Monday, February 22, 2010

No Hard Feelings

This time, when I went down to Vero Beach, it wasn’t to pay my sister a social visit – it was to bail her inebriated ass out of jail. Again.
My sister and I had both inherited the family jewel – a compulsion to consume inhuman quantities of alcohol and still function, more or less. We came by our alcoholism honestly. Everyone in our family was an alcoholic. Down through to the great-great-greats. Probably went further back than that, too, but drunkards are notoriously bad genealogists because they are too blotto to write anything down, and if they do, they forget where they put it.
The difference between me and my sister was that I hadn’t had a drink in three years. I had gone through my own private hell in giving it up, and I knew there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t plunge right back down into it tomorrow. My sister, however, was still practicing the cursed craft, and that consistent practice had made all the difference in her life.
I don’t remember the latter years of the eighties, and my college education is a blur. Wine, women, and song, says the cliché. I recall the wine and a few of the songs. I recall a woman or maybe two, if I squint hard enough. My old friends were able to fill in some of the blanks, but that’s not saying much because most of them were boozebags, too. That’s why I got rid of them.
Annette had called me on my cell phone at 3:49 on Thursday morning, according to the blurry red numbers on my bedside digital clock radio.
“Paul?” I could smell the alcohol through 700 miles of telephone line. She didn’t say anything after her name. That’s the way our conversations went. She calls me, I do the talking. She makes me dig it out of her. And I do, every time. Dumbass that I am.
“It’s almost 4am.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“You need to come get me.”
“Where are you?”
“I was in a club and a guy put his hand on me and I busted him over the head with a vodka bottle.”
“So…” I said. “I take it you’re in jail. Again.”
“Well, why the hell else would I be calling my big brother in Long Island at four in the morning?” Or something along those lines. Her speech was slurred.
“Annette, I’ve got half a mind to leave you in there, this time. Might be just what you need.”
“Well, what the hell would you do, a guy makes like he’s gonna … do stuff to you…?”
“Wait a minute, Annette did he actually do something to you, or did he just “make like” he was going to do something you?”
“What the hell difference does it make?” Her voice was a loud, painful, and nearly unintelligible scream.
“Jesus, Annette.”
I take the red-eye down to Florida and then a cab to the Vero Beach jail. Or whatever they called it. The cabby knew where it was. He may have taken me there before. I never stop to remember. I liked him, though. He kept his mouth shut.
When I got there, I had to wait a couple of hours before they called me up to fill out the forms to pay her bail. I had to sit in the waiting room with a smorgasbord of human finery. A crying teen-age mother with a toddler in diapers screaming for grape juice. A snoring shirtless fat man with an angry Donald Duck tattoo on his forearm. Two guys in their twenties who filled the hours by swearing at each other, punching each other, and then laughing at each other. Different people. Always the same
At around noon, they called my name, I presented my forms to the cop at the desk, and they asked me if I wanted to bail her out. I said I did and gave him a check for $200, the going rate for drunk and disorderly conduct – it would have been more had she been charged with assault. But the guy had disappeared. Maybe he was on parole, I don’t know.
The desk cop said it would take a few hours to process the papers for her release. I asked if I could see her while they were doing the processing. The cop said yes, and another cop took me back to the room where she was being detained and told me I had ten minutes. Remarkably, she was in the room alone. There were a few men screaming rude things from the holding room next to hers, though. It made conversation harder.
Annette looked like shit, of course. The hair, the mascara, the boots.

“You know how it is. It’s gonna take a few hours.”
“Yeah, well.”
We didn’t say much more to each other. We knew our parts. She had fun with her drunkenness, she got in trouble. I struggled with my sobriety, I got her out of trouble. When the ten minutes were over, I got up and left. I had paid her bail. This is how things would go from here: She would have her day in court, pay a fine, and do community service. End of story. Until the next time.
The precinct was in a depressed part of town, as they always are. A dollar store. A gas station. A dilapidated movie theater showing a movie I didn’t want to see. I was hungry. The only place around where I could get food and maybe sit down for a while was a hole in the wall establishment called The Jazzy Gent Entertainment and Cocktail Lounge.
I went in, and when my eyes adjusted to the near total darkness of the place, I saw that the only other people there were a rheumatoid bartender and a guy in plaid golf-pants drinking what I could smell was scotch. I sat next to the guy with the plaid pants and ordered a ginger ale.
The guy drinking scotch saw my ginger ale and said, “How many years?”
“Three,” I said.
“Not bad,” he said. “Congratulations. My last drink was twenty minutes before you came in.”
“You ever think about quitting?”
“You sound like my sister. I’m down from Long Island to get her out of the tank. Says she bashed a vodka bottle over some guy’s head. Couldn’t find the guy, though. They’re holding her in the precinct down the street.”
He looked at me like he recognized me. Maybe he did. I don’t know. “I know people on the Island. A colleague of mine works in Cedarhurst.”
“About fifteen minutes from me.” It didn’t surprise me much. Half of Florida came from Long Island. The other half came down to visit the first half.
“I also know the precinct where they’re holding your sister,” said the guy. “They call me over there, sometimes, to look over some of the more extreme cases. Psychotics, potential suicides, that sort of thing.”
“You’re a psychologist?”
“Psychiatrist, actually. I don’t have to rely on the talking cure. I can prescribe drugs, instead.”
Guys like this were why I didn’t go to counseling.
We sat awhile. He finished his scotch and ordered another.
At some point nearing the time when I had to go pick up Annette, the guy raised his glass, glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and said, “Here’s to sobriety.”
When my fist connected with his jawbone, it knocked him off his stool and sent him sprawling onto the floor. I knew nothing but rage as I sat on top of him and belted him with both fists. Left. Right. Left. Right.
I finished of my own accord, got off him, and went back to sitting on my barstool. The bartender, who in a better world would have been more alarmed than he was, peered over the bar at the psychiatrist and asked languidly whether he wanted him to call the police.
“No,” said the psychiatrist. “That won’t be necessary.”
He got up and went back to his own seat, next to mine. There was a little line of blood coming from his nose. The bartender poured him a free scotch. I got up to use the bathroom. I took my time. I cooled off a bit. Splashed some water on my face from the tiny stained porcelain sink they had in there. When I returned, the psychiatrist had left. The bartender handed me a small white rectangle. A business card.
“Wanted me to give this to you.”
His name followed by M.D. and Ph.D., an address, and various contact numbers. On the back, he had written the name and number of his colleague in Cedarhurst. I thanked the bartender, paid for my ginger ale, and walked out of the bar and back into the glaring mid-afternoon Florida sunshine.
I put the card in my wallet. I felt too damn’ good not to.

1 comment:

  1. Damian, your a great writer. I really enjoy reading your stuff. Thats a great story....its so real !