Drunkstory: Chapter One
To honor my fifth year of sobriety, I am posting the first chapter of one of my "#blognovels", Drunkstory, written in 2009 and first published on the original WhenWordsCollide blog on Xanga. (unsecured link) I wrote three chapters, and I plan on, if not actually finishing the work, at least writing a few more chapters for inclusion on this, the new iteration of WhenWordsCollide. So without further ado, ahem, here we go:
Chapter One: Sure, I Buy the Stuff All The Time.
The sun was setting through a pinkish haze. Wind flurries would pick up, then abate for a while, then begin whipping the leaves of the potted trees again. Autumn evenings in Southern California aren't cool. The breezes are quite warm. Mike stayed back in the corner of the Garden Department yard, the nozzle of his hose wavering a bit, as his eyes kept clouding up when gazing at the horizon, where the sun peeked through blackish clouds, rimmed with a bright pink underbelly.
Were his eyes deceiving him? He removed his glasses and rubbed them with the same hand clutching his spectacles, the other haphazardly attempting to keep the nozzle straight as he sprayed the five gallon containers of seldom sold large shrubs and trees in the far corner of the yard. Back here in the early evenings, when most people were eating dinner, and hardly anyone in the store was shopping for flowers and plants, it was serene and painterly. If not for the dozens of pallets of steer manure stacked outside the opposite fence, with it's pungent aroma, the place would be quite heavenly. Mike's vision seemed to be blurred. He twisted the small plastic cutoff switch at the end of the hose wand and placed his glasses back on his nose.
"Are you lost back there?" the sprightly voice of Donna, the cashier, wafted along the warm winds.
"I can hardly focus" Mike declared, making sure he wasn't too loud.
There was no one except him and Donna in the yard. The parking lot lights were burning bright, and the sun was dropping fast behind the rim of the earth. You couldn't really see the pallets of white plastic bags on the other side of the fence, but they were really stinking, and the stink was carried on the wind as well. Mike hooked the hose in a five gallon apricot tree and attempted to walk to the cash register. Both doors leading into the store were closed. Evening shoppers were making selections in the plumbing and hardware departments on either side of the garden shop, but nobody was outside where the warm winds whipped up the acrid odor of bull excrement. Donna was giggling when Mike got to the register stand, a wooden cubicle with a roof situated on the far end of the yard, between the fertilizer flats and the six packs of annual flowers.
"Wasn't that fun?" Donna queried. "Do we have anymore?"
"I think I got the last bottle." Mike said. "Foster took one home with him.
"I really think you're cute." Mike heard the sentence as if it were coming from outside the fence. He couldn't really focus and his eyes kept gazing at the soft halos of white around the parking lot lighting posts. "You aren't drunk, are you?" Donna didn't know that the two bottles of beer Mike had helped consume about an hour ago were the first alcoholic beverages he'd ever drank. Mike didn't seem to paying attention to her, but he did hear what she was saying, although her words were coming out in slow motion.
"Don't say that." Mike cautioned. "Foster is your boyfriend. And somebody might hear you talk about the beer."
"We're totally alone." Donna was shorter than five feet, with long brown hair, large brown eyes, and a small nose. Her smile was wide. She had pretty large breasts for a short gal, and she seemingly flaunted her sexuality in front of Mike all the time. This usually didn't bother him much, but tonight he was feeling things he'd never felt before. Everything seemed enlarged and magnified. Not only the bright halos around the parking lights, but sounds, smells (including the steer manure bags outside the fence) and emotions.
"You know I like you Donna. But I don't want to make Mike mad." Donna was 23. Mike Foster, who also worked in the Garden Department along with Mike, was a full timer who worked during the days. He was also 23, used to being a football star in a former life. He towered above both Donna and Mike, who at 19, had only worked in the Garden Department at Ole's Home Centers for about a year now, getting his job right after his graduation from high school.
Mike had never had any impetus to try alcohol in any form. His parents didn't drink. His friends didn't drink. At Rosemead High School, he had only known one guy who did drink, and the guy was pretty much an asshole, and an even bigger asshole at parties. Donna turned quickly as the door which led to the Plumbing Department opened, bringing the sounds of inside the store, with the muzak machine playing 40s dance tunes in the background, out into the Garden Department for a few fleeting moments. Paul, the Area Manager briskly walked through the door, making his rounds. Not one customer had been spotted in over an hour.
Mike dodged the young crew cut manager by disappearing back into the potted plants. He picked up the hose wand and twisted the little plastic spigot, letting the cool rush of water spurt a few times into the apricot tree before it returned to a steady flow. Paul walked down the aisle next to the cash register stand, said his hellos to Donna, and then turned 90 degrees and followed the other walkway out of the Garden Department and into the Hardware Department. When he opened the door, a short cacophony could be heard for another moment, and then quiet blanketed the yard again. Donna stifled another giggle. Mike went back to work, threading the hose up and down the rows of potted plants in the near dark spraying water into the five gallon and one gallon containers lining each side of the aisle.
He liked the Garden Department, because he could fill his evenings not only by watering the plants, but by sweeping the fertilizer area and straightening the bottled bug sprays and shelved merchandise. Sometimes there were customers, but not usually in the autumn, when people didn't do a lot of planting. In a few months, Mike would impress the manager of the store so much that when the Garden Department manager decided to switch to part time, he'd be promoted temporarily, even though he worked split shifts, sometimes during the day, and sometime from noon till after closing, like tonight. He wasn't in any fear of getting caught, or getting fired. He was young, and emboldened by the bravura of youth.
Mike split his shifts, and worked forty hours a week, a full time workload, even though he was only a part time employee. He started work the summer after his graduation from high school, before going to the University of Southern California on a full state scholarship. USC is a private school, not in the state college system, so the scholarship Mike had been awarded didn't cover his costs completely. He'd taken out a student loan to cover the difference, lived at home, but paid his parent's rent, and by working full time was able to get enough money to eat out most of the time, and have spending money. Donna and her boyfriend Mike frequently worked in the evenings together, but Foster had to do something that evening, and Mike had volunteered to work in his stead. One of Mike and Donna's "traditions" was to drink beer while they were on the job. They didn't really get schnockered together, but did split a six pack throughout the night, keeping it in the small Garden Shed at the rear of the department. Donna had asked Mike quite innocently at the beginning of her shift, right as Mike was about to take his lunch break, if he would buy the beer, as if her and her boyfriend's tradition was going to be passed on to new blood.
"Sure, I Buy the Stuff All The Time", Mike had quickly replied to her question. "What brand?"
"Michelob" Donna reached into her purse.
"Naw, that's alright. I've got it." Mike wasn't very tall, but he didn't look like he was only nineteen. He had a full head of wavy dark brown hair, which he styled in an "Elvis curl" at the front. It was longish in back, as was the style, with a natural flip all the way around. He wore a mustache and although the store policy forbid beards, his mutton chop sideburns almost covered both of his cheeks. He could very well pass for a senior instead of a freshman in college.
"What am I getting myself into?" Mike had wondered as he piloted his 1965 Dodge Dart away from the store and down Valley Blvd. He knew he didn't want to attempt to buy liquor at the small market across from the high school, because he was probably known to the clerks in there from when he attended Rosemead High. He chose a small liquor store on the corner of Valley and Rosemead Blvds, about a half mile from Ole's.
With almost no hesitation, he'd walked in to the store, and back to the beer cooler along the opposite wall. His eyes had traveled over the labels till he spotted the Michelob, then he opened the cooler door and grabbed a six pack. He briskly strode to the cash register, and set the six pack on the counter. The clerk didn't even look at him as he rang up the sale. With the brown sack tucked under his arm, he returned to work, after first stopping at the McDonald's and getting a Big Mac and some fries. As he walked into the front doors of Oles, he said hello to Paul, the night manager, and quickly made a beeline straight for the Garden Department. Mike Foster had arrived while Mike had been on the beer run, and he was in the small garden shed which doubled as an office and storeroom when Mike opened the ply board door.
"Got the stuff?" Foster asked.
"Here ya go." Mike pulled the glistening bottles of brew from the bag. He also removed his burger and bag of fries. Foster gave him a bottle, and then Donna opened the door and sneaked in to the small space, which ran along the back wall separating the Garden Department from the Hardware Department on the other side inside the store. The three of them toasted each other. Mike Foster handed Mike his can opener and Mike snapped the top off his brown bottle. He pocketed the cap. It wouldn't do for management to find beer bottle caps in the company trash cans. As both Donna and Foster downed their first beer of the evening, quite quickly, Mike similarly quaffed his very first beer.
The liquid tasted like soap must taste like, with a sharp edge. There were lots of bubbles. Like his fellow partners in crime, he drank the thick amber liquid pretty quickly, and then needed to burp. He didn't let on that he'd never bought nor imbibed alcoholic beverages before.
Foster had a second brew before leaving the garden shed with the remaining beer in the six-pack carton. He was a big guy, and drank both beers very fast. Donna drank only one. Mike finished his and Foster told him to set the second aside for later. Both the other guys left the shed as usual, although Foster was off work. Mike stayed a while longer, and felt his head expand and got a bit dizzy.
There was no place to sit down in the shed. Mike decided to get ready to water the plants. There hadn't been any socializing among the three as they quickly quaffed the illegal liquid. The idea was to do this fast, so as not to be caught. Both Foster and Donna knew that hardly anyone would be coming round the department that evening, including the managers, who usually left well enough alone. That was one of the reasons Mike liked working in that particular department. By the time Mike got back to the register, where Donna was sitting on her stool, Mike Foster had left. Donna still had no idea Mike had just had his very first beer.
About a half hour later, held high by the experience, Mike returned to the small shed and drank the other beer. He almost was drunk, but tried not to exhibit any of the normal drunk behavior, instead hiding behind the hose wand for the remainder of the next hour.
By closing, his vision was less fuzzy, and his gait was more stable. Nobody was the wiser, including the few customers for whom he loaded bags of steer manure during the evening. Thanks to the warm Santa Ana winds, which whipped around the odor of the manure, any trace of beer breath was stifled. Mike was still a bit high as he got in his car and began the 30 mile drive home to Glendora from Rosemead. He wouldn't see his parents when he got home. Not only was it past 11pm, but he had his own set of keys and his own front door to the "apartment" he rented in back of the garage.
The next day Mike had a day shift, followed by night school at USC, 20 miles on the other side of Rosemead. He didn't really think about the experience of drinking beer, or getting a bit tipsy and having blurred vision. Life was too busy, and there were too many things on his mind. He never did join Donna and Foster again in their little game, preferring to make excuses, especially when he was promoted a month later. Of course he didn't "rat" on his friends. In short order, Mike Foster left the company, and Donna quit soon after. Mike didn't really like the taste of the beer in the first place. The next time he would imbibe was to be about six months later, when reuniting with some old friends from junior high at what would be the first of many hearty parties.
Chapter Two: The Party House