Don't Get Him Drunk
"Don't get him drunk," Jimmy said.
I was new to this drinking thing, and the first time I'd tried it hadn't gone so well. I'd managed to abstain from alcohol my whole life, finally caving in one month before my twenty-first birthday, when Sherry Gagliardi rejected me and I returned to the Community Center with a bottle of J&B Scotch that had been in my parent's basement since we moved in nearly ten years earlier, left in its original green dusty box and stashed above the wood beam from which my father's heavy bag hung. Jimmy had been returning from a funeral when he saw the Community Center lights on. Up until that night, I never touched the stuff. Which was a little weird, since every kid I knew drank. Ours was a little farm town and if you didn't drink, there wasn't much to do. In fact, it was so weird, my not drinking, that when I hung around with Shawn and those guys, they'd feel the need to explain why I wasn't drinking, like, if we went to a party or something. "He's allergic to alcohol," they'd say. Which is funny, because that is practically the same thing they say in AA.
Anyway, when Jimmy walked in, I was pretty far gone. I'd drank half the bottle and I don't remember much. Though Jimmy does. He tells the story a lot. Apparently, because the Community Center was also the town's recreation dept. where they stashed all the sporting equipment, they had a starter's pistol among the basketballs and hula hoops, dodge balls and bullhorns. I must've pulled it out, this starter's pistol, which if I recall looked pretty authentic, like a real gun. Jimmy joined me in a drink. Or three. It had to be around 2 a.m. when the Berlin cops walked in to find me very drunk and waving a gun around, ready to pull their weapons. I don't know what Jimmy told them, but it had to be good because it got them to leave.
Afterward, I vaguely recall yelling out to Jimmy that I was an airplane as I ran up and down the Community Center Halls making sputtering sounds.
I woke up the next afternoon in my bed with a tremendous headache and a vow never to drink again.
I'd been watching a band with my buddy Rich at the Cool Moose in Hartford. I don't remember the name. I think I was mostly there to meet the club's booking agent so I could get my band, Something Like Paisley, a show (and we'd get many a show at the Cool Moose. And we'd rock the house). Around midnight, Jimmy walks in with a girl with shorn red hair, wiry thin and a nose ring. Now these things aren't that shocking, I realize, but at the time, for me it was. For one, we were in Hartford, which was, like, the big city, because I never left Berlin. Neither did Jimmy, not that I knew of. I'd just turned 21, and yeah I'd gone to Europe on that trip to meet Syd Barrett, but I wasn't a very social guy. And I hadn't drank since that one night, especially not around Rich, who was the only other teetotaler I knew.
Jimmy and I had only become friends after I started at the Community Center. I'd known about him all through high school. He was a year older than I, and someone who I thought was really cool. This is based mostly on a short story he wrote that Charlie Blake had shown me in the library. In the story, Jimmy's parents go away and leave him in the care of his sadistic older brother. And there was something about spiders. It was funny as hell. I remember laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. So in a way you could say that I looked up to him. Jimmy got girls. (If you want to know more about Jimmy, you can read my short story "Tripping for Biscuits," which is pretty accurate, I think.) This girl he was with was so...grown up.
Her name was Julie. I can't say her last name because the last time I wrote anything about her--actually only used the name of a friend of hers in a short story--she told me I didn't have a soul. But I liked her right away, especially when I found out she wasn't Jimmy's girl and that they were just friends.
So I grabbed a drink, because I wasn't going to be able to talk to her without a drink. I think Rich left at that point, and Jimmy must've said he'd give me a ride home. Then Jimmy must've taken off for somewhere, too, because he left us alone, but not before telling Julie, in no uncertain terms, "Don't get him drunk."
I got drunk. Julie got drunk too. Julie drank a lot, I think. Either way, I never heard the story of what we did that night, before the arrest. We could've gone to Elizabeth Park, or the Comet, or maybe even Scarlett O'Hara's. I don't think I kissed her. I know she smoked, a habit I found disgusting. As disgusting as I would later find her liberal politics (I was a Republican back then). We might've listened to Lou Reed. But not at her house, because we wouldn't get to her house until later.
Jimmy must've come back because the next thing I remember is bouncing along like an overly stimulated tiger cub in the backseat of his car, hollering about who knows what.
When you wait to start drinking until you are 21, you have a lot of catching up to do. All the obnoxious shit most guys get out of the way at 14, you're just working through. I think I was charming, though. I can be charming for short bursts.
When the officer shone the light in my face, I was flat on my back, clutching a copy of On the Road. Where I got the book, or how much of it I had read, beats fuckall out of me. I saw Jimmy's dark blue car a few feet away. I was on grass. And very drunk still. The cops lifted me up and ask for my ID.
"What's your name kid?"
"Tommy Petersen," I sid.
With my ID in hand. "Says your name is Joseph Clifford."
"I'm Tommy Petersen!" Petersen was my boss at the Community Center.
I must've gotten belligerent, because the cops throw me against the car, and I'm screaming at them to give me back my book. Jimmy and Julie come running out of the house, just as the cops are putting on the cuffs.
"Don't tell 'em nothin', Jimmy!" I'm screaming. "Don't tell 'em nothin'!"
The sun is almost up me as I walk out of jail. My first arrest. My first night on the inside. The big house. Being in prison changes a man. Those were three of the longest hours of my life. Just a man with his lonely thoughts in a cold cell. And a toilet. And a bunkmate who calls himself The Big Stash.
Jimmy bailed me out and we drove down to his folk's cottage along the shore. We got to Jimmy's cottage and were still laughing. He grabbed some Michelob Lite and a couple lawn chairs and we watched the sun come up over the lake.
"We told her not to get you drunk," Jimmy said.
Later that afternoon, Julie called my house to tell me she had a wonderful night, asking if I wanted to go out again sometime.