More Drink

Little D had been selling bottles of his father’s liquor to neighborhood kids for a couple of years.  He charged a flat rate of five dollars per bottle, no matter the content.  I’m not sure how he determined what bottle he gave to who.  Sometimes you’d get a near-full fifth of Crown Royal, other times a half empty bottle of Apple Pucker.  After two years I imagine the selection was pretty dim.  

Little D was younger than us and jobless, as such.  There were things wrong with him.  Nothing physical, though.  He seemed in relatively good shape and had a mustache that looked like a smear of dirt above his upper lip.  All his inconsistencies lay within his mental capacity.  His thoughts were all balled up and wounded…all abrasions and bruises.  You could tell some connections were constantly overloaded in absence of others.  Rottenness in the father’s sperm, teratogens in the womb, lack of resilience in a sub-par environment, I’m not sure.

Beyond his parent’s responsibility he’d walk the back streets to the small, suburban downtown and bum for cigarettes all day.  He once asked me for a cigarette immediately after confessing that he spent most everyday habitually begging for cigarettes trying to break his record of 28 or so.  I was offended by his brazenness, not realizing he found nothing wrong or shameful in his pauperism, so I lied, telling him I had none.  This was a more than common reply and he countered with outright begging.  I gave him a cigarette, but from then on kept an eye out for him while on his loiter grounds.

I had been avoiding him for, maybe, a year at this point.  It became an automatic response, a reflex, to panoramically scan my surroundings when walking through the neighborhood.  I was walking past his house at noon, one day, covering a block of sidewalk with each stride and keeping a view of his residence in my peripherals.  I knew I was cutting it close.  His liver would finish filtering the last of the Syriquil and Klonopin from his blood, and he’d awaken to his perpetual, nightmare search for cigarettes.

Like a coke-fiend waiting outside the bathroom, hearing the chop-chop of the credit card, he looked out his window and saw his first possibility for a cigarette walking by.  I imagine he all but fell over himself in the desperate moves he made to get from his second-floor room out into the street.  I had a vague notion of running when I heard his screen door creak open, but once we made eye contact the possibility of escape receded into hopelessness.

“Hey, hey.  Wait man.  Wait!”  He panted, even though I had visibly stopped.  His idiot face loomed well within my personal space as I handed him a cigarette.

“Here you go, man.”

“Thanks.  Thanks man.  Hey, you think I could get another…aw, Basic Lights?”  He mumbled without the least bit of trepidation.  His complete lack of modesty appalled me and I began to think of physical violence.  Instead, I fished another from my pack and handed it to him.  Suburban back streets are no place for random outbursts of violence.

“Well, ugh, hey you still, ugh, like pills?” He asked, trying to appease my growing animosity by sparking my curiosity.  “Cause I might be able to help you out.”  By, ‘help me out,’ he meant that he could probably sell me some drugs at a sharp markup from what he purchased them for.  I was desperate, though, and it’ll always be a sellers market.

“Yeah, I mean, what are you trying to get rid of?”  I wasn’t thinking about anything else.  They could’ve been anything: sedatives, muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, painkillers, antidepressants, metabolism stimulators, stool softeners, blood pressure regulators…it didn’t matter; I would’ve eaten them regardless.  I was classically conditioned to where the sight of a pill would elicit an automatic tonguing of the pill to the back molars, followed by a forward crunching motion with the jaw and finishing with a, hopefully, alcohol-based liquid rushing the pharmaceutical down my throat towards the initial steps of metabolization.

“I mean…it’s not going to be easy,” he started, “and my mom watches all that shit.  I just take em when she says so.  Sometimes I don’t really even know where they are.  I just let my mom take care of it, but I could probably take some without her noticing.”  That ruled out the possibility of painkillers, but I was excited about the mass quantities of exotic psychotropics.

“Well, you know I’d have to try some before I bought any.  Figuring you probably don’t know what they are I’d need a sample of some sort.”

“Dude…I mean…why…can’t we?”  He was stuttering.  I sensed his control over the situation slipping.  He wasn’t capable of remaining neutral; he wanted to sell me the pills as bad as I wanted to buy them.  And that is where the fulcrum shifted.

“No one would buy pills if they didn’t know what they were…”

“I know.  Okay…but…?”

“Not even Benny and he’s a crack head…not even Benny…” I interjected.

“Fine.  I know, I know.  But then you gotta pay for em if you like em,” he insisted.

“Yeah, of course.  It’s just that I don’t want to get ripped off…”

“…I wouldn’t rip you off, man,” he pleaded.  “You know that.  Right?”

“I just gotta be sure,” I sidestepped and then to calm his anxiousness added:  “but I’ll definitely pay you if I like any of them.”

“Okay, cool.  But…but you gotta pay me.”  There was nothing I could say to stifle his phobia of being ripped off.

“Definitely, yeah…ugh…when do you think you could get those?”

“Oh man…” His nervousness had started to physically manifest itself in head rockings and bodily twitches. “I said it wouldn’t be easy, man.  There’s no way…I can’t get em today.”

“Not today.  Don’t worry,” I said genuinely worried; I was afraid the transaction was being lost.  “Just get them to me whenever you can.  It’s not a rush, don’t worry, just take your time.”

“Okay.  Cool, man.  Thanks.”  He’d lost control and was just getting a grip on himself.

We made plans to meet up two days later at the local community center and then fumbled through an odd handshake and parted ways.  I headed off quick, away from the cigarette wretch and towards chemical prospects.  Alcohol alleyways, barbiturate bathrooms, cocaine closets, drug destinations…

 

Two days later I woke up on Duane’s girlfriends couch.  My pants and the couch were wet, my mouth was too dry to open, and my heart seemed to be beating inside my head.  Something had ripped through me.  I kept shutting my eyes trying to fall back asleep.  There was little hope in the air; I didn’t want to face the day like that.  Never like that, but I wasn’t getting any better lying around.  My liver wasn’t the efficient processing organ it once was, so most days there were still some remnants of alcohol flowing through my blood.  I’d feel worse before I got any better.

I stepped over half-eaten bowls of food whose contents had changed on a molecular level, ashtrays brimming with butts, and a crusty red stain in the carpet where Duane’s girlfriend had puked up Nyquil and Black Velvet after my urging her to try such a concoction.  All this registered as neither agreeable nor disagreeable.  It was what it was.  The bathroom was no better.  I sat on the nicotine-yellow toilet, looking past where the door should’ve been, out into the hallway.  A ferret scurried by.  I emptied what my body allowed me to empty into the shallow water of the toilet bowl, but it wasn’t enough.  Dead brain cells, hollowed out, scraped up veins in the crook of my arm, neon green infection of my left sinus, nicotine and tar soaked, near bronchiolar lungs, a throbbing gland under my left jaw, and whatever sickness lay undiagnosed all throughout…Cleansed out with the excrement; hit the handle and watch it whirlpool away.

It doesn’t, though.  They bully their way around your body and sink their pincers into cells hardheaded and malignantly.  Your brain stays mushy and your thoughts distorted, long sleeves cover artificial orifices in the middle of summer, the rolled up paper bill now goes up your right (unclogged) nostril, only Albuterol hits’ allow you to breathe, glands stay swollen because alcohol negates the effects of antibiotics, and this, all this, is the distortion through which you view everything.

I walked over to Duane and crouched, wondering if he’d feel the same when I woke him from his dreams.  Undoubtedly, his hands would shake and his brain would swell, but this was the same person I had seen drink malt liquor on a stomach primed with opiates while a sip of water would start my guts bubbling.  No, he couldn’t even comprehend waking up without some sort of hangover.  Like a maggot, born and bred in shit.

“Duane.  Duhwayne…” I cooed, drawing out my words in motherese.  He turned from side to stomach and mumbled incomprehensibly.  I didn’t bother poking him and instead shook him violently.  He was the type of person who could nod off in the middle of a conversation, pass out drunk in the street, and just about sleep anywhere.  At some point consciousness hit him and he began to protest.  I gave him a couple more shakes for good measure.

“Come on, man.  Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Ughh…what the fuck…give me a couple more minutes.”

“Fine.  Whatever.  Hey, you were talking in your sleep again.”

“Yeah?  What’d I say?”

“Couldn’t really make it out.  It was all gibberish.  Do you remember your dreams at all?”

“I don’t know if I was really dreaming of anything…”

“Everyone dreams.  It’s a matter of whether you remember them or not.”  He propped up on his elbow with his back against the wall.  The mattress was on the floor.  I don’t think there had ever been a box spring.  A bit of worry crossed his face.

“Yeah, ugh, it seems like I was dreaming about last night.  Well, I can’t really remember last night.  I think I was blacked out,” he laughed.  “But it’s all mixed up and I don’t know what I did.  Did we, did we make a trip downtown?”

“You really can’t remember?” I asked incredously.

“That’s what I’m saying.  I can’t remember if it was a fuckin dream or not.”

“Okay.  There wasn’t any hard around last night.  At least, that I’m aware of…I’m never fucking sure with you two.  I am certain we didn’t take a trip downtown, though.”

“Really?  That’s crazy man.  I…”

“It’s ten o clock.  Do you really think we’d have slept and been up already if we’d been smoking crack?”

The conversation drifted from there.

Duane sniped through the ashtrays for elongated butts then we headed down the stairs to find the house deserted, leaving us without a ride.  He rifled through the refrigerator for a hidden tallboy and re-secured the door with a wooden spoon that helped keep the cool air in.  Neither of us felt like leaving, but there was nothing left in the house for us.

The sky was Ohio gray but the sun still managed to creep through.  “Motherfucker,” I mumbled as we headed down the side street.  Left foot, right foot, over the tributaries of bubbling tar that patched the asphalt road.  Side streets are empty of cars in the late mornings of the workweek.  I didn’t ask where we were going or which way we should take.  Same place.  Shortest route.  Same as usual.  We walked without talking.

Midway, about three miles in, we were in the midst of a factory, a dive bar, a shooting range, and an adult entertainment store.  A fence separated us from the interstate.  As hot as it was I was surprised at my body’s ability to dredge up liquid with which to sweat.  The alcohol infused body odor managed to infiltrate my swollen, dis-functioning nostrils somehow and I put one foot in front of the other trying to keep the loathing at bay.

Distorted by the waves of heat, car after car rolled by.  The slight breeze each gave off was just a tease of more humane conditions.  One car stood out, though, as it focused through the distortion.  Candy yellow, each gearshift an exaggerated roar, oversized spoiler…

“Hey, that’s fuckin Todd!”

The thought of escaping the heat curled our lips and bunched the fat of our cheeks into smiles.  I pulled my hands from my pockets and raised my right arm, index finger extended, into the air.  Todd’s foot never hit the brake pedal as he pushed on the middle of the steering wheel emitting a squeal of pressurized air from under the hood.  We stood in disbelief as he rounded the corner.

“What the fuck?”  I began, but Duane cut me off:

“That son of a bitch thinks he’s too fuckin good to hang out with me ever since he started going to school and got that faggot-ass car.  I don’t even give a shit.  He’s still fat and so is his fat-ass girlfriend,” he trailed off for a second.  “Oh, that son of a bitch,” jumped out of him as he kicked some trash into the road.  A flattened twelve-ounce can frisbeed and landed by the middle yellow lines.  We resumed walking.

An anomaly within the usual jurisdiction of our fates occurred and ten minutes later Porkchop, in his mom’s station wagon, pulled up to let us in.  I opened the back door and immediately felt the cool climate of the air-conditioned car dissipating into the afternoon heat.  As I climbed in I said “hi” and asked Porkchop how he was doing, but I didn’t really expect a reply.  Originally, I heard his parents nicknamed him Pork-chop because of how he had been shaped at birth, but as he outgrew that origin he had slowly come to fit his name in other, less literal, ways. As a rule, Porkchop would reply thirty seconds to three minutes after the fact, or not at all.  He hadn’t always been this way.  Run-ins with the police stemming from random outbursts of violence, the threatening of foreign gas station attendants, and dangerously high-speed drunk driving had resulted in court ordered weekly shots of Thorazine or some other anti-psychotic.  And with these shots his mental state bubbled over from a brazen, uninhibited mania to a mild autism.  From delusion and behavioral excess to social withdrawal, flattened emotions, and general apathy.  He wasn’t dangerous anymore, but a lot of other things had been taken with it.  When he dropped us off near the little downtown strip I looked him in the eyes to say goodbye, but his gaze drifted right through me.

Duane and I set about killing the time until nightfall in the usual ways:  picking our minds for a solution to the problem of sobriety and picking the sidewalks clean of cigarette butts.  Any cigarette that measured a quarter of an inch past the filter could be considered a fruitful acquisition, but it was also a good way to acquire mononucleosis.  About once a year I spent a month in bed too weak to move and throat too swollen to swallow.  Still, I considered it a toss up when figuring which was worse:  sick in bed or hung over at the factory?

The emphasis of thought on smokeable tobacco fired off hundreds of tangents and conscious thought drifted from one to another, slowly leading away from sidewalk butts to the pleasure of smoking a real, clean, whole cigarette.  I thought of potentially bumming one and scanned the streets for a target.  Then it hit me:  Little D!  The little fucker owed me a grab bag of pharmaceuticals.  I related the whole story to Duane as we changed directions towards the community center.

“How could you forget about this!?” he asked.

I reminded him that he couldn’t remember if he had smoked crack, or not, the night before.

 

Long waits and shifty eyes.  We swung slowly on the swing set, dragging our toes through the wood chips.  As our patience wore off with the passing time we cursed Little D’s name, related the various techniques we would use to physically harm him, and took turns reassuring each other of our impending good fortune.  When that fortune did not materialize we decided to seek it out.

His house was only about a block away and as there were no cars in the driveway I felt safe knocking on the front door.  I passed up the aluminum screen door for the resonance of the wood.  Three hard knocks; police style.  An opening formed in the venetian blinds, then a few footsteps and I could hear a lock being turned.  The door opened up just enough for Little D to squeeze his head out.

“Hey, Craig,” was his salutation as he peered over my shoulder.  “Oh, hey Duane.”  He was visibly uncomfortable.  “What’s going on?”

“Nothing much, man.  We were just wondering if…”

“You could make that two bags?”  Duane cut in.  “We’ll make it worth your while.”

“Craig?” he pleaded.  “I told you it wouldn’t be easy…and now two?”

“Come on, man,” Duane assuaged.  “We’re gonna pay you for em.  We just gotta try em out first.”

“Man…let me see what I can do.  Just wait here, okay?  I’ll be right back.”  He disappeared into the house.  Duane and I smiled and almost rubbed our hands together in anticipation of satisfaction.  I always got giddy when I tried so little and anything came this easy.  He came back surprisingly fast.  His fists were balled up and clear plastic sprouted out the sides.

“It’s all I could do,” he said as we shook hands; swapping the sandwich baggies for an empty promise.  The context of our exchange had become unnecessarily secretive and we quietly said goodbye.  Shuffling furtively and fingering the contents of the baggies in our pockets we made our way to a more secluded side street.

“Holy shit, man!  You see these?  I wonder what the hell they do?”  Duane had his hand cupped and poured the various pills into it.  A colorful array of beautifully shaped pills spilled forth:  blue and circular with an imprint of “10”, pink and biconvex, red and elliptical, blue and oblong, pale-green and heart-shaped, six-sided and red, purple and round, and two clear capsules.  There were two of each, making a total of sixteen pills for each of us.  What do you do with eight types of unknown pills?

Under the bridge we passed our lone tallboy back and forth and argued.

“Well, I’ll take one of these blue ones and you try one of those capsules,” I suggested.

“If you’re gonna take one, you mine as well take the other one to make sure they do something.  Get the whole effect and all,” Duane shrugged and I agreed.  I grinded those blue circles into dust and washed them down with warm Miller Highlife.  Duane slid a capsule apart and emptied the little pellets into his mouth.

“You should try those blue ones, Duane, they’re super sweet.  I’ve never tasted a pill like this in my life.”  He finished his capsules and fished out the blue pills with his thumb and forefinger.

“You weren’t lying, man.”

“Yum, yum, eat em up,” I smiled as I reached for the tallboy.  We made it close to an hour without ingesting any more pills.  Duane was the first to break the ice and selected a green heart-shaped pill.  I opted for the red elliptical; as it had caught my eye, and wiped the extended time-release coating off with spittle and my tee shirt.  In a matter of two hours both sandwich baggies were empty, the empty tallboy was floating down river, and our throats’ were tight and our mouths’ dry.

“I think I’m feeling something now,” I beamed.  Duane just nodded in agreement and stared off into the distance.  We must have looked like frightened children, as we were both wide-eyed and visibly shaking.  We agreed to head back to Little D’s, pretend as if the pills weren’t working and get a bottle on a front.

By the time we left the bridge my arm hair was on end and shivers’ cut through the summer heat and up my back.  Two of those pills had to be speed and they were careening through my heart and out into my bloodstream.  Later I would learn that Little D was prescribed both Ritalin and Aderol.  A desperate attempt by his doctor to reign in incorrigible Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms.  Twice the dosage; twice the milligrams.

The anxiety and silence of the pre-high melted away into an increasingly sharp peak marked by scattered thoughts, incessant speech, and faux empathy.  The words and sentences excreted through our lips were on the same level as gibberish and guttural uttering’s amounting to nothing.  The social amenity of waiting one’s turn to speak was lost in the passion of stimulant intoxication.  Between the inhalation of smoke and the mindless rambles we managed to breathe in enough oxygen to make it to Little D’s.

“I don’t know, man.  His parents might be home soon.”  The speed had me reeling inwards.

“What the fuck are you talkin about?  Let’s get this fuckin bottle,” Duane spit out as he crossed the lawn.  I felt guilty and obvious standing at the head of the driveway so I scampered after him.  There wasn’t a drug that didn’t pump Duane full of confidence.  He rapped on the wood and attempted to look through the windows high on the door frame, like a child peering over a counter.  Eventually, Little D opened the door, backing Duane away from the threshold.

“Oh, what’s up guys?!”  He actually looked happy to see us.  “Yeah, you liked em didn’t you?  I knew you would like em.  I wouldn’t fuck you guys over.”  I imagine he expected money.  I averted my gaze from Little D and decided to let Duane handle this uncouth operation.

“I don’t even know what to say to you, D,” Duane wearily spoke.  Little D’s face twisted in confusion.  I had to stifle laughter.  “Those pills didn’t do shit.”

“What?  Which ones did you eat?”

“All of em.”

“You guys split a bag?”

“Nope.  Both fuckin bags and, still, nothing.”

“No way…I mean…you shouldn’t have eaten all of those.  Not at once…”

“Why not?” Duane cut in, “they didn’t do shit either way.”

“Well…how long ago did you eat them?”

“Oh my god.  It was awhile ago.  Long enough.  Are you calling me stupid?”

“Nah, dude.  No,” he whimpered.

“Then are you saying I’m lying?  I’m not a fucking liar.”  He was a liar.

“No.  You’re not a liar.  I…I just don’t see how…”

“They.  Just.  Didn’t.  Work.”

“…”

“And now I’m in the mood to get fucked up.  You know how that is, when you’re expecting something…”

“Oh.  Yeah, yeah.  I just…I mean what can I do about it?  I don’t think there’s anything…”

“Well, we,” Duane cocked his head in my direction, “were thinking you could help us out with something else.”

“I don’t have any weed.”

“No…don’t worry about that.  We just wanted a bottle,” Duane said as if he was asking for a glass of water.

“Man…I don’t know.  My parents are coming home soon and, beside, the liquor cabinet is starting to look pretty empty.”  I could tell he already knew he was going to give us that bottle, but he was compelled to go through his last inkling’s of protest.

“Well, maybe that’s why you should hurry up and, BESIDES, one more won’t hurt.”  I started to feel a little sorry for the kid, but those types of emotions are easy to cast aside.  Before he headed in to get the bottle he tried to make eye contact with me.  I just looked down and shook my head gently like a disappointed parent.

He came back quickly.  You could tell he wanted to be done with this.

“Okay guys.  I grabbed the one with the most in it.  Here.  Hurry up and put this in your book bag.”  An ancient, dusty bottle of…something, was now in our possession.  Little D stared at us uneasily, as if he was afraid to ask us something.

“Good lookin, buddy,” Duane said as he zipped up his book bag.  We started to walk away.

“Hey…well, I was hoping you guys would be able to…”

“We’ll pay you later,” Duane cut in.

In a narrow alleyway, tucked in between a library and a hair salon, we sat with our backs to the brick wall.  We passed the bottle back and forth; our knees by our chests.  We weren’t quite sure what to make of the liquor, but taken as a whole the day was looking quite successful.

“Man, I hope this shit is strong.  I’m fuckin beamin.”  The pressure within my skull pushed at its frame, trying to find the lower pressure on the outside.

“Yeah, it better be.  It tastes like butt-hole.”

“Mgghmph,” I agreed through a swig.  My eye’s watered and my mouth salivated.  I tried to hold it all down as my stomach punched itself.  “Oh, jesus.  What is this shit?”  Duane grabbed the bottle from my hands.

“Uhhh…Vermouth?”  Duane asked out loud as he stared at the bottle.  “Must be one of his dad’s bottles from the old country, you know?”

I just stared at the ground and nodded, anticipating and dreading my next swig.  There was broken glass mixed in with the gravel from wall to wall and behind an air conditioner unit laid a trophy pile of aluminum beer cans.  Loneliness permeated the alley, but the fun was so cheap; way too easy to pass up.

The bottle went back and forth in a casual two-sip pass and eventually Duane dribbled the bottoms’ down his open throat.  After squinting to make sure no alcohol remained he flung the bottle at the brick wall opposite of him.  The sun had passed and set and the bottle exploded in the glimmer of a streetlight.  I became paranoid but tried not to show it.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“Okay.  Where are we going?”  Duane looked at me as if I’d know something, somewhere…as if, maybe, I’d been holding a special spot secret for all these years.  I’d experienced this boredom, this idleness plenty of times before.  It seemed to lead only toward desperation.

“I mean…it is Wednesday.  No one’s doing anything.”

“What about your mom’s?”

“Nah, man.  She hides all the bottles now.  Even the margarita mix and the cooking wine.”

“The Cisco!?…”

“Yeah, I know.  Kind of makes me feel shitty.”

“Oh my god, that’s fuckin hilarious,” Duane laughed.

“Fuck you.  Your parents can’t even leave change lying around without the silver disappearing.”  He kept laughing.  None of his unscrupulous behavior bothered him.

“Okay.  Okay.  How much money you got?”

“You know I have enough for one tall-boy.”

“Should we call…”

“…no one’s gonna come out to buy us one fucking tallboy,” I cut in.

“Yeah, that’s true…Oh, goddamnit, we’re fucked!  Get ready to hear the birds chirping.  We’re not gonna be able to fall asleep tonight.  No way…we got a good eight hours left…”

“NO shit.  Not like we haven’t done this before.  Besides, we’ll find something…”  I trailed off.  Consolations don’t sound convincing when you don’t believe in them yourself.  We kept walking in the direction we had been.  Duane stumbled over a curb and a streetlight cast his shadow long and splayed, his cigarette an extension of his arm.  Smiling he looked back, as he had gained a few steps over me.

“What?  What’re you looking at?”  I asked defensively.  He was walking backwards now, still smiling.

“They won’t let us buy it, right?”

“Yeah, they I.D. everyone.”

“Exactly.  The product we desire, they will not sell.  Since our money is no good, we’re just gonna have to take it.”

“So you’re gonna risk getting caught shoplifting for one tallboy?”

“No, fuck that.  Well…what about Kamchatka?”

I thought for a second.  “They only got 42 proof…”

“I’ll get a fucking handle,” he laughed.

“No way.  You can’t fit a handle down your pants.”

“I’ll just put it in my hoody,” he said and pulled out a hooded sweatshirt with the name of a landscaping company emblazoned upon it.

“Hey, if you’re willing to try it I don’t mind.  I’ll be outside waiting for you.”

“No, no.  You gotta distract em.”

It seemed as if the rewards would outweigh the risks.

 

As I approached the convenience store each advertisement grew larger and more discernable, but only a few grabbed my attention:  All Tobacco Products At State Minimum, 12 Packs Milwaukee’s Best $5.49, Mike’s Beef Jerky $.99… yellowish artificial light spilled out from around them onto the blacktop.  I felt nervous, very aware of my stomach lining, but I kept approaching.  Alcohol had been sketching the outline of my future for quite some time.  A dose of anxiety could not change that, in fact it encouraged it, so I aimed for a facade of calm and hoped to appear relatively innocent.  If the clerk happened to be the fat creepy lady, Ralph would be in the clear.  She was too dense and innocent to notice much of anything, but if the owner was working, an alarmingly disagreeable Arab, then our chances of success would significantly drop.

I sensed Duane drop off behind the ice box as I swung through the door labeled:  Enter.  The artificial light glared and disoriented me but I was still able to clock the Arab attempting to stare me down.  I nodded and broke off eye contact as I turned down the house-ware aisle.  I could feel his gaze burning on me.

A jingling of bells marked Duane’s entrance and immediately the Arab was eyeing him over.  A u-turn led me towards the beer cooler, away from the wine and spirits section where Duane was headed.  I hoped the Arab’s attention would follow.  I fingered every single-serving in that refrigerator trying to look suspicious.  Time was at a stand still; I couldn’t help it, I had to check on Duane’s progress.  He stood bow-legged, crouched over, and smiling while stuffing a gallon of diluted vodka under his sweatshirt.  Wide-eyed with adrenaline I caught the Arab eyeing me from his counter perch.  His gaze shifted in sync with mine and stopped on Duane in mid-theft.  It was too late for a warning; I feigned attention over the beverages.

“Hey boddy!” the Arab screeched.  Ralph twisted on his toes and took for the door.  The agility with which Duane maneuvered was uncharacteristic as he was usually a firm practitioner of sloth.  The Arab didn’t have a chance; the particle board countertop served as a major hindrance in his pursuit and by the time he had overcome it, Duane had already laughed and jeered his way out the door.

“You son of a bitch!” yelled the Arab at Duane’s back.  He stood in the doorway panting, his gut heaving back and forth.  I had watched all of this disconnected, but as reality’s distance shortened and disappeared I was slapped with the unfavorable position of my present situation.  There was only one way out and I wasn’t going to chance leaving without buying a product, so I headed back to the refrigerator units which housed all the sugary beverages.  It took me a little while to decide on a beverage appropriate to the task of diluting the Kamchatka’s painful nip (at least a little bit).

“Hey!  Hurry it up!  This isn’t Giant Eagle, boddy.”  In haste I grabbed a half gallon of cheap ice tea and started on the long walk to the counter.  I kept my inner dialogue of innocence on loop while maintaining eye contact with the tiled floor.

“That it?” he stared accusingly.

“Yeah, just the ice tea,” I said as nonchalantly as possible.

“Ninety-eight cents.”  As he dug for my two pennies the silence became unbearable.

“Fuckin kid,” I said as I motioned towards the door.  He looked at me for a second, searching.

“He’s asshole.  I see him again, I call police.”  I just nodded and took my drink and change.  I knew Duane would be under the bridge; there was no where else to go.  I opened the door…

Out of their world and into mine…

-AM-

(Drugs and Culture)

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