KARL KOWESKI

Liquor

          Four 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 came 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.


Karl Koweski is a thirty year old displaced Chicagoan now living on top of a
mountain in Alabama. He's been published throughout the small press and internet
and in such places as Hustler Fantasies, Swank, Night Terrors and in anthologies
like "It's All Good" from Manic D Press and "Trip the Light Fantastic".

He has a collection of stories "Playthings" out through Future Tense Press and
several poetry chapbooks, most recently "Can't Kill A Man Born To Hang" published
by Bottle of Smoke Press.







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