Part 3: Invaluable Tutelage on Important Matters
His name was Connie. It never occurred to me that it might be a woman’s name. Like a boy named Sue. He was a strapping man. Tall and broad with hands the size of hockey gloves. We loaded trucks together for a couple of weeks during that summer, just outside of Atlanta. I was brought in from the temp agency to give Connie a hand during a busy time. At this particular business, the primary goods to be loaded were blue jeans that were shipped in sixty-pound boxes. I guess the summer of 1979 was a boom time for blue jeans, because we loaded a hell of a lot of boxes.
On my first day there, Connie showed me the forklift. He waived vaguely in the direction of various knobs and levers, “This makes it go forwards. This makes it go backwards. And this here is how you make the forks go up and down. Now go fetch us a skid to start on.” So I did. And that was the extent of my forklift training and certification course.
The way it worked was, when I got there in the morning, at the far side of the warehouse there would be half a dozen or so pallets – or skids as Connie called them – stacked high with sixty-pound boxes. We’d take turns taking the forklift and bringing a pallet back to the loading dock. Once you got it to the mouth of the truck there wasn’t much else to do but pick up the sixty-pound boxes and stack them in the truck by hand. By the end of the day, all the pallets were empty. Next day, repeat.
At lunch we would sit in the break room and Connie would pontificate in Southern. I think he saw it as some kind of paternalistic duty to pass on his wisdom, show me some ropes. During the first week alone, he took up a variety of topics. One day it was how the Designated Hitter rule was ruining America; not just baseball, but the actual fabric of America. He shared his views regarding the Electoral College, and why Chevy’s were better than Fords. It was the first time I had heard the phrase Fix or Repair Daily. Once, he embarked on an impassioned analysis of why The Dukes of Hazard was popular outside the South, and how that made him feel understood by his fellow Americans.
I was a pretty well read and well lived sixteen-year-old. I’d picked up a thing or two during my nomadic youth. I had a better grasp on most of this stuff than Connie, except for the car thing. I’ve never known shit about cars. But I could see a lot of benefits to the Designated Hitter rule. And, I’m not saying I had it all figured out as a teenager in 1979, but I had a queasy feeling that The Dukes of Hazard were a tad problematic. Still, I mostly ate my lunch, kept my mouth shut, and nodded a lot. I could tell his little talks were important to him and listening was no skin off my nose. Respect for elders and whatnot. Then, early the second week, he started up on information I could actually use. Information that, little did I know, was to become invaluable before the summer was over. The topic? How to order alcohol at a bar.
“It’s not like on TV where you just walk up to the bar and say, ‘I’ll have a beer.’ or ‘whiskey.’ It ain’t like that in real life. That would red flag you right away. You gotta order by brand, be specific.”
Connie had embarked on this particular life-lesson as a result of finding out I was only sixteen. I didn’t look sixteen. I was six-foot, right around two hundred pounds – two hundred pounds that was firming up pretty nicely by tossing sixty-pound boxes around every day. The real kicker though was the fact that I had a full-on beard, a pretty good one. He’d said, “Hell, son. You could walk into any bar around here. Nobody’d think twice.” One thing lead to another and I found myself very interested in Connie’s lunchtime lesson of the day, asking follow-up questions.
“So, I should order a Budweiser, then?”
“Well, sure. That’d work. But that’s still kinda obvious. You order a Bud and all that proves is that you’ve seen lots of TV ads. You want to go a little off the main path to show you know more than the basics. For beer, I’d say maybe Michelob or Miller, High Life or MGD, don’t matter. If you got a couple extra bucks, maybe Lowenbrau. That shows you know your beers, you’ve tried a few and settled on these specific ones. On second thought, scratch the Lowenbrau, you don’t want to be acting like you’re putting on airs.”
I nodded. Made sense.
“Whiskey’s the same. You don’t want to go fancy on whiskey. First, you can’t afford it. Second, round these parts, folks thinking you’re trying to be fancy just makes them want to beat the shit outta ya. It’d probably be best if you put off your bar fight career for a couple more years. So, whiskey, it’s okay to go with the obvious, Jack Daniels. Everybody fuckin’ drinks Jack. And it ain’t advertised on TV, see? You can order it with a mixer, like a Jack and Coke or you can get it by itself, a shot. You can get Jack on the rocks. Whatever. But if you just say you want Jack Daniels there’ll be follow up questions and you don’t want that. Be prepared to order a specific drink. You could go Jim Beam, too. That’s a good one. Whiskey I mean. Well, Bourbon technically, but you know, six’a one.”
“Got it. What about other stuff, wine, gin or whatever?”
“Son, forget that stuff. Around here a man’s gonna drink one of two things. Beer or whiskey. Stick to those.”
Despite my eight-hour, low-paid work out in Atlanta summer heat, I left work that day with a bounce in my step and my head spinning with possibilities. Connie couldn’t have know, there was already a bar I had in mind.
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