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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 4 — Glenn

August 11, 2013

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1: “Distilled Spirits”

Glenn

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Like some people born into wealth, Glenn does a lot of charity work.

Like few of them, he actually enjoys it.

Like a lot of Americans who grow up in an era of war, recession, and signs of the apocalypse, Glenn wants to ‘make a difference’.

Like most of those who feel this way, he doesn’t really know what that means.

Responsibilities and decisions.

John Lennon lyrics and 60s ideals that mean more to him than his parents.

There’s lots of good that Glenn can do, but what he doesn’t want to hear is that there are some things that he can’t change no matter what.  Like the habits of friends, trending foreign dictators, and the price of a 40 oz. in liquor stores.

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“Total is $4.72,” the clerk said.  “Sales tax went up last month.  Where ya been?”

“Out of town.”  Glenn found a floating $5 bill in his pocket and laid it on the counter.  “I bet Jose on 2nd St. still has these two bucks a piece.”

The clerk pushed the two 40 oz. bottles in a brown paper bag away from him.  “Go there next time then.”

Glenn couldn’t remember the clerk’s name—he didn’t usually come back this way from Sidney’s.  The young man behind the counter was Middle Eastern and already eying the next customer.  Conversation between them was usually limited to exact change.  Like a lot of the immigrants on this side of the harbor, the family running this store probably had dreams of living somewhere else.

The walk south toward Glenn’s building followed the canal that divided Sidney’s neighborhood—Tortilla Flats.  In a couple of hours, the waterside path would be full of wandering couples, loose dogs, and cyclists who didn’t feel comfortable on the roads.  But for now he shared the afternoon with only a couple of high school skateboarders splitting a cigarette and resting on a bench.  They eyed Glenn as he passed, probably deciding whether or not he was a cop in his simple slacks and button-up shirt.

Leaving the Flats at this hour was usually peaceful—the gentle slope up to Canal St. cut off a lot of the commercial noise.  Yet some car honks filtered through the trees and the warm smell of taquerias preparing for dinner was inescapable.

Glenn’s phone vibrated and he had a good idea of who it was.

“Hey, you on your way back yet?”  Geno.

“Yeah.  I’m at 12th or something.”

“What’s was up at Sidney’s?”

“He’s stressed about his new project and Caitlyn’s out,” Glenn said.  He heard the skateboarding clatter begin again behind him.  “Don’t you work tonight?”

“I’m on in a couple of hours.  You won’t believe this gig I’ve landed.”        

“Does it have anything to do with what’s happening to the bushes outside my building?  My bushes?”

“Maybe.  Hurry up—I need some inspiration.”

Glenn stopped walking and leaned against the canal railing.  “You mean 40s and Mario Kart?”

“Yup—don’t leave the country for a while.  I need you.  Help someone here for once, will you?”

Glenn pocketed his phone and kept walking.

The comforting smell of tortillas faded, replaced by harbor water and . . . something else.  It reminded him of summer, like clothes strung up outside to dry after a rainstorm—something Glenn had never smelled in his life.

Then he heard the gentle, easy to miss mechanical hum of washing machines.

Glenn turned the corner on 5th—the street that took him home—and met the stare of the one homeless man known to almost everyone on the north side.

Crazy Man Joe was in his usual 4 o’clock spot: beside the Salvadoran laundromat that marked the boundary between the Flats and the Inner Harbor.  Glenn wasn’t completely sure why no other homeless moved in on his territory when he was gone.  It was prime real estate.  A wide awning protected the sidewalk from the sun at most hours, a heating vent was nearby, and someone had given Crazy Man Joe a folding chair that was now chained in placed.  A public bathroom and water was even across the street at the pupuseria.

It may have been a matter of seniority.  Joe was a grey, balding man.

It may have been his past.  Joe was a veteran with apparently indestructible combat boots.

But Glenn guessed it was because the man muttered to himself and carried a bamboo walking cane that ended, unnaturally, at a threatening point.

“Someone’s using a new detergent,” Joe said.  He sniffed once—twice.  “Tide.”  He sniffed again, nodding to himself.  “Tide Summer Strong.  Came out last week.”

“You got a good nose,” Glenn said, setting his heavy paper bag down and leaning against the laundromat window.

Joe looked at Glenn, eyebrows going in different directions.  The old man cocked his head.  “That bag of yours don’t have any clothes.”  His eyes darted from the bottle caps sticking out to Glenn’s face.  “Why are you talking to me, kid?”

Glenn didn’t have an answer and he wasn’t sure why he didn’t just keep walking.  There wasn’t any suspicion in the homeless man’s eyes—if Glenn was right, it was curiosity on the man’s face and voice.  Glenn slid his back down the window and sat on the ground, five feet from Joe, wondering how many people passed on any given day.  Did he bother anyone?  Did he have any family?  Loved ones?  Did he have any regrets?

“My father dodged the draft,” Glenn said abruptly.

Joe raised his cane at once, twirled it around, and speared a Styrofoam cup that was rolling past.  He scraped it off using the edge of a nearby trash can.  “Your dad was smart, kid.  I was a coward and went to fight.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Glenn asked

“I don’t blame the government,” Joe said.

Glenn watched the man stab another piece of drifting litter and Glenn made a quick decision—he scooted his body closer and took out one of his 40s.

“Here.”  He handed Joe the paper bag with the remaining bottle.  “Take the bag.  Cops aren’t gonna bother me.”

Joe nodded but balled up the paper, tossing it in the bin.  “Cops haven’t bothered me for ten years.  I don’t cause no trouble.”

They both unscrewed their bottles and took a swig.  And another.

“Some things don’t change,” Joe said.  “Like the taste of this shit.  Why do you drink it?”

“My friend likes it,” Glenn said.

Joe laughed, coughed hard, and laughed again.  “Me too.  Me too.”  He stared at Glenn then, 40 oz. halfway to his mouth.  “So what is it—you want my story?  You just another bored rich kid sharing booze?”

“Do you like scaring people?” Glenn asked.

“It’s something to do.  I ain’t crazy—don’t think that,” Joe said.  “I’ve been in an’ out of everything.  A fancy South Harbor clinic one time—that was the best ‘till they kicked me out for getting with the nurses.  Jail’s not so bad—not like prison.”

“Prison?”

“I punched a cop in the 80s,” Joe said, rubbing his knuckles.  “Broke my hand down by the bridge.”

“That’s it?”

“I punched him a lot,” Joe said.  “I was angry back then.”

“And now?”

“Now it don’t matter.”  Joe shook his head.  “Everything that mattered is done and over, I figure.  Me too, soon enough.”

“What—” Glenn cut the question off when he saw Joe’s vacant stare, looking at nothing in particular across the street.

Nothing that passed seemed to catch Joe’s attention as he tapped his cane against his knuckles—tap, tap—against a tarnished ring on his ring finger.  His mouth moved silently.

Glen felt his pocket vibrate.  “Shit,” he said, taking a large gulp, “I gotta go.”

Joe nodded a few times and snapped out of his trance.  He raised his half-finished bottle.  “Thanks for the drink, kid.  Today’s turning out just fine.”

Glenn stood and stretched, figuring he could finish his 40 oz. in two or three blocks if he hurried it.  He’d have to stop at Jose’s store for more inspiration or Geno wouldn’t play Mario Kart with him.

END OF EPISODE 1

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