The Liquor Store

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.

Stop one, come all!Liquor store in Jackson, Michigan.

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.

Me?

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69 thoughts on “The Liquor Store

  1. I do believe our sense of community has deteriorated as a result of what’s been happening economically, and all indicators point that it’s only going to get worse. Honestly, I don’t really know any of my neighbors, and from what I’ve gathered in my limited interactions with them, I’m not that interested in knowing any of them. I – like many, I suspect – look at my immediate neighbors and just see strangeness. It’s probably not true, but I feel it, anyway. In this modern world, it’s tough not to become more of an individualist, with so many factors encouraging isolation and cliquish behavior.

    Lately I feel we’ve been hurtling full throttle into a brave new world with an extreme disregard for the tried and true, and you have to wonder what the ultimate effects will be.

  2. I don’t know if anyone has said this already, but as a transplanted New Yorker, I knew this to be a deli that sold liquor. Imagine my amusement when I was told they’re called Party Stores. They are truly a party in one store.

  3. Very well put together piece; reminds me of many of the liquor stores in Vallejo, CA.

    As Adam Ant once put it; ‘Desperate, but not serious.’

    Great read!

  4. Laws about liquor sure do vary from place to place. 24/7?? No no no in North Carolina. Our state-controlled ABC stores are open 9 to 9 and closed on Sunday. I always marvel at the differences. Wine in grocery stores? Yes in NC (but never before 7:30 a.m. weekdays or noon on Sunday), no in TN. Liquor laws may be the most wildly variable of any type of laws at all. (Also can vary county to county.)

  5. Enigmatic urban America: a “brick haven of vice” on every corner, sharing space with those haven’s of virtue, schools and Churches – also on every corner.

    Nice post.

  6. So well written. I actually read it twice with your visuals transplanting me to the rougher side of Albany where we used to go buy our underage booze — no ID necessary so long as you’re paying with cash.

  7. Thanks. I appreciate all the love for this article, but I wonder what differentiates from everything else I’ve written. I guess you get a Freshly Pressed and you automatically turn to gold for 15 seconds.

  8. I love all the details here! I found myself wondering for no reason at all, how long you must have had to stand and observe to capture so many? Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

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