It had been a long day. I was tired, sunburned (in a red-neck sort of way--no shirt off for me), greasy with sunblock, and had bits of sand in my hair and some in my eyes. And it was past the time of day when I start drinking. In an unknown town with one blinking light, somewhere near the coast of Florida's panhandle, I pulled over at the only watering hole in town.
Though it was late afternoon, the sun was still bright. I left the keys in my F-150. Go ahead, punk, make my day. Steal that worthless piece of crap. For a moment I pondered my laptop sitting in the passenger side seat. Naw, take that bug-infested land-fill, too, if you dare. But I did go back into the truck for my last Hoyo De Monterrey Short Corona. I'd purchased some in a dark alley somewhere in Tampa from a guy who claimed "no ablo Engleese" so I had to make do with the twenty or so words of Spanish within my command. At least he claimed that that's what they were. I wasn't giving up so easily on something that cost so much.
I pushed on the door that was desperately in need of new paint and walked in. It was dark as shit. I took off my Foster Grants but still couldn't make out much until my eyes adjusted to the light. It was a little hell hole. Smoke filled. Cramped. A juke box in the corner playing "Well I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter" sung by I forget her name. A pool table sat off in the back left corner, deserted. The bar had five stools, three were occupied by old geezers. I put them on being locals, perhaps because they stopped talking, drinking and it seemed even breathing as they sat peering intently at me.
Hell, even the bartender, a woman whom I put at about mid forties, dish-water blonde hair in desperate need of a new die job to cover her dark and grey roots. Eventually she spoke up, in a thick New York accent (Brooklynese? Da Bronx? Hell, I never knew in the first place so how the hell would I know?) "What'll ya have?" She finally took a towel that was draped over her shoulder and resumed polishing glasses, have watching me and half watching what she was doing. The three old geezers just kept staring.
"Give me a Guiness Stout draft and a shot of Glenfiddich on the side. Hell, make it a double shot on the side."
She looked at me as though she thought I was a moron. "We have J&B and Cutty Sark, that's it. And the only beer on tap is Budweiser and Miller Lite."
Now it was my turn to look at her as if she was a moron. What kind of place was she running here? "What kind of bottled beer do you have?"
She didn't even bother to look up from her polishing: "Bud and Miller Lite."
I thought about moving on down the road, just walking out and never coming back. But who was I kidding? If I did not get some serious start towards elevating my blood alcohol content in about two minutes I was going to have to hit somebody or something.
"Gimme a double J&B and a glass of water."
She poured while the three wise men kept staring. I sidled up to the bar, staying far away from whichever of the three men who smelled as if he had not bathed in a week. I slapped a twenty on the bar, she gave me a ten back. I fished in my pockets for a tip, laid what appeared to be 32 cents on the bar and backed away from stinky. I bumped into something, which turned out to be somebody.
I turned and there he was. He was slumped over in a chair in one of the only three tables in this cramped and smokey hell hole. I'd know his distinctive mug anywhere. It was him. After days and days of searching, I'd found him. Or what was left of him. Some bottle of cheap bourbon was sitting on his table, with maybe a finger left in the bottom. Several shot glasses were sitting in front of him, a couple upside down. I had actually bumped into him quite hard, but he did not stir.
I looked back over at the bar. All four still staring at me. "How long has he been like this?"
The three wise men acted as though they did not understand English. Finally, when I did not stop staring back at them and the bar tender, little Miss New York 1983 said in her most practiced "I could give a shit" accent: "Oh, since ten minutes after we opened this afternoon."
I shook his shoulder gently. No response. I picked up the only shot glass that had not been totally drained yet. One sniff told me all I needed to know about his choice of bourbon. Sheeeeit! No thanks.
I shook him a little harder. No response. I poured a little of the lukewarm water into my double J&B, shook the glass a little, held my breath and drained it. I don't like cheap Scotch, and holding my breath did the trick, for awhile. Eventually I had to breath, and the after-taste of bad whisky hit me. I shuddered, looking forward only to that warm comforting feeling that would soon be coursing through my veins.
I shook him harder. No response whatsoever. I briefly considered that perhaps he had passed. But I heard his barely audible labored breathing. I sized him up, having never seen him in person before. Yup, not a chance in hell of me carrying him out of there. I got behind him, got both arms under his arms and wrapped around his barrel chest, and lifted part of him out of the seat, and started dragging the rest towards the door. Thanks a lot for not helping, assholes. I stopped several times, giving any of them ample opportunity to volunteer. But no.
I got him to the door and bumped my butt against it, hoping it would swing open. Just my luck, it opened up inside, not out. I took a deep breath, braced myself, and held him up with one arm while quickly opening the door handle with the other. I almost dropped him, but I got the door open. I dragged him the short way to the truck, somehow got the tailgate down without dropping him, and God knows how I lifted that big bastard into the bed of the truck and got him in enough to shut the tailgate afterwards. However I did it, I was drenched in sweat, panting, and in desperate need of another drink. I left him there and went back inside.
Just in time, too, because the bartender was already at his table, getting ready to clear it off.
"He paid for that bottle, right?"
"I'll take it."
"You can't take whiskey off the premises."
I swiped the bottle from her, "I won't." I held my breath and drained it in a few gulps. It was even worse than the J&B. "Got a pay phone in here?" I didn't think they would, I didn't think anybody did anymore, but she nodded over in the direction of the "His and Hers" only john in the joint and resumed clearing off the table.
I sauntered over and called Mrs. Lipton T. Bagg. Collect. When a sexy woman's voice with some unknown-to-me oriental accent answered, I said simply: "I found him. I'm bringing him home to you as soon as possible. We should be back in California in three to four days."
She did not respond, so I just hung up and walked out into the late Florida sunshine. Lipton had not stirred, so I drove off in a westerly direction, hoping to find the interstate. Hopefully, if all goes well, when I get him home Lipton will be back up and posting shortly.