It’s me again: the luckiest unlucky black cat there ever was. I believe at this point in our correspondence that it may prove beneficial to explain exactly how I, a boy of seventeen, was able to pull off seeing you so often.
Now, seventeen year-old boys can’t legally purchase alcohol (at least not in this country). Therefore, there were some logistical problems at first in procuring such things, but these didn’t last long.
I had heard whispered rumors about a liquor store that would sell anything to anybody, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, political affiliation and, most importantly, age. Supposedly this particular establishment would take a thirteen year old’s milk money in exchange for wine coolers and not even bat an eye or think of asking for ID. And they’d always give correct change, too.
The prospect of doing something as brazen as walking into a liquor store and trying to illegally purchase alcohol was a scary one, indeed. But it was also a very exciting one. I was torn between my longtime timidity and my newfound lust for all things nonsensical and destructive.
What if I got caught? One part of me asked.
So fucking what? Another slightly more overbearing part responded.
I knew that this rumor of an under-aged drinking oasis was true after Blaine showed up one day with a bag of beer, grinning like an idiot because he was already half drunk. My friends and I were, of course, amazed and envious at the same time. I could tell that he was real pleased with himself; he boasted that he walked right in there, grabbed the twelver from the cooler (we didn’t waste time with six packs in those days), plopped it on the counter, smiled, and asked the clerk how his day was. As the clerk bagged up the contraband, he replied that his day was going all right. Then he inquired as to the condition of Blaine’s day.
“Well,” he said, “it’s about to get a whole lot better.”
Indeed it was. For him at least, for he refused to share any of his beer with us at all, telling us in between gulps (we didn’t waste time with sips in those days either) that we should just go get our own.
And so I did.
I drove down to that liquor store, which was in a predominantly Hispanic part of town, and parked my truck in what I thought was the most advantageous spot in the entire lot. I wasn’t directly in front of the store, but I wasn’t so far away as to be isolated from the other parked cars; I didn’t want to draw any undue attention to myself. I had a clear line of sight to all the entrances too, so I could be on the lookout for police cruisers.
There I sat, trying to muster up enough courage to walk into that store. I must have sat there for at least an hour that first time, watching the done-for-the-day laborers go in and come out with cases of Tecate and Pacifico and Corona and, sometimes, even Dos Equis.
I watched them with envious eyes, Dionysus. I was so god damn thirsty I couldn’t stand it.
After the compact disc I was listening to finished for a second time, I finally convinced myself that I could do this and that I wouldn’t get caught and even if I did it didn’t matter and that once I got that beer it would be totally worth it and I would feel completely validated and legitimized and, most importantly, drunk.
When I walked into that store, I didn’t go straight for the beer cooler; I had decided that would make me look too desperate, too thirsty, too young to buy beer. No: Instead, I would say hello to the shopkeeper, grab a bag of potato chips from the aisle, and then make my way, in a not too hasty but not too leisurely fashion, to the beer cooler. If I were too hasty, then he might suspect that I had something to hide (like my age, for example). But if I was too leisurely, then he might wonder whether I was trying to overcompensate in the opposite direction in order to hide the fact that I was trying to hide a fact and then my plan would be totally off track.
Remember: Appearances, Dionysus.
I don’t remember what kind of chips or what kind of beer I grabbed (likely Mickey’s malt liquor), but I managed to make it to the counter without dropping either. I was trying my hardest to stop my pores from leaking and my voice from cracking.
“How’s it going?” my voice didn’t crack yet. I was still sweating though.
“Not bad, my friend. You are twenty-one, yes?”
I paused. I hadn’t prepared for this script. I had expected him to either just do the fucking transaction or ask me for ID, in which case I would have implemented my predetermined exit strategy and told him I left it in my car and then just bail. But this I hadn’t prepared for. I was scrambling, but I wanted that beer so fucking badly that I forced myself to keep cool and get those next words our properly. (My entire afternoon was at stake here, Dionysus.)
“Of course I am. I’ll be twenty-two next month.”
That was a lie. One of many that I told for you, Dionysus. And you know what? I didn’t even feel badly about it, because I would have done absolutely anything to be with you, even if it meant telling somebody that I’m a Gemini when I’m really an Aries.
He just smiled, took the sweaty twenty from my palsying palm, handed me my beer and potato chips and change, and sent me on my merry miscreant way.
“Be careful my friend…” I was out that door so quick that I barely heard him as I practically ran to my truck.
If I didn’t need a drink before, I certainly did after that ordeal.
When I got to Lionel’s and my other friends asked me for a beer, you know what I said to them?
“You can go get some yourselves. I earned these.”
And how, Dionysus.
P.S. I would continue to buy alcohol from the store in question for years, until I was practically old enough to buy it legally. The only reason I stopped was because the patron saint of underaged drinkers (St. Anthony, I called him) eventually got arrested for his unlawful charity. It was, I think, inevitable: no matter when I went in there, day or night, he was behind that counter, and he always sold to me without a second thought. And he did the same with countless others, although I like to think that I was always his favorite.