The following piece was presented at Jersey City Writers’ literary event – Blackout! A Night of Memoirs. Please enjoy.
I hear it told that there’s a process of “purifying” vodka, repeated runs through some filtering system makes it taste better. The more runs through the filter, the higher off the ground the bottle of vodka can sit at the local liquor-mart. Run it through enough times and you could end up with vodka so good it is bottled in glass. Run it through even more and they might not sell it in Rochester, New York, at all.
I also hear it told that beggars cannot be choosers. If one desires something they do not have the means to provide themselves, then society expects they are grateful for whatever they get. And so when one finds themselves at the age of 18 and looking for a bottle of liquor, equipped with funds that evaporate like the stars at dawn, then they do not get to expect top shelf anything.
That leads me to another thing: I hear it told that experience is the best of all teachers.
Putting this all together, we, a merry band of college freshmen, quickly came to learn an important lesson about cheap-as-shit vodka. Vodka that tastes like paint thinner. An asinine substance we mixed with sugary drinks in hopes that it would taste only mildly like gasoline. The lesson was that the plastic-bottled-shit had its niche: it was the fuel of riotous parties, of fucking and trying to fuck, of mice and men who lived with them—and it was the catalyst of stupidity.
The absurdity of the years that followed was that classiness was perceived not as avoiding doing outrageous things, but as drinking a better vodka beforehand. However, back in those days we’d happily down any old swill before launching into a game of “crack the egg” on a trampoline with some poor bastard whose destiny became “puke off the side of a trampoline.” We watched the party’s bartender slide face-first down the stairs to the basement with an open bottle of mixer in hand to a chorus of applause, earned only because he managed to somehow not spill until the very bottom. Or perhaps it was a sarcastic applause, for his idiocy.
We grew together. Swept up in the tide of late adolescence, even as one of us ran around the yard, literal lampshade-on-head and pants around ankles, laying indestructible memories in the wake of our very destructive shenanigans, and then greeting the suburban sunrise with boxer shorts and cigars. We were causing mayhem, but we were also finding ourselves, our true, innermost selves, with the help of that friend who was always at the party: that god-awful throat-burning vodka, sold to us or our proxy for the low-low price of $9.99. That was the friend who supported us, pushed us outside of our comfort zones, took the blame when no one else would—the friend we all wished we could be to each other.
And so I hear it told, perhaps only by me, that shitty vodka is the most dangerous and important substance out there. May the next generation find it where we left it: on the bottom shelf, ready to mix into memories of their own.