Tuesday, September 27, 2016

THE CALL OF WILD by Peter Nolan Smith

My life was once ruled by the night. I haunted concerts, bars, clubs, and parties from dusk to dawn from the 60s into the 90s. My retirement from the late life occurred around the turn of the century and the birth of my children completed the process in fear of Chris Rock's curse of being the oldest man in the club.

Last evening I came home from work. My plans for the evening were dinner, a little writing, a glass or two of wine, and then hit my to bed read THE SAVAGE FURY, a non-fiction book about racism, dirty cops, and injustice in New York of the 60s and 70s.

This destiny was disrupted by a phone call from the 347 area code.

A New York City cell phone.

I answered the call and a gravelly voice spoke several indecipherable words.

"Who's this?" Only my wife called at his hour and I was a little annoyed, until I deciphered the thick Delta slang. "Homer, that you?"

"Course it's me. Who you think it was?" Homer was a regular from Frank's Lounge. The rest of the crew loved to rib him about his Deep South drawl, but he was the real thing from Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The wrong side of the tracks part of town.

"Had no idea." Homer and I had a bar stool relationship. 660 Fulton was our universe. He drank Beck's. I drank Stella. Our conversation were face-to-face and this was our first conversation on a phone.

"What's up?"

"I got that thing." His voice dropped to a whisper, as if his cellphone was taped by the NSA seeking 'Ssippi separatists.

"Thing?" I was confounded by 'thing'.

"You know, the shine."

"Shine." The syllable referred to the elixir of the South, Moonshine otherwise known as Mountain Dew or Ole Brokehead.

"What else you think I'm talking 'bout?"

Several months ago the bartender's husband brought up several jars from NC. The 'shine was favored with peaches. We drank the demon liquor with reverence and I remarked that I was in the market for some 'shine. Homer had finally answered my need.

"How much?"

"A gallon for $35."

"I'm in." A liter of Scotch cost the same and I was stashing this 'shine for an emergency and judging from the state of the world and the rising cost of everything under the sun a gallon of distilled corn liquor was a good investment.

"I'll be at the bar in an hour." Homer was good to his word and upon my arrival at Frank's he put the gallon of shine in my hands.

"It's plastic." I had been expecting a hillbilly ceramic jug

"Damn, boy, of course it's plastic. Glass breaks." He shook the bottle. "See them bubbles vanish quick. That means the 'shine is strong."

"And if you take a match to it and it burns blue, then it's clean." LA said from his computer. The forty year-old worked around the corner. His second office was the window table at Frank's, which was our living room.

"Don't you be lighting no matches around 'shine in my bar." Tyrone was in charge of the joint. 'Shine was highly flammable and the health departments of the Deep South condemned the safety of drinking 'white lightning'.

"Shine ain't dangerous is you don't mistreat it."

"I seen friends drink themselfs blind, but that was a bad batch. This is a good 'un."

Homer lifted his finger. The Mississippian had earned his respect. He was seventy-five without a gray hair on his head. He leaned over to me and said, "Put that under the bar stool. You can only drink in a bar what the bar serves, unless Tyrone ain't here and then we do what we want."

"What proof is it?"

"I ain't no chemist, but it's probably 95% alcohol."


"Maybe more. It ain't no toy. Now do what I say and put it away before we start sippin'."

I planted the jug between my feet. I had intended to go to sleep at a decent hour. I watched basketball until midnight and bid good-night to Homer, Tyrone, and LA.

"You be careful with that 'shine." Homer wagged a finger. "You got work tomorrow."

"I'll just take it out for a test-drive."

"If it burns your throat it's no good, but if it only burns in your stomach than it's the real thing." LA was a Lakers fan. I was die-hard Celtic Green. He was only worried about me, so he'd have someone to ride during the NBA finals.

"Thanks for the warning." My place was a long two blocks away. Four beers ran through my system like liquid Drano, but the cops were patrolling my street for public urinators. At home I relieved myself in the bathroom and then cracked the cap of the 'shine.

The fumes cleared my head.

A single sip quenched my curiosity, but I resisted the siren call of its magic.

The Call of Wild was for the weekend and then it was time to howl at the moon.


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