Sunday, January 09, 2005

Training Day

The following is a creative exercise, combining three occurrences over a period of years into one story. Hope you enjoy it.
It was a brutal evening. As my two faithful readers know by now, this is the week when my life revolves around the Detroit Auto Show, which I will be covering for the next five days in accordance with my daytime occupation. Tomorrow, I will be picking up my friend and colleague from Germany, a fellow corporate super-spook who I will hereby refer to only by his nom de guerre, Otto. Now Otto, in addition to being an unequivocal master of the art of corporate intelligence, is a man of unquestionable hospitality and has always looked after me when I visit his homeland. As an American, I consider it my national duty to return the favor when he visits mine. This means that I will do my best to ensure that he stays only in the finest hotels, eats only the most succulent of foods and is provided with the most refined alcoholic beverages served in copious, and on some nights, downright lethal, quantities. It is not a task I take lightly. In fact, this is an effort that I feel the need to train for. Neither Otto nor myself have many reservations about getting absolutely pie-eyed on the company dime and after six years of working together, have done so with great success in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Frankfurt, Geneva and Tokyo. We are aspiring alcoholics of an international caliber and are unrepentant founding members of the Future Friends of Bill W.

Now, I’m no slouch of drinker under normal circumstances but these gluttonous consumption sessions are typically biblical in proportion and need to be trained for. If you don’t warm up before running the 100 meter dash, you’re likely to sprain an ankle. If you don’t warm up before embarking upon an Olympic six day tequila bender, you’re likely to sprain a liver. A bum ankle can be healed with ice but a blown-out liver usually requires prolonged stretches of sobriety and a court-mandated stint in a rehabilitation facility, which is not something that I am not mentally equipped to deal with while I’ve got a pregnant wife at home prone to frequent bouts of hormonally induced homicidal derangement. So with safety in mind, I set out last night to get my body and spirit prepared for the Herculean task that lay ahead of me.

Training for an epic beer bout is a lot like training for a championship boxing match. You have to get back to your roots, forgoing the relatively posh environment of where the match will actually occur and heading for the raw atmosphere fraught with danger and charged with savagery that can only be found in the inner-city. Boxers head for the decrepit, sweaty and decaying gyms where they started their athletic careers. Drinkers head for skid row bars in structurally unsound buildings surrounded by urban blight, packs of wild dogs, junkies, street urchins and, preferably, in close proximity to a condemned trailer park overrun with warring factions of the motorcycle enthusiast community. I found the perfect place located deep inside Detroit.

For some reason, the place was nearly empty for a Saturday night. There were two gentlemen seated in the back shadows at a table who looked as if they were just three rounds of Schlitz shy of homelessness. They were in rough shape. One of them was morbidly obese and agitated about the %&#@ A-Raibs in I-raq and offered insightful, if passionately vindictive, commentary to the ancient wall-mounted television on what he would have done had the American voting public only had the wisdom to proclaim him the undisputed despot of the Kingdom of the United States. His companion, a rail thin man with an obvious disdain for even the most basic of personal hygiene techniques, dutifully nodded his head in a sort of silent endorsement of his over-eating partner’s candidacy. At the end of the bar closest to the door, was a heavily tarted up tube-shaped woman almost completely devoid of feminine features. She was dressed in sweatpants that had seen better days and a short top that exposed a midriff that had no business being seen. It was attire completely out of place in a drafty Prohibition-era bar during a Motor City January, leading me to believe that she was probably a professional on the clock. There was no bartender in sight.

It was immediately apparent that I was way out of my element, but it really was the perfect place for a sincere alcoholic workout. I also could not pass up the character study aspect of the joint so I confidently ambled up to the bar and took a seat in the middle of it, putting equal distance between myself and the two other entities in the place. I was hoping that this would send a message that I was not a willing conversationalist, but a man on a mission that needed to focus on the task at hand. I was not there for social interaction, I was there to practice. I really did not want to talk to these people; I just wanted to drink like them. Under normal circumstances, if I needed to build up my alcoholic tolerance I would pick what I believed to be the hardiest imbiber in the establishment and discretely pace myself with him, ordering a drink every time he did. That was not a feasible technique in this place however. The obnoxious foreign policy expert in back was already close to his limit and I suspected that his silent partner was drinking off of his tab (Nobody keeps that kind of company for free). The working girl was also out of the running. She had the dental evidence that alcohol was not her intoxicant of choice. She was looking for business, not booze. I had to set my own pace, so I decided on six shots of tequila chased down with equal servings of beer, consumed within three hours. All I needed was a bartender to get the games rolling.

While I waited for the establishment’s proprietor, the working girl made her move. “Hi! I’m Janet,” she said in a voice that was either ravaged by decades of chain smoking or influenced by a testosterone level that was not compatible with her wardrobe.

I am sure my eyes opened a little wider as I turned my head towards the baritone at the end of the bar and waved to it with my left hand, doing my best to show off my wedding ring. “Hi! I’m married.” I answered, focusing my vision on its throat to look for an Adam’s Apple. Then, to emphasize that my sexual orientation automatically excluded me from his (found the apple) potential customer base added, “Legally.” My sentence was punctuated by the sound of a flushing toilet originating from the darkness behind the bar’s resident policy guru, who was now working himself into a frenzy over the amount of US aid flowing into tsunami-stricken Indonesia, an enthusiastic al-Qaeda collaborator as far as he was concerned. It was about that time when I decided to reduce my exercise regimen to four beers and four shots in just under two hours.

I was still sizing up Madame Butterfly, trying to determine how offended he was at my obvious rebuff when a raspy voice from behind me asked, “Can I get you something, Sweetheart?”

I turned to answer but hesitated when I took in the woman who was addressing me. The barmaid was an immense woman, nearly as large as the establishment’s aspiring news anchor, who was still shouting a broad range of colorful adjectives at the talking head on the television screen, and it was hard to estimate how old she was. She could either have been a 45-year-old showing off the dire consequences of too many fried chicken dinners washed down with liberal amounts of pure grain alcohol or a sixty-year-old with almost sloth-like metabolism. She wore a tight-fitting v-neck t-shirt (though at that size, I am guessing that options for loose fitting v-neck t-shirts are somewhat limited) that had permanent sweat stains dyed into a large area around her armpits and what appeared to be double-knit polyester slacks that were hard-pressed to contain the load they were tasked with holding back. She had shoulder length stringy greasy hair that appeared to have been styled by a food processor. She wore huge heavy glasses that apparently shared the same prescription of the lenses used on the Hubble space telescope which grotesquely magnified her eyes to inhuman, squid-like proportions. Her other facial features were frighteningly Yeti-esque, with big, beefy and hairy overtones that I guessed terrified a lot of children in her neighborhood. To give her some credit, she had less upper lip hair than a Magnum-vintage Tom Selleck, but still sported much more than most American women would tolerate before breaking out an industrial-strength Epilady. I also have to say that if I had half the hair on the top of my head that she had growing out of that malignant-appearing mole that consumed a healthy portion of her right cheek, I would have a few more instructions to hand out to my barber before he broke out the #3 clipper attachment. What the barmaid had in facial folliclery however, she lacked in oral armament. There was not a single tooth protruding from her gum line that I could see and a side effect appeared to be an inherent inefficiency in saliva retention. Some sort of salivary secretion seemed to have a propensity to build up in the corners of her mouth and had a color and consistency that reminded me of chicken gravy. I prayed to GOD that she did not spit when she spoke.

“Sweetheart? Can I get you something?” she asked again, rubbing my nose in the fact that God has a habit of not listening to me. I was a bit unnerved by her casual use of the word “sweetheart”, hoping that it was just a term of endearment she and not the initiation of some sort of twisted hillbilly mating ritual.

“You got anything in a bottle?” I asked while pulling out the small pad of paper and pen I compulsively carry with me at all times. This was a place that, in addition to being a rather surreal venue to stretch one’s liver at, was a character study bonanza. I was going to have to take notes.

“No honey. We only serve cans here.” I was bummed. In addition to having an aversion to aluminum aftertastes, I felt that if for some reason things went sour and I found myself in a situation where I had to fend off an economically depressed transvestite, a silent stick figure, a pickled porcine political pundit and an amorous gin jockey with no use for a Blue Cross dental plan, I wanted a couple of beer bottles in hand to increase my odds of making it to the door.

Looking over at the limited selection of low grade economy selections displayed on the draft taps I said, “I’ll take a mug full of Miller Genuine Draft…” In the absence of a trusty beer bottle, glass beer mugs were the next best thing. They sort of served as a Waterford set of brass knuckles in a pinch. “…And a shot of Cuervo Gold too, please.” I added this while writing the words “pickled”, “porcine”, “political” and “pundit” in my notebook. I then added in parentheses, “(4 P’s!)”

“We don’t have any Cuervo in here.” The barmaid said as she set my MGD down in front of me in a shell glass that was about as useful in barroom combat as a top billing polka band was in selling Lollapalooza tickets. “Is El Toro okay?”

It most certainly was not. On a scale of tequila quality, El Toro ranks just below fermented toilet bowl water but realizing that I was not going to do any better, I forced a smile to my face and said, “Sure.” It came equipped with a crusty shaker of salt with oyster crackers in it, a wedge of lime with the freshness of week-old summer road kill and a complimentary ration of bar nuts served in a cardboard bowl.

I normally do not bother with salt and citrus when drinking tequila so out of habit, I lifted the shot glass, tipped it in a salutary gesture towards the barmaid and poured it down my gullet. My stomach registered its displeasure by triggering a minor gagging reflex that, though enough to grab my attention, remained minor enough to conceal with a spontaneous full body shudder. Emptying half of my beer in a single drink did not appease my taste buds much but it seemed to put my gastro-intestinal tract back in order so I ordered another round. Five minutes into my workout, I had gotten through half of my shots and was leisurely working my way into my second beer. I was making pretty good time. I was in better shape than I thought.

About a half an hour after I arrived, I ordered my third round of booze and a second helping of complimentary bar nuts. As I lifted the third shot of tequila to my lips, the television newsman must have said something that particularly agitated the big drunk at the table as he let out a loud intoxicated bellow and then, in a fit of overzealous gesticulation, somehow launched his car keys up over his head and onto the floor behind him where they immediately slid beneath another table. Finally annoyed by his boorish antics, the barmaid leaned forward and threatened to cut him off if he did not settle down and shut up. Skinny Dirty Man changed seats, wisely assuming that if a walrus wrestling match were to suddenly break out, there were safer places to drink than between the two behemoth combatants. Madame Butterfly let out an irritating derogatory laugh and then left his seat to go pace the sidewalk out in front of the bar for a few minutes.

Though a couple of words were exchanged, the incident failed to escalate. The barmaid went back and perched herself up on an abused stool behind the bar and shook her head at me in frustration while saying, “Kids.” Then it dawned on me that the big drunk yelling at the TV was actually her son. I placed my third shot of tequila back on the bar after a brief vision of the moment of his conception involuntarily emerged out of the darkest depths of my imagination and started antagonizing my stomach, which had already been weakened by the double dose of El Toro. I turned my attention to her hapless offspring who was by this time trying to extricate himself out of his chair to track his car keys down.

It was a mildly entertaining spectacle. It took several tries for the drunkard to get out of his seat and ultimately he just gave up and rolled out of it onto all fours, violently upsetting the table that had held his and his companion’s glasses of beer. Not a single one of them remained upright after the table’s wobbling came to a rest and a substantial stream of cheap beer poured off of the table and onto the crawling commentator. His mother buried her face in her hands and shook her head in disbelieving resignation. Unfazed by the shower of stale suds cascading onto his back, the barmaid’s son suddenly changed direction and wobbled towards the spot he believed his keys had come to rest, flashing my side of the bar with a gargantuan display of angry ass crack highlighted by a raging outbreak of posterior acne that appeared suspiciously terminal. I immediately tore my gaze away from the back of the bar to avoid seeing something that would give me cause to claw my own eyes out later. That is when I saw the barmaid looking at me with an expression of desperate anxiety that betrayed her hopes that I had not just seen that. The dumbfounded expression of complete horror on my face instantly gave away the fact that I indeed had.

The barmaid was mortified. She practically leaped out of her seat screaming, “THAT”S ENOUGH, PERRY!” I went back to my notebook and modified my notes to read “PERRY, pickled porcine political pundit. (5 P’s!)” Perry’s mother hurriedly waddled out from behind the bar into the lounge. Silent Stick Man jumped out of his seat as well, seemingly unsure of whether to try and help get his drinking companion up off of the floor or make a frantic attempt to bolt for the exit and save his own skin. He opted to go for the keys, and came up with them just as the barmaid was approaching striking distance.

“YOU TWO ARE FINISHED! BOTH OF YOU GET YOUR WORTHLESS HIDES OUT OF MY BAR AND DON’T COME BACK UNTIL YOU LEARN HOW TO BEHAVE LIKE NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS!” That is almost a verbatim quote. I was scribbling notes pretty furiously by this point. “I HAVE PAYING CUSTOMERS IN HERE AND I AM SURE THAT THE LAST THING THEY (her use of a plural pronoun here was accurate due to the commotion drawing Madame Butterfly back inside along with two Detroit police officers who had apparently stopped by to chat with him) WANT TO SEE IS A NO-GOOD DRUNK CRAWLING AROUND THE FLOOR SHOWING HIS DIRTY ASS OFF TO EVERYONE! HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DRAW GOOD CUSTOMERS INTO THIS PLACE WHEN YOU TWO ARE IN HERE ALL THE TIME PULLING S*** LIKE THIS!” If the barmaid was really serious about drawing a greater influx of quality clientele, it was going to take a lot more than banning Perry from the establishment but I had to admit, eliminating the overt display of anterior skin afflictions was as good a place as any to start. “JONAS! TAKE HIM HOME!”

After convincing the cops that he was in good enough shape to take Perry home, Jonas, with the help of two of Detroit’s finest, guided the drunk out of the bar while his mother set to cleaning up the mess he had made. The entire time, she complained about how hard she worked to save up the money to buy the bar and how frustrated she was that the children she raised seemed utterly incapable of accomplishing anything else besides sabotaging her business. She went on and on as she mopped the floor, spewing heartfelt vindictive and a generous amount of that gravy-like spittle that collected on the corners of her mouth. While she did this, I killed my third round and ordered my last, which turned out to be my undoing.

I had been tempting fate by drinking El Toro in the first place, but after three shots of this vile demonic elixir from Jalisco, I was at my tolerance limit. I was not by any means drunk, I was just disgusted. I have to admit, as I raised that fourth shot to my lips I was feeling rather apprehensive. I got it down, but not without a fight. My gag reflex kicked in with a force that was just barely controllable and I felt the color rush out of my face as I struggled to keep my dinner right where I had left it. The bar maid sensed something was wrong and, with genuine concern, leaned closer to me and asked, “Are you okay, sweetheart?” As she spoke those words, a significant serving of her lip ooze was lifted from the upper left corner of her mouth and was sent hurtling through the air in slow motion until it passed out of my field of vision and landed just inside my lower lip. I was wrong about its gravy-like consistency. It was more reminiscent of something one would find in a discarded Kleenex.

At that point, all bets were off. My sweat pores opened up, my abdomen muscles erupted into painfully uncontrollable gut spasms and I started making sounds I had not made since I had a brief fascination with water-bonging when I was in the tenth grade. I left my money, enough for the drinks and a sizeable pity-tip, on the bar, grabbed my coat and rushed out the door past Madame Butterfly and the same two cops he had been talking to her earlier. I tried to escape around the corner of the building where I would be safely out of sight but just couldn’t make it. A solid five paces short of my goal, I stopped, doubled over in agony and abruptly projectile hurled all over the sidewalk, drawing the instant attention of the two police officers and cheerful horn honks of encouragement from passing motorists.

Unfortunately, one gastro-intestinal revolt was not enough. It took several before I was afforded enough of a break in the action to try and catch my breath. It was during this lull that one of the officers walked up beside me, bent over and asked, “Sir? You’re not driving, are you?”

“No,” I answered while trying to figure out whether or not he was asking me a trick question. After blowing the remaining stomach bile and chewed up remnants of complimentary bar nuts out of my nose, I turned to him and elaborated. “I’m not driving. I’m puking.” At that point I became convinced that the Detroit Police Department was in desperate need of a tougher entrance exam.

In the end I was allowed to drive home, having successfully regurgitated enough alcohol to keep my BAC just barely within legal driving limits. I was painfully sober and at that point, sick to boot. Knowing that Otto was showing up on Monday filled me with an urge to continue my training in a more hospitable environ, but I had honestly had enough so I called it a night. Even though I had not successfully completed my regimen, I felt that my system was comfortably primed for the week that lay ahead. As a bonus, I met some very interesting people that I hope to never meet again and left that rundown dirty watering hole with a confidence that, no matter how bad things get in the future, there are at least four people in the world that I can visualize who are in far worse shape than I am. I also left wiser. I learned why that particular venue I chose for my alcoholic workout was so slow on a Saturday night. I learned that poor posterior hygiene can lead to a condition that could prove an effective defense against unwanted romantic advances should I ever find myself incarcerated. I learned what someone else’s cholesterol-laden oral ooze tastes like. I learned that chewed up bits of complimentary bar nuts can be abrasively excruciating when violently blown out of one’s nasal cavities and last, but not least, I learned that there is a distressing lack of intellectual acumen among some of the more recent additions to the ranks of the Detroit Police Department.
Overall, it was a very enlightening experience. I concluded that I was going to have to do it again some time. There is nothing like a skid row bar to prod one past a serious case of writer’s block.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I nearly puked when her spit hit you IN THE MOUTH. Secondly, you should submit that as an article. Thirdly "tube-shaped woman" is fuckign hilarious.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S.

--RR

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gotta tell ya, I don't miss living in Detroit, but I do miss being able to go to joints like that. Driving around the developing wilderness near downtown where houses used to be but wild life is re-emerging is kinda fun. Sometimes it's good to regain your bearings by seeing the plight of people and neighborhoods who,by there own doing usually,are worse off than you.
Jesus, it's finally happened. I'm a yuppie. Oh well, at least I don't have ass zits!

12:57 AM  

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