April 5, 2001
Still Speaking of Bottles


Even after more than two years of confirmed California Grrrlhood, I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of the "grocery store liquor aisle."

They sell VODKA at SAFEWAY here.

In Washington State (where Young Secra's drinking career began, around age sixteen or so)  -- and in Oregon (where it ended, twenty-some years later), grocery stores generally carry a modest selection of beer, wine and trendy malt-based beverages. (I still have no idea what "Zima" is, btw.) But no hard alcohol. No vodka. No whiskey. No pre-mixed martinis or Kahlua-wannabes or Tequila-Sunrise-In-A-Can.  So it blows my mind every time we walk into the local Albertson's or Safeway and I see one entire grocery store aisle  --  plunked, usually, between the Rice-A-Roni Aisle and the Discount Diaper Aisle  --  devoted to alcohol of varying proofs, price ranges and toxicity levels.

It's spooky.

When David and I grocery shop, we generally tend to steer clear of the liquor aisle as much as possible. It isn't so much that we're afraid we might be tempted to relapse  --  although we remain respectfully mindful of that possibility, at all times --  but rather because it just makes sense. If you've made a personal commitment to avoid a substance that makes you sick, fat, stoopid, broke and dead, eventually, why would you want to spend any time looking at it in a grocery store?

(We're avoiding the Doughnut Aisle for pretty much the same reason.)

Still ... I have to admit that every once in a while, I'm curious. What exactly do they sell, down this aisle? Are any of my old favorites here?  Have there been any interesting new 'developments' in the alcohol industry since I got sober? Anything I've missed? Anything I should know about? (They didn't invent Pull-Ups until about a year after the youngest Tot was out of diapers: all of the good stuff gets invented once you're no longer in the market.)

And -- maybe the scariest question of all --  exactly how much trouble could *I* have gotten into if they'd had a liquor aisle in TicTac ... ?

Whiskey was my first liquor of choice.

Actually, this was not so much due to preference as it was availability: my dad drank whiskey occasionally, so that's what I stole from his liquor cabinet. Once in a while he brought home a bottle of vodka, instead -- or gin, or white rum, or the other kind of rum -- but mostly it was good old-fashioned Canadian Club whiskey that I was siphoning out of the bottle when Dad wasn't home.

I hated the taste of alcohol  --  any kind of alcohol  --  so I mixed it liberally with Tab or rootbeer or grape soda, plus lots and lots of ice, and I slugged it down as fast as I could. No leisurely sipping. No lingering.  I wanted to get that alcohol directly into my bloodstream and put it right to work, with a minimum of fuss and muss. (Then I would spend the rest of the evening holed up in my bedroom, making drunken phone calls to ex-boyfriends, listening to Moody Blues records and writing sloppy unintelligible journal entries all about how "warm" and "happy" I felt.)  

Once in a while, maybe every couple of months or so, I was able to talk someone into buying me a bottle at the neighborhood liquor store: a neighbor, a family friend, my cousin's husband, older college guys who wanted to get into my pants. (I drew the line at standing outside the store and hitting up strangers: I felt that was too *demeaning.*) If I had enough allowance money saved up, I would ask them to buy me two or three bottles at a time. Then I would stash the bottles at the bottom of my bedroom closet, behind a box of old sweaters ... figuring this would be enough alcohol to last me for at least two months.

Naturally it was all gone within a week.

Eventually, though, I think it was the sheer inconvenience of obtaining hard alcohol  --  the complicated maneuvering required to get someone to buy for me, the expense, the out-of-the-way trip to the liquor store  --  that turned me off the idea. By that point I had a steady boyfriend who took me to all of the high school kegs (and who kept me regularly supplied in Budweiser, Rainier and Coors the rest of the time). Beer became my next poison of choice, and it remained that way for the next ten years or so ... through college, through the Balding Aluminum Sales Guy years, well into marriage. I married a beer drinker.  Since beer was what my husband drank -- and since he was the one who did all of the grocery shopping -- "availability" was almost never a problem. There was always a half-case of Rainier Beer in our refrigerator: I didn't even have to lift a finger to put it there.  Even when I switched a few years later for reasons I no longer recall, from beer to white wine, my husband continued to act as my chief supplier. Once a week he would bring home a big jug of cheap chablis, and it would sit in the refrigerator, right there next to his half case of Rainier ... ready for my next Saturday night binge.

Once again my alcohol needs were being met, and all *I* had to do was show up and drink it.

I didn't start buying my own booze until the mid-1990's. By then I had a job and a car and money of my own, which gave me more autonomy than I'd ever had in all of my years as an alcoholic. I also had, by then, the beginnings of a raging cyber addiction: I needed plenty of *liquid personality* handy, in order to fuel my nightly chat room tapdancing and assorted online dalliances. (This was the point at which I decided, in all of my infinite wisdom, that the best way to avoid hangovers was to drink every single night.)  I probably could have sprung for anything by then  --  vodka screwdrivers, trendy microbrews, champagne  --  but I stuck mostly to cheap chablis ... not only because it was cheap, and because I could drink a lot OF it and continue to function relatively well online, which was very important to me ... but because it was still the most convenient drug available. All I had to do was drive two blocks to our little neighborhood mom-and-pop store. (Or walk, if I was too drunk to drive. Or call a cab, if I was too drunk to walk. Or just lay on the bathroom floor and throw up some more, if I was too drunk to call a cab.)  A trip to the liquor store, on the other hand, required some degree of advance planning: a longer, more complicated car drive, legal ID (which I never seemed to have, a lot of the time) and lots more money. Plus the hangovers were especially lethal the next day.

It was just too damn much work, frankly.

So I remained loyal to cheap chab, buying it in ever-increasing increments: one large bottle of Mountain Chablis per night, at first ... then one large bottle of Mountain Chablis plus a small carafe of Paul Masson, "just in case" ... then two oh-whut-the-hell jumbo-sized bottles of Mountain Chablis ... etc. As the level of my addiction grew, so did my tolerance.

(I still remember how excited I was, the first time I saw a WINE BOX. I thought I was gonna to have an orgasm, right there in the middle of Trailer Town Grocery.)

A couple of years later, I ended up running off to Oregon with Mr. Wrong  ...  a spur-of-the-moment decision reached through the painful haze of hangover.  When that relationship fell apart almost immediately, I suddenly found myself living alone in the Tree House, where  --  for the first time in my entire life  --  I was free to drink as much as I pleased, as often as I pleased, with absolutely no one around to criticize or condemn or control my behavior. Which probably would have been great  ...  it would have been every solitary drinker's *dream* living arrangement  ...  except for the fact that obtaining my drug had once again become hugely problematic.

By this point I no longer owned a car, which left me at the mercy of the local public bus system for all of my transportation needs. And my apartment  --  as dearly as I loved it  --  could not possibly have been more remote and inaccessible. (Up one steep hill from the bus stop, down a long crooked alley, down one set of narrow, broken concrete stairs and across a wobbly gangplank ... and I was *home.*)  What this meant, then, was that I had to cart my alcohol home on the bus every night. I would either walk to the grocery store during my lunch hour, just around the corner from The Knife Company, and buy my box of wine or my half-case of beer and stash it under my desk until the end of the day ... or else I would sneak out of the office fifteen minutes early, run down the street to Lucky's, hurry through the checkout stand and make it to the bus stop before the #32 showed up.  Either way, I wound up riding home on a rickety Tri-Met bus with a shopping bag full of alcohol on my lap. (A fact I always tried to conceal from the cute bus driver.  Unsuccessfully, I'm sure: the clanking noises alone were probably a dead giveaway.)

And either way I ended up lugging that same incredibly cumbersome/incredibly heavy shopping bag full of alcohol all the way up the steep hill from the bus stop ... down the long crooked alley ... down one set of narrow, broken concrete steps ... and across a wobby gangplank.

But that was OK, I told myself. At least I wasn't relying on anyone else to buy it for me.

Call me Ms. Independent.

"Look!" I say to David, as he returns to our shopping cart carrying an armload of cereal. I am holding a large bottle of sale-brand Chardonnay ... hefting it up and down, like an arm weight.

David winces at the sight. "What are you doing?" he asks.

"I just wanted to see how it feels in my hand," I reply, setting the bottle back down on the display rack. It's been -- how many years since I held a wine bottle? -- two and a half?

"Yeah?" David says. "And how does it feel?"

It feels ... comfortable. And uncomfortable, at the same time. It feels familiar, and it feels unfamiliar. It feels natural ... and it feels horribly, horribly unnatural. It feels a little bit like saying *hello* to someone you used to love  --  someone who used to make you feel incredibly warm and comfortable and good about yourself, a long time ago  --  but who eventually betrayed you. (Someone who not only betrayed you, in fact, but who also wrecked your car, got you fired, emptied your bank account, turned your family and friends against you, set your oven mitts on fire, and eventually tried to get you to jump out a third-story window.)

I shrug. "It doesn't feel like much of anything," I reply. And I leave it at that.

As we head towards the produce department, I glance once again down the liquor aisle, with its astonishing array of glittering bottled toxins, ripe for the picking. A few feet away from me, a tired-looking woman in a wrinkled business suit plucks a bottle of Smirnoffs from the shelf and places it in her otherwise empty shopping cart. She catches me staring at her and gives me a look that says Yeah? What are YOU looking at? 

I smile reassuringly at her -- No hard feelings, OK? -- but inside I'm screaming That could be me! That could be me!

And it could have been me, too, if I'd had this kind of ready access to all of my favorite poisons during the most dysfunctional periods of my life.

Would Teenage Secra have appreciated a grocery store liquor aisle, for instance? God, yes!  It would have made her life so much easier: no more begging or bribing or coercing people to buy booze for her. She could have simply stuffed a bottle of Canadian Club into her purse once or twice a week, when no one was looking, and walked out of the store with it. (Until she got caught and was sent to Juvenile Court, and her heartbroken family disowned her, and she dropped out of high school and started spitting out babies when she was seventeen and eventually wound up serving drinks at Club Ecstacy.)

And what about Young-Married Secra? What if her husband had started bringing store-brand VODKA home from the grocery store every weekend, instead of beer or wine? Would that have made a difference in her life? (You bet it would! She'd probably still be married to that husband ... and still throwing plates of spaghetti/broken hairdryers/burning jack-o-lanterns at him. She'd probably have six or seven kids by now, instead of three. And she'd probably be waiting for that new liver, even as we speak.)

Would Dysfunctional Cyber-Secra been excited about the liquor store aisle? (Umm ... no. Probably not. She was pretty serious about not wanting to get too fudked-up while she was online: cyber sex was confusing enough when she was sober.)

And what about Oregon Secra? Would SHE have seen the value of the grocery store liquor aisle? Without a doubt. No more hauling those heavy, cumbersome boxes of Mountain Chablis/half-cases of Saxer's Lemon Lager home on the bus every night: a one-gallon bottle of vodka, every two or three days, would have been infinitely more convenient. And cost-efficient. And the empties wouldn't have collected so quickly under the kitchen sink.

Plus she wouldn't have felt a thing when she finally hurled herself out that third-story window.

happy birthday sunny!

one year ago: mo' money

throw a rock