Saturday, September 16, 2006

We'll Teach You to Drink Deep

by Kevin Hayes

This is how it happened the first time:

"Do it." We were all saying it, taunting Charles, and Charles was wondering how he'd gotten himself into this. "Do it." An empty airport. Or as empty as LaGuardia gets. The break room. The three of us looking at him.

"The money's down. You gotta do it."

That was true. One hundred and twenty dollars on the scratched vinyl tabletop. How had he managed this? Charles Philips. Thirty-one, old enough to know better. Tired at the end of his shift, tired of throwing out perfectly good cups of coffee and bottles of Diet Coke, he'd said, "I bet there's nothing bad in there."

"I bet you 20 bucks you won't drink it." Marl had said it first, but the two of us jumped on it. Three kids taunting the old man. Kids who thought it was all up, up and away from there. Kids who didn't have a wife and baby at home waiting for them, and two buses to take to get there. Not one of us three had a wife who'd be pissed off to holy hell if he lost his job again.

"Ho-ho, I didn't say I'd drink it." Twenty turned into sixty like nothing. Then doubled like it was a magic trick. One of us, Jayce, had gotten iffy when he had to put the extra twenty up, and for a minute Charles had seen his escape route. Turn it into a joke. The notion flashed by. Let Jayce walk away, then just go home. But he didn't turn it into a joke. He'd seen six portraits of Andrew Jackson all saying, "Be nice to go out to a good dinner, wouldn't it?" And so he'd said it.

"You're on."

And so, there he was. There the four of us were. The break room right off the locker room. Fifteen minutes past the end of our shift. Five minutes till the bus Charles usually took. Thirty-five minutes till the one he'd catch that night. Right there next to the twenties was the cup he'd have to drink. It looked nasty under the fluorescents in the break room, but what didn't? A liquid with a thin, indistinct color sat inside a clear plastic cup. It was closest to brown, but it wasn't brown. Not quite. It was a pale, limpid thing. It was brown's elderly aunt. In some way that was worse. If it had glowed like a deep sea fish, it would make a certain sense. What it looked like most was a cup of East River.

"Do it." Marl again.

"All of it?"

"There is a hundred and twenty dollars sitting there. Hell yes, all of it." Charles looked at Marl. It was a look that said, "I've got ten years and a ten thousand miles on you." I'd gotten that look a couple times on shift. It wasn't pleasant. Do it. All of it. Do it. We were practically chanting. We were definitely laughing.

Charles picked up the cup and took a sniff.

"Bottoms up." He tipped the cup and his head in one motion, and shot it back like a glass of the kind of something he hadn't touched in years. Belatedly, he wondered whether there was any booze in the glass. If there was, he wondered if there'd be enough to unwire his brain just the wrong way.

All of it. He did it.

He did it.

money the money's gone how do I tell her gone said business but went to Atlantic City why the fuck did I do that I was due why the...this guy big black dude's gonna tell me what to do gonna tell me throw this out what if he pulls me off the line god I hate the airport I hate...the plane the plane the plane it's safe nothing to worry about safer than cars safer than cars but they don't x-ray your stuff when you get into one...find out what will I do the kids he'll get the kids that's the way it works that's the way it goes he'd get them he'd leave me and he'd get them and he'd be right...a faggot mom dad you raised a faggot I like dick that's right sorry to tell you this thought you'd like to know in person...did I send out the cable bill it was right there on the table and I know I brought it out to the car but did I...calm remain calm tests are on their way back and she'll be fine the doctor said that this stuff is usually nothing just bad cramps or something nothing don't worry don't worry don't worry about it

I'm not going to pretend that's exactly what passed through Charles's mind. But, it was stuff like that. It's always stuff like that.

"We should leave. Just leave, man." I admit it, I said it. I wanted to run away from the miracle I'd just witnessed. But it wasn't a miracle to me. It was the old guy passed out on the floor.

"We can't leave. Can't leave him on the floor."

The light was shining right into Charles's eyes. He heard us before he saw us. He blinked and saw outlines. The back of his head hurt.

"What--?" he coughed.

"He's awake!"

"Oh, thank God."

"What did you put in there?"



"You put something in there. What did you put in there? Ecstasy or some shit."

"Nothing. Jayce grabbed it outta the bin." Me again, quick to run, quick to play innocent. Quick to push the blame around. Thing is, I was supposed to have grabbed it out of the bin, but I punked out and made Jayce do it.

"Yeah, I just pulled it straight out. Dipped the cup in, that's all."

Charles tried to do a sit up to right himself, but couldn't make it before he felt carsick. He slid back down, his back flat on the ground.


"Need help?"

"Yeah, but give me a minute."


They say it feels like getting drunk. Or getting stoned. Or losing your mind. Or something. They say all that shit and it's all wrong. They say that doing it too much can make you go crazy, but that one time is enough for most people to get hooked. That a drop'll make you go crazy and turn you into an addict. That's wrong, too. Or rather, it's right for all the wrong reasons. Just about too much of anything can make a man crazy. Fame. Money. Power. Alcohol. But they're kind of right: most people use it one time and never need to do it again. Charles, himself, has only done it three times. That first time. And then with his wife to show her it was safe. Then a few nights later when he got us to try it.

Anyway, after they say it'll make you crazy, they usually start going on about the side effects. I actually heard a news report say that it lowered inhibitions. And said it like it was a bad thing. What're inhibitions except fears with a longer name? So yeah, drinking deep takes those away.

Or, it doesn't take them away. It doesn't make you fearless -- that's another lie they want you to believe. It makes you aware of your fears. And others'. It shows you other people's fears, it teaches you to recognize what it's like to be afraid. And when it does that, eventually you can figure out when you're afraid. And you can figure out when being afraid is what's motivating you instead of every good and honest thing inside of you. It winds up that you've been afraid most of your life. You find that out pretty quick.


Charles got arrested last night. They picked him up, and walked him by the cameras and microphones. The news people ate it up. He walked with his back straight, and his hands cuffed behind his back, and I heard one of them call him "a defiant Charles Philips." They're -- the news, the government, the cops -- they're all calling him a cult leader, and I guess that's true enough. True enough for them. Fear. All fear. You can feel it off them. They're scared of a clear-eyed population. They're scared of a population that hasn't been cowed, that can clearly see what the real problems in the world are. I'm just repeating what Charles has said a hundred times, now. And they're right to be afraid. A population that drinks deep isn't going to be theirs anymore. Charles doesn't usually mention that. He likes to talk about a return to American values. He likes to say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He thought, I think, that it would keep him free to preach for a while longer.

When we got back to New York, they were waiting for him. They picked him up at the house in Queens that a stock broker guy from Westchester rents for him and Mary. Not sure how they found out about it. They didn't arrest Mary, but I'm worried they're gonna pick me, Jayce, and Marl up. Right now, though, the news is still calling us three unnamed accomplices. We've been interrogated by the police, before, so it's likely they'll pick us up again. I don't think it really matters at this point. I think there are too many people who've drunk deep. That's what it seems like, anyway.

The last meeting we held was in a basement -- a nice, finished basement -- in Alexandria, Indiana. It was the end of our third trip through the Midwest. I never realized there were so many small places in this country. Alexandria's one of them. It looked more like a Tupperware party than anything else. Some nice, white, middle-aged woman had hooked up with a guy from Indianapolis International, a pilot, I think, and had drunk deep.

The pilot talked to Charles's wife. She talked to the woman. Next thing, we're talking to a bunch of housewives and divorcees out in the middle of nowhere. The four of us, twenty nice, white ladies, and cornfields. We rode in at night, 'cos some of these places aren't exactly happy to see four black guys roll into town. Maybe they'd think there's about to be a robbery and decide to chase us out of town. If they knew what we were really up to, there'd be a good chance of a lynching, I think. We passed a sign into town that said, "Home of the world's largest ball of paint," and we started cracking up. We're sitting there dead serious, eyes open, and the headlights hit that sign. One by one, a chuckle, then full on laughter.

Charles gave his usual speech -- pretty much what I wrote out before and a little bit on how we don't know why drinking deep works the way it does -- and we gave them drops of it. We started out doing drops to conserve it, but now we don't have to. When we come into a town, someone's already stashed jugs of the stuff. Doesn't matter, a drop is as good as a glass. We kept them seated so they didn't fall down and the four of us wound our way through knees and fold-out chairs to get it to everyone. The host, the nice lady, stood off to the side and watched, so happy to see her friends drink deep.

That was probably the last meeting we'll ever have with Charles, and it was hardly different than a hundred we'd held before. They're all so similar that I can't really tell most of them apart now that I think about it. I'd like to, though.


Charles got stabbed in prison. He's dead. Charles is dead. He made it three weeks in prison. The TV is saying that some Aryan Brotherhood guy did it. Said it was racial, and that he called Charles a devil worshipper and spat on him after he did it. It's almost certainly true. I really do think that's what happened. The community is already whispering about a conspiracy. About the government killing him and covering it up. I don't think that's right, but whether or not it is, they're still responsible for his death. They're responsible for putting him in prison, and responsible for getting everyone worked up to the point where stabbing him seemed like a good idea.

The news is also suggesting that Mary was the one who turned in Charles. They're turning it into a whole, "He ran off to start a cult, and she sat at home worrying." It's bullshit. Mary drank deep before any of us. She took the phone calls. She dispatched us half the time.

The three of us took off last night. I don't know when we'll be able to come back to New York. New York doesn't need us, though, the community is strong here. We decided to split up. We're going wherever we're needed. Word reaches you if you're listening for it, and there are a lot of people ready to drink deep. There are a lot of people who need to be told that it's okay. That things are better than they've been led to believe, and that they don't have to be scared anymore if they don't want to be. Since none of us are as good a speaker as Charles is, we decided we'd write something out, and say it each time we spoke to a group. I called Mary and read it to her over the phone to see if she thought Charles would have liked it. She started crying and said that he would have. So, it's got her blessing. Here it is, and you can feel free to use it if you want:

Welcome. I assume you are here because you don't want to be afraid anymore. You've been told that the world is dangerous and that you should be scared of it. The world is dangerous, but you shouldn't be scared of it. Life has always been dangerous. It's always been full of risks. Some people want you to run away from life. We want you to live fully and freely. I'm not going to force you to do drink deep. If you want to leave, you can do so whenever you wish. But if you leave, in a few weeks make sure you take a look at your friends who stayed. You may change your mind then, and that's okay.

We don't know why drinking deep works. We don't know what it does or how it does it. We don't think it's harmful, but there's a chance it's bad for you, and you should be aware of that. But we believe that the way you live now is, itself, definitely harmful. We believe you can live better than you are right now.

Drinking deep won't give you any superpowers. It won't make you go insane either. Both of those things are lies. Drinking deep won't even take away your fears. What it will do is show how much you -- and everyone else -- are ruled by fear. It will show you how often we all say "no" to life instead of joyfully saying "yes." If you are afraid now, that's okay. Being afraid is okay. But if you can deal with your fear right now and drink deep with me, you'll know how to deal with your fears forever. And that's the closest thing to freedom I've ever known.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.


Post a Comment

<< Home