One afternoon I went up to the counter with my can of OE — just like I had done a zillion times before. But, completely unexpected and out of the blue, the Asian woman behind the counter said:
“No. I’m sorry. I can’t serve you. I can’t sell you beer.”
“What?” I said. “What do you mean you can’t serve me?”
“You’re too drunk already. I can’t sell you any more beer.”
“What do you mean I’m too drunk? This is my first beer of the day. I’m not drunk.”
“Sorry. No no.”
There was a long line of people behind me. Watching me get turned down. So it was very embarrassing. And humiliating. Like I’m some kind of degenerate or something.
“Look. I’ll prove I’m not drunk. I’ll walk a straight line.” I walked a quick straight line. “Look. I can balance the can on my head and walk a straight line. See? I have complete equilibrium.”
“No. No. Sorry. You have to talk to the owner.”
I put the can on the counter and stormed out of there.
It was doubley surprising. Because I had assumed I was on good terms with the people there. I had never caused any kind of disturbance in there in all my years as a valued customer (supposedly). And in fact more then once I had intervened and helped break up fights when some drunken lunatic was attacking them. Or going ballistic because they were a dollar short and couldn’t get their booze (I’d offer to pay the difference just to get them on there way so I could buy my goddamn beer).
And in nearly 40 years of patronizing liquor stores and bars — in all sorts of states of inebriation — I had never once been denied service. And now I was getting 86ed when I was stone-cold sober for crissakes.
(Later I realized the problem was that I had just smoked a joint while lying in the summer sun which caused my face to turn beet red — which I guess made me LOOK drunk.)
Later that evening, as I started to actually get drunk, I started to get more and more angry about the whole exchange. Somebody insults me? I want to insult them back. Among my many character failings, I have an explosive temper.
So I stormed back into the place. Got into the face of the owner who was now behind the cash register — this very stoic Korean guy — and I shouted:
“FUCK JOHNSTON’S MARKET!!”
And then, just to drive my point home in case he missed the jist of it, I reiterated my basic position:
“FUCK JOHNSTON’S MARKET!!”
And stormed out of there.
It was a stupid and immature thing to do. But in my defense, I can be stupid and immature.
The next morning I was in for another surprise. As I walked down the street I spotted the owner standing outside his store. And he was talking to this black guy who was wearing this black T-shirt with “SECURITY” written in big white letters on the back.
I quickly realized the owner had hired the guy specifically to protect him from me. So I guess I had made an impression on the owner with my short-and-sweet outburst.
So for the next year the black guy would hang around the front of the store to guard the place from me, public enemy number one.
(As a further precautionary measure, the owner stopped stocking Olde English. Which was more than enough to get me out of his hair.)
I actually knew the black guy. Had been friendly with him for many years. He was a People’s Park regular. And he was a pretty good guy. But definitely on the heavy duty side. He had been involved in knife fights and fist fights and god knows what else over the years. So I found it slightly ironic that the likes of him had been brought in to protect them from the likes of me. I felt strangely honored. Like I was a bad-ass or something.
But it became sort of an inside joke between me and the black guy. And we would sort of smile at each other every time we passed on the streets. He had scored a good-paying gig thanks to me. So he was grateful to me.
And it got like, if the owner was thinking of laying him off, he’d be like:
“Hey, could you do me a favor and go in there and shout at the owner again so he’ll hire me back.”