The alarm clock went off and I reached out and found that there was still a bit of scotch left in the bottle, so I drank that and winged the empty bottle at the alarm clock and the alarm clock stopped its insane wailing and then I went back to sleep.
I was reawakened by the ringing of the telephone.
“Jeffries! Where the hell are you? Why aren’t you here? You should have been here an hour ago!” It was my boss, Sanderson. Real nice of him to check up on me like that.
“Hey Sandhead,” I said. “Listen, Sandy. You’re paying me about a third of what I’m worth. I want a 300 percent wage increase, or I quit.”
“What’s this now? Listen, Jeffries…”
“And another thing. I’d like to fuck your wife. Why is it guys like you – little weaselly moronic wastes of life and wasters of other men’s lives – I mean, why is it you guys always end up with all the pretty girls?”
“Fired? Yeah, you said it. Fired out of the depths of hell and into the light of life. See you around, Sandshit, and if your wife ever realizes what a monster you are and gets lonely for some human company, or simply wants a good drunken fuck, you know my number.”
Sanderson had hung up. I found a half-drunk bottle of beer which I must have put down the night before and forgotten about. Not very good form to forget your beer, your blood, your god, like that, so I did an act of repentance and finished the bottle. Then I went back to sleep and slept like some kind of goddamned baby.
They knew me down at The Drunk Dog Pub. There weren’t many people there at 2 PM on a Monday. Why not? What else is there to do?
“Hey there Sal,” said Double-Shot Dan. “Whassa matta? Why ain’t ya at work?”
“Yeah, I been on one of those for a couple years now,” said Jack. I never knew if we called him Jack because that’s what he drank, or if that’s what his parents had actually named him. I had decided on the former, simply because I could not picture this man as having parents.
“Life is a paid vacation,” said Old Li Po. Nobody knew Li Po’s real name, or if he even had one. We called him Li Po because he was penetrated with a natural, timeless wisdom, like that of his namesake, the Drunken Immortal, the ancient Chinese poet who said, “Wine’s view is lived: you can’t preach doctrine to the sober.” Anyway, nobody knew where our Li Po came from, or where he went when the bar closed. But he was always there, from open to close, and he always seemed to have money for drinks. A truly wise man, obviously possessing the secret of life. But he never told it to anybody. He only gave out cryptic aphorisms between long moments of silence.
I sat down on the bar stool. “Steve,” I said, “Steve my friend, gimmie a double of top shelf vodka…no…better make that bottom shelf vodka…and then a single shot for chaser.”
Steve, bless him, went about preparing my drinks. Then he set them in front of me and I drank them and, you know how it goes, that fire sliding down your throat, spreading from your belly into your limbs, seeping into your mind, easing it up, easing up the world, life, the seeming impossibility of it all, and then I said, “Another one, and then another one, please, and then one more.” I rolled up a Drum cigarette, lit it, took a long inhalation, let it out, and I was feeling pretty good. On top of it, you know? Aces, yeah.
“Hey, Old Li,” I said. “What is it people want?”
“To drink much wine.”
“Oh yeah? How come they’re not all doing it right now?”
“They are afraid.”
“Yeah? Afraid of what?”
“This they know not.”
I laughed. Pretty good.
And then—and then that’s when the door to the bar opened and this woman was standing there. Ah! I mean, God! What magic! There was this lovely shapely body, you know, rounded out by the breasts of Aphrodite herself, and the hips of Aphrodite herself, and it was all encased in this tight pink blouse and this tight tan miniskirt, and there were her legs, oh brothers, her soft, slender, tall legs, and on top of it all was this glowing face and these glimmering eyes and long flowing brown hair, and she was good and young and I wasn’t sure if she were a chimera or actually standing there at our humble threshold. And then do you know what happened? She started walking over to me, and she sat down next to me and she said, “Buy me a drink.” I mean, it didn’t make any sense. A woman like that coming into our little dive at 2 PM on a Monday, and sitting down next to me.
“Barkeep,” I said, “how about a couple gin and tonics… top shelf.” I hadn’t gotten laid in about a year, and, I thought, God if You grant me this one, just for one night, then I will devote the rest of my life to chastity. I made sure not to mention any clause about quitting drinking, because, quite simply, no piece of ass, or even love itself, is worth that price.
The drinks arrived and I drank mine right down. “My name’s Melanie,” she said.
“Melanie, huh? That has its root in Latin… ‘mel,’ meaning ‘honey.’ Yes, a sweet name.” I sort of give myself a mental kick in the ass, for sounding so corny. It was beginning to look like I would fuck up, or rather, not fuck at all, this gift from the heavens.
“Is that so? Well, in that case, buy your sweet honey another drink,” said my Melanie.
I didn’t know what it all meant. Why do some people get lucky at some times and other people get lucky at other times? It didn’t make any sense and that is why you drank. Because the whole thing didn’t make sense and the only sense was in setting yourself aflame with that fiery nectar and saying “Balls” to the whole of sober, senseless reality. There was a sort of achievement, a sort of magic, a sort of freedom in that, somehow, for whatever reason. But you didn’t analyze it too much. You just got drunk. And so, I ordered two more gin and tonics and also one for the lady. Those two drinks helped things along a great deal. Because at this point, she leaned over me for an ash tray and sort of assaulted me with her breasts. Had I not been fortified by those drinks, I might have lost it completely. Instead, I acted cool. I grabbed her upper thigh under the bar.
“You know, honey,” I told her, “I used to be the Prince of Denmark until my father exiled me for my radically progressive ideas.”
“We are all,” said Old Li Po, “the Prince of Denmark.” We all thought about that for a moment.
Melanie lent this magic air to the bar. It was like her presence awakened something in all of us lonely men. And sitting there next to her, I really did for a moment believe that I was the Prince of Denmark. Of course, this was all made possible by the grace of the booze. The only bad thing was, I was starting to get a little worried about my money supply holding up. Melanie drank almost half as much as me, and that is quite a fucking bit. And I was buying her all of these drinks, working my way into her life, into her heart, into her bed. Or, one might say, the drinks were working me into these things.
Then Swift Footed Adams came in. He was called Swift Footed because he would establish himself at a table where some non-regulars were drinking and then when it came time to pay the tab… well, you know. But this time was different. The first thing he did when he came in was walk over to the bar, slap down a pile of money and say, quite uncharacteristically, “A drink for every bastard in the room!”
“What about me?” asked Melanie. “Do I qualify?”
At the sound of her voice, Swift Foot did a sort of double take. He couldn’t believe it, that a woman of her caliber should be drinking with us sots. Nobody could, really.
“Oh, yes ma’am,” said Swift Foot. “You can have two drinks!”
We passed the hours in happy conversation, all of us, though Melanie stuck close to me, despite the fact that I had stopped buying the drinks. Soon, the work day was over, and all of those poor bastards came trudging through the door, seeking to recapture their defeated spirits. And at first their presence was this great oppressive thing, because there was this bitter beast lurking in them, put there by spending five days out of the seven doing what they did not want to do—working shit jobs. And though it sounds like a simple thing, to work five to nine, it really drains a man, or a woman, of vitality. It takes something important away from them. But once they had a few drinks in them—ah, it fills your heart with joy to watch them come back to life! They drink their elixir, their medicine, and who can justly blame them? The ignorant, the dead censure them, you, me, us. “Wine’s view is lived: you can’t preach doctrine to the sober.” The ignorant, the dead, the sober: they are all the same. The only thing you can do is to ignore them and carry on with your holy life.
And then Melanie whispered something into my ear. She whispered: “Let’s get out of here.”
And Li Po said, apropos of nothing: “Blessed are the drunk, for they have inherited the heavens.”
And as I walked out of there, with Melanie on my arm, I sensed that nobody was jealous of my luck, because they understood that none of it made any sense, and they were drunk and alive and happy, we were all lucky because we were all drunk, and the luck and the love and the happiness sort of flowed out of one and all and mingled in the air, and I got to the door and I turned around and winked at Old Li Po and he nodded majestically, and then I opened the door for my lady and we walked out of The Drunk Dog Pub and I was glad to make it out of there before the non-regulars stopped in to fiddle around with a drink or two, or before somebody fell out of the spirit and started a fight, against the universe, which happens often, but mostly I was glad to be walking down the street with Melanie and when she informed me that she had a few bottles back at her place, I felt better than the Prince of Denmark.
And the sober never knew what they were missing, poor wretches.