UNITED STATES—”I stopped drinking,” Charlie says. “I’m giving up beer.”
“Beer isn’t drinking.”
“If it isn’t drinking, what is it?”
“It’s beer,” Charlie says. “Beer is beer.”
I know this weeks before Charlie came out to visit. And it is fine by me, because even when we were in college, beer is something I couldn’t really stand. It would always make me feel bloated. And the funny thing, after Charlie announced that he was going to go off beer, suddenly that’s all I think about. I am afraid to drink it in front of him and want to make sure his transition to sobriety is easy.
We’re going to meet for New Years and I make a big point of getting in non-drinking form. The night before Charlie came into town, the neighbors invited me in for a drink: ginger ale and Jameson whisky. That was pretty good, let me tell you.
Charlie comes to my mom’s house, where I’m staying. There’s no one living here since she’s in a rest home. Rusty lines are forming at the water level in the toilets, and there is dust everywhere. Charlie sinks down in the dusty velour of the sofa right by the dainty old table that got marked by a coke can one summer vacation a couple years ago.
A round clear yellowish circle remains under the papers on the table.
Charlie places a coffee cup down on the bare wood surface exposed on the table. I say:
“Why don’t you put it on a paper or something?”
He says, “There’s no liquid on the bottom of the cup. It’s its own coaster.”
Then I see fit to prove the past damage done during the holiday two years ago. This is so petty and unhospitable. Why was I even bringing this up? The fact is, this table had been OK for like 90 years and nothing had ever happened then some chucklehead came and put down a coke can. That must have bugged me more than I thought.
“Look, Charlie, you’re not the only suspect,” I say, trying to placate Charlie, who is taken by surprise. Like I say, I’m not usually the person to dwell on petty stuff like circles left on a table. “You weren’t the only coke drinker.”
My mother-in-law is always drinking diet coke, I explain, and she was at the house at the same time as Charlie two summers ago. We had quite a crowd. But you’d think my mother-in-law would be educated. And my friend, I know he’s educated.”
“Well, it could have been your son,” Charlie says.
“You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” I say. I feel like I am turning into the worst of the fussy, picky people I’ve been around. I am turning into my mother.
“I’ll try to be more careful,” my friend snaps back. “What makes you think it was me?”
That made me tongue tied. Since this happened two years ago, I’ve been observing. Charlie has a way of carelessly putting cans and glasses down on wood surfaces. I guess this shows you how this stupid petty thing has gotten under my skin. I can’t believe I’m one of those people who care about coasters and the surface of furniture. I never thought of it, but it’s kind of like marking territory.
I don’t know what to do with myself. I keep making hot water for more coffee. Finally I say,
“Charlie, let’s find all the coasters that were never used in this place and throw ’em in the fireplace.”
“That sounds like fun.”
We open some drawers that haven’t been opened in years and cabinets in the sideboard. They are all musty. We throw them into the fireplace, along and mix ’em with a few old bank statements. We watch the flames dance and have a good laugh.
Grady Miller is the Wizard of Fiction and author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” https://amzn.to/35uiTkB