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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
Wine is the Devil
Back in the bad days, when I had no job, no money, and the marriage was fast approaching its inevitable conclusion, wine was my drug of choice. Had been for many years. It did the job quickly and easily, and I always found it possible, somehow, to scrape enough together for a cheap bottle.
I wasn't exactly what you'd call a connoisseur, and I became less so as time went on. At first it was $3 bottles from countries I'd never heard of. (The discount liquor store on 7th Ave. I frequented had a special section for those.) Later, it was $6 magnums. Then $7.99 gallon jugs. Then it was the real cheap stuff and fortified wines. It didn't matter—it was a drinking driven by misery, and I was guzzling it like soda pop.
On occasion, sure, I’d slip into the gin or the ginger brandy or the whiskey—but the wine was always the base from which I operated. It usually did a number on me, but so long as I wasn't much bothered by hurt feelings or lost hours and days, it wasn't that bad.
Then one night I woke up in Bellevue, the back of my head split open. Last thing I remembered was sitting at Houlihan's in Penn Station with a visiting friend, ordering my third large carafe. I forget what she was drinking.
I started slowing down after that, and slid from wine to gentler, friendlier beer. Beer could cause problems of its own, sure, but it hasn't landed me in Bellevue yet.
Things were just fine for several years. Then one day recently I very quickly and unexpectedly ran into some bad economic troubles. Sadly, one of the first things I worried about wasn't the rent, wasn't the cat, wasn't any of those constant medical bills—it was the booze. How would I keep it flowing?
Fortunately I was a man with a plan. I had beer enough for a few days in the fridge, but I also had more than that. Every year, my ophthalmologist gives me all the wine his patients give to him for the holidays (he hates wine). And my old, sociopathic partner in crime, Grinch, who's a major player in the wine industry these days, sends me a sampler case every now and again. Given that I didn't drink wine anymore (not the way I used to), my supply has been adding up for awhile.
Beyond that, I had a bunch of whiskey, some vodka, and some weirdies above the sink, should worse come to worst. They'd all done a worse number on me than the wine at one point or another, so I'd been keeping a respectful distance.
Booze-wise, I figured I'd be fine until I could get the money thing worked out. Just move from beer to wine to whiskey. (Funny, given that that's the opposite of the usual path when money was an issue.)
Yep, that was the plan. See, I'd forgotten those old days.
One Saturday afternoon, I thought I'd try to extend the beer supply a few more days by cracking a bottle of wine instead.
Here's the pathetic thing—what I grabbed was one of the bottles Grinch had given me, which meant it was probably an $80 bottle of wine. But I drank $3 Uzbekistan wine like it was soda pop, and I knew I was going to do the same thing here.
I removed the cork, poured half a milk glass full, and drank it down. Then I poured another. I wasn't going to be extending anything.
I forgot how fast it can kick in sometimes. I started losing track of things after an hour or two.
I remember dropping the first empty bottle in the trash and reaching for the next. Only after getting the cork out did I realize I'd opened a bottle of red. That first one'd been white. Didn't want to mix the two—I'd made that mistake before. So I jammed the cork back in, put it in the fridge, and went for another. That one was white. I opened it and poured a glass.
I also remember starting dinner.
Next thing I remember, it was about 2 hours later, and dinner was still cooking. So I turned the stove off, threw the blackened dinner away, and ate a handful of carrots instead.
I remember calling Morgan, who later told me that I sounded like I'd been soundly beaten.
The thing is, it simply wasn't as much fun as I remembered from the old days. Then again, thinking about it, I guess it wasn't much fun back then, either. And maybe that's it—the first chug of that fancy wine brought back all those old sensations. The despair, the isolation, the perpetual queasiness. Not that I was despairing or isolated at all—but there was still a sense of it in the act. Just like an old song or a half-remembered smell can dredge up detailed memories of a time and place, so can a specific kind of drunk.
When Grinch and his wife were in town a month or two back, we went through four or five bottles and a lot of beer with no trouble. But that was convivial, that was friendly and social. Drinking wine alone is just bad news. At least guzzling it alone. It'll tear you up.
I wasn't doing that bad the next morning, much to my surprise. But the wine never did me all that bad hangover-wise, unless I mixed it. Still, I could taste it in the back of my throat. And every time I opened the fridge and saw the bottle sitting there, my stomach tightened.
I decided it was time to go back to beer.