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I have had nights at the bar so broke that I've tried to suck the gin from the ice cubes before resorting to a fresh drink. It's after nights like that when I reconsider my relationship with alcohol. Then, of course, I have my first drink of the next day and squelch those thoughts.
When I lived in Philadelphia, the drinks came out of the fridge around 8, two hours after I'd get home, have the chance to sit and relax, watch some TV, have a bite to eat. The drinks came out, and kept coming out until there were none left, or I was (remarkably) wise enough to stop, usually around three a.m.
Somehow, in New York, my clock has jumped ahead two hours. It's weird, and I never thought about it before, but I never really engaged in typical "Happy Hour" drinking until I moved here. Recreational drinking was always reserved for later in the evening, always demarcated from the day's work by a 1/2 hour commute or a trip to the corner deli for dinner.
These days, I find myself walking out of the office to grab a drink with a co-worker. I spend half an hour at a bar uptown, near the office, have two or three drinks, and get on the subway home. Ten minutes later, one block off the subway, I stop at the corner bar 2 or 3 days a week. Amy often joins me, we sometimes meet a friend, and we stay there for an hour or two. Back at the apartment, we'll open a bottle of wine, or I work on a few bottles of beer, and I make it through the nights with the satisfied joy of a dull child. And even when we go out to see some bands or meet someone, we're back home by midnight and asleep by one.
This routine gives me 7 to 8 hours of sleep--plenty of time to let my body work the alcohol through its system so I can usually wake up without even a hint of hangover.
My father instilled in me a strong work ethic, a rational moral code, and a particular intolerance for stupidity, but two of my uncles taught me, by example, some of the other, more esoteric aspects of manhood that I still carry with me.
Keith is a carpenter who works year-round as an independent contractor. He married my dad's sister, Hilary, when I was 5 or 6 years old. Hilary is, oddly, only a few years older than my oldest sister. Think about it--your grandparents having a kid only a few years before your own parents had their first child. It freaked me out as a kid, not having well-defined generations.
I lived with Hilary, Keith and their newborn daughter, Kira, for a few summers when I was an early teen. At a time when I was insecure about everything, Keith seemed confident in himself, in his lifestyle, in his family, in everything (even if he did think that Beta would overcome VHS.) While working as a contractor was financially sketchy, at best, they managed to keep their shit together, raise a kid, and stay happy. It was from Keith that I first glimpsed the satisfaction of living on your own terms.
Keith was also my first family member who had no discreet religious definition (besides the obligatory, family-wide participation in basic Christian holidays.) Sure, once I hit thirteen, I left Catholicism without looking back, but when I considered Keith's religious upbringing, I couldn't think of anything. And there he was--helping to raise a kid without any structured religious dogma driven in during her developmental stages. And she's turning out just fine.
They live in North Carolina now. Kira is about to become a teenager, and their son, Cheyne, is probably 8 or 9 by now. I wish I saw them more often, but I don't accrue much vacation time by switching jobs so often. Maybe next summer, once I've got a week or two coming to me, Amy and I will save some cash, rent a car, and drive down to visit. I'll bring them a case of beer to make up for all the bottles I snuck out of their fridge those summers, twelves years ago.
I work harder than anyone else I know. That's why I'm so intolerant of you motherfuckers whining about the lack of opportunity and advancement in the work force when you've only just gotten out of school with your piddling little BA's in Art History. What the fuck do you expect from this world? A steamer trunk full of cash as your reward for making it through college?
I got out of school with a dead-end, useless degree in communications. I had no passion, no focus, no nothing. I lied my way into a job as a fucking typesetter (because I knew how to use PageMaker, of all things), got fired 8 weeks later, and got another job as a delivery boy for a quick print shop. For 4 months, I delivered cases of cheap letterhead and business cards to fly-by-night basement businesses in North Jersey. I was so fucking strapped for cash, I almost went back to the goddamn warehouse where I'd worked as teenager to ask them for scrap night-shift work. So don't tell me about your fucking miserable jobs--I've had them.
I moved to Philadelphia with no job, $200 cash, and a mattress. Somehow, my shit took up half of Tom's studio apartment, where we planned to live until I found a job and could afford to split a two-bedroom apartment somewhere else in the city.
Three years later, I find myself back in a small railroad apartment. Now, though, I share the mattress with my roommate, and we're living a very pleasant life. I've got a good job that pays enough money that, with a nominal amount of fiscal restraint, we don't sweat the ridiculous rent that we're paying.
It's taken me five years to finally enjoy my job, so don't you fucking complain when you haven't even paid six month's worth of membership dues to this fucking club. Furthermore, I won't even entertain arguments about the advertisements in CRANK--I'm not making so much money that I can lose 3 grand every 4 months. Yeah, that's right, 3 thousand dollars--that's the hard cost for one issue of CRANK. So please shut the fuck up now.
The new boss at the new job is a Drinker. I began to suspect when I called in sick one morning. I was genuinely ill--not on my deathbed, but still not feeling so great. But when I showed up that afternoon, she asked how my hangover was. "I'm not hungover," I asserted.
"Even if you are, I don't care," she said. "At least you came in."
The next day, she and I went out for a couple drinks on lunch, a tradition that continues at least 2 or 3 times a month.
Let me tell you something--it's not a very good thing to have a boss who likes to drink with you, at least not from a responsible, professional point of view. It sure is fun, though. I mean, ain't it a dream come true to Drink while you're on the clock, and have your boss pick up the fucking check??
Just about everyone in my family is a casual Drinker. To my knowledge, no one has had a terribly rough time with the bottle--no spousal abuse, no drunken vehicular manslaughter, none of that. In fact, my grandfather, Pop-Pop, is a Drinker's Success Story--lung cancer finally killed him, a lung cancer grown out of years of unfiltered Camels. His liver was still chugging along on the morning his lungs called it quits. In fact, years prior--in what is most likely an apocryphal tale--his doctor had told him that the booze was probably helping to keep his arteries and lungs clear, and--rather than tell George to stop drinking--took him off gin and vodka, and switched him to beer. That's when the $1 Budweiser rebate checks started appearing in our mailboxes--he used to fill out the rebate slips in a different grandchild's name each time.
My mother has two brothers. Craig, the youngest of the kids, is a balls-on, drug-hardened, road-rashed biker. He comes complete with several pins in his hip, an ex-wife or two, and a recent trip to jail for selling heroin. He's the kind of bad role model that keeps parents awake at night. Somehow, though, as influences go, he never did it for me, other than a lingering boy-toy infatuation with bikes. It was the middle child, George Jr., who made me crane my neck upwards.
A holiday ritual with Mom's side of the family was poker. When we gathered for Xmas, Easter, July Fourth, and such, we could always count on a good four hours of poker in Pop-Pop's basement, which featured a full-length bar that puts many commercial watering holes to shame. When my parents hosted that side of the family for a holiday, we gathered in their basement as well, which featured a much smaller, but nonetheless charming, bar.
When I was young, the games were strictly nickel-dime, with the larger pots reaching 5 or 6 bucks. Over the years, with inflation, the ante creeped up to dime-quarter, and eventually to quarter-half. The only house rules were "no copper" and "none of those fucking wildcard games." Somewhere during the dime-quarter period, I became old enough to play.
I learned the mechanics and rules of poker from my Dad, who made me quite the purist: 3 raise maximum, ante-limit betting and raising except on the last card, et cetera. My Dad taught me the game--and a lot of his style rubbed off on me--but Uncle George captured my poker imagination at the bar as a child.
When I was still too young to play, I'd sit at the bar next to George. He'd show me his cards, ask my advice, and then explain to me--in quick whispers--why he wasn't taking my advice. Typical of youth, I invariably paid too much attention to my own hand and not enough to everyone else's. At the end of the night, he'd slip me his silver, usually 3 or 4 dollars, and quietly stuff the bills into his wallet.
George was smooth, but not too smooth. Younger than my parents and not responsible for my upbringing, he was, naturally, an appealing adult to hang around. He had a down-to-earth charm, quick with a firm handshake and the ability to make people laugh without telling jokes.
When I was 14 or so, George stopped playing cards with the family. He'd swing by the game, watch a couple hands, and then go upstairs. Now, I never heard anything out loud, but I got the impression that dime-quarter antes no longer held enough drama for him; I suspected that he'd been playing High Stakes at invite-only poker games for too long. Like I say, I was never told anything for certain, so I may be totally off base. Hell, for all I know, maybe he just didn't like us any more.
It doesn't matter, more than ten years later. With all the kids grown and my grandfather dead, that side of the family doesn't gather much any more. The last time I saw George and his wife, Sharon, they looked older, of course, but still great. George even joined us for a few hands of poker, quarter-half. We had a great time that day, and I was glad to find George to be a great guy to spend time with as a grown man.
That day, three or four years ago, was also the last time I played poker with my grandfather before he died. If I remember correctly, I took a few dollars from both Georges that day, which surprised them, and, I'd like to think, probably made them each a little proud.
And though I've gotten a few bucks off of him here and there, I have yet to really soak my old man at the poker table.
For me, vanity is strictly recreational, a diversion if you've got nothing else on your mind. A few weeks back, though, I reached a flash point of self-loathing. When I looked down one morning, a morning after long hours of weeknight drinking, I saw that mass of pasty white flesh hanging around my belly, and I became incredibly sick of myself.
Mind you, I still haven't done anything about this problem. Just getting it out makes me feel better. Thanks for listening.
CRANK, I'm Jeff Koyen, goodnight
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