Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Drink to Forget

By Thomas Schilk

Before my father left, I remember how he would sit on the couch every night to watch TV and drink his beer. He especially liked to watch movies about the war. The right end of the couch was his and no one else was allowed to sit there. Next to him was an end-table with a lamp, placed towards the back, which sat on a small round lace doily. On the front of the table there was a small, square, clear-glass ashtray that also was his. I remember that the ashtray started clean every night then filled up with crinkled Pall Mall butts as the night wore on. Closest to his hand was his beer glass, which looked like it was made from the same glass as his ashtray. His beer glass sat on a round cork coaster that he replaced every night. The coasters were advertisements for Piels, Blue Ribbon, Ortliebs, or some other beer. My father drank Ballantine’s. He got the coasters for free from one of the many local tappies that crowded our neighborhood. Most nights, my brother Joey and me would lie on our thin carpet, in front of our father, and watch TV. Not that we always wanted to. I remember that all the lamps would be turned off and the scenes on our black-and-white TV flashed through the living-room like blue lightning. We weren’t allowed to make any noise, so we lay frozen as the bombs dropped and the bullets whizzed by. Some nights, he would say, “Here, you want some beer?” and I would take the clear glass with both hands and drink a little of the warm, sour liquid. Joey always drank more than me. Although I can’t remember the first time that I took a drink, I remember it tasted like something that had gone bad.

A while after my father left—I was ten years old—I remember Joey and me came up with the thirty cents it took to buy us a quart of Ortlieb's beer on New Year’s Eve 1969. Even though I drank less than half—Joey drank the most—I got sick and vomited in the alley behind our house. When I was twelve, I drank a whole quart of Bali Hai wine on the loading dock of Masland’s Dura-Leather right around the corner from our house. It was a fruity pink syrup that cost a dollar and was worth just about that much. I remember laying flat on my back and experiencing my first case of the spins. I vomited so much and made all kinds of promises to God that I wouldn’t keep. I remember, throughout my teens, Joey, me and our friends would put our nickels and dimes together to buy cheap wine. Boone’s Farm apple was a favorite because it only cost ninety-four cents a quart.

When I was sixteen, at a Christmas party over the McMenniman's house, I drank almost a fifth of Seagram’s lime vodka and I remember holding my new leather coat away from my body as I vomited on the pavement. I remember the molten heat that filled my chest after downing shots of Ron Rico 151 at Michael DeComa’s house and all the nasty hotdogs that I ate afterward. In my early twenties, Mary and me would smoke copious amounts of weed and then make all kinds of sugary concoctions in our Waring blender. We'd mix Bacardi Silver with strawberries, pineapple, kiwis or other fruits with crushed ice and always Goya crème de cacao. The best part was licking her sweet sticky lips. I remember the darkness as Mary and me drove in the back of a van to Jenkintown with her pretentious friends. I remember the musky taste of the Puna Butter sinsemilia and the crisp, dry, bite of St. Pauli’s Girl that they handed back to us. I remember all the watery bottles of cold Miller’s that I drank while waiting in some dive-bar for whoever my connection was at the time. And I remember downing shots in the hushed silence of a bar on Esplanade Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana right before the FBI caught up with me. From my late-twenties until I was thirty-five, I remember tasting a lot of vinegary jailhouse wine that I would cook up and sell for cop-money. I remember about eighteen years ago, when I made my final gallon of jail-house wine from two pints of sugar, fresh orange juice, one sliced potato and five days’ worth of impatience. It was my last drink and it tasted like something that had gone bad.

Now I’m fifty-three and still I remember most things. I remember lying in my cell and wanting to die night after night after night. I remember all the trips to the hole. I remember when I first came to prison and how the cell-block seemed to go on forever. I remember the crackle of the match against the striker and the smell of sulphur when I cooked up the dope. I remember my body shivering on that cold December night when I found out that Mary was gone forever. I remember my clothes stinking of the stale smoke from all the dive-bars that I half-lived in then. I remember my Ohaus triple-beam scale and the weed and the baggies and the rush of the hustle. I remember the power I felt when some sweet young thing shook her ass at me while George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” throbbed out of the jukebox in Tellup’s Bar. I remember the taste of Mary’s lips and how her hair looked spilled out on the pillow. I remember being afraid she would fly and the purple bruises on her arms when I held on too tight. I remember the limp Christmas decorations that hung on for way too long the year we lost Joey. I remember the Roger Dean artwork on the cover of the Yes album that I cleaned my weed on. I remember not eating hotdogs for almost ten years. I remember how good I looked in my three-quarter length brown leather coat. I remember all the promises that I didn’t keep. I remember how the fake fruit taste of Bali Hai was strong enough to cut through the bitter taste of vomit in my mouth. I remember when Ortlieb's went up to thirty-five cents a quart. I remember finally, really believing that my father wasn’t coming back anymore. I remember the rough feel of the threadbare carpet against my bony knees and elbows as I laid on the floor and how hard it was to stay still. I remember Joey’s eyes looking into mine as I drank the warm flat beer and the crack of the belt. And I remember he yelped as we watched a blue soldier take a round to his chest and the precise curve of his fingers as he clutched his jacket and fell to the ground.

Thomas Schilk AS0255
SCI Graterford
P.O. Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426


Anonymous said...

In some strange way, this reminds me of 'The Last Supper' . Remember me when you drink this wine and eat it his bread.

Phil Hipp said...

Your story is especially touching to me as the date you wrote it is my sobriety date after 25 years of reckless self-abuse. Phil from Germany

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Thomas Schilk:


Thank you for your comments regarding my piece. It started as a stream of memories and grew into sort of an elegy.

Congrats on your sobriety. July 6 was 21 years clean for me.

Peace, Tom