advertising the local hospital’s emergency response services. Harley blew the dust out of a cup proclaiming him WORLD’S NUMBER ONE DAD. Larry, being the king of his castle and financier of our impending drinking binge, wouldn’t settle for any ceramic bullshit. He opened his entertainment center’s cabinet door. Next to a decent collection of $5.50 DVDs from the Wal-Mart was a veritable stein of a mug with the legend I EAT MORE PUSSY THAN CERVICAL CANCER. He held aloft the mug and Harley and I bowed before the man, his cup, and his cup’s witticism as though he were the kung fu monkey showing off the lion king’s newborn cub.
Then we proceeded to get shit-faced on fine liquor.
Larry lovingly displayed the Hennessy bottle as though it were a special prize for correctly guessing the weight of his spleen. “This is a fine cognac,” he said. “So smooth you won’t even feel it go down. Good for sipping.”
He set the bottle down and I picked it up. Larry went on prattling about the other, weaker alcohols but I paid him no heed. I broke the seal, spun the cap and filled the coffee cup halfway to the top. I drank it down in three quick gulps. Larry was right. The cognac went down smooth. My head and shoulders barely convulsed at all.
“Smooth, ain’t it?” Harley said.
“Yes. Very smooth.”
Harley spun the cap. He didn’t bother with the mug opting instead to guzzle as much as he could from the bottle before Larry said, “Let me see that”.
Harley relinquished the bottle with a quarter pint left to go. “Damn,” Harley gasped. “That’s smooth.”
I was all ready pouring some Bacardi into my mug. Larry having stashed his fine sipping cognac mixed Canadian Mist and Mountain Dew into his veritable stein of a mug. “I call this a ‘Can Dew’,” Larry said.
“I don’t give a fuck,” Harley sneered. “I thought we were here to get liquored up, not fuck around with soft drinks.”
Harley flexed his considerable biceps as he spoke. He wore an Under Armor shirt, the breathable fabric stretched taut. Why he would wear this shirt when all he had planned was to hang out with a couple cats at the factory, I do not know. Also, I thought the whole point of Under Armor clothing was that you wore them under something. Like a football jersey, perhaps.
Of course, that didn’t matter at the time. All that mattered was choking down the Bacardi as quickly as possible so I could refill my mug with some of that hundred proof vodka. Also, the only other thing that mattered was music. Loud music.
Harley brought System of a Down’s CD “Mesmerize”. Though I prefer to listen to music that has some historical impact on me when I get sloshed (Pearl Jam’s “Black” for instance is just the right song to play repeatedly while drinking toward unconsciousness; that way I can relive all the old memories of love gone astray while I’m trying to have a good time), when Harley put “BYOB” on repeat and we started singing along with the lyrics, it felt perfect.
Harley was in the middle of killing the Canadian Mist so that Larry wouldn’t sully it with his contemptible Mountain Dew. The Bacardi evaporated. Larry and I raced to the bottom of the vodka. I’d taken to chain-smoking the cigars, feeling somehow I had to get my five dollars worth. When I began extinguishing my cigars in my vodka and quaffing the ashy dregs, I knew I was royally fucked up.
“You know what?” Larry said, touching Harley’s chest in a way that looked odd to me. “You got a good voice. You should be lead singer. Vic can play bass. I can take the drums.”
It never failed. Regardless who I drank with, the idea of forming a rock band was invariably broached. Never mind no one here possessed a lick of musical ability and even stone drunk Harley’s caterwauling resembled the cries a ninety year old woman might make while getting raped with a croquet mallet. Larry figured his knack of keeping tempo with a song by tapping his fingers on the dashboard of his Honda would translate well to a drum set. As for my total ignorance of music... Anyone could play bass, right?
We bounced to the music singing along with the chorus as though we were auditioning for American Idol.
About this time I realized if I had any hope of surviving until dawn I had to jettison as much of Larry’s fine, expensive liquor out of my stomach as quickly as possible.
My vision blurred. By the way Larry’s and Harley’s eyes swam in their sockets, it was a safe assumption they’d reached the same plateau of grain alcohol wretchedness I’d attained.
There’s a point that can be reached with enough heavy drinking or drugs (or extreme fasting if you don’t have the money or monied friends) where patterns in the chaos of existence begin to emerge. Answers to the questions you never quite grasped become apparent. Sometimes, one’s place in the universe is revealed, or at least hinted at. This point is a nice place to be. It’s the end that justifies the means. I overshot that point on the map of inebriated self-delusion going about 130 mph.
I hit the bathroom at a dead sprint, voiding my guts mostly into the toilet, an impressive projectile stream that seemed to change color and texture with each heave. There was the clear stream that came up smooth and easy with barely a convulsion of the head and neck. Then the globs of Huddle House #3 dinner combination. Finally, what looked like dead, bloody guppies plopped into the toilet bowl.
Weak and shaky, I flushed the toilet twelve times in rapid succession and watched the nasty water overflow the bowl, cascade onto the linoleum and soak through my polyester work pants. I watched this happen, dully, knowing I should do something. Perhaps stand up...
What galvanized me into action was the fancy red dart sitting next to the sink. It was obviously part of the set Larry carried with him when he went to play darts at the tavern. Its brethren were no where to be seen, however. The dart, innocently lying there, offended me deeply in a way I can not explain. I grabbed the dart and stumbled into the kitchen.
“I’ve seen some fucked up things in people’s bathrooms before. But never nothing so fucked up as this.” I offered the dart for inspection.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d stayed in the bathroom but the vibe out here had changed. System of a Down’s “Lost in Hollywood” spilled from the speakers. One of the kitchen chairs had been smashed into kindling and strewn across the floor. Harley had his shirt off and he was posing down.
“I don’t want to get that big,” Larry sniffed.
“You can’t anyway,” Harley replied. “You’re an ectomorph. You ain’t got the genetics I got.”
“What the fuck’s going on here?” I asked.
Larry snatched the dart from my hand and threw it into the wall where I immediately forgot about it.
The vomiting jag might have eased my stomach but it did nothing toward restoring even a modicum of sobriety.
Larry went on whining that he didn’t want to be an ectomorph. Walking past, I noticed the sink piled high with dirty dishes and coated with puke. By the bounty of leafy greens, I pegged Harley for the culprit. A slightly digested squidge of tomato jutted from his chin like a pimple ready to bust.
“I think I have mild alcohol poisoning,” Harley said simply.
The night lost cohesion rapidly thereafter. Harley decided to try the bathroom for his next bout of puking. After shoving an entire roll of toilet paper into the bowl in an unsuccessful attempt to unclog the bowl, he crawled into the kitchen on his hands and knees. He made it as far as the kitchen counter. No amount of protein shakes or triple stacks promising freakish vascularity could carry him any further.
Following a brief though violent burst of energy where Larry began flinging himself into his entertainment center, his bathtub and the card table atop which he had been rebuilding a transmission, Larry collapsed upon his mattress and mercifully blacked out.
Seeing Larry passed out and Harley face down in his own vomit appealed to my pride in a way so often lacking in every other aspect of my life. I felt the sort of fulfillment and gratification a simpleton experiences when he pulls an exceptionally meaty booger from his nose.
I celebrated by stomping a foot in Harley’s puke, splattering his stomach acids in his face as I yelled, “How you feeling, Harley? I’m on top of the world. Wooo!”
He laid there, wobbly eyes gazing up in supplication. His bottom lip trembled. Puke sprinkled his face. He said, “I’m gonna stomp your ass come tomorrow. So help me God...”
He dry heaved repeatedly until he seemed on the verge of hyperextending his ribcage.
Feeling the bile rising to the back of my own throat as I watched him alternating between dry heaving and resting his forehead in his own sick, I stepped out onto the porch, hoping the air would clear my senses. It did not, but being outdoors did keep me from doing anything else that Harley might recall at a later date and seek retribution for.
* * *
Morning. Rain clouds obscured the sun. Everything glistened and whirled. I felt as though I survived something. The truth, I suppose, was that with every step I took away from the trailer, every step leading toward my home ten miles away, I was resuming my death march existence. An empty marriage, ceaseless television and menial work.
Despite my inebriation, I knew what awaited me at home. Accusatory stares from my wife and little acts of revenge, rebellion. A sink full of dirty dishes. Neglecting to wash my work clothes. Curt replies to my attempts at conversation.
And then more vomiting, hoping my daughter doesn’t walk in on me hugging the toilet. My wife picking this moment to send my daughter to talk to me.
After a couple miles watching my scuffed shoes slap the pavement, I stop and puke into the roadside grass. Mostly dry heaves and stomach bile. A string of thick saliva like Castor oil stretches from my bottom lip to the ground.
I’m getting old. More than anything, this night had reinforced the dissipation of my youth. Ten years ago I could have handled my liquor. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have had to quit drinking before any one else out of fear of my wife’s disapproval and my daughter’s disappointment. Ten years ago, I would have known all the words to the songs played.
I couldn’t help but envy Harley, face down in his own vomit, or Larry lying unconscious, surrounded by posters of movies others have told him it’s ok to like. I wondered if they envied me.