My television was constantly blaring World War 2 documentaries. I figured the annihilation of Stalingrad was an appropriate soundtrack to the destruction and chaos around me. The night before, my friend from Ireland, Dez, had tried to break a Negra Modelo bottle on a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. He wanted to dramatically punctuate an anti-American diatribe he was delivering.
It was the 4th of July and he was drawing some serious stink-eye from the other patrons, but that just eggs an Irishman on. They’re all closet demagogues, anyway. Show me a rabble that needs rousing, and I’ll suggest an Irishman on his 9th beer. They’ve got charisma. The accent makes their words carry weight. It doesn’t take much for a Celt to swing my vote for madness. They make mayhem seem more lyrical. Their drunkenness is of the old-timey, hanging-off-the-lampost-singing-Danny Boy variety, sometimes coupled with good-natured bare-knuckled fisticuffs. It’s charming and lively.
I knew Dez liked America all right, but because he had an attentive audience, he couldn’t resist poking at the wasp’s nest. He loved when events went “toh-tahlly wide-o,” and bodies started to tumble over each other. The Irish don’t take fighting too personal. Some of their best friendships start while two former opponents sit together and cool their black-eye bruises by rolling a nice cold pint across them.
But you weren’t going to get a chance to start up that kind of friendship, if you can’t get people to mix. A full-on bar brawl is a great way to break the ice. Dez was going to make sure we’d meet new people.
He was on a roll, getting all Michael Collins on the crowd, but probably using the C-word a lot more. When he reached the climax of his rant he swung the bottle down hard. It thunked. He quickly tried to save the moment and banged the bottle down again, but it remained intact. He tried one more time to no avail. Feeling that he was losing his audience, he sat down defeated. The waitress came by and took away the empty bottle. We continued to drink, but now more quietly.
The next night, as we drank at my place, he expressed his amazement at not being able to break the bottle. He picked up another bottle of Negra Modelo and (I swear) barely tapped it on my small table. This time the bottle exploded showering every square inch of my tiny inefficiency apartment with slivers of brown glass.
“Well bravo, old boy,” I told him. “Just a pinch off in the timing department.”
“Can yah believe that one, eh? Like some fooking magic trick”
I wasn’t too upset. The place was already covered with broken glass from when I had gotten locked out and decided to punch out what I thought was a small pane of glass in the back door. That small pane turned out to be a full door’s worth of glass, carefully disguised behind a faux frame fraudulently dividing it into what appeared to be small individual squares. The final result of this decorative deception was spectacular. It was also too daunting a mess for the hairbrush and flattened Tecate box I was using as a broom and dustpan, so I just left it.
The average alcoholic learns to tolerate a lot of things normal people wouldn’t stand for. An entire apartment covered in broken glass was a small thing. Just ignore it like the bullet hole in the toaster, the deadly mold growing in the bathroom, and the burned taxidermy owl in the oven. If there’s still a bunch of 16 ouncers hidden in the toilet tank, everything is fine. Let the Nervous Nellie’s from Squaresville dither in a thither with their brooms sweeping up little spills.
Alcoholics have real problems, problems that can only be cleaned up by direct impact with the Meteor of Oblivion.
A few weeks later, Dez called me. He was all exited. He thought a bomb went off in his apartment. All the windows were blown out from the inside, but he wasn’t sure what happened. “Protestants?” I asked. “Ah Jayzus, dere’s no way tah tell.” When I got there the place looked like a scene from Londonderry during the 70′s. Every single window, seven in all, were smashed from the inside. He had been outside working on his van when the place blew up. Strangely, everything inside was fine. Not even the bong had been tipped over, and we knew how little it took to spill that bitch.
Never having stuck around long enough at a crime scene to be able to investigate one, we were at a loss while poking around for clues. If there was anything different, it was the new fresh smell the place had. Finally, he found a ruptured can of deodorant behind the radiator. We figured out his cat, Scabby, had knocked over the can on to the radiator where it heated up until it blew. The concussion was enough to force all the windows out of the panes, but not to knock over the bong. It was an impressive lesson in physics, especially for Scabby, who would not come out from under the couch.
It was late Saturday afternoon by then and felt like it was too late to go to a glass place. A Santa Fe summer storm was blowing in fast so we decided to get trash bags and tape them up around the frames. They didn’t have trash bags at Owl Liquors, so we decided to ride out the weather. We sat there drinking beer after beer while the wind and rain blew in from all sides. The curtains were flapping around like mad ghosts. Occasionally, lightning would illuminate the whole place. It was very cinematic. “I feel like we were on a haunted pirate ship,” I announced. “Aye, aye Cap’n,” Dez mumbled before his chin took a dive into his chest.
The next morning, the carpet was soaked. The book shelves had crashed down across the glass coffee table, breaking it and the bong it supported. The art posters were torn and curling up. The stereo was ruined, important court papers soaked in bongwater, and the cat was gone. None of this was due to the elements. It was the spontaneous bouts of kickboxing we’d erupt into.
The irony here was that the place had survived an aerosol bomb explosion, and a howling storm, but couldn’t survive us. We assessed the damage as we looked around for leftover booze. The damage was considerable, the leftover booze scarce.
We went and bought some windows. The guy already knew us. Sliding glass doors, faux-framed glass, and various bathroom mirrors having been replaced by us many times over. Our way of supporting a local business. He actually gave us a 10% good customer discount. A rare break in the business of breaking things.
“Orale! Los Masters of Disaster!” he happily greeted us.
“Hey Manny, we need seven windows,” I told the guy.
“Sart uv,” Dez said, picking out a splinter of glass from his finger.
The problem for the alcoholic with paying The Piper is the discriminatory loan shark interest rates he seems to charge us. Our escape from reality seems to cost more. Unfortunately, as much as it costs in wreckage, both material and emotional, we keep paying. The vig is big, but the options seem worse.
Until we run out of resources, get incarcerated, or die, we don’t stop. Healthy people don’t get that. Why would they? Hell, even we don’t get it. At this point, the wreckage was piling up, but I could still drink my way around it. It would be a little while longer before the big hammers started to come down.
Their shadows now hung over me as I swept the pieces of the bong into a snow shovel with a paper plate.