Friday, December 18, 2009


Richie says something, but all that comes out is whisper, like wind blowing through a fence.

He frowns, and then he puts his index finger up to the plastic tube that pokes out from his neck.

“I’m just having a beer. Hope you don’t mind,” he says, his voice now sounding like gravel rattling in a can.

It isn’t a request for permission.

Richie lives in a basement. He has lost much to a handful of not so subtle medical interventions – his larynx, his teeth, part of his stomach, his pancreas, one of his legs, his ability to swallow, his comfort, and probably a large part of his self-respect. Viet Nam, alcohol, drugs, abandonment, all have a way of doing that I guess.

I am not going to solve any of that today. I sit in awe, actually. What enfolds in the next few minutes is dark testimony to the fact that man can conquer many obstacles. And that addiction is more powerful than I have before understood.

Richie reaches down to the floor where a thirty-pack of beer is torn open, the silvery cans spilling out like coins from a slot machine. He puts one of them on the dirty kitchen table, pushing a scattering of envelopes and newspapers out of the way. He pulls the tab and the can hisses. A bit of white foam escapes. Richie then pours the golden liquid in a waiting glass, making a beautiful two-inch head that spills perfectly over the rim.

Richie adjusts his greasy cap as if he is readying himself for an important and tricky task. He lifts his sweatshirt to reveal the cream-colored tube that emerges from the center of his caved abdomen. On the table there is a big piston syringe, the size of a toilet paper roll. It has no needle attached, no piston inside. It’s not meant for that. It’s actually more of a funnel, the kind through which men and women (who are fed through tubes) can pour their meals, their supplements, their water, their meds. Richie pours his Labatt’s.

He carefully inserts the tip of the syringe into the end of the tube and clicks open the clamp that crimps the tube when it is not in use. Richie then lifts the glass from the table with his free hand, and like some skilled Bladerunner bartender, pours the beer perfectly into the fat syringe, filling it to the brim. The amber colored nectar drains slowly as Richie watches quietly, almost meditatively. He repeats this twice and then sets the glass on the sticky table.

I hear a little belch as Richie turns to me and smiles.

“Can you taste it?” I ask.

“Hell yes,” he tells me.

He’ll finish the thirty-pack before the day is out.

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