Tag Archives: True Stories.

Worn Thin

By E. Wilson Young

White with “guest” written on their front in calligraphy and framed by embroidered leaves like early spring shoots poking up from beneath snow, the napkins blanketed the backseat as though deposited by a freak storm.

My friend Maggie was the first person to notice them. Happening to glance behind her as I was driving us from my place to My Parents’ Basement, she said, “Oh. You have napkins in your backseat.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Mom gave them to me. I just… I still haven’t gotten around to taking them inside.”

“Do they… do they say something?” she said, reaching back.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Oh my god, they say ‘guest!’”

“Yeah, they say ‘guest.’ They’re guest napkins!” I said.

Giggling, Maggie asked, “Why do they say ‘guest?’”

“What do you want them to say?”

“I don’t know! But it’s so weird that they say ‘guest.’”

Catching Maggie’s giggles, I said, “Well, as a guest, feel free to help yourself to some napkins.”

Other passengers have had similar reactions. But only after that initial question had been addressed would guests think to ask why the napkins are there in the first place.

Before they’d been strewn about the backseat, they’d resided for months in my car’s trunk where I’d left them – unable to transport them inside. The napkins’ promotion to the backseat came about because, one random afternoon in the middle of the week, I happened to notice that my car’s rear right tire had become flat. A regular MARTA rider, I didn’t necessarily need my car and waited until the weekend to see about it. The next Friday evening, to reach the spare, I took off the detachable ledge that covers the trunk, aiming the felt board for the space in between the backseat headrests. Underneath sat the loose mound of guest napkins. I grabbed clumps of them, tossing the napkins into the backseat, letting them flutter wherever they could.

After digging the jack out and removing the spare, I positioned the jack underneath the car and slowly raised it until the car let out a disconcerting metallic-sounding shriek. I lowered the jack, repositioned it, and tried again. The car remained silent this time. With the car in its lopsided position, I tried to loosen the lugs, but they were on too tight. Thwarted, I called the number on the back of my insurance card to request a repairman, scheduling it for early the next day in hopes that I could score a walk-in appointment at a mechanic’s.

Before sunup the next morning, the repairman and I surveyed my car – the repair man, sitting on the ground. “This tire ain’t flat. It needs air.” He leaned forward to peak at the others. “They all do.”

Not knowing what to say in response and feeling ridiculously formal, I presented him with the spare, like I were handing him an award. He snatched it from me, grumbling, “Spare needs air, too.”

With everything he said, I heard an unspoken, You damn fool.

Once he’d put the spare on and I’d signed a form for my insurance, I headed for Pep Boys. I soon noticed an ominous looseness in the rear of the car that became worse the longer I drove. At the Freedom Parkway intersection, I considered my options: the longer route on side streets or the faster highway.

The longer route seemed more perilous, and I decided on the Connector where the looseness quickly evolved into fishtailing, and no matter how hard I pressed the gas, the car would barely reach higher than sixty. With every curve and lane change, I careened more wildly, but, as alarmed as the drive made me, I thought it best to press on. At least Saturday morning traffic meant I could go a little slower. The connector split, and I took I-85 North. Soon, I rounded the curve of the expressway and could see my exit when a terrible scraping noise filled the car. I put on my hazard lights and headed for the breakdown lane – the only thing I could think to do. On the shoulder of the highway, I turned the car off and watched traffic for several moments, catching my breath, before I climbed to passenger side and stepped outside for a look around the car. The spare had been shredded, broad ribbons of rubber unfolding from the rim. I called my insurance again to request a tow.

After the call to my insurance, I called Dad. It seemed like something I should do. “I can come pick you up, son, and we can get you some tires out here.” “Out here” meant back home in Covington – about forty minutes east of Atlanta.

“Dad, that – I appreciate that – I really do – but that doesn’t make any sense. I can see the exit. I was so close. I almost made it.”

“I can pick you up, buy you some tires, and put ‘em on for you.”

“Dad, I’ve already called a tow. It’s okay. I only – I wanted you to know what was going on.”

“There’s some great tire prices out here, son.” He repeated his offer: he could pick me up and buy tires for me out in Covington. The news had short-circuited him. He didn’t know what else to do. It must have reminded him of Mom and how all he could do was sign the DNR. That had only been five months ago.

“Dad, I have to go. There’s a cop. Someone’s getting out.”

A massive truck with flashing lights had pulled up behind me on I-85’s shoulder. Wearing a reflective vest and with a walkie-talkie on his belt squawking away so loudly I heard it above the roar of the highway, a man climbed out. Carefully walking on the shoulder, he approached the front passenger’s side door and knocked on the window. “Is everything okay?”

“I have a tow coming.”

“Oh okay,” he said, visibly relieved — an attitude made me question whether he
was a cop. “Man, what happened?”

“The spare shredded.”

“You’re kidding? Really?”

“No, really!” I said, nodding vigorously, happy that someone else – an official of some nebulous sort, no less – also appeared taken aback, dumbfounded at how such a thing was possible.

He looked at the rear tire and let out a whistle. “Man, you know you’re having a bad day when that’s what the spare looks like! It’s barely hanging on!”

“Yeah.”

“Do you need me to stick around?”

“No, … Officer,” I said, but if I was wrong, he didn’t correct me. “I’ll be fine.”

“Well, take care. Glad you have someone on the way,” he said, and, staying on the shoulder, walked to his truck. He flipped on the truck’s flashing yellow lights and merged back into traffic. It was the benign and reassuring – yet simultaneously vague – encounter Mom would have attributed to an angel.

Waiting for roadside assistance, I noticed early white blossoms on a tree a few feet away in the median – the first early sign of spring. The wind tugged a few petals loose, and I saw, already, a smattering of white on the ground around the tree, like my napkins on the backseat.

Soon, the tow truck pulled up behind me like the last vehicle had. “It almost looks like you hit a pothole going too fast,” the driver said in a rather accusatory way after he had conducted a preliminary inspection to confirm that I did require a tow.

What pothole? I wanted to ask. I wished the non-officer were still there; he’d believed me. The driver escorted me to the cab where I sat and watched traffic while he secured my car to the truck’s bed.

“So where we goin?”

“The Pep Boys up on Ponce.”

“What’s the address?”

“Um…”

“You drivin’ your car, and you don’t know where you was goin?”

“I knew where I was going. I just don’t know the address.” Shouldn’t a tow driver know that address anyway? Where was he taking all these cars? Out to Covington?

A few minutes into the drive, sensing that we had gotten off on the wrong foot, the tow truck driver said, “So what else you got going on today?”

Sir, when this interminable errand is done, I’m going home to cry, I thought. Aloud, though, I said, “I don’t – I don’t really have any plans. I might go to a board game thing.”

“Board game?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. I hear they got some bars with video games you can play at the bar.”

“There’s one like that – Joystick – near where I live.”

“Man, that sounds great. You play video games?” We hadn’t driven far but were already on the exit, slowing down for the sharp curve that would spit us out on Piedmont.

“I go through spurts where I play.”

“Where’s this Joystick at?”

By the time I gave directions to Joystick, he’d swung around to the service area of the Pep Boys. While he set to work unloading my car, I went to the help desk inside and explained what I thought to be the problem – a flat – and requested a patch. I had made it by ten in the morning – only an hour later than I’d intended, but there were already several people ahead of me in line.

Still dazed by the accident, I sat in the waiting area and read and drank coffee, before calling Dad to update him. I assured him I was fine and then told him my plan about getting the tire patched. “Son, I really think you need to ask them to see what’s wrong,” he said before offering to pick me up and buy tires in Covington as an alternative to the whole rigmarole.

I considered what he’d said and finally approached the service desk to ask the technician if she would take a look with me and let me know what she thought I needed.

“Oh, they all look low!” she said as we approached the car. “They might be dry rotted.”

“What?” I had never heard of such a thing.

“Dry rotted. It’s from being out in the air and not being driven a lot.” She gripped one of the tires, squeezing. “Oh yeah. This is dry rot all right. Feel,” she said, inviting me to grab a hunk of my tire like I was judging the ripeness of fruit. “Feel how there’s no give, and it’s so hard?”

“Uh…”

“That’s dry rot. Yeah, if you park it outside or don’t drive it too much, it can get like that. Now, I can patch the worst one. Or I can have all them patched, but really you need new tires.”

“… Let’s do that then,” I said numbly. I took MARTA to work! I lived in Cabbagetown and walked to Little Five! I used the Beltline! I would sometimes go weeks without driving! Now, I was being punished for doing the right thing.

Queasy from adrenaline and the thought of buying four tires, I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I began pacing up and down the aisles instead.

Usually, at this point in a car trouble episode, I’d call Mom and vent all my fears about the money. She would offer to help; I’d refuse, and I’d feel better. I’d remember that I could handle it and would then find myself reassuring her.

But now I couldn’t talk to her.

The reality of it all hit me then.

That’s how, early on a Saturday morning in January, I wandered throughout the Pep Boys, among the aisles of Looney Tune mud flaps and cherry-scented air fresheners and shiny rims and tires and batteries.

And cried.

As I walked all over the store, I realized how easily I could have died and that I’d gone almost as quickly as she had. Mom had been so busy attending to others, being the perennial hostess, and seeing to everyone else’s needs that she never saw to her own health. Once her sepsis infection became insistent, she went quickly.

Meanwhile, I had almost died because my tires had dry rotted from disuse.

Unable to call her, unable to be comforted by her, I had no other choice. I summoned up my own strength and talked myself down.

Hours later, my tires had been changed and aligned. I signed more forms, and then, finally, headed outside to the car. As I called Dad to let him know I was on the way home with new tires, through the car’s windows, I saw the backseat full of the Mom’s guest napkins.

Orange & Ivory: A Tremendous Night of Democratic Carnage

By Aja Arnold

Okay. Here we go.

The polls began rolling in as crowd reactions indicated the wins for each candidate. Cheers and clinking glasses for Hillary and the Democrats and uproarious boos for Trump and the Grand Old Party. These indicators were the only way I could follow what was going on as I accumulated sales at an exponential rate and acquired what felt like 30 tables. As the evening progressed, I noticed the cheers became more staggered and the gaps between clamoring noise began to be filled with boos.

Just keep moving, I thought. You cant worry about this right now. Stay focused. Remember, you dont have your old tools anymore. This is all you, no mood enhancers. Just focus on doing a good job and being sober at the same time.

As a citizen, I was ready. I was ready to begin the process of erasing Donald Trump from my memory. I was ready for the media to get back to business and return to real issues instead of frantically fact-checking Trump’s tweets. I was ready for the election to be over and for political tensions in this country to take on the process of dissolve. I was ready to see another impervious glass ceiling shattered, to make another milestone in a step towards progress. I was ready to move forward.

As a recovering addict-alcoholic, I was ready. Closing in on eight months of sobriety, I was ready to show off and impress myself with my new methods. Old habits would have called for an array of things to satisfy a particular formula I spent years perfecting to ensure that I could work at an affable, supersonic state: a shot just about every hour on the hour, a forty bag stashed away in my bra for bathroom bumps, and a cup of coffee on the side with the occasional water. I was ready to take on such a momentous evening with full force and kick ass and do it sober.

Manuel’s Tavern was whirring in chaos — eruptive with camaraderie, glasses clinking in tones of celebration, and presumptive victorious vibes emanating in every room. I took a deep breath and hit the ground running. Women were strutting around sharply in their pantsuits and bold shades of lipstick as if to shout, Im with her! Tables were all adorned with “Hillary for America” decor, beer taps flowing endlessly, bottles popping. Within an hour, I poured half a bottle of Bulleit Rye whiskey for my first table: a gay man and a lesbian, drinking their rye neat with a glass of ice on the side. They were a stylish pair — dapper, even — with their tweed blazers and bowler hats and brimming confidence. Their spry nature intimidated me. I felt not cool enough to build any sort of rapport with them, so I dropped their neat ryes and dashed, anticipating their need about every 10 to 15 minutes.

Even so, with all the decisive positivity and somewhat smug assurance in the room, it all seemed too good to be true. An impending sense of doom crept in my stomach. This was standard, though, for a naturally born-and-bred addict-alcoholic who had this creeping feeling for as long as she could remember about anything, all the time, ever. I couldn’t even begin to go down that rabbit hole. I couldn’t let the idea that Trump might become elected veer me out of focus.

What a fucking disaster that would be in here, could you imagine? All these people, drinking, gettin’ all riled up… if Trump were to win, the place might explode.  All the polls have Hillary beating Trump by a landslide and these people were ready for their savored victory.

But it all just feels a liiiiiiittle too easy. If the election is rigged, they better have it so  rigged we dont accidentally end up with Trump as President. What if

Table 43 motioned to me and raised their empty rocks glasses.

“Oh, another round of Bulleit? More ice, too? Got it.”

They nodded in approval and gave me a couple big thumbs up with gummy and jolly smiles. “Yaaaaaaas!” they called out. They must have been there for a couple hours already.

Every time I looked up from ringing in orders, I saw Trump’s  victorious creepy eyes staring back at me. I kept moving as I watched the seats in Congress go to red in the majority.

Shit, what are we gonna do? He cant become President, right? They wouldnt let that happen. How the fuck did we get here? He said he grabs womens pussies, for Gods sake. He called Mexicans rapists on fucking day one. He can barely manage a Twitter account. Hes a god damn Internet troll, and its really coming down to this, this fucking close? How is this happening right n Oh, shit, table 10 needs another bottle of chardonnay. Oh, fuck, I forgot to bring two more beers to 40. Table 43 probably needs more Bulleit. Table 21 needs another cider, ring in that round for 32, oh and dont forget food for table 41, that guy standing by the bathroom wants a Stella, and girl at 20 wants another Sweetwater. Get it together, dont get weeded. Come on. Just keep moving.

The capacity of the building peaked and the staff lost any and all liberties to move between rooms without shouting and shoving people out of the way. There was no more handling this gracefully. People at the bar went from being cool and patient to being just flat-out, total dicks. Probably due to anxiety and stress, considering the rising conditions of the evening.

Ah, yes. You know that impending doom feeling? Welcome to my fucking life.

I watched as the bartenders became fed up, throwing their hands up as kegs blew left and right, servers shouting at one another, customers flailing their arms in our direction in desperate attempts to get a measly drink or two. I looked over at one server at the taps as a tear gently rolled down her sweltering cheek.

Amid all the disorder and disharmony, I was holding it together pretty well. I kept calm as I continued moving, weaving through the crowd using my smaller stature to my advantage as I wiggled through back and forth between the bar and the dining room with about eleven drinks in tow each trip. Im doing it, I thought. Im doing pretty good. And Im sober! I havent even thought about drinking. For a moment, I felt relief and a sense of pride.

Okay, this isnt so bad. Its pretty crowded now, but nothing we cant handle. Breathe. Inhale, one two three four. Exhale, one two three four. FUCK, HE JUST WON OHIO shit, another round of Bulleit? Make them doubles? HAHA, I DONT BLAME YOU. Its okay, the Dems will come back, we still got the west coast to count. Ah, there we go, Oregon, California, Washington, oh and Hawaii, theres some blue. Everyone is slowing their roll a little. Fuck, okay, I forgot about table 21, they look pissed. Well, as they can see its really fucking busy so theyre gonna have to wait. Shit, Trump just won Florida. Gahhhhhhhhh. Alright, alright, alright, keep calm. Inhale, one, two, three, four. Exhale, one, two, three, four. Wait, what did table 40 want again? Ugh, Ill remember, itll come back to me. Just keep moving.

More people piled in just as I thought we couldn’t possibly fit another human. So many humans. Too many humans. Something needs to scourge the planet, a new epidemic.

Whatever, this is nothing. Ive worked worse and busier nights than this and totally fucked up. Nothing will ever compare to the nightmare of a shift I worked bartending alone at another bar with no glasses, ice, or vodka to make a single vodka cranberry while I had about 50 people screaming at me. I can handle anything. Ive had glasses thrown at me before, Ive been cussed at, Ive had my ass grabbed, Ive been grabbed at while behind the bar

As I was making my way to satisfy another round of drink orders, I felt someone grab my arm and pull me back. I turn around in annoyance and disgust to see Pinot Noir guy from table 10, bumbling around his table, warbling with his thickly coated wine glass in hand — the same one I had been refilling for him since 3:30 p.m. The stupid lush grinned at me with his hand still on my arm as he waved his glass at me in a charade of politeness in asking for another fill. His teeth were daubed and stained by layers of Pinot Noir and his eyes were muddled in inebriation. Clearly, he knew not what he just awakened within me. My skin boiled in a triggered sense of violation and I threw him a stare I did not miss exhibiting. With this I saw him shirk back, drunkenly orbiting the table back towards his chair.

Oof, how hard it was to not explode.

“Of course you can have another glass of wine,” I said, as calmly as I could. “But you don’t need to grab me for that.” I let out a little hiss of air, for a girl needs to breathe. I moved along, holding in my thoughts, piling them in along with all the others in my mental pressurized gas tank of emotional turmoil.

How fucking dare he touch me? Fucking people, man. He must think hes the only fucking person in here who needs a drink. Fucking typical, a straight white man getting whatever the fuck he wants. If I was a dude, he never would have thought about touching me. And this is just going to be okay, isnt it? This is how our country is going to be run. Donald Trump is going to be our next fucking president, isnt he? In a few years men will just be grabbing pussies and calling it presidential. I cant fucking believe it. Fuck him, fuck everything, fuck everyone, hes getting his wine last.

That was it. It was official. I had lost my cool and entered into “fuck you” territory, a very uncomfortable and risky place to be in while sober. Everything in my undeniable nature was nerving me to take a fucking drink and say “fuck it dude” and get tanked later. I begrudgingly returned to table 10 with a glass of wine to hear Pinot Noir guy’s gauche attempts at an apology. He continued this throughout the rest of the night, more and more profusely as he continued to get sloshed. Meanwhile, I stewed. He left me a 40 percent tip at the end of the night. Even so, this did nothing to smooth over my inner seething.

Inhale, onetwothreefour. Exhale, onetwothreefour. Shit, more boos? What happened now? Whatever, just keep moving.

Down the rabbit hole I went as I began to feel drowned by all the people waving and panicking for more drinks. Stuck with no resolve, no means of sedation, I listened to more polls roll in and our country started boiling red.

Okay, got beers for 42, thats not even my fucking table, but whatever, got another bottle of chard for 10, need a pitcher for 32 fuck, were out of pitchers, gah okay so what theyll just have to take two PBRs, okay another round of double Bulleit Rye neat for 43, oh awesome I just accidentally poured whiskey on my hand now I smell like whiskey, oof  well THAT SMELLS REALLY COMFORTING. Jesus I didnt even like to drink whiskey when I drank, oh COOL, Trump just won Alaska maybe I just need to pop some Ibuprofen and maybe this itching craving headache will go away if I do a shot of Coca-Cola and I can trick my brain into thinking I did a shot cause fuuuuccccck I want one, I need one, I deserve one.

I trekked my way back into the dining room and it felt much darker compared to when I had just left it ten minutes ago. Shit, the energy in here just dipped into, like, a deep dark realm of despair or something. Wait, why is it so dark in here? I looked over and saw two oversized frat boys slumped on the wall and saw they had turned off the light switch.

I made my way to the light switch and (sort of) gently nudged the two bros out of the way to adjust the lights back to their normal brightness. I turned back around to survey the room as I go to grab my tray of drinks and plan my route to deliver. The room looked really fucking grim, and even worse cause with the lights back up, I could see every line, every detail of grimace on everyone’s face.

Ew. This is just worse. This is so, so sad. And kind of gross. Should I just turn the lights back down? No time, just keep moving.

I made my way through the newfound sorry state of the room. It was obvious: we weren’t at a party anymore. We were at a fucking wake. All I could do was keep moving. Despite what was happening or what I was feeling, I had a job to do, people to serve, money to make. Do people tip more generously when they feel like the world is ending? Guess I’m about to find out.

My eyes continued to graze upwards towards the big screen TV hovering above table 44 to see that our country had seemingly made its choice, with Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin still too close to call. I reached to hand a young woman her pint of High Life as my eyes met hers, all tear-stained and bloodshot through the thin veil of fog of her square-rimmed glasses. She had been dethroned of her blazer, probably due to the rising heat that came in with the volcanic crowd. Her hair was now down and disheveled as if she had been pulling at it with brewing frustration, tugging in an unforgiving, sheering state of powerlessness. She clutched onto her beer silently as she gazed into its particle sum of carbonated bubbles. I wonder if she saw her reflection in her glass: an image of hopelessness and defeat, crumbled down to this, seeking the comfort of this one beer … Maybe with this I can wash away this pain. I wonder if that’s what she was thinking.

I paused and realized that reflection was just as much me as it was her, and that those thoughts were my thoughts. I had just experienced one of the most historical, distinct shifts in drinking history. I saw the drinking go from fun and celebratory to drinking out of fear and panic. Seeing the looks on everyone’s faces took me back to how my final drinking stage had been. That final shift from fun drinking to sad, scary, unwieldy drinking.

Yep. Just like that.

I wanted to stay at table 44 and hug sad High Life girl, because no one did that for me when I needed it most. But I had other thirsty eyes tugging at me. So, I kept moving. I continued to my other tables, making my way through the crowd’s various levels of fear, shock, and anger. My headspace was knocked fully out of its little protective bubble I had worked so hard to manifest. My eyes teared up slightly and I reached to rub my eyes and caught a nice, big whiff of the Bulleit Rye that had fallen on my wrist earlier. It’s warmth ensued my nasal cavity as I thought of doom and forest fires.

What the fuck am I doing? I thought. What is the fucking point?

In an effort to prevent a full-on existential breakdown, I continued to work and decided it was time to close out my tables, everyone holding their drunk and weighted heads in their hands in total despair.

Inhaleonetwothreefour. Exhaleonetwothreefour. Just. Keep. Moving. Almost done.

Finally, it was 3:30 a.m., and I sat weary in booth number seven in Manuel’s Tavern as I stared at my phone’s alert in disbelief. This was the reality we now lived in: Donald Trump was just elected as the 45th president of the United States. This wasn’t like the nightmares I’d been having months prior.

Inhale One two three four. Exhale one two thr- omg.

And then it hit me.

I have to live through a Trump presidency sober.


The last time I saw him he was serrating the ivory tusks of man, rocking
Rocking back and forth in his throne, shaking his head violently
With bursts of anguish in perpetual combustion as guilt rode him like a saddle
Years of inventory have shown he was no decent man worthy of such statutes

But alas, on top of the hill he sat