Uncle Mike and I drank a lot of beer, the cheap stuff, either Brew 102 or Burgermeister in quart bottles that we hauled back from Sam’s drive-through dairy over on 16th and E Streets. In 1976, there wasn’t much else to do in San Bernardino, so we drank. Both beers always smelled like road-kill skunks, but we were too broke to buy anything better, and the only cheaper beer to be had was Brown Derby, at fifteen cents a quart, a brew so vile that drunks on the street would summarily pour it into a ditch.
At night, on the way to Sam’s, we’d often pass by a group of young Chicanos and their girlfriends, all clustered around a beautiful 1966 Chevy, primered light grey, its doors stenciled with the name “Angel Baby,” and it seemed that nearly every time we walked passed them they were listening to that song on an 8-track tape hissing from the dashboard, a hauntingly beautiful ballad written by a thirteen-year-old girl with love lodged deep within her heart.
Whenever Uncle Mike and I got fairly drunk, my wife, Connie, would throw us out of the house. So we’d walk up G street late at night, near the north end of the San Bernardino High School track, a strategically sound defensive position from which we could empty our swollen bladders by pissing on a light post tucked behind a large oleander.
One night when we were shit-faced drunk, Uncle Mike asked me, out of the blue, if I had an undescended testicle, and he began chortling, but that goofy grin of his always failed to disguise the dark pool of haunting sadness that so often enveloped him. I was used to him asking me odd and unnerving questions, and I promised to look into the matter. I didn’t mind. That’s just the way he was.
Connie and my mother decided that our combined families should celebrate Easter dinner together, to be held in a large recreation room in the apartment complex where my parents lived on Ninth and F streets. To that end, turkeys, hams and prime rib were baked to perfection. I hated those family dinners because my mother was always trying to dress me properly and coax me into looking like the interior of a late-model Ford. I could feel the noose tightening, and since I’d let myself get dragged into a marriage I didn’t want, I was in no mood for inane chit-chat or fat ladies telling me how nice I looked. Take a look at the my face in the attached photo.
Uncle Mike and I dreaded the upcoming feast, and to liven ourselves, we each ingested a very potent dose of LSD. For an hour or so, we managed to control ourselves, although I suspected that the more astute party goers from my generation probably realized that we’d decided to chemically enhance ourselves for the event.
The LSD kicked slowly in, and my mother suddenly suggested that I should slice the roast beef, which to me was beginning to resemble the pile of bones left on Custer’s battlefield at Little Bighorn. My mother handed me a knife and grinned, and I suddenly froze. “Here,” said my mother, “you cut the meat!” I could have sworn that she had fangs instead of teeth. I kept trying to avoid handling the pink and red gore dripping from the carving knife. I tried to protest, but nothing came out of my mouth except a gasp. Uncle Mike looked me over and stepped into the gap. “Don’t worry, Al,” he hissed. “I’ll cut the meat.” And he did, grinning and giggling as he sawed loose another rib. Uncle Mike looked sinister then, brandishing his carving knife, and for a brief second or two I felt as though I was sitting down to eat supper with Charles Manson. Uncle Mike and I stuck around for an hour or so and bolted out the door.
We headed straight for Sam’s and bought several quarts of beer, because we both knew it was going to take a lot of it to pry us off the wall. We passed “Angel Baby” and the pretty Chicanas leaning on their car. “You must be thirsty,” one of the guys said, and we all laughed. “Ya,” I said, “pretty fucking thirsty.”