Let me explain to you a little about what I do: You see, I stock and sell alcohol at large beverage retailer in California. People come to me because I know what they want to know. Let me rephrase that, it's sounds cocky when I say it like that. People want my opinion. They come into my store seeking advice on what type of wine to serve with their dinner. Chicken? I send them to a nice buttery chard or maybe a riesling (depending on the sweetness of their teeth). Steak? How about enjoying the dry tannins of a Chianti? Maybe the jammy finish of a Rambaugher Zinfandel? Doesn't really matter, as long as you say it withconfidence, they will walk away happy. Really it's an easy job, I tended bar a few years back so I had a base knowledge of most of the questions people are going to ask. What's the difference between a canadian and american whiskey? What is a wet hop ale? How long does a keg last once it's been tapped?
I'm being serious when I say it's an easy job, assuming you can lift a box and put up with yuppies from the town over feigning knowledge on what "good wine" consists of. You get to stand at the tasting bar every friday and saturday for 3 hours pouring wine for Todd and his wife Muffy as they slurp down whatever sample wines we are trying to get them to buy that week. They talk to you as if you care. Their son just finished law school with a 4.0 and they couldn't be prouder. Muffy gabs on and on, but secretly you can see what is really going on in their lives. You see Todd,he's a businessman, maybe a lawyer, behind his baby blue eyes and salt and peppered fifty dollar haircut, he's fucking his secretary and has absolutely no shame. If Muffy wasn't standing right there he would be talking my goddamned ear off about her: A twenty year old blonde co-ed who nibbles on her pen tip every time Todd enters the room. Her top button is unbuttoned, a sign that Todd will be meeting her in his office in an hour. He comes to work and nods "Amanda" or "Tiffany", whatever her name is, and hangs his coat on the door. After the partners have gone home, blondie walks in and they fuck forfifteen minutes on the couch he is known to entertain his guests on. They smoke, she leaves to her one room apartment and cries, he leaves to his wife and 2.8 children, their dog fido, and the cycle continues.
But that's none of my business. The job in itself is entertaining because you can tell a lot about a person based on the type of alcohol they drink. Larry, he's a regular, he comes in every week and buys a 1.5 liter bottle of Seagram's 7 Crown Whiskey and a two liter of 7-up. I imagine he's a two part whiskey, one part 7-up drinker and not the other way around. He goes to his den and drinks away the pain of his wife's death, died of cancer ten years earlier and all he has left is a bottle, two kids that don't call, anda grandkid who's pictures hang on the refrigerator yet he's never met in person. Owned a gas station for most of his life, grew up in New York, maybe Jersey, I picture him to be a New York kind of guy though. His voice is raspy, but in a good way, a comforting grandpa voice from two packs a day for 5 years straight, and healthy as a fucking mule. Still gets up everyday atfive a.m. and passes out on his lazy boy recliner at nine p.m. while a staticky screen wisps in and out of infomercials. I imagine that one of these days he will stop coming in, and I'll catch a glimpse of a news story of his death, or not, maybe he just found another similar store that's cheaper than ours. In either case, I will miss him. We have plenty of Larrys that come in, you can always tell, their smell reaches the register before they do. Not a bad smell, like cigarrettes, heavy starch, and after shave out of a bottle shaped like an old car. A pleasant smell.
Then there is Joan, she buys Skyy Vodka. She knows nothing about vodka, the texture, smoothness, or taste, no, she buys Skyy mainly for the bottle. If you've ever seen a bottle of Skyy Vodka, you know that it's pretty boring, yet it's color evokes thoughts of her youth. Joan's prime was the late eighties, maybe early nineties, and she likes the bottle because it reminds her of a time before her divorce. A time before gravity began to set in and her face wasn't riddled with botulism. It reminds her of a time when she didn't dye her hair and the stretch marks on her stomach were no where to be found. It emulates the eighties clubs scene, that simple blue. It's a sleek design and that simple blue that transports her back to the days where bands like Poison and White Snake ruled the airwaves and any guy that showed up in a Z28 was going home with her. It's all in the the atmosphere, and Skyy's bottle is a perfect example of that "coolness" people miss from their youth.Joan is nice, but I have a feeling she is hollow on the inside.
These are just observations from my many years working here. Sometimes I envy Larry and Joan, the complexity of their lives, and how someday I hope to be a Larry, an old man sitting on a brown leather recliner sipping McCallan's 12 year and watching Sportscenter until the rabbit ears burn out, or I do. I envy the complexity because my life is as simple as it gets.I am from a middle class family, I graduated high school, served my country, and got married. I am 25 years old and have no children. Simple. I crave the complexity. Occasionally I will wish for a death in the family or a sibling announcing that they are entering rehab. For Christ's sake it would just give me a break from the dullness in my life so maybe I wouldn't have to make up fictional characters like "Larry" and "Joan", hell, what a sad affair.
I don't really look at my life much anymore, that is, more than I observe other peoples through the spyglass of my work. In fact, I often look at my life second in comparison to those around me. Sure, it sounds a bit preachy or "look at how modest i am", but it's the cold reality. See, my life isn't much to gawk at. I was born in Southern California andraised in Northern California. Early on, when I was about 9 years old, my dad got cancer and died shortly after. I could easily look at this as this giant catastrophe that shook the very foundations of our home life, sending our family toppling to it's knees. I could easily say that, but then I would be lying to you my dear reader.
The truth of the matter is I was pretty little at the time and didn't understand much of what was going on. I understood that the father I had was now gone. I think when you're at that age in your life, it's tough to grapple the complexities of death, especially when it hit's so close to home. Prior to my father dying the only experience I had with such an event was the death of a pet, which seemed (now that I look back on it) sadder than the death of my father. A loved family cat who's arthritis got so terrible that it eventually couldn't walk. It couldn't eat, couldn't drink, and eventually went to "kitty heaven" after a short trip to the veterinarian and a young boy holding his treasured little Jerryjust moments before they forced a needle into him and he fell asleep, quiet and peaceful.
Everytime I think of Jerry I think of my father, laying in a hospital bed, his skin yellow and cracking, tubes sticking out of every orafice, the sad look in his face. Every day we would go to the hospital and visit him, which eventually turned to routine. We stopped shopping at the gift shop to buy flowers because we knew he would be okay.Well, hesure acted like he would be okay. I would stop by the room, the2nd floor of a Mercy San Juan someone in Sacramento, I couldn't tell you where. He would always ask me the same questions "How was school?", "What did you do?", "Did you make any friends?". Goddamn it. If only I could go back in time and talk to him now. I would slap him across the face and say "Listen you son of a bitch, you have only months to live and you are asking the same questions you would ask if you didn't have cancer! Tell me about your life! Tell that young boy about your life growing up in Mexico! He needs you! He needs to know where he comes from! He needs for your legacy to live on!"
It wouldn't matter, I can't say anything to him anymore, and it's not like he would have listened anyway, he was probably just scared. In denial that his life was slowly dwindling away until that final day, December 4th, 1991, when he couldn't even speak. The drugs had him so far gone that my mom wouldn't even let me in the room. He was yelling and screaming in spanish. My grandmother frightened for her life. Then nothing. Quiet. Hysterical sobbing from my mother, my sister, 16 at the time, she understood. I envy her. She got to experience his death. I can even see me there in third person. A toe headed boy standing in the hallway of a hospital that became his after school home,numb to everyting going on around me. What an asshole I was, juststaring at some shitty picture that some shitty artist had drawn in colored charcoal of a nature seen or a California mission. Not even the original, just a print, it's colors fadedfrom the 24 hour flourescent bulbs that buzzed in the air, beating their bland, harsh, blue-yellow sunlight on every walking corpse in that Godforesaken hospital. Stupid painting. Worthless fucking painting. They should outlaw colored charcoal.