The two state-run liquor stores in town actually sold stuff for a pretty decent price, all told. You could get a bottle of Jack Daniels for about fourteen bucks, Jim Beam for maybe eleven. Evan Williams, the rotgut bourbon made famous by One-Armed Nate, was about eight bucks.
Once in a while, Doyal or I would buy a ten-dollar bottle of Clan MacGregor scotch, which I recommend to no one. Every single time we made the mistake of buying it, Doyal or I would wake up with this grimy, ashen kind of hangover you can only get from drinking dirt-cheap scotch. It soaks into your muscles and makes you feel dirty and gritty. You feel like a lowlife. “The Clan put a beatin’ on me again,” we’d say to each other. We could never figure out why we didn’t learn the lesson, but every month or two another empty bottle of the Clan would turn up in the morning.
On the other hand, I made nine bucks an hour working part-time as a bank teller downtown. Doyal got a job at Subway Sandwiches that took an hour to get to on the bus. Concessions had to be made, and the most important thing to do with our money was to get drunk, so cheap booze often prevailed. You could get half-racks (12-packs) of Olympia Beer at the gas station near our apartment for $5.50 and we ended up literally wallpapering a huge wall in the apartment with the cardboard.
Once in a while though – my goal was once a week – I’d buy a nice delicious $16 bottle of Powers Irish Whisky. Oh, that was a treat. It was usually freezing and half-the-time raining outside and there’s nothing like a swallow of sweet, hot whisky sliding down the inside of your chest when the world outside the window looks that ugly and cold.
So one day I’m sitting down for my ritual blackout and Pretty John sticks his head in through the big living room window we used as a door.
Everyone called him Pretty John for the obvious reason: he looked like a pretty girl. You could be walking on campus behind him and think to yourself, “That girl’s got a pretty nice ass,” and then it would turn out to be John: Whoops! Pretty John was pretty much the poster-boy twinkie. For those that don’t know, if you're not a genius accusing an Asian person of being "white on the inside," calling someone a "twinkie" in gay terms is pretty much the opposite of calling them a bear. Bears are big, burly, hairy, macho. Twinkies are slight, usually blond, and look kind of like elves. Some twinkies go really feminine in style and appearance, and John was one of them.
Our apartment on campus was right near a dirt walking path and people popped in all the time, and right now Pretty John was sticking his head in to say hello. I’d never really talked with John, but we were in classes together and I was in a good mood and when he asked to come in I invited him to the table. I grabbed a second shot glass and slid it across the table to him, then slid the whisky bottle over right behind it.
My roommates sat around and my girlfriend Molly watched some TV on the couch and I poured myself shot after shot.
At some point, the bottle was half-empty. Pretty John had taken maybe two shots, and the rest was my doing. It was time to be bold.
“Hey, John.” I said. “Can I ask you something personal?”
He said I could, of course, and I was so excited: I’d wanted to ask somebody this for YEARS.
“Here’s something I don’t get. Why would a guy, who likes to fuck guys, who also like to fuck guys… want to look like a girl?”
I didn’t mean anything aggressive or mean by it – I sincerely wanted to know. It didn’t make sense to me.
The truth is, I have no idea what he said in response. The next thing I remember is, John had moved from across the table to right next to me, and he had his hand on my thigh.
I looked up at the table and the whisky bottle was empty.
My roommates, of course, had fled.
Molly was still sitting on the couch. John leaned in and started kissing my ear.
I was frozen. I was piss-drunk and freaked out and I just sat there trying to remember to breathe.
“Molly?” I called.
“Yes, Sean?” she said.
“Am I… what’s, ah… what’s going on?”
“Well, Sean, it looks like you might be about to make out with a guy.”
Somehow, I was panicked but couldn’t move.
“What should I do?”
She paused. John nibbled on my ear some more and rubbed my leg with his hand. Christ, what Molly must have been thinking.
She said, “Do whatever you want, Sean.” Her voice was tight and freaked out, but she was trying to be soothing, too.
I felt relieved by that. Now, whatever I did, it would be okay. I had permission to do it.
John kissed my neck.
I thought, “Well, when am I going to have this exact chance again?”
I thought, “When in Rome.”
I turned my face down, and Pretty John and I were making out.
Surprisingly – to me, anyway – it wasn’t that bad. I mean, I was blind drunk and could barely move, but the sensations were all pretty much the same as kissing a girl. I knew this was a guy, but just at the moment I really didn’t care.
Molly left the room. I was told later she began hyperventilating in the hallway and my roommates had to help her breathe.
I wish I could tell you how making out with John ended, but I was in full-on brown-out mode. Manuel likes to call it “time travel,” when you jump from scene to scene like you’re hitting the chapter skip on a DVD.
The next thing I knew, I was with Molly again. We were in the bathroom. You know those diners made up like they’re from the 50s, and they have the cute painting of the little boy and little girl sharing a milkshake with two straws? It was like that, except we were sharing a toilet bowl, each of us puking into it to save our lives.
And that was the time that whisky made me gay.
A post-script: Obviously, plenty of guys get super drunk and don’t make out with other dudes. I couldn’t really put it on the whisky. So when I woke up the next day, and remembered in little flickers what had happened, I freaked out. For like half an hour. I just bolted up in bed, Molly sleeping beside me, and said, “Oh, my God,” over and over. Was I gay now? What did I do? Could I still have a girlfriend? What did other people see? Every retarded question in the book went like lightning flashes through my mind. I started wondering if I had to invent some kind of new, start-from-scratch second life. I went into full-on retarded melodrama.
(See, until you’ve done something like kiss a dude, and found out it’s not the end of the world and doesn’t actually shatter all your foundations, this kind of thing can feel legitimately scary.)
My roommate Darren, who I’d met freshman year at San Francisco State, was a little homophobic. One time he was riding in a car with us in San Francisco and when we drove through the Castro district he actually got mad we hadn’t warned him. He was like a brother to me but I was freaked out he would have a big problem with this. Maybe stop talking to me. He was the kind of guy to get quiet when he had a problem with you, just get into his shell and shut you out.
I put on some pants and walked into the kitchen, and Darren was there. I looked at the ground and tried to get past him to open up the fridge.
“Hey, good morning, fag,” Darren said. “Careful you don’t close the door on your boner.”
Right there, I knew everything was cool.
Words: Sean Murray
Art: Manuel Martinez