Quarantine Delirium: Duck Legs and Drunks

It’s the cocktail hour, straps slip off the thought box, the contents spill out and scatter.

For the sake of entertainment, I think, let’s say there’s a god.

I’ll assume that this god is a personal god — the concept/figure embraced then left unexamined by so many believers, for emotional stability’s sake.

As a result, I imagine this god is aware of each human being as he or she lights up on the divine screen, blinking there for an average seven decades or so which, for god, is considerably less than 1 Planck in Unmoved Mover time.

I go on to assume that the creator monitors each individual’s behavior, analyzes every thought. I accept, without question, that the ever-present and all-knowing deity does this in order to determine if an individual under scrutiny will enjoy an eternity of bliss, or forever endure unimaginable suffering.

God has nothing better to do.

This god is a loving god, but is ready and willing to assign blame to flawed beings (interesting, considering god is perfect and should have produced a better product), and does so whenever the whim strikes, consigning them to endless torment. God is like a bipolar human parent, under stress at work, returning home addled by junk food and beer, ready to take a belt to the kids if they dare to break the rules.

If this is the case, I’m pretty sure I’m screwed. When the final tally is in, I’ll come up short.

I’ve done many reprehensible and unforgivable things, encouraged damage to others, functioned poorly as a family member and citizen, tipped from epicurean to sybarite too easily, too many times. I began my practice as an adolescent, my mother struggling to like me due to my erratic and careless behavior, my father bailing me out of jail. More than once.

I develop further as years pass, loosing more debris in my wake.

As I approach the end of my life, I’m too flawed to find favor in divine quarters come time for judgment. In fact, my record is such that, in days of yore, I’d be scourged by self-righteous neighbors, have molten metals poured in my asshole, and be locked in stocks in the town square, soiled there with rotten fruit and vegetables chucked by local urchins. After exposure to harsh sunlight and the night’s chill over the course of a couple weeks, I’m hung in front of a cheering crowd, drawn and quartered, my head displayed on a pike for all to see. Then, a loving god gets to thrash me.

Of course all this is a thought experiment encouraged by the random collisions of crap released from the thought box, those collisions provoked by Tito’s Handmade Vodka and a dropper’s worth of my pal Joe’s special tincture. I don’t believe any of this. I’ve survived 74-plus years since conception without need of Bronze Age myth, or membership in a cult or congregation. I’ve tried to be creative, press on, and maintain a somewhat peppy outlook despite my many shortcomings and ineffective attempts to compensate for them.

How?

As a tippler, with the afterburner lit. I gave up hard drugs long ago, so booze with a gilding of medicinal THC has fueled the trip ever since.

I’m reminded of this as my wife sneaks up on me.

She speaks.

“Another cocktail? You’re becoming a certified drunk.”

I finish mixing my second, perhaps my third 5-1 vodka tonic of the afternoon — late afternoon if, like me, you consider 4 p.m. late.

I take a sip. A big sip.

I speak.

“Oh sweetie, your opinion was formed during a cramped upbringing: you were raised in a strict Church of The Nazarene environment where the most potent beverage was ginger ale. That faith-based distortion has held you captive since. You wouldn’t know a certified drunk, much less a great drunk, if one fell on you.”

She speaks.

“A great drunk?”

She shoots me the stink eye. Kathy’s eyes are large, so this is dramatic.

She speaks again.

“You think there’s such a thing as a great drunk?”

I speak.

“Absent more than ten misdemeanors for disorderly conduct, frequent falls down flights of stairs, foreclosures, fires, belligerent interludes at high school sporting events and funerals, and marginal hygiene … yes, there is such a thing as a great drunk.”

Kathy huffs, turns on her heel, huffs again, and says, “Well, you’re not one of them.”

She stomps off to practice a Bach piece she’s scheduled to perform with a violinist pal once the duo is freed from quarantine. I venture a guess that neither musician will imbibe prior to the performance.

I would.

I sip again, and I’m diverted from things theological.

A UPS truck skids to a halt in the driveway. A harried wage slave, his dog-poop-brown uniform stained by sweat, leaps from the truck, rushes to the porch toting a box, and plops the delivery at the door. He’s making a marginal Year of The Plague safety effort, wearing a face mask that hangs down around his neck, and a pair of too-large latex gloves. He has a desperate look on his face — that of a man lost at midday in the desert, crouched at the edge of a pool filled with a hot, alkaline brew, a man who hears something growl behind him as he prepares to drink.

The overworked and undervalued serf darts back to his vehicle and speeds from the driveway, leaving a rooster tail of dust in the air.

I pivot to consider a weather-related situation, and segue smoothly to politics and the cultural divide.

It’s dry here in Siberia With a View.

Too dry.

It’s bad enough that Covid is polluting our species, killing off oldsters like me, swelling the ranks of the unemployed, and ready to take its toll on the careless, infantile goofs who wear Old Glory apparel and crowd the aisles at Wal Mart but, now, a nasty fire season seems likely.

Fucking great: my house will burn to the ground because some microcephalic intent on exercising his “rights” tosses a lit cigarette out the window of his dualie as he speeds to the Big Box to purchase another case of energy drinks, several bags of Doritos, and oil for his four-wheeler.

My anxiety increases when I realize that, with the way things are going in Siberia With a View, I might get shot prior to any conflagration. There’s a legion of morons here who watch Fox News and listen to talk radio. They hang on every word uttered by an idiot reality TV host president, consuming without hesitation the blather boosted by vapor-brained internet bozos. They’re heavily armed.

A local business owner posts a sign next to his closed establishment reading “Govermant has stealed our rites.”

This twit specializes in the disassembly of wild ungulates. What else could we expect? His “freedoms” are indistinguishable from his pre-adolescent urges. Though he’s able to grow a full beard and own an AR-15, he’s little more than a spoiled baby, prone to regular tantrums. He, and those like him.

I have to admit, though, he might have a point: I sip and I, too, wonder what rights have been “suspended” or lost during the past few months, and how many more might be stripped away as the viral onslaught continues to divert attention from the relentless machinations of cynical career politicians, soulless bureaucrats, and corporate criminals. For example: I can no longer go to the liquor store to laugh it up with Anna and Dar, hang out in the produce section at the grocery chatting with Daniel and Shamus as they stack apples and avocados, or exchange pleasantries with Renee and Tammy while they supervise the U-Scan checkout lanes. The governor of Colorado ordered me to remain isolated at home. Because of him, I’m out of cheddar. He closed my favorite restaurant, so no more heaps of Pad Khee Mao delivered to the table fresh and hot, direct from the kitchen.

Govermant has done stealed my rites!

I see the day coming when a vindictive nerd in the employ of the NSA slouches in a clandestine command center located somewhere in Nevada and tracks me via cell phone pings and teensy transmitters implanted in my neck during routine medical exams, dental cleanings, and driver’s license tests in order to determine where I go and whether or not I obey the rules put in place by know-it-all liberals to guarantee my “safety and security.” When government erodes rights, does it ever restore them?

I’m not going to sport a shirt that looks like the American flag, or post crude signs on the garage door, but I have my concerns.

That’s because I’m drinking.

Were I sober, I’d immediately dismiss this nonsense and cast aspersions on any cabbagehead who believes this bullshit.

But, since I’m intoxicated, I’ll fret about my rights until I begin to stream Netflix and Amazon originals later in the evening. I watch Fleabag, fixate on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s birthmark and teeth, and all my cares evaporate.

I inspect the delivery.

The box is festooned with logos, warnings, etc. “Fragile,” “This Side Up,” “Perishable.”

I know what’s in the box. I’ve been tipped off.

My dear friend, Jim, lets me know me a gift is on its way. He is a connoisseur and the most generous of souls. He’s shipped me numerous, wonderful products in the past, delights to thrill the cook, please the palate.

This time: two cryovac packages of duck confit — legs to be exact, 10 pounds of fowl blessed by a lengthy bath in barely bubbling duck fat. Have mercy! 

I make plans. A couple confit legs, a bottle or two of a top-grade southern Rhone. A sampling of transcendental juice from Domaine les Pallieres? Perhaps a hit or two of primo sativa distillate and a couple gin and tonics? Top that!

Sure, things might elevate with an 8-ball of uncut flake, but who can get that these days? And who at my age can survive it?

The confit will do the trick. I crave confit, of all kinds — pork, goose, duck. These ducks did not perish and poach unappreciated.

As I grow old and feebleminded, I’ve come to agree with my vegan friends that a duck should be allowed to live as natural and full a duck existence as possible. However, should one of the fatty and incredibly stupid waterfowl meet its end at the hand (blade) of its owner, or be dispatched in commercial fashion by an underpaid Honduran worker at a processing plant in upstate New York, confit is how the duck flesh should be treated. That, or roasted in traditional fashion at a strip mall Chinese restaurant, the carcass then expertly hacked into pieces by an old guy wearing ski goggles, elbow-length gloves, and a grease-slicked rubber apron.

I slip the packages of duck into the fridge. Kathy will notice them later in the evening, opening the vegetable drawer and shrieking: “Oh, my god…what the fuck is this? What is this shit sitting on top of my organic broccoli?” Plentiful obscenities for someone raised a Nazarene, eh? But, who among us is pure enough to judge someone who reacts under stress?

I’ll respond: “This, my precious, is duck confit and, like it or not, you’ll be blessed in the weeks ahead with a variety of treats featuring this miracle meat. Fasten your fucking seat belt, baby, you’re in for a hell of a ride.”

I replenish my cocktail, repair to my favorite chair in the living room, and turn to the top thought box topic du jour.

Great drunks.

I sip. I remember. I take notes in order to be ready for the inevitable rematch with my wife.

I don’t strain to find examples; I’ve known my share.

When I was in the news biz, my office is located in a building that adjoins The Throwback, the most notorious bar in Siberia With a View, arguably the most notorious bar in southwest Colorado, surely in the running for the title in the Great American Southwest.

The joint’s reputation is well earned. It’s a classic establishment,  the patina decades in the making. Before the local cops are told they are “professionals dedicated to serve and protect,” provided with Breathalyzers and tasers, and required to try to read, comprehend, and enforce DUI laws, The Throwback is a drunk magnet attracting lushes and skilled celebrants from at least three counties, as well as from northwest portions of the nearby state of New Mexico.

It’s the Vatican of fair-priced overindulgence. Dedicated devotees make a regular pilgrimage.

All the familiar tags are employed by respectable members of the community to describe The Throwback: dive, sin palace, disgrace, bucket of blood, public nuisance, Satan’s playground, etc. The Star Wars Bar has nothing on the place.

I like The Throwback back then. It’s a laboratory in which a scientist such as I can study subjects who interact easily in their natural habitat, fellowship undisturbed by judgmental outsiders, pleasures unimpeded by corrosive self-consciousness and guilt. Such laboratories are hard if not impossible to find today: too many Breathalyzers, too many tasers, too many clowns with badges and inflated egos, too many moralists eager to cancel and condemn. Too many aficionados of cold white wine.

Back in the day, I know the owner and the members of his family. I know most of the regulars, or know of them. I stop in at The Throwback now and then to sit in a booth and sip, chat up an acquaintance, paddle in the heaving swell of humanity that rolls through the room from 8 a.m. till closing, seven days a week. Ecce homo.

The great drunks patronize the bar for the first few hours after it opens, then return following the end of the work day. These are accomplished drunks, highly functional fellows. They are called “the lizards.” They take seats on designated stools at the end of the bar just after the door opens in the morning, their backs to the south-facing front window as Jimmy, the owner, swabs the floors, and the bartender Ginger wipes down the bar and table tops. The lizards, seasoned pros, each toss back a couple shots and converse amiably as the sun crests the top of the hill beyond the river, its rays warming them in concert with bourbon, rousing them to action.

The lizards have jobs, places to go, things to do. But not until their cores are warm, sometimes more than warm. They are drunk when they set out at 8:50 a.m.

“Oh,” I imagine some tight ass saying, “they’re drunk at nine in the morning, and you claim they go to work and do their jobs?”

No, I’m saying they are drunk at 8:50. And yes, not only do the jobs, but do them well. In some cases, expertly.

Take Sammy, for example, the crown prince of great drunks, a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

At 70 years of age, Sammy has followed his regimen for nearly five decades, liver remarkably functional, a dedicated family man and a valued member of the Community United Methodist Church choir, adding his Irish tenor to the mix every Sunday. Drunk, given the service begins at 9 a.m.

Sammy has the same jobs for all that time, and prepares for work the same way each day: he ambles into the bar at 8 a.m., ascends his lizard’s perch, tosses back several shots of Old Grandad, chases them with a beer or three, tells the same stories he told the day before, laughs at the stories repeated by his comrades, slaps his amigos on their backs, and departs at 8:50 on the dot, thoroughly whacked, singing at the top of his lungs. Protestant hymns, most often “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

His job?

Heavy equipment operator.

Best there is.

Sammy owns a massive D9 dozer —D9H with 410 horses, to be exact, an earth-moving mother if there ever was one — and a Caterpillar 120 rigid frame motor grader. He rebuilds the grader engine six times over the years. Drunk.

The man cuts roads, relocates huge loads of dirt and rock, contours the landscape, does everything with his machine that heavy equipment can do when operated by an artiste. Sammy is a heavy equipment Raphael, an inebriated maestro. He wields the D9 like a surgeon wields a scalpel. It is said by those in the know that Sammy works within an inch or so of specs. Does it with his eyes closed. With a fucking D9. Drunk as a damned skunk.

And what he can’t complete with the dozer, he polishes off with his grader. Drunk. As a damned skunk.

When the earth moving business grinds to a halt in early winter as heavy snows come to the high country, Sammy wheels his grader to a barn ten miles north of town, and makes a trip nearly every morning to plow roads in an adjacent county, the border of which spills over the Divide due to inept survey work some hundred years before. The surveyor back then was probably drunk, but obviously not in an admirable way.

It’s said that Sammy never misses a day of work due to the consumption of alcohol. Appendicitis, pneumonia, accidental gunshot wounds, and a heart attack or two, yes. Alcohol, never. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

At the end of the work day, Sammy returns to the bar to join the other lizards for refreshments before he returns home. His seat at the end of the bar is reserved from 5:05 to 5:50, as are the stools for Sammy’s associates.

Sammy tosses back three or four shots of Old Grandad and a couple of beers, stands, wobbles, hitches up his jeans, adjusts his Cat hat on his narrow head, and loudly announces in a fine Irish tenor voice: “Well, fellas, time to get to the house for supper, get home and tell Betsy she loves me, cause sure as hell she’s never gonna say it.” He sings as he leaves.

A fine drunk, Sammy.

Sid is another exemplary lizard, and deserving of the title “Great.”

Sid’s wife owns and operates a successful accounting firm and is a leading figure in the local Republican Party, having ascended to prominence as a result of her avid, some would say demented, support of Ronald Reagan during Dutch’s first presidential campaign. She gets her hair permed every three weeks and wears sensible shoes. Her “Chuckwagon Medley with Tot Topping” wins a blue ribbon at the county fair for Best One-Dish Supper three years running, and she is renowned for creating full meals for other Republicans, appetizer to dessert, in a prototype microwave oven held together with duct tape.

Sid is a die-hard libertarian, and a prominent, accomplished drunk, hates tater tots, and makes a big show of supporting Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in order to irritate his wife, though he loathes both of them. When the lizards go their ways following their morning warmups, Sid trudges to work as the manager of the local branch of the electric company. The man can handle any problem. Drunk.

I meet Sid nearly every morning in the parking lot behind the bar as he leaves to make the trek to his office. He jams his thumbs behind his suspenders at the belly, pulls at them, guffaws, coughs, spits, then says: “Well, gotta get to it, see how many of them sons-a-bitches are whinin’ this morning. Damn, people get jumpy. They need a drink.” Says it, laughs, releases the suspenders to snap against his flab, coughs again, spits again, teeters, and heads east, penguin-like, balancing with arms slightly extended from his sides.

Sid returns to The Throwback for “lunch,” and since I spend a lot of time in the parking lot, I frequently greet him as he exits the bar, and I watch him make his way back to the electric company headquarters. “Well, gotta get to the office, see how many sons of bitches are whinin’ this afternoon. Jumpy folks. Shit never ends, you know?” Laugh, Cough. Spit. Teeter. Shuffle.

He satisfies those whining sons of bitches, without exception. Drunk. He receives regular commendations from the co-op headquarters.  Twice he wins awards with a gold seal as “Colorado Rural Co-op Manager Of The Year.” His wife frames them and hangs them on Sid’s office wall next to his 1985 50th Anniversary Edition Ridgid Tool Pin-Up Calendar.

During the winter months, I stay in the parking lot to check on Sid as he negotiates the ice and snow covered alley. On occasion, I hoist him up times after he tumbles, and I send him on his way.

“Thanks for the hand, pardner. Coulda got up by myself, probably, but it’s mighty nice of yuh. Never been as nimble since I got this damned hip replaced. Good thing I topped off the antifreeze. A fella gets cold real quick if he’s layin’ in the alley.”

Sid’s wife picks him up at the bar at 5:50 following the afternoon session, parking her Fairlane (Buy American!) near the front door, reviewing the minutes from the previous week’s meeting of the Republican Central Committee, and listening to the local radio station as she waits. The station has a limited play list, no more than thirty selections, so she knows the words to most of the songs, and sings along if she’s in the mood. This isn’t often, since prominent Republicans are rarely in the mood. She attends services at the Community United Methodist Church, and every Sunday she comments on Sammy’s fine Irish tenor as she exchanges Republican small talk with the pastor, wondering aloud how much better it would be if the star vocalist was not drunk.

Sid attends his Sunday service at the bar.

These fellows are standouts, but every now and then a Great Drunk distinguishes himself or herself by doing something extraordinary, ascending to a higher realm. These are moments I cherish, and ones I’ll mention when I butt heads with my wife.

One incident stands out and will serve my argument well. It is the stuff of legend in Siberia With a View

Greasy’s 8-Ball Masterpiece.

Greasy (given name Lawrence) is third in command of the town street department vehicle repair shop — a crew of three — and the youngest member of the lizards, gaining a stool when old Dutch De Vries strokes out after his first, and last, Jagermeister binge.

Lawrence socializes with the lizards, then devotes the remainder of his bar time to shooting pool. A lot of pool. Greasy owns his own cue (with faux leather carrying case), fancies himself a shark, and remains at The Throwback past the other lizards’ 5:50 afternoon departure in order to engage in Newtonian maneuvers atop the worn felt. It helps mend his broken heart.

Greasy was married to Loretta Peterson and the two of them lived in a tin-roofed, plywood-sheathed three-room hovel in a subdivision located west of town, a development absent covenants or restrictions — Greasy’s ideal environment. One day, Loretta falls for the bass player in a band from Albuquerque that plays at the Spanish Fiesta in the town park (on the gazebo stage that Greasy paints the week before). She bangs the bass player in the gazebo bathroom between sets, leaves town with him and his bandmates in an old Econoline van — in which it’s safe to assume other activities then occur — and takes Greasy’s dog, Randy, with her.

Greasy is crestfallen and speeds his healing by spending more time at The Throwback, and perfecting recipes for the squirrel and raccoon stews he cooks on a Coleman stove outside the hovel, next to the plastic water tank.

Prior to the Masterpiece, Greasy is known for his drunk’s performance at a well-attended holiday party — Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Labor Day, no one remembers which. It places Greasy in the pantheon.

Plate loaded with baked beans, creamed corn casserole, fried potatoes smothered in green chile, and a pile of heavily sauced pulled pork, Greasy plops down with excessive force on a patio lounger and topples back, the food spilling on his chest. Greasy stays in position, acts as if nothing has happened, and eats the mess with his fingers, singing the chorus from the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit “Gimme Three Steps” between bites. A memorable moment.

But it’s nothing to equal the 8-Ball Masterpiece. As a result of his performance, center throne in the pantheon is his!

It’s the Fourth of July in Siberia With a View, the biggest celebration of the year. The parade makes its way down the main street led by the American Legion color guard, several of its members visibly proud that they fit in their old dress uniforms, an arrogant retired Marine colonel barking the cadence, in his mind still superior, still in command. The colonel is unusually short for a marine, but his brass is polished, he outranks the others, and this is all that matters.

A convoy follows the color guard, including fire trucks, law enforcement vehicles, dance and gymnastic groups, a Cub Scout Troop, evangelical church kids singing hymns and stopping in front of the reviewing stand to pray, the high school cheerleaders, restored classic cars, vans loaded with inmates from the nursing home, rodeo royalty from the Southern Ute Tribe perched on the hoods of pickups, political candidates on horseback pretending they’re regular country folk, the old hens from the We Love Red Hats Society, and a flat bed trailer bringing up the rear, carrying the local conjunto, mics feeding back, amps set at max volume.

The carnival comes to town and sets up in the park; the local arts and crafts geeks erect flimsy tents on the lawns next to the river, and vendors from across the Four Corners region do the same — pottery, deer antler chandeliers, crude paintings of elk and bears, maudlin landscape photos, crystal baubles, and leather goods are offered for sale at absurdly high prices. Food trucks roll into town from Farmington and Espanola, and the odors of corn dogs and tacos chum in a mob of low-end gourmands.

It’s a party, but nothing to rival the one at The Throwback.

The Throwback shifts into high gear on the Fourth; people arrive at the bar early in order to secure booths, stools, and tables. The bar is jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with excited celebrants, some of them regulars, many others former residents who’ve returned for a weekend replete with family gatherings and reunions of aging high school grads. You can hear the racket from a block away.

This holiday, a family from the Jicarilla Apache nation located just across the state line in New Mexico arrive and pack into a booth, the kids shoveling down barely heated toaster oven pizza for breakfast, several of the adults in the three-generation gathering drinking their morning meal. Including grandpa, a regular at The Throwback.

Grandpa mans the booth while the rest of the family leaves the bar to watch the parade. They return when the parade ends for more lukewarm pizza, additional chips, and libations. Grandpa knocks back another couple hits of Jack.

When the crowd begins to thin out around noon, grandpa remains in the booth as members of the family depart for the carnival where the kids barf up pizza and chips during rides on The Hammer and the Tilt-a-Whirl.

The traditional Fourth of July 8-Ball Tourney cranks up on the lone table at the center of the bar, players vying for the $100 prize and the honor of having a Polaroid photo taken as they pose triumphant, bills fanned out in one paw, a small plastic trophy clutched in the other.

Greasy easily vanquishes opponents in the preliminary rounds and the semifinal. Drunk. He watches other players as he leans back against the bar, entertaining spectators with his version of “Call Me The Breeze” between blasts of bourbon.

Gramps tosses back another couple shots, and puts his head down on the table to take a short nap.

The tourney continues until only two players remain: Greasy and Ramon Velarde, the assistant manager at the county dump. The tension is palpable, the atmosphere electric. It’s a battle of titans, best of three takes the cake.

Ginger goes to the booth to ask gramps if he wants another drink.

He doesn’t respond.

Ginger shakes the old man’s shoulder.

He doesn’t respond

She grabs grandpa’s hand and shakes it around.

Nothing.

“Jimmy,” she yells over the noise, “This old guy is pretty cold. I gotta hunch he might be dead. Maybe you oughta call somebody.”

The tourney continues uninterrupted. Such is the concentration required of champions.

An ambulance is summoned and EMTs wheel a gurney into the bar, pushing partiers aside. The tourney final is tied, one game each, everything on the line. Greasy and Ramon stare at each other like snakes eyeing a newborn rodent.

“Yep,” says Bill, the EMT, “the old guy’s dead.” Bill is a volunteer EMT who works in the screw and nail department at the hardware store during the week. He’s known locally for his attempt to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Spider Gonzales’ chihuahua, Carlos. The dog died, and Bill contracted an infection that required IV antibiotics.

They load the old gentleman on to the gurney, cover the body, and send someone to find family members at the carnival.

A town police officer arrives to make a report. His pen doesn’t work, he is confused, he and Bill argue over the correct spelling of “unattended.” The process takes time, the gurney is left parked next to the pool table.

Greasy is ready to sink the 8 ball. The title is his with one more successful shot.

The 8 ball is just north of the corner pocket. The cue ball is next to the opposite side pocket.

The gurney blocks the approach to the cue ball.

Imagine the worst yet most spectacular scenario possible. Envision how a legend is born.

Yes, Greasy does it.

He is dialed in, ready for the crown, eager for the cash and the adulation. He needs it. He needs something to replace the image of Loretta and the bass player working each other’s intimate bits at the gazebo. He needs it to help him forget Randy.

He hoists himself up on the gurney, puts a knee on one side of the corpse, the other knee on the other side of the shrouded body and announces, loudly: “Fucking eight ball in the corner pocket. For the fucking win!”

The ball drops.

Greasy fires his hands high above his head and lets out a gladiatorial bellow, cue flourished like a spear. Jimmy snaps a Polaroid. Grandpa remains motionless beneath the new champ.

The photo is yellowed and faded now, but it’s still tacked to the wall next to the Men’s Room.

A special moment, and a damned great drunk, if you ask me.

I conjure a group of other, better known great drunks in case I need to mention them during the upcoming collision with Kathy. Drunks with superb careers in the arts.

Francis Bacon, for one, and his sometime friend, Lucian Freud, though Siggie’s grandson was more pretentious when it came to getting slammed.

Dorothy Parker, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Edgar Allan Poe.

Frans Hals, Joan Mitchell, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec.

Lindsay Lohan.

Bach ceases, Kathy emerges from her piano studio. She resumes her assault as I sip another cocktail, my note pad on my lap.

“What the hell are you doing now,” she asks, hands on hips, spoiling for a confrontation. She grew up in a dangerous neighborhood, so she’s always spoiling for confrontation.

I’m ready. My strategy is to soften her defenses with mention of food. She maintains a long list of products she refuses to eat due to an ever-changing number of maladies. I head right for that list.

“I’m thinking about how I’ll use the duck confit during the next couple days. Jim mentioned he might make duck enchiladas, and that sounds great, so I’ll whip up a batch of those tonight, with extra strong sauce, cook some duck tacos tomorrow night, then maybe duck pierogis the night after, with plenty of sauteed onions and sour cream. Then for dinner on Friday, how about a baked pasta with a bechamel loaded with duck meat, peas, lots of parm? How about…”

“Arrrghhh.” She is momentarily disoriented, back on her heels.

I sense the opening, and I charge.

“Plus, I’ve been taking notes concerning the great drunks I’ve known, and know of, and I’m prepared to begin your education. Remember, knowledge brightens horizons, and can change the course of your life.”

“Right.  Great drunks. Such as?”

“Well, locally, I remember Sammy and Sid and Greasy. They…”

She regains her composure, and interrupts me. “What? You gotta be kidding! Sammy? What about the time he ran over Stan Wilson’s VW with a bulldozer, and didn’t realize it? Or, how about when he passed out in the choir loft after the Sunday service and was locked in the sanctuary overnight? Hell, his wife knew he was there and didn’t call anyone to release him, that’s how great he was. They had to hire a carpet cleaning service to deal with what happened in that loft area. And Sid? The fool who thought he could stand on an aluminum ladder and work on a live 220 line with a pair of uninsulated pliers? From then on he forgot to wear pants most days. A great drunk? And Greasy? For god’s sake, Karl, Greasy? A guy who ate creamed corn off his chest, abused the dead, and cooked raccoons? You gotta be kidding.”

Well,” I respond, unprepared for facts, “maybe they’re not the best examples. But, how about Ernest Hemingway, huh?”

“Oh, yeah: how about a ride on the whiskey express to the wrong end of a 12-gauge.”

“Point well taken, so I guess I’ll cross Hunter S. Thompson off the list. But, how about James Joyce?”

“Sure, great, babbling fart jokes as he attempts another break-in at Barnacle’s back door.”

“That’s harsh, but there’s Francis Bacon, one of the greatest painters of the last century and a far superior drunk to his sometime pal, Lucian Freud. Name a painter who represented the tortured, existential condition better than Bacon.”

“Tortured? Sloppy, I’d say. I think he was so drunk he couldn’t control the brush. He wanted to be a photo realist and was too trashed to do it. And, now that you mention him, I’ll  remind you his studio is the only one I’ve seen that’s messier than yours. You drunks are all messy.”

“There’s Picasso. He was…”

“I know what Marie-Therese and Dora said about Pablo.”

“Well, then there’s…”

“Don’t mention Dorothy Parker. She was miserable.”

“Socrates.”

“It wasn’t wine that got him into trouble, it was hemlock.”

“Well, how about another Greek? Aristippus. Now, there was a great drunk.” (I forget I’ve discussed the Cyrenaic several times in the past.)

“Oh yeah, a great drunk with a solid set of standards, that one. Had an ongoing extramarital affair with his mom. Good choice.”

“Lindsay Lohan?”

I’m out of ammo. Kathy knows it and looms in front of me like a victorious UFC fighter bent over a bloodied, burbling opponent.

“I’ll keep working on it,” I say. “I’ll get back to you. I’m not finished.”

“Hah,” she hoots, “if I’m right, that’s your fourth cocktail of the afternoon, so you’re finished now, buddy boy. Finito! You got nuthin left. I’m going downstairs to write lesson plans for my piano students, and I expect Cynthia to arrive any time now. We’re taking a long walk so I can avoid drunks. When she rings the doorbell, I’ll come up and let her in. Whatever you do, don’t answer the door.”

“Why not?”

“You forgot to wear pants.”

It’s time to close the thought box, cinch the straps, and make dinner.

After I find my pants.

Duck confit enchiladas should fit the bill just fine.

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