Thursday, December 3, 2009

In the days of my youth...

I learned everything I needed to know about being a man the hard way. My father packed up and left home when I was 9. This was a time when divorce was a terrible social stigma. And children were supposed to be damaged by the loss of a parent. Actually this was the best day in my young life. The terror was gone. Well not completely gone. But gone enough to make life worth continuing. So with no example to follow I was left to find out what manhood was about on my own. I preferred the scientific method. Experimentation! Try different things and see which worked best. I found that friendship often ended in misery. So I avoided making friends for the most part. I did have some friends. The friends I made in my youth are still friends today. Friends that I would try to take your breath away to defend. But this isn't a story about fighting. I have been in more fights than you have said the word. I'd be lying if I told you I won every fight I was in. But I didn't stay this pretty by not being very good at it.
Even though this is not a story about fighting. It is hard to tell a story of my life that doesn't have a fight in it. No this is a story about my aversion to chocolate. One of the bloggers I follow and exchange witticisms with, The Dutch Doughnut Girl, asked me why I hate chocolate. Thus the motivation for this story.
On my eighteenth birthday the people who had endeared themselves to me threw a party.
Back in 1970 North Carolina, liquor by the drink in a bar was illegal. You could drink beer until you couldn't walk. But a rum and coke was tantamount to heroin possession. Many counties in the Tarheel State were dry counties. No alcohol. Period. I lived in Onslow County. It was a wet county, and the legal drinking age was 18. We could get beer and wine from the local MOM&POP grocery, gas-station. But if you wanted hard liquor, you had to get it from the ABC package stores or a moonshiner. The package stores sold bottles of booze in every size shape and flavor. But there was a stiff hard nosed county employee running these stores. And they must have had some specialized training to spot phony ID. And a smash and grab was out of the question. Those stores were harder than Fort Knox. And the clerks were armed. And because the moonshiners were diametrically opposed to long haired hippie-boys, My first taste of whiskey came at age 18. August 28, 1970, My closest forty friends and I gathered at a beach cottage on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, and indulged in libations of the hardstuff.
Because of the proximity of the stormy Atlantic, the house was up on pilings approximately 25 feet in the air. This was before all the Damn Northern yankee carpetbaggers had begun to migrate into the pristine Carolina coastal plains, so there were no neighbors to be disturbed by our revelry. The music was blaring, force fed a pile of LPs on a record changer. There was a low-stakes poker  game at the dining table. Couples dancing in time to the constantly changing beat coming from the HI-FI. And discussions, of significant events of our time, in small groups around the big room. After having had my fill of a tirade from some liberal idiot, I went and sat on the middle of a large couch. Directly in the middle of some of the hardest, real, live tough guys to ever strut through the Old North State. I was barely settled into the Naugahyde, when an arm reached in from the periphery an slammed down a fifth of Seagram's Seven on the coffee table directly in front of me. The light danced through the amber liquid. And I sat staring at it. The music and the card game distorted all other communications. But my concentration on the bottle was broken by money being slapped down next to the bottle and the crystal clear words "I double dog dare you." I gazed in disbelief at the money.A $20.00 bill. The room grew deathly silent. The wagers at the table had stopped. Someone scratched the record while lifting the tone arm out of play. All the dancing fett froze in place. Everyone was looking and listening to me.
The only sounds were the distant surf, my heartbeat, and money hitting the table top. Big money, serious money for 1970. At least $140.00 cash. I was familiar with the "Dare you" system. I had played that game many times before. Both as the dared and the darer. But this wasn't a dare. This was a bet. Then an unfamiliar voice said what everyone else was thinking. "Well?"
So I picked up and uncapped the bottle. Put it to my lips. Took a deep breath and tipped it up. The first sensation was not taste. It was burning. All the way down my throat. 3, 5, 8, 11 gulps and the burn became numbness. My eyes filled with tears. I began to exhale into the bottle and the liquid came down faster. I blocked the opening with my tongue and took another breath through my nose. And chugged again. The last of the SS drained into my mouth and I swallowed. I dropped the empty on the hardwood floor, and scooped up the cash. As I stuffed it into the pocket of my 501 button fly Levi's, three things happened simultaneously.
1. The room erupted in expletives; Dang, Crimenedly, Monkey-scratcher, Maggot-Farmer, Cheese and Rice, Cheese and Rice Allrighty.
2. I stood up.
3. The numbness was replaced with a very uncomfortable, but not unfamiliar warmth.
Then the room did something quite unexpected. It took one complete 360 degree turn to the left. And then took a hard lean to the right. Like a boat in deep water. The roll took me to the right, and gravity pulled me to the door. Fortunately the glass slider was open. Unfortunately, the screen was not, and I went right through the screen out onto the balcony that doubled as a front porch. The railing did its job and kept me from going overboard in to a 25 foot free fall to the dunes below. As I leaned on the railing, looking down at the fall I almost had, I noticed a couple sitting in the swinging bench directly below me. Another familiar sensation arose, my mouth watered instinctively. And I yelled to the couple below "Look out." But all they did was look up. And I purged the potent potable from my body. There was no food in me so only warm whiskey pelted the female. Pasting her beautiful jet black hair to her head. This sight didn't turn me to stone. It should have. Because it had all the contrasts of Medusa. An angelic countenance, surrounded by what had just formerly been a serious buzz awaiting absorption in my stomach. For some reason this struck me as the funniest thing I had ever seen. And I started laughing. Shelley shrieked in horror. And Ray jumped to his feet. Pointing at me, he was screaming something. But I couldn't hear him over my own laughter. They both raced up the steps to confront me.
I tried hard to regain my composure. But the more I tried to stop laughing, the harder I laughed. Ray was furious, and Shelley was crying. And I was laughing like a baby playing peek-a-boo. Then I saw it. He threw it from his hip. Yes he telegraphed the punch. But this message was gonna come through loud and clear. I remember thinking "Man, this is going to hurt." And then it landed. On the left side of my face, between my ear and my cheek bone. If that had hit my nose, blood would have sprayed everywhere. If it had hit me on the point of the chin, I would have seen a bright flash of light and toppled backward over the waist high rail to the dirt, 25 feet below. As it was, my head jerked to the right. But there was absolutely no pain. And now I was hysterical. As I roared with laughter, Shelley grabbed Ray by the hand and dragged him down the stairs. They got in their car and Shelley drove it away. The whole time they were in eye shot, Ray stared at me in utter disbelief. That was my first encounter with hard liquor. And the last time I got drunk enough to be unable to defend myself. Almost 40 years later, and I still get chills when I see a Seagram's label.
So what has this to do with chocolate? Or my aversion to it? Well rewind, 5, 6, 8 years and I was ten years old. Remember I told you earlier that the Seagram's had given me familiar sensations? Those sensations became familiar to me one day after mowing lawns for money. I had worked hard all day. And I had made an enormous amount of money for a ten year old. I had about $7.50 in my pocket. And the gas for the mower had cost less than $0.40. So I had over seven dollars in pure profit. I was a capitalist from that day forward. But what to do with my windfall? The toy store in Western auto? Or the Dairy Queen? Even though I didn't know what the words were  for my feelings at that time. It seemed sophomoric and pedestrian to blow my earnings on toys and ice cream. What would a man do? So I went to the Piggly Wiggly. But not to the candy aisle. I searched the store for half an hour. Searching for the perfect reward. RC Royal Crown Cola? Nope! An entire bag of Mother Goose Potato chips? Nope! A box of Moonpies? Close. But still Nope! Then like a search light probing the darkness, it beckoned to me. The label's lettering and color were familiar. But the package was not. It was a can. The label read "HERSHEY'S CHOCOLATE SYRUP" 16oz.
So I made my purchase and carried it home. I was a happy miser. Once in the house, I made a quick stop in the kitchen to grab a church key. And locked myself in my room to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Alone and undisturbed. I used the church key to poke the two triangular holes in the can top. One for drinking. One to vent. Then, in the same manner as described above, I emptied the syrup can into my stomach in three large gulps. It took a bit longer to start. And it lasted much longer once it got going. But the Hershey's syrup had the exact same effect on my body as the whiskey had 8 years later. To this day a single Chips Ahoy cookie will give me the precursory feelings that culminate in projectile vomiting. The lessons learned were; God takes care of drunks and fools. And too much of anything can devastate something you should otherwise enjoy.
Until next time; KEEP IT BETWEEN THE DITCHES. And your knees.


Daisy said...

Your post brought back memories. First one, it's been a long time since I've heard about RCs and Moonpies. :-)
Second one, I got so totally wasted on whiskey sours when I was 21. I was so sick!!! It took a long time...I mean many many years before I could even stand the smell of whiskey.

I loved your reference to God taking care of drunks and fools. He took care of me the night I was so sick on whiskey sours. I also like the statement, "too much of anything can devastate something you should otherwise enjoy." So True!!!

Blasé said...

I finally gave up on trying to keep those "Damn Northern Yankee Carpetbaggers" up state where they belong. I'm afraid they're here to stay, HH.

I'll take your Chocolate Chip Cookies.

NicNacManiac said...

Oh my first neat fifth was Southern Comfort, shared with a friend, half for me and half for her....tilt the head and suck it back...geeesh...crazy!!
Your recollection makes me smile from ear to ear...the details and the humour, with your size this must have been some night!!
Be good sweetie!! xOxO Nerina

Dutch donut girl said...

Haha! I'm sorry, that's just the funniest drunk story I have ever heard. Ewww whiskey vomit... poor poor Shelley.

Drinking Hershey's syrup? Hmmm, too sweet. No wonder you don't like chocolate.