It’s a brick haven of vice, an open sore in an otherwise scabbed over American ghetto. Snickers, Newports, Phillies, Old English, Monster, Hennessy, Coca-Cola, Lays – all for sale. It’s a classic, all-American liquor store, open 24/7. Inside, the speckled floor tiles are chipped; the smell damp and musty. The cashier looks distracted. The long bags under his eyes tell stories of their own.
In the clear glass of the fridge door, you can see your warped reflection. It’s like looking into a carnival mirror. Best to grab your beer and go.
Outside, bikes rest against the front of the building, red, white, and blue. A group of kids, maybe 12 or 13 years old, count the loose change and crumpled dollar bills in their pockets on the sidewalk, weeds growing through the cracks in the cement. A women in booty shorts and a white cami struts up to the parking lot, a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle. The snap of her flip-flops echoes down the road.
“Damn, girl,” one of the boys on the sidewalk yells.
He whistles for good measure, but she he ignores him and smiles at two men leaning against a black ’97 Honda Civic. They’re drinking booze out of a paper bag, one arm sprawled over the hood of the car, the other holding a bottle or waiting expectantly for the bottle to come back. Behind them, a Tanqueray billboard – tall, magnificent and new – urges the drinkers on, a sophisticated African-American urbanite in a tailored suit raising his glass to the city he so dearly loves.
All throughout the day, people arrive at the liquor store, an endless procession of the young and old, the healthy and infirm, the sane and downright crazy. From showy designer jeans worn low to show off checkered boxers to twisted, gnarled wool caps hiding kinky wisps of gray hair, it’s a study in humanity, the crowds rich with life. It could be Monroe, Detroit, Jackson, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, or Lansing. Cities of blood thick with alcohol, nicotine, refined sugar, and caffeine.
At the liquor store, one can hear the sick heartbeat of America, a cacophony of laughter, shouts, broken glass, and hip-hop bass lines. It’s the 21st century equivalent of the town square, simultaneously depressing, uplifting, and sedating, like alcohol followed by an energy drink and a cigarette. Lottery tickets sold at the front counter promise escape from the vicious cycle but never deliver it. Self-determinism is always just out of reach no matter how desperately you grasp.
It would knock the wind right out of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s lungs, send Camille Pissarro reeling for his wallet.