Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gin and Juice Blues

As I promised, here's the original story, with the original title, that I sent to Will for the radio story project. People who have heard me tell a Melvin story or two, or who have met him, will be able to hear his rough, smoker's voice, I think. That's problem with sharing a written version of a story that was created to be told aloud: the audience can't hear the voices like I expect they will when I write it.

Disclaimers aside, here's the story.

One of Melvin's empties.

I’m sitting on my front porch swing, softly playing my guitar. On a warm day there’s a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalks, and I didn’t come out here to put on a concert. Within two minutes I hear my neighbor Melvin calling from his porch across the street: “Baby, you playin’ your guitar over there?”
          “Baby, I’m comin’ over. I want you to play me a song.”
          I don’t respond. I just watch him make his way down the dozen or so concrete steps from his porch to the sidewalk, holding on to the handrail with one hand, swinging a paper bag with the other. He has electrodes stuck all over his head like a 50’s science experiment, and wires leading to a small black box in his pocket. He’s talking as he’s walking.
          “How’s my baby? You know I love you, baby? You know I love you!”
          “I know you do.”
          “How you know if I just done told you? How you know I love you?”
          “You tell me every time you see me. And you give me Little Debbies and saltines and candy bars. Of course you love me.”
He laughs. “That’s right, baby. What you doin’ over there? You sittin’ there waitin’ for me to be yo’ man?”
          “No, I’m just playing my guitar for a little bit before I have to grade a bunch of papers.”
          “You work too hard, baby. I just want you to play me a song. I promise I’ll leave when you tell me to. I love you, baby. You know I love you so much.”
          “I know. I love you too.” Just as he clears the last step, a naughty little cloud lets fall a gentle sprinkle of rain.
          “Guess I’m gonna have to wait here until after the rain stops. Can’t get these things wet.” He plunks down on the other end of the swing and holds out the paper bag. “Here, baby. I brought you some gin and juice. G’on. Take a drink.”
          “No, thanks. Do the doctors think they’ll be able to figure out what’s causing the blackouts with those electrodes? How long do you have to wear them?”
          “Those motherfarmers—I know you don’t like that other word, baby—those motherfarmers better find out what’s wrong with me! I need to get my license back. I have to walk to the job center every day. The doctor won’t let me drive until they figure out why I keep blacking out.” He’s hurt himself several times over the past few weeks when he suddenly passed out. He fell in his bathroom and broke the toilet with his head, claimed he lay there bleeding for seven hours before he came to. He’s fallen on the stairs, in the street, and even off the four-foot high porch into the bushes. His doctors can’t seem to figure out what’s going on. I suspect the problem is in his paper bag.
          “I thought the judge took your license in March, after your last DUI.” He’d been driving anyway, even after a couple of weeks in jail, even while he’s on parole. Evidently a doctor carries more weight than a judge.
          “Baby, I can’t get anything by you! I love you so much. Here. Take a drink. Why won’t you ever drink some gin and juice with me?” He shoves the paper bag into my hand.
The pint hasn’t even been opened yet. I decide what the hell. Sometimes I want to do a thing just once—things like passing a pint of cheap gin and juice with my alcoholic neighbor, a former drug dealer who claims he used to weigh over 400 pounds. Living in the heart of the city is one big adventure after years of raising my family in the suburbs. I accept the bottle, crack open the top and take a swig. It burns like jet fuel going down. I hand it back to him.
“Now ain’t that some good gin and juice? Ain’t that good? Drink some more! That’s all for you if you want it, baby.”
“No, I don’t want to drink all of your fine liquor, Melvin.”
He laughs, “Oh, baby, I’d give you everything I got and you know that. I’m just an old alcoholic, but I love you so much. Why can’t I have a nice woman like you? You know how much I want you.”
I strum a few chords. I’ve heard this a hundred times. I say the same thing I always say, “You don’t want me. I turn men into assholes. Before long you won’t be speaking to me….”
He looks shocked—and not just because of the electrodes stuck all over his head. “I could never treat you like that. Never. I hate those men who come to your house and visit you.  What they got that I ain’t got? I want you to be mine.”
“They don’t have electrodes stuck to their heads, they don’t drink gin and juice and throw their bottles in the street, and they don’t live with Jan. Besides, they’re just friends. None of them ‘got’ me.”
“That one ain’t just a friend. I know he’s not just a friend. I hate that motherfarmer. I’d like to….” I don’t tell him that motherfarmer won’t be coming around bothering him anymore. I want him to think I'm unavailable.
“Do the doctors have any idea what’s causing the blackouts?”
“Those doctors don’t know nothin’. They just keep dragging me down there for one test after another. What do they know?  I got my medicine right here.” He shakes the bag. “Here. Have another drink.”
I take another slug. It burns just as bad going down the second time. I shudder and he laughs. “Sing me a song, baby. You know any Motown?”
“No, Motown wasn’t written for this kind of guitar. Look at me. Do I look like I’d sing Motown?”
“Then sing me a song about gin and juice. Can you sing me a song about gin and juice?”
I vamp a few blues chords and he snaps his fingers while he takes a long pull on his bottle. It won’t take much to make him happy. I start singing.
Gin and juice, gin and juice
Melvin can’t handle that gin and juice
Juice and gin, juice and gin
Damn, that bottle’s almost empty again…
“Oh now! Oh now!” He’s shouting out to the street now. “My baby wrote me a song about gin and juice! Sing it again, baby! Sing that gin and juice song again.” He’s clapping his hands madly.
I sing it three more times and then I’m done. I take one final swig from the bottle, still tucked in the paper bag. I hope I have some Tums in the house. That’s some nasty medicine.
“Oh, why can’t you just be my woman? I need a woman who can sing for me. I’d cook for you, baby. I’d do anything for you.”
“I can cook for myself. And besides, what would Jan think? You’ve already got a woman.” Jan is his ex-wife. At least I think she is. She introduced herself to me as his fiancĂ© the first time I met them. He says she’s his ex-wife, and he lets her live with him and drive his Jeep out of the goodness of his heart.
“Jan! Jan ain’t got nothin’ to say about this. I’ll kick her out. She drinks too much anyway. You ever see the inside of her car? That woman sittin’ out there drinking, passin’ out in her car…”
“She’s still your woman. She’s been with you for years.”
“Baby, you say the word and she’s gone. I’ll just kick her right out on the street.”
“No, you need to stay with Jan. I’m not the woman for you.”
“Oh, baby, I wish you’d just give me a chance.”
“Not happening. I told you, I don’t need an alcoholic boyfriend.”
“Maybe when you get rid of that guy who comes over here…”
“Nope.” The sun breaks from behind the pesky little rain cloud. “I need to get back to my grading soon.”
Melvin finishes off the gin and juice and lays his head back in defeat, eyes closed. “Just play me one more song and then I’ll go. Just one song. I don’t know what those doctors will find out with these things.” He pats his head for sympathy.
“OK, one song and then I’m going in.” I strum a G chord and start singing, softly. Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train, and I was feelin’ nearly as faded as my jeans…”
When I finish he claps lightly, stands up and heads home, talking all the way across the street. “I love you, baby. I love you so much. Why can’t I have a nice woman like you? Why can’t I ever have one nice, beautiful woman like you?”
As I pick up my guitar and open the front door, he yells back across the street, “I love you, baby. You know I love you?”
“I know you do, Melvin. I love you too.”


  1. Excellent piece of writing, that... I could see it all happening in my mind's eye. :)

    1. Thanks for the feedback, GreenJello. I never have any perspective left after I finish a piece of writing.

  2. Great story, Carol! Even though I've never heard Melvyn speak and I've never met him, through your description and the telling of the story I could hear his voice and picture him with his gin and juice bottle.

    1. Thanks, Dawn. He's a character. I want to write more about him.

  3. I loved this--I was smiling like a fool at the computer screen while I read it. Love it!

    1. AutoD, you'd probably like sitting on my porch watching the neighborhood. :-)

    2. You know I love people-watching. He reminds me of the alcoholic neighbor I had growing up. I should write about the neighbors I had as a kid. There was the alcoholic guy (who was in love with my mother) with the schizophrenic son (who was writing a book about being the second coming of Christ. My mom thought it would be a good idea for me to share my writing with him when I was 14 to get his input as he was such a prolific writer. Talk about a traumatic writing experience...). He used to shoot off civil war era guns in the woods behind our house when he was drunk. And there was the guy with no teeth in the snake-infested house behind us who would shoot anything/everything, at whatever time, with his automatic weapon. There are a couple stories about him. And there was the Scandanavian guy next to us who picked up our greyhound by the legs and then got pissed that the dog bit him...

    3. AutoD, why aren't you telling those stories? Don't tell me you don't have anything to write about.

  4. Thank you, Ralf. When I was told I had to write a story that had a neighbor in it, I had no doubt who that neighbor had to be.