The View from the Other Side of the Liquor Counter - Page 3

By Kenneth Garger 06/08/11

What do alcoholics look like from the other side of the counter? A young man who worked at a liquor store during college describes the peculiar habits and patterns of life inside a liquor store.

The author at his post, plying bottles of self-medication. photo via Kenneth Garger

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But as it turned out, he drank even when he did have a job. His excessive indulgence was visibly hindering his health. His face developed a reddish hue—the tell-tale feature of many heavy drinkers. His dehydrated skin was dry and flaky. I can only imagine what effects his liver was enduring. He always seemed incensed about something. I was in no position to stage an intervention. I could only wish him the best of luck.

The Homeless Man

Late in my first summer on the job, this guy stumbled through the door before noon: the stereotypical "alkie." He had a nauseating odor. Once he finally made his way to me, he emptied his hand on my counter: a few rolled up singles and an array of coins. After counting it up, I told him that he did not have the proper amount for the pint of whiskey he had asked for. He settled on the infamous pint of $4 Georgi. But instead of exiting after I rang him up, he just stood there—lingering in a disoriented way.

Then he started talking. It turned out that he used to be a guitarist for a rock & roll band. Things got tough and he hit the bottle. He was once so polluted that he passed out on his front lawn, unable to manage just a few more steps. This was back when he still had his wife and kids. Now he was homeless and without family. During his rambling, he began to cry. After a few uneasy minutes passed, I was finally able to guide him towards the exit—immediately his stench dissipated.

A few hours later I noticed cops and paramedics in the parking lot. After inquiring with the local authority about the situation, I was told he would be taken to the local hospital (NCMC).  The bum was to be taken away in an ambulance—apparently after fortifying himself with the rut-gut vodka, he had been sitting outside the stores along the strip shouting lurid remarks at women passing by. Poor guy, at least he would receive a bath.

These are just five of the many real-life characters who confided in the kid at the liquor store. They are a just a small fraction of the regulars who I have come to remember, due in part to their unique methodical engagements when perpetually arriving to fetch their fix.

An eventful job it was, leaving behind vivid memories that will remain with me for a lifetime. I now know how habitual and dangerously excessive an indulgence alcohol can be. I have been enlightened to the jarring fact that ordinary people are in fact alcoholics: waitresses, teachers, bosses, pilots, accountants, doctors, lawyers. In my pre-liquor store days, the homeless man who greeted me on my first summer there sure fit the agenda of an alcoholic, not the charismatic high school teacher casually strolling in just after dismissal. I learned firsthand that I was wrong. The longer I was there, the higher the number I feared.

And although we're unlikely to ever have an accurate count of all the alcoholics co-existing with us in everyday life, I bet the true figure would be a shock to the world.

Kenneth Garger is an intern at The Fix. He also reports for the New York Post.

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.