Mouth Wash

February 20, 2015

Written by: Jason Ribadeneyra

Mouth Wash


Boring in the big city. Sub-depression / the outer boroughs. The year was 2013. The winter had me cultivating a soaking booze routine and a $200 a week coke diet. That may seem like a lot or a little depending on who you are but I was barely making $400 a week, balanced by drinking the cheapest and hairiest high-gravity malt liquor I could sniff out. Oversized cans with names like Dog Bite, Steel Reserve, King Cobra, and my knee-jerk go-to, Stack. Fucking Stack, with its 12% apv. When I first started buying it, it was $2 a hit. I would grab two or three of ’em on the way home, that half-gram burnin’ a hole. My hand would tremble slightly as I handed the bills to the guy. It was usually the same guy, only when it wasn’t.

Late that winter, this other guy, who looked like a Pakistani Steve Schirripa, squinted up from his smart phone, counted the cans on the counter and hit a couple buttons on the cash register, prompting the drawer to spring out. “Nine seventy-five,” he said quietly, his eyes now back on the phone. “Nine seventy five!?” I countered. “These are always $2. I just bought these last night for $2 each. I buy ’em all the time.” I wasn’t rude or aggressive about it, more like panicked because I only had $6 and the coke was speedy. When he looked up at me I noticed that his eyes were abnormally watery. Not in a “been sobbing” way but more in a malfunctioning duct kind of way, a genetic predisposition to tears. Ever look into someone’s eyes and notice that they look like two puddles? It’s unsettling. Especially when screaming high on cocaine. As I stood there looking at him, trying to gauge to which side he was going to lean on my claim he suddenly yelled out loudly. Straight up screamed something out into the ether. The noise that came out was a mixture of human expression and an animals bark and it shook me right to my core. What a weird thing to do, I remember thinking. In the moments of silence that followed I stood there and nervously mulled the decision to flee. I feared that I’d upset an unstable man and I didn’t want him to take my standing there as a direct challenge to his psychosis and come bounding over the counter like some weeping jackal, but before I could turn to leave there was a frumpy 17 year old emerging from the Goya aisle. It was as if the cashier had let a third “Beetlejuice!” fly (or the Farsi equivalent of the word) and instead of a ghoulish Michael Keaton, a sleepy teenage Arab materialized. Thank god for this young man though because he didn’t give two shits about the price in question and appeared resentful for the interruption of whatever the hell he was into back there in the bodega’s bowels. After throwing several shrugs and clipped, annoyed one word answers back at what was now clearly a relative of his he turned, looked me up and down as if I had just invited him to see a Broadway show, and walked away in a huff. There was another awkward moment between the cashier and I before he finally broke. “For you, two dollar!” He flashed me a toothy one and I smiled right back. “Thanks man,” I nodded. “I buy these all the time.

Fast forward to summer. I was in that beer aisle again. It was late June, I think. Hot. The glass doors on the refrigerator were fogged up and I had trouble seeing the bottom shelf. I had to slide the door open in order to see the product. At first, I mistook it for a lost can of Arizona Iced Tea but at second glance I noticed what appeared to be the side profile of a steed looking arrogantly to his right. I read the label. “Crazy Stallion?” I thought. “99 cents!?” For a second it didn’t compute but when my brain finally accepted this information I solemnly shook my head, knowing I was crawling ever closer to the bottom. I was soon to be buying multiple cans of 99 cent swill at 1pm. If there ever was a line then I was surely crossing it. When I got home I cracked one open and forced a quarter of it down.To describe it as foul would be too soft of an adjective. This was self-hate in a can, a liquid howl for help. I imagined the sound of my ruined life escaping with the crack of the tab. The can itself was emblazoned with a curious cow skin design which made me wonder about its producer. Who dared to release this on the public? After some light research I discovered that the producer of this low-budget brew was none other than the Arizona Iced Tea Company itself. I was thunder struck. It turns out that they use the same 99-cents font that adorns the cans of their Arnold Palmers, Watermelon and Grape-Aids as they do for their malt liquor! Awesome?

It couldn’t last though and I knew it. I could feel the end getting closer. I’d taken things too far. Everybody knew that yet nobody said anything. One night some opinionated OG in line behind me openly scoffed when observing me place a six pack of Colt 45 tall boys on the counter. I wish I could remember what he said well enough to quote him because it was pure gold. Something along the lines of how he used to drink that when he was a “youngin'” but it led him to some dark corners and that the eighties were just one long collective headache. How he’d classed up since, naming a favorite cognac of his that I’d never heard of and smirking proudly when I admitted it. He was buying a liter of Pepsi.

The room I was renting at the time was in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a three-month sublet for the months of June, July, and August. I would play “Life of Illusion” by Joe Walsh on repeat, which evidently bothered my roommate Doron (pronounced DA-roan, a white guy) to no end. “Bob Dylan’s great,” he said one night, “but play more than just that one song!” I didn’t bother to correct him. I was tired. The layout of this place was poison for a creature of habit like myself. I slept all day and stayed up all night. Because using the bathroom meant having to either pass directly through him and his boyfriend’s bedroom, which was a no-go, or leave the apartment all together and go out into the building’s hallway through the front door to the kitchen where the bathroom was, I found myself pissing into Gatorade bottles at un-godly hours of the late night and early morning. In many a frenzied state I opted to aim carefully into an empty Coors Banquet instead of taking that terrible trip through the hall and loudly un-locking the front door every 20 minutes. Surprisingly enough I ended up with minimal piss splatter on my hands, pants, and floor. A new talent. Even more shocking was that the amount filled the can up to the exact measurement of the beer that was in it before. It was like my body was functioning at 100% efficiency. Or was it the other way around? I couldn’t figure it out.

The day after Crazy Stallion was a blurry one. I remember coming to around 4pm with a crippling headache and the paralyzing anxiety that was by now routine. I reached straight for the bottle of Rum on the floor and took a log swig. The booze burn gave me the shivers and for a moment I feared I might vomit. I leaned back until the warm feeling started to flow from my stomach out into my limbs. In 5 minutes I felt fine. I rolled off my mattress and started to collect the evidence of the previous night. I was taken aback when one of the cans was curiously full but as this had sometimes happened before – me opening a beer and passing out prior to taking the first sip – I thought nothing of it. I lifted the can to my lips and prepared for the sticky, skunky taste of warm beer. What followed was a realization of horrifying proportions. After swallowing a large gulp I noticed it didn’t taste like beer. It actually didn’t really even have a taste and all at once it hit me like a closed fist. I had just imbibed my own urine. I didn’t begin to gag. I didn’t yell a curse or buck my teeth. I didn’t even recoil in terror. I just stared out the window for a while, gripping the can, coming to terms with what I had just done. I knew it was something so unbelievably foul and… just plain wrong on every level that I wanted to instantly accept it, and quickly move past it. As if my defense mechanism defaulted straight to acceptance to the level of depravity and sadness that I had now sunken to in order to prevent a full-scale freak-out. I covered the can with a towel and walked like a condemned man to the bathroom. I stared as I poured it down the toilet, trying my best to make it sound like I was urinating in case anyone was home. There was no color at all. I rinsed furiously and brushed my teeth using my roommates’ Tom’s Organic brand toothpaste. I ignored thoughts of my stomach processing the urine, absorbing it into my bloodstream, but I couldn’t shake the realization of what had just transpired. I avoided my reflection in the mirror and drew a hot shower, scrubbing vigorously, trying to get clean. Afterwards, I scoured the bathroom for Listerine but my roommates didn’t use mouthwash.

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One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    Nothing like a day in the life of an alcoholic… Haha

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