Race Towards Alcoholism

A career where advancement is not so great

We were 16 years old. I remember we must have been sixteen years old because someone had their drivers license, and we were in someone’s car.

I had been drunk before. Finishing drinks at bar mitzvahs and weddings when no one was looking was always fun. The covertness of the operation was half the fun; but that was kids’ stuff. It was time to move into adulthood (if adulthood meant drinking nasty, so sweet it would rot your teeth out of your head, wino’s wine). And the early 70s was the time to do it.

There were three of us. Lori, Julinda, and me. The first hurdle was how to get the booze in the first place. The drinking age in Illinois at the time was 21. At 16, I shaved about once a month, so I wasn’t in contention. Lori had blonde hair and blue eyes and had the body of a 14 year old, so she was out of the running.

Julinda was Black.

I don’t say that in a racist way, but in the very early 70s the South Side of Chicago was only beginning to integrate, and no one honestly knew what age a Black person was supposed to look like at any particular time. As Julinda herself had put it, “They don’t know what a 21 year old Black girl look like.” She confidently walked into the store, while Lori and I waited nervously in the car.

Bubbles Liquor Store was on Stony Island Ave. and it looked like it should be called Bubbles Liquor Store. The person behind the cash register might have had eight teeth in her head, and she was too busy concentrating on which numbers to press on the register to notice who was buying the booze. They had to be 21. There was a sign above the register that said so. There was nothing for Myrtle to worry about.

Julinda came out of the store carrying a big brown paper bag. She was smiling as she raced to the car. The bag contained three bottles of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. It tasted like soda pop, therefore there was no reason not to guzzle it, and I did.

That’s the way it hit me; and all of a sudden I had no problems. I had no problems talking, I had no problems socializing, the empty space in my soul was filled, and all of my problems were solved. Boone’s Farm, where had you been all my life?

I remember stumbling into my house. My parents sat in the kitchen. Any normal boy of 16 who was dead drunk would sneak into his room, close the door, and pass out on his bed.

Not me. I had to say hi to the folks. My knees were wobbling like I just got off a boat and I couldn’t put two words together even though I was sure I was speaking in complete sentences. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had a limited amount of time before I was going to be sick.

I walked up the stairs to what I thought was my room, using the wall to keep me upright. I never made it to my room.

And my parents thought it was so cute. No…they really did. My dad’s opinion was, “Well…at least it’s not drugs.”

I woke up the next day feeling the worst I had ever felt in my life. I couldn’t wait to do it again. There was so much more ahead. There was Annie Green Springs; Bartles and Jaymes; Mad Dog 20/20….

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