Sunshine or Moonshine ?

Ever see that t-shirt?  The one that says, “I used to hate myself in the morning ….” and then on the back it continues:  “….so I started sleeping past noon?”

That was me.  The hangovers and continuous drunkenness in the morning kept me bedridden until afternoon, but the thought of getting out of bed and facing me was something I tended to want to delay.

Summer after summer I had fair skin and no warm highlights in my hair.  I didn’t get fresh air.  Instead I got smokey lungs from hundreds of secondhand cigarettes smoked in a bar – along with my own.    For me, summer looked like a dimly lit bar with a whirring fan with the door open – an occasional balmy breeze passing through.  The only real difference (aside from that) was patrons wearing tank-tops and seeing more tattoos.  For me, summer looked like fleeting stargazing in the parking lot of a bar – the stars blurred by my beer goggles.  This was the life, wasn’t it?

Rain didn’t matter much to me the way it did for some people. I rationalized this because I worked weekends.  I didn’t have a “real” job and there was nothing to do during the day on a Monday when I had the day off.  I could never afford a vacation anymore.  Occasionally some friend would lug me away to a friend’s house near the beach, or a boyfriend would spring for a weekend getaway.  But even those were comprised of late-night poker games passing a joint and guzzling a few beers (quite a few beers) or a night listening to a band in some sloppy joint in the dunes.    Yes, I would walk on the beach in daylight.  Sometimes I’d lay there hungover with a cooler full of beers, sipping away the swimming feeling in my head and sabotaging more brain cells.   If it rained during the vacation, I’d be disappointed.  But really, what did it matter?  I was there to drink – just like every other circumstance or locale in life.

One summer day I went with my dad to see some old Italian friends of his.  I had to work in an hour – well, two –  but going and seeing old guys drink grappa and play cards in a garage was something.  Dad introduced me, mentioning my  trip to Italy a couple of years prior.

“Ahhhh,”  one of them beamed.  “This’ is the dotter’ I make’a the moonshine for?”

I stared, puzzled.  Had my reputation preceded me?

“Is theeees’ the girl that wanna some moonshine?  For thee Limoncello?”

I nodded vigorously, smiling.  My trip to Italy centered around where I could get my next test tube of Limoncello – a liqueur of lemon that tasted like a sweet syrupy lemon drop with a beautifully boozy BITE.

“Okay.  Eeeees’a ready.  You try.”  The short man with the olive skin and thick curly gray hair thumbed the bottleneck with crystal clear contents.

“Whaaa—?”  My eyes widened and I shook my head.  “No. I have to work in an hour.”

My head shook no, but my salivating mouth was filled with the word “yes.”  All I had to do was open wide and that precious word would pop out enthusiastically.

“You try.  You try!”  He nodded and smiled, revealing square white tiles with a little gap between the top front teeth.

“Seriously,”  I chuckled.  “I can’t.”

“Luke. [Look].”  He palmed the table in front of him, his fingers splayed open meaningfully.  He took a deep breath as if trying to summon up every ounce of patience.  “I comma to your house. You make-a some brownies.  I no hongry.  But you offer dem to me so I eat.  I eat because I am polite instead of hongry.  You see?”  He nodded vigorously, a polite smile pursed on his lips.

I nodded reluctantly, smiling politely in return.

“You TRY,” he thundered.   His fist struck the table, rocking the bottle in a tipsy-topsy-topsy-turvy semicircle.

With widening eyes, I lunged at the bottle.  Partly to protect its precious contents and partly to oblige.  I had no idea some 80 year old Italian man could peer-pressure me into drinking in broad daylight before a shift at work.  Is this what all the cool kids do?  On the other hand, how much did he have to do in order to coerce the willing?

Next to the bottle was a small snifter and a squarish wine glass with gold etchings in it; I filled the wine glass and drank it in one seamless swill.  Liquid nitrogen.  Liquid fire.   Satin smooth.

“Ahhh…” I gasped, coming up for air.

He smiled and nodded, waving a finger at me.  “You drink-a like’a you faddah.  No shiver.”

Dad laughed and handed me his beer.  With a chuckle, he urged me to sip.  I heard him mutter, “Watch THIS.”

I convulsed, my eyes scrunched up at the bitter burn.

The Italian man roared with laughter, his eyes grazing his cronies sitting in the shade of the garage.  They were laughing, too.  One threw down his cards, laughing a throaty laugh.  He swiped a nonexistent tear in his eye and wiped it on his plaid pants.

The old Italian man laughed into his glass of grappa before sipping it.   His lips tightened over his teeth and he gasped.  Clutching a Mason jar, he poured some moonshine into it for me.

“Ehhhh,”  he muttered.  “I geev’a you two.  You bring me some.  You know wadda to do wit’ the lemons?”

I nodded, feeling the burn in my throat and that divine tingling spreading down into my thighs and down my legs.  The tingling paused at the knees, threatening to make them give out like I was falling in love.

I wanted more.  Way more.  But I had to work. I was a supervisor, so showing up shitfaced at 3PM wasn’t exactly beneficial to my status there.   I wished I hadn’t tried it.  Having one was worse than having none.

At home I scarfed peanut butter.  I brushed my teeth.  I ate more peanut butter, making it melt in my mouth and semi-swishing it.  I ate mints. I brushed my teeth. I rinsed with mouthwash.  I drank coffee.  Nothing squashed the taste in my mouth.  I wanted to puke.  But I wanted more.  I thought about calling out sick.   But I desperately needed money and the place didn’t pay sick days.

At work I kept a 10-foot radius between me and everyone.  I couldn’t risk anyone smelling this.  I would swallow air and hold it in, gushing sentences to customers.  Turning my head, I would exhale like a deflating balloon – the type of deflating balloon that a kid lets go of and it whizzes around the room?  That kind.   Farting/squealing noise et al.

The urge to drink gnawed at me.  My mind raced with excuses to leave work:    I didn’t feel good.  My stomach was upset.  My throat hurt. Yes.  My THROAT hurt — that’s a dangerous sentence in a restaurant.  Might be strep.

The dining room filled and I got busy, too busy to talk to my manager even.  I didn’t have the balls to pull this shit right now, not when there was so much going on.  Who would we call in?  I hated every customer that walked through the door; they were cutting into my drinking time.   The closer I got to the end of my shift, the more I detested them.

The urge to drink didn’t subside, but it was definitely moved to the back burner.  Then the headache started, that unstable headache that becomes intense and then subsides, the kind of headache that comes from a buzz wearing off.   Then there was incurable cotton mouth.  I could hardly contain myself.  Kept looking at the clock.  Five more minutes passed.  That’s it?  I was dying to get out of work.  Maybe when it slowed down I could tap the white wine they use for the clam sauce.  Just needed to bring a paper cup to the kitchen, one with a top and a straw.  The cook needed to go on a cigarette break.  When the rush died down, the cook loitered.  He cracked jokes with the dishwasher, leaning on the workstation where the white wine was.  Would he freakin’ go AWAY!?  I screamed telepathically at him.  Oblivious, arms folded, he stood there and smiled and listened to the dishwasher talk about …. whatever.

That was the one day I spent any length of time outdoors that summer, 45 minutes in front of a garage drinking moonshine.


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