Monthly Archives: March 2014

7 – The V’ed-out Look

I had thoroughly obliterated any possibility of completing my education, but I couldn’t stay in my parents’ house, feigning motivation while jonesing pitifully. In a desperate scramble, I invented a plan to move to Washington, D.C. to seek my fortune. I stuffed everything into the wayback of my automobile and strapped a mattress to the roof, Joad-like. I crashed on the sprung pull-out sofa of my newly-married best friend. After a few languid weeks in their garden apartment, during which I taught myself macramé, I found employment at a liquor store in suburban Maryland. I claimed knowledge of wine, based on my tenure with the liquor importer. I thought I was doing okay, moving to and fro, talking of Beaujolais Nouveau, until I misheard a phone order from Happy Rockefeller and sent her a case of Chateau Oo-La-La ’72. The job had lasted a week.

What am I, a swallow? How many times can one return to New Jersey? My parents’ capacity to enable my bleary schemes was losing its resiliency. I spouted one bullshit story after another. Or sulked in my room. My father, stern and unrelentingly helpful, sent me on countless interviews for potential work. He had the will to solve the problem and he marshaled every connection to find a niche for me. Opportunities zoomed by. Life felt tattered and stupid. Decision-making was anathema: resistance merely rote. I had smaller fish to fry. Alcohol had become my morose subtext.

When the house was dark and quiet, I climbed out my bedroom window, sat on the garage roof, drank a six of warm tall boys, flicked the butts of my cigarettes into the shrubbery below, and pissed into the gutter.


An old acquaintance invited me to meet him at a bar in SoHo, at the time a brand-new, trendy-by-day/scary-by-night neighborhood. He was in possession of the hair, the chin, and the self-assurance to sell ad space for The Village Voice. He was everything I was not. Everything. After we bullshitted one another for a couple hours, the evening dribbled to a close. Sullen peevishness fired me up the West Side Highway. I rolled down the window and, with the radio full blast, hurtled across the George Washington Bridge with one eye closed. I made it to my hometown when my vision finally gave out. Two oncoming headlights multiplied into three, then five –

The impact of the glancing collision knocked me into the steering wheel. No one was hurt. Oddly, I wasn’t even breathalyzed. After a certain unquantifiable number of beers, I wore an unmistakable facial expression my friends dubbed – The V’ed-out Look. I would ratchet my brow into brutal corrugation in an attempt to prevent my eyelids from slamming shut. Despite the effort, the lids always drooped perilously. The police seemed more interested in the younger kids in the other car. Perhaps shock and bewilderment overrode The V’ed-out Look. But, Officer, I have a record, I thought, I hit them. In any event, the cops drove me home. I put myself to bed. There were no charges, but the Barracuda was scrap. The accident was a wake-up call. I had to acknowledge that my driving had consequences. My brilliant solution was to sell the car for parts and move into Manhattan.

Walk. Don’t Walk.

Simple enough.


I found myself a one-bedroom in East 80s, a walk-up not far from my college friends, Shelley and Mitch. A satisfyingly hermetic chamber, daylight never penetrated. It had been loopily decorated by some colorblind person who had ill-advisedly taken the brown acid. Matted shag carpeting the color and aroma of soil covered the floor and the walls bore an earth tone finish that looked like very coarse sandpaper and would draw blood if you happened to brush against it. The wallpaper in the bathroom was foiled and flocked; in the kitchen, it was just foiled. My trusty old brown beanbag chair fit the color scheme perfectly. Here was place I could call home.

I had a real job at last. I assisted a freelance art director, a man of persuasive charm and spotty follow-through. Engaged to help with his Bicentennial art exhibit and book project called 200 Years of American Illustration, I was essentially responsible for fielding phone calls and documenting the art that came in. The boss was hardly ever around, which allowed me to recover from my hangover, work on the crossword, and write long, fussy letters to my distant drinking buddies. In the afternoon, people involved in his many projects might appear and it would fall to me to entertain them, while hedging as to the probability of his return. One such person was Trudi Farber, an animated redhead with an easy laugh who was illustrating a series of elementary school workbooks. Sometimes she actually waited to see if he’d show up and the two of us gabbed the afternoon away. Months went by before I asked her out.

Meanwhile, I hung out with Shelley and Mitch, smoking hash and listening to Bowie and Mott the Hoople or smoking hash and watching basketball on their twelve-inch black-and-white TV. The Knicks’ backcourt was a thing of beauty. These evenings dwindled when Mitch entered a master’s program and disappeared entirely when Shelley took a bartending gig at Tittle Tattle, a singles bar on a strip of First Avenue in the 60s.

Shelley had been hired solely on the basis of her tits, which were great. This fact she exploited proudly. Once or twice on weekday nights, I drifted into Tittle Tattle around eleven to lurk in the corner where the bar met the wall, cadging drinks and glaring at the sports celebs and pimp-ish guys who tried to get her to lean over the bar. I could sit amidst all that lubricated hubbub, not talk to anyone, and still feel part of the world, the microscopic, resentful, lonesome, pathetic part. Most nights, though, I was perfectly content to nestle in my beanbag chair surrounded by umber waves of shag; a Miller beer and a heaping ashtray close at hand.

I threw a party in my empty new apartment (the one after the brown one) and invited Tru to meet a few of my friends. The beanbag chair had pride of place in the barren landscape, along with the component stereo with a broken turntable. The group sat on the floor, drinking beer and smoking reefer. For some forgotten reason, possibly related to my obligations as host, I dug a loaf of white bread out of the fridge. I ripped a slice in half and crammed the pieces behind my glasses. “Hey. I’m Stevie Wonder-Bread,” I said and did an awful imitation of the guy. What did Trudi think? Was I trying to be funny? Was I acting like an asshole preemptively? Funny or lame, humiliating or ironic; any interpretation was welcome. It turned out she didn’t give a shit.

Bennington Writers – New Books

Monday, April 28th  –  6pm
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street, between Bleecker & West 4th
Subway Stop – West 4th Street

Join Mark Wunderlich, tonight’s featured writer, and two readers also with recently published works, Hayden Saunier and Jaime Clarke, as well as Nashville’s fine poet, TJ Jarrett.

Mark Wunderlich’s first book of poetry, The Anchorage, published in 1999, received the Lambda Literary Award. His second volume, Voluntary Servitude, was published by Graywolf Press in 2004. A third, titled The Earth Avails, is recently available from Graywolf. He has published individual poems in The Paris Review, Yale Review, Slate, Tin House, Poetry, Ploughshares, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Wunderlich has taught in the undergraduate and graduate writing programs at many institutions. Since 2003, he has served on the faculty at Bennington College. In 2012 Wunderlich was named the Director of Poetry at the college, organizing on-campus readings, lectures, and short residencies by prominent American and international poets. In addition, he teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program. Home is in New York’s Hudson Valley, near the village of Catskill.

V. Hansmann, host

$8 cover includes a drink

6 – Get Me out of these Seatbelts

I skulked home to New Jersey and did more consuming of guilt than beer. I mowed lawns, tried caddying at the country club, all the while plotting to get out of the house, but I was stuck upstairs. My parents found me mystifying and infuriating. After one of our brief, interminable dinners, the three of us at cardinal points of the dining table picking at casserole, my father announced that he and I would take a drive. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the car to the side of the road, and, in the phosphorescent gloom, we had the talk. What did I want? What did I think my strong points were? Did I think I had a ‘problem’? How could he help? This called for powers of self-assessment I didn’t have or want. My heart pounded. Where were my cigarettes? I hated everything.

A good-paying job with a liquor importer and distributor fell into my lap. I commuted to the Park Avenue headquarters where I served as a factotum. The most onerous thing I had to do was wear a Mr. Peanut costume at the Christmas party to celebrate the company’s acquisition by a huge snack food conglomerate, a case of the hors d’oeuvre consuming the cocktail. That spring, the Teamsters went on strike, shutting down the Jersey warehouse operation, so it was up to us white-collar guys to keep the operation flowing. I rode shotgun in a panel truck, delivering cases of liquor throughout New York City. We made all the stops, from the spotless loading dock at the Waldorf-Astoria to the plexiglass-reinforced liquor stores of Spanish Harlem. Other times, I worked fulfillment, packing orders in the warehouse, loading trucks and boxcars.

One special day, I helped make a batch of gin. In the recesses of the warehouse, the old still occupied its own room, which it seemed to have completely outgrown, as if it were a monster adopted when it was cute and only the size of a tuba. Crowning the great, copper boiler, like an upturned umbrella of gold, was the alembic for the juniper berries, orange peel, ginger, and other spices. From this gleaming hopper, helixes of copper piping sprouted and spun, looping down into the receiving vat. Grain alcohol percolated in the boiler, sending vapors through the botanicals and up into the piping, where it condensed, and out poured mother’s milk.


I told everyone I was saving my money so I could return to college and finish my degree. I reapplied and was accepted, but, in truth, all I wanted was to go back and finish my drinking. Under my parents’ roof, I certainly couldn’t drink the way I was used to. Taking occasional long weekends to go get fucked up with my friends didn’t fill the need. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom was taking a toll. Self-restraint imposed by circumstance was one of those ‘sounds right’ sobering-up techniques that drunks use all the time when contriving to bring calamity down around their heads.

One spring night, I went to local bar to have a friendly beer with a friend of a friend, and when he didn’t show, I let it rip. Six, seven, eight shots, chased by a Bud or three. I swallowed the last of my beer, pushed back from the bar, and fumbled toward the bathroom. When I returned, my stool had been taken. The bartender shrugged. I could make an issue. Fuck it. I left.

My better angels told me how very fried I was; so, taking precautions, I cinched myself into the seatbelts and aimed the Barracuda up the middle of the road. If I kept my foot off the accelerator, I could exploit the forward momentum provided by the idling engine, while focusing all my efforts on navigation. If I shut one eye, I could make the white line behave. I rolled along deep in thought, until I heard a knock on the window. Applying the brake, I swung my gaze to the left.

“Can I see your license and registration?”

“Oh. Yeah. Um. Sure, Officer. Yes. First, let me get out of these seatbelts.”

After a struggle with the buckle –

“Step out of the vehicle, sir.”

I had been arrested for drunk driving by an officer on foot. Apparently, I was tracking past the police station at considerably less than five miles an hour. My license was suspended for six months.

The State of New Jersey insisted on educating me about the consequences of mixing booze with cars. I had to attend a series of classes at Bergen Pines, a mental hospital in the next town over. It dominated the suburban plain like an emerald city made of ochre bricks. You could see it for miles; thank goodness. I hitchhiked and walked the distance there and back. They lectured us on the alcohol-related automotive tragedies and showed movies featuring the Jaws of Life. Somehow, I have no recollection of mandatory AA meetings. The experience was gruesome and quickly forgotten; another reason to get the hell out of the Garden State.


With all the cunning at my command I kept my back-to-school balls in the air. It involved an exhausting and preposterous excuse-and-promise pantomime. I made lists and solemn vows, waving my hands through the air for good measure. My enthusiasm was pretty convincing and I believed it myself. “It’ll be a good thing, not having a car. I’ll stay out of trouble, because I won’t be able to leave campus.” I would find a nice, quiet dorm and walk everywhere.

As soon as of my folks’ taillights winked out over the horizon, I exhaled and hitchhiked down to The Roc.

The less said about the subsequent year the better. Nothing was the same. There really wasn’t much difference between misery in the dorm and misery in New Jersey, except for the depth of field and the volume of distractions. I was simply there to drink. I sagged into a self-fulfilling prophecy depression. Yes, I was too fucked up. There could be no concentrating on anything like schoolwork, so I loaded up on Lit. courses to keep the academic pressure on.

My classmates were long gone, taking with them my social context, my reputation, and my sense of humor. People didn’t seem to like me much; consequently, I drank in my room, even when I got my car back. Winter lasted forever. I always kept a six-pack of bottled beer outside my window, where it froze and thawed and froze again, losing all flavor and carbonation. The perfect loser’s beverage.

My city connections enabled me to score some excellent pot, which scored me temporary campus cred, especially with the stingy, late-night, pothead crowd. I didn’t consider this to be dealing: I was acting as a host. Many nights I got high by myself, cueing up classical LPs on the turntable – the 2001 soundtrack, the Brandenburg Concertos, the Rite of Spring. The pounding of Stravinsky at three o’clock in the morning brought down the wrath of the other guys on the corridor, as opposed to blasting The Who’s Live at Leeds, which could be slept through effortlessly.

Finally, I closed the book on the protracted academic farce, let the school year end with a whimper, and got my ass back to New Jersey.


Bennington Writers – An Evening with Welcome Table Press

Wednesday, April 2nd  –  6pm
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street, between Bleecker & West 4th
Subway Stop – West 4th Street

Join Kim Dana Kupperman, founding editor of Welcome Table Press,  for a prose reading featuring friends of the press: Robert Atwan, Dustin Beall Smith, and Suzanne Menghraj.

Welcome Table Press was founded in 2002 in her downeast Maine kitchen. Originally serving as a vehicle for Food For Thought, a miniature, hand-sewn periodical featuring lyric essays of 1,500 words or less, original art, and a recipe for a local, seasonal dish, the Press has expanded its vision, dedicating itself to publishing and celebrating the essay in all its forms. Its first volume, You. An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person, was edited by Kupperman and published in February 2013.

Kim Dana Kupperman is the author of a critically acclaimed collection of essays, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings: Missives from the Other Side of Silence (Graywolf, 2010), which received the 2009 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize in Nonfiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Among her many accomplishments, are notable mentions in the Pushcart Prize anthology (2007; 2010) and Best American Essays (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013).

V. Hansmann, host

$8 cover includes a drink

5 – Mouse Schemes

I thought that majoring in alcohol and minoring in psychedelics would enable me to create and sustain an identity. My misfortune was to confuse an identity with a personality. In addition, drinking gallons of beer, smoking bales of marijuana, and ingesting dazzling quantities of LSD reinforced the rationalization that if I ignored anything long enough, it would go away. As far as my academic and social efforts were concerned, I had chosen a path of no resistance. Over time, the strategy resolved into a state of being. I would try to stay as fucked up as I could for as long as I could.

The source of my restless discontent lay in adhesive family history. Accidents of fate, old grievances, and the gravitational pull of isolation were generating more and more self-destructive steam as time went on. The paradox of alcohol is that it both soothes and perpetuates this. So, when Dad was appointed to the college’s Board of Trustees in the fall of my sophomore year, it transformed the administration from mere agents of the patriarchy into goons for the old man. It wasn’t the kind of thing I would ever talk about. My friends didn’t give a shit or probably even know. I imagined every member of the faculty was aware of exactly who I was. I’d be goddamned if I’d show up in one of their classrooms.


The school calendar was organized around three spectacular Houseparty Weekends. Every couple months, the student body slowly turned away from the grind and focused on the business of getting epically bombed. If you had the wherewithal to remain ambulatory after thirty-six hours of steady drinking and made it to Deke’s Sunday morning gin-and-juice, you possessed super-human stamina; what was referred to as ‘hair.’ If not, if the Saturday parties laid you low, you were considered ‘hurt.’

The carpet had been rolled up and stowed in a corner of the dining room along with a pile of mismatched furniture. Meanwhile, with all deliberate glee, a toxic brew of orange juice, grapefruit juice and grain alcohol was being blended in a garbage pail. Morning bright and painfully astringent, it tasted transcendent at the first sip. After a cup of the stuff, you were drunk and after two, you were sopping and beside yourself with pleasure.

The hired band huddled in front of the fireplace: their amps were huge. In no time, everyone was dancing with everyone else or no one in particular. Before you knew it, it devolved into a form of mud wrestling. Sunshine streamed through the casement windows.

My balance abandoned me all of a sudden. I skidded in the sludge, landed on my ass, bounced up, spun around, and belly-flopped. A strange knee came up to meet my forehead. Laughing, I touched my eyebrow and came away with bloody fingers. The infirmary stitched me up and back I went to the party.


Late sophomore year, I set my sights on securing a place in the campus drinking society. It consisted of eleven junior and seniors from all the cool fraternities. Called Nous Onze, it was pronounced ‘New Zones’, which accurately described its purpose. This would be my finest achievement: at last, common acknowledgement of the one thing I knew in my heart I was good at. But the fools blackballed me. Geddo told me later that some of the seniors believed I was just too fucked up. Too fucked up? Despite the lack of endorsement, I showed up at their parties the following year anyway. The skeptics had graduated, along with their misgivings.

Nous Onze presumed to be an outfit with class. We wore sport coats and ties. We drank cocktails made with top shelf liquor. We invited faculty members and paid attention to our dates. A regular was an associate professor from the Religion Department. He fancied himself a smooth operator and he very much enjoyed the company of football players and hockey players. They played along, as religion was the favorite major among scholar/athletes, for its requirements were hilariously easy. The good professor invariably got sloshed, came on to one of the guys, was rejected, and toddled off into the night.

One Nous Onze party, the party adjourned to a room upstairs to sample someone’s new pot, something ‘gold.’ This tipped the prof into a stupor immediately. One toke over the line. He stretched out on the bed, while photos were snapped of him surrounded by smiling young women, his head in one girl’s lap and feet in another’s. The party would end up at the Shoe and ultimately the Deke basement.


As a practical matter, a person had to wake up in the daylight in order to go to classes. Why I was never asked to “take a leave of absence to reassess your priorities, Bob” remains a mystery. Reading, I loved unconditionally, but setting pen to paper proved hopeless. When some course required me to write an essay, the effort usually resulted in painfully constipated bullshit. Turned in late. Or never.

My standards skittered downward, forming a base from which to plummet. Most young drunks flame out pretty quickly, noisily, and with more than a little hostility, but it was my dumb luck that the 1969/70 school year ended in chaos. The student strike following the invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent State and Jackson State threw finals and thus year-end grades into the hopper. Everybody who needed to – skated.

All the while, I participated in an emotionally convoluted, not very original, long-distance dynamic with my father. He was impossible and righteous, so I would be impossible and pathetic. He pursued; I retreated. Yet there was no confrontation, at least no confrontation with consequences. I had him wrapped around my middle finger. If my luck held, I might get away without anything ever being resolved.

I dared not jeopardize my rationale, my identity as ‘V.’ – omnipresent drunk, academic fuck-up, bridge player, and … pizza maker.


In a strip mall on the way out of town, a new restaurant/bar called The Clinton House appeared in the fall of my senior year. The Shoe now had some serious competition. The place had a pair of owners, Bobby and Richie, from Utica ten miles away. They served up heavy Italian-American hospitality. Their jukebox favored Sinatra, Nat Cole, and Jimmy McGriff. “Here Comes the Sun” was one of the few nods to current taste. The Harvey Wallbanger was the latest drink, a Screwdriver garnished with a splash of that heinous yellow liqueur from that towering bottle. The kitchen stayed open late, serving sandwiches and pizza. They developed a robust late night college business – me.

Richie needed a break after ten hours in the kitchen and, sensing I guess my willing distractibility, put my untried culinary skills to work on the late shift, ten o’clock to 1am. I assembled meatball heroes and pepperoni pizzas, cultivating a reckless tendency to add a fourth meatball to the sandwiches. Still, I was dependable – the way someone who really ought to be studying for midterms could be dependable; dependable the way someone drinking for free could be dependable. Some Saturdays, Richie asked me to pitch in as sous-chef, so I’d show up in the afternoon to prep, then work the crazy dinner as well as my late night shift. After a night like that, I slept for twelve hours straight. I intuitively understood the usefulness of diversion in the face of responsibility. I could justify fucking off because I had a job.

I had a job so I could drink.

I woke up whenever I woke up. I shuffle off to the Campus Center, where I sipped black coffee, smoked one Winston after another, and completed The New York Times crossword puzzle. With that accomplished, I adjourned to the Deke basement to watch Star Trek reruns and drink flat beer. Then it would be dinnertime, which was followed by two or three hours of semi-serious bridge. When the game broke up, I would wander back to the dorm to read Balzac or Twain until the Pub opened or I was due at The Clinton House.


There were moments of breathless exhilaration, too: flashes of glory. Joy, even. In the spring, when the glaciers finally retreated, we took to lounging on the grassy slope in front of the Deke House, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. The slope faced the building, which resembled an enormous, half-timbered stage set. Between the grass and the House, the brothers parked their automobiles.

On sunny afternoons, braver Dekes worked on their tans on the flat dormer above a third floor bathroom. It was an acrobatic vantage point. Getting to this perch meant backing your ass out the bathroom window, inching your way across the face of the building to the dormer’s juncture with the roof itself, and then hauling yourself up onto its surface. There you could bask to your heart’s content.

Not content to simply bake on the little tarpaper rectangle, I ventured off over the roof, exploring. I scampered up and down the roof’s pitches with simian agility. Over the ridgeline the hazy panorama of the Mohawk Valley stretched to infinity. I disappeared behind a gable and popped back into view yards away. I exaggerated the instability of my footing. From down on the grass, ‘oohs’ and ‘whoas’ and ‘Jesus, Vs’ wafted skyward. I was close to heaven, released from earthly bonds. Thirty feet below – asphalt.


Another warm and serene afternoon in late May, I sat on the grassy slope with some underclassmen, drinking tap beer from a two-gallon Almaden bottle, while my classmates graduated in the hockey rink. For the first time ever, I couldn’t get drunk. Usually, I drank with measured gusto so as not to be rendered protoplasmic before the bulk of the ‘fun’ was over, but that day I was drinking was if my life depended on it. I remember the weariness and bitterness and I can still feel the panic. My parents were angry and worried: my friends, pitying or oblivious. For me, it was an out-of-body experience.

What happened was like one of those transitions in the movies where the new scene bumps the old one off the screen with a horizontal left-to-right wipe. College was college was college, then I blinked and college was gone.