[Please stand by… My annually renewed “Inspection Sticker” for this blog, the sticker that assures safe rambling for one and all, has run its course. I’m off track as the winter season bottoms out and I’m forced to stay inside. The “shack nasties” stir old memories but also raise the chance to get renewed. The following account, a sobering tale of youthful days long past, is offered as a means for biding time, for getting “reinspected” and, hopefully, for catching your pleasure in days ahead.]
At last he understood that drinking ouzo, beer and Black Russians on an empty stomach leads to trouble. It will leave the drinker waking at 3 a.m., feeling desert dry, with wormy images writhing in the dark. Then, ever so slowly, the dramas of what happened earlier will be reconstructed.
Until yesterday he had never passed out on a bar, had never felt his forehead bobbing on mahogany (or its cheap substitute). He’d mistaken the free beers given by the female bartender as something more than what they were. He had slammed down his mix of alcohol until becoming certifiably crapulent.
He was the aspiring young writer. He had left a newly purchased writers’ magazine on the bar, memento for anyone who laughed at, or later pitied, his portrayal of the artist’s life. He wobbled toward the center of the floor, turned and floated toward the men’s room, sickened over the urinals, and was guided out by his mostly sober friend. Another evening in the life…
It had all begun with a drive to the gas station several days earlier. He was chauffeured by a friend because his driver’s license had expired. The friend drove him carefully through the village, both of them hoping that a uniformed official wouldn’t notice the defunct inspection sticker on the windshield. An appointment had been made; all they had to do was pull in at the station.
A cop drove past them from the opposite direction. It was cause for worry, since an explanation could be messy. Sure enough, the cop turned around and followed them. The friend pulled into Mobil Gas, their destination, with policeman right behind.
They were asked for license and registration cards. He searched frantically through the glove compartment and his wallet, knowing the papers were left behind. “Sorry officer, I…”
“Like hell you’re gonna charge him for a dead inspection! He’s got an appointment for…Right Now!” Later, the garage mechanic would explain it all to him. But the round-faced officer stood his ground. He smiled confidently like a card player pulling out the Ace of Spades.
“I don’t care about your inspection sticker… You boys ran a red light!” The rookie cop wasn’t appreciated in this town. Alledgedly, he had failed his big promotional exam, drank too much, and had a Barney Fife complex.
The friend was ticketed for running a red. When his chauffeur pal was scheduled to appear before the Justice of the Peace, the young writer offered to play defense attorney, promising to help pay the fine, if necessary.
The defense was a failure. He had entered the courtroom amiable as ever, lubricated by one beer, blasting out “Hello!” to everyone in sight. And that was the last word that he said. Neither the Judge nor the Secretary nor the officer was amused. They didn’t like sloppy dressers, guys with long hair, or maybe they didn’t like their jobs or, maybe, they liked themselves too much.
It was time to hit the nearest bar. The jukebox conjured up the early 1960s. The Beatles hadn’t yet replaced the songs of teenaged tragedy, drag racing and surf. With a shot of ouzo, he could hear “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures sashaying through the pain. He thought of his boyhood record collection– 12 albums by an instrumental band that would eventually wind up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That’s right. Purveyors of the first “concept albums” in rock. He remembered playing “The Ventures in Space” on his turn-table for his parents, and recalled them just shaking their heads, those classical music snobs, those parents that he loved, figuring (pretty much correctly) that he was headed for ruin and damnation.
A dozen albums, and that was before the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and all, swept into his room. Well, thank you, Don and Noki, Mel and Bob. They saved him from Middle School disaster. Those guitars and drums were good enough to steer him away from forming a garage band and inflicting further damage on the world.
He remembered his last beer. She had given it “on the house.” It tasted sterile, light and bland. It disappeared slowly, lacking humor, mixing with that coffee-flavored vodka, swirling round and round like an abortion turning clinical and heartless. Ugh. His head dropped to the bar.
He remembered the minutes before. Philosophizing with his friend and with the barmaid and two other customers.
One was a fan of Norman Rockwell paintings, of all things. The patron’s Rockwell experience was claimed to be as good as anyone’s experience of a Rembrandt.
Well, that got him started. “Bull…shit. I say Rembrandt over Rockwell! Artists over dilettantes! Freedom over artificiality! One beer over all!.. Oh… T-thanks. You sure? On the house?” No doubt his words were slurred a bit, fuzzier than in recollection.
That last drink was character assassination, like reliving the terrible deaths of the 1960s, like banking on the horror and collecting interest on the later ecstacies. Staggering toward the men’s room he thought he saw what passed for “normal life” and commerce warring on eccentric people and minorities. He sped from it all as if running through a mile of neon Drive-Thru at McDonalds.
Morning came. Slowly. Surely. His driver’s license would eventually get renewed. A fresh inspection sticker almost guaranteed another year on the highway of life. Good God, someone would even give him a late Ventures album for his tape deck. But for now, recovering before the day was out, he was good to hum a song. A Rounder’s song.
“I won’t get drunk no more…”
[With this brief lapse into the lagoons of memory, RR’s “inspection sticker” has been self-renewed and readied for another round of rivertop casting. Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with a fun one by the early Holy Modal Rounders, recorded the day before President Kennedy’s assassination.]