Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Sixty-eight

Posted by ilbebe on January 10, 2012

I am no stranger to drunken boasts, and in fact I have been known to make them on occasion, but unsubstantiated claims about the extent to which one “used to party” have always bothered me. These statements are usually accompanied by remorseful sighs and rheumy gazes into the distance, where presumably a vision of one’s younger years can still be seen. It’s as though the glory days can never be too far behind you if you utter the phrase “Yo, you shoulda been there back in the day” with any degree of regularity. One of my managers at the pizza place where I worked as a pizza delivery driver for a year was just such a frequent claimant.

His name was JoJo, and he had been transferred to our store around March of 2008. In fact, one of my first memories of him was working with him the day of my 27th birthday, which had seen me puking from a moving car that I happened to be driving shortly after leaving a warehouse party at one in the morning. When he first started at our store, he took a wise wait-and-see approach when it came to stirring the pot of how things around the shop operated, and a similarly reserved approach to revealing his past and present stories. One of the first times he opened up about his Glorious Partying Past was on Sunday, April 20th.

“So what are your favorite weed smoking songs?” he asked to everyone within earshot as he started rolling out a doughball.

“Huh?”

“You know, weed songs for smoking. It’s four-twenty, man. I Got Five On It, that’s a good place to start.”

“Oh,” I replied, “That was a big hit my freshman year of high school.”

He looked at me funny. “Freshman year, huh? Damn, that was like two or three years after I graduated.” This clued me in to the fact that JoJo was roughly five or six years older than me. “You couldn’t drive around the ‘80’s without hearing that jam, man.”

The ‘80’s were the Rollin’ 80’s, or whatever they were called back in the day; the area between 80th and 89th Avenues in East Oakland where JoJo grew up and had spent most of his life. I was interested to hear more about his teen years, and he obliged by rapping off a list of all the block section nicknames. About half of them were Rollin’, i.e. the Rollin’ Forties, or the Rollin’ Seventies. Then there was Stonehurst, and the Shifty Fifties. He took his hands off the dough for a moment when he brought up sweet, sweet grape blunts made out of emptied grape Swishers.

I didn’t learn too many more particulars about JoJo until the general manager Louie had his birthday party at his apartment in Fruitvale in the middle of June. It was a Saturday night, and I had switched shifts to work in the afternoon so that I could get to the party earlier. Louie had told me he was having a bunch of family over, but anyone from work was welcome too, starting around seven or eight. I showed up around eight, and I was the only co-worker of Louie’s there, let alone the only non-family member, and the only white person. It was great. I talked to Louie and his wife and brother for a while, and then I talked at length with Louie’s uncle about different hangover remedies. Being Mexican, he swore by the chelada, a simple mixture of beer, tomato juice, lime and salt that had recently been co-opted and put in a can by Budweiser. He had not yet tried the can, and said there was no reason to since you could make it yourself.

“You don’t keep tomato juice around the house?” he asked me, incredulous.

People from work started showing up around eleven, as they got off of work. A bunch of the Mongolian dudes came by with vodka vodka vodka and some weird cider bottles, which did not complement our existing selection of Corona and tequila very well. Louie’s family slowly thinned out, and by the time JoJo arrived around 12:30, it was Louie and his wife and a bunch of the gang from the pizza place. Paddy from the WC branch had shown up around the same time, having blasted out of the Central CoCo as soon as was able that night, and he had given a ride to Rico, another manager from our branch. The crew was assembled, and the trial was about to begin.

All the Mongolian dudes challenged JoJo to shots of vodka, which he took very reluctantly. “Man, you guys need to at least do shake-em-ups or some shit, the only liquor JoJo drinks straight is Hennessey, or at least something VSOP.” He explained that a shake-em-up was cheap, relatively flavorless bum wine, like Night Train or Wild Irish Rose, that you added a kool-aid flavor packet to.

“Shake-em-ups man; girls loved ‘em, guys loved ‘em, it was a good time back in the day.”

This was the beginning of a long comparison between JoJo and myself of Shit We Used To Drink Back In The Day. He was impressed that I still drank forties, and with my knowledge of potent potables that most suburban white kids only heard of via tapes and CDs. The Mongolian dudes kept pushing shots on him, and the rest of us leaned back and drank beer while stories and reminisces flowed out of JoJo like a cool Old E backed with a honey blunt.

The crux of the evening rested on one question: Rico asking JoJo if he could still keep up. JoJo answered in the affirmative.

“Hell yeah dawg, I can still get down.”

2:30 came, and we challenged JoJo to walk the walk as he, Rico, Paddy and me got into separate cars and went back to Rico’s pad in downtown Berkeley to continue the party. Back at Rico’s we tore into some JD, some more beers, and some bong rips. As dawn rolled around and found Rico, Paddy and me smoking cigs on the sidewalk in front of the pad, we realized it was an opportune time to go visit another co-worker of ours, Nab, at his other job at an all-night gas station. We all got in Paddy’s car and headed up towards north Berkeley. JoJo was going strong, but was preternaturally excited about eating a gas-station salami sandwich.

We hung out at Nab’s work for a while. JoJo got his sandwich and ate it cold, much to Nab’s horror, and Paddy, Rico and I hotboxed the bathroom. Then we decided to head to a six AM bar back in Oakland. We implored JoJo to come with, and keep the night going.

“Are there gonna be women there?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “It’s down the street from the Kaiser, so all the nurses go there when they get off.”

“Hell yeah, then!”

My comment about the nurses was not completely untrue, but the fact that JoJo thought that there was any bar in the East Bay where you could find women at around dawn on a Sunday revealed how long he’d been out of the game.

We said goodbye to Nab, drove over to the bar and ordered a pitcher while JoJo sat down and started rocking a matching game on the MegaTouch machine. “I got hella good at this shit when I was working in Richmond”, he explained.

Ten minutes later he was passed out, head resting awkwardly on his arms face-down on the bar next to the MegaTouch machine. I discovered this when I came back inside from the smoking patio, and I promptly finished JoJo’s beer in protest of his desertion. Paddy and Rico had more sinister ideas about how to victimize him in his unconsciousness, but I was able to talk them out of it. We were trying to figure out how to drag him out to the car and get him back to Rico’s place, where his car was parked, when he suddenly jerked back to life, stood up, turned around and ran to the women’s room, where he barfed his life out.

After apologizing about the women’s room and leaving through the back door, we got JoJo safely back to Rico’s, where we wished him luck in getting to work in a few hours. Yes, he was supposed to open the shop that morning at ten, and it was about eight. Before opening the shop, he had to drive to Richmond and pick up Este the cook at his apartment, since Este didn’t have a car. In an amusing side note, Este’s car was out of commission because the hood latch had failed while he was driving on the freeway, so the hood had sprung back and smashed in the entire windshield.

So JoJo got in his car, threw us a peace sign, and rolled off. Padd, Rico, and I weren’t even done with the first round of laughs at JoJo’s expense when he pulled up in front of the apartment again less than two minutes later. He looked over at us, threw up another peace sign, and cruised along.

“Oh shit,” Paddy said, “He’s lost. He just circled the block. I hope he finds the freeway okay.”

We later learned that JoJo had, in fact, made it to Richmond, and pulled into the parking lot outside Este’s apartment, where he leaned the seat back and passed out cold. Este looked out his window about ten minutes after JoJo was supposed to be there, saw him in his car, and walked out to the parking lot, got in the passenger seat, and passed out next to him. They both woke up about an hour and a half later around eleven. The shop was supposed to be open at eleven-thirty. Somehow, they did it.

I have found JoJo’s strength and tenacity instructive. When I have found myself staggering into work, eyes half-opened and head throbbing at ten AM on a Sunday, I remember what JoJo taught me that night:

“Shake-em-ups man; girls loved ‘em, guys loved ‘em, it was a good time back in the day.”

As it still can be, with love and trust and friends and hammers…

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