My First Jack and Coke

(*Sally this is mostly readable, per Carter, but not entirely since the story you heard had some very edited lines. So when you get to quotations proceed with caution*)

As I regularly talk about, I enjoy the occasional (multiple and daily) drink.  Although that didn’t become a regular thing in my life until I was a few years past my 21st birthday. I wasn’t a fan of the taste of beer, liquor, or anything really. I was, on the other hand, a huge fan of smoking pot. This probably explains why I wasn’t a huge drinker at the time. I would get high, then I would sit on the couch, debating whether or not I should go to the store to get beer, or if I should just sit there playing Tony Hawk on my PlayStation. Tony Hawk won on a regular basis.

I do remember one day I was “in the mood to drink” and on my way home from work I picked up a case of Corona. I still had that case a month later with only three out of the almost pristine packaging. Obviously, I was not a huge drinker at the time.

Then came the time I decided I was going to take a month off from getting high (a decade later I do a very similar experiment with no alcohol. The result was massively different). After that really long month I found I really was not a fan of smoking weed anymore. I became withdrawn, quiet, introverted and shy anytime I smoked. Sadly I am many of these things already (many will say this is a lie, but it is honestly how I feel about myself from time to time), so adding to this by smoking weed made me uncomfortable in public and was hurting my already demolished social life. Here is where beer enters my life, and quickly becomes one of my best friends.

Since I was a late bloomer to drinking, similarly as I was to smoking weed, talking to girls, kissing girls, growing facial hair (still can’t do this one), coming into my own, and basically anything else that guys pride themselves on, many of my friends were already sitting down and enjoying “classy” drinks. They were already experts on bourbons and scotches. They had sampled beers from many different places. I had enjoyed Miller Light and Dixie. Needless to say at the time, I was a bit of a novice to drinking.

The easiest way to learn how to enjoy anything, I have found, is through trial and error. Don’t know if you’ll like beer? Drink a case of it. Don’t know if you’ll like rum? Drink a bottle of it. Don’t know if you’ll like bourbon? Drink two bottles just to be sure. It is the same theory with coffee, sushi, broccoli, and many other things that my dad referred to as “an acquired taste.” This is also an effective plan for becoming an overweight alcoholic, so I have another plan for binging like this, while still losing weight without throwing up. Remind me one day to write about it.

Anyway, I had heeded my father’s advice for years after I started drinking. He said, “Just stick to beer. It’s cheaper and not as bad for you.” I personally think he knew that I was a person that would one-day struggle with addiction and didn’t want me to too tough of a battle.

So I was a beer drinker, and I was totally okay with that. I love beer. It is delicious. Sure, the occasional shot of jaeger would fall into my mouth but typically it was beer. Cheap beer. It has always been cheap beer.

Then came the wedding.

Two of my friends from high school, for the sake of this story will be named Paul and Sydney, were getting married. They had dated on and off since high school and they were that one couple that everyone just seemed to know would end up together. When he proposed, no one was shocked. When she said yes, no one was shocked. When they set a date, no one was shocked. When they made it to the day, a few people were probably surprised, but I am not sure who those people were.

They were getting married in lovely Vienna, VA at this beautiful atrium place with a stream flowing through the middle of it and plenty of room for seating and open bars. The open bars are the most important part.

The ceremony was a ceremony. It was like so many other ceremonies that everyone has attended. I remember it was fucking hot though. I sat in the back row, dateless, as I tend to go to weddings, sweating in my suit, wishing they would hurry up and finish so we could go inside to enjoy the air-conditioning. I remember feeling for Paul and the groomsmen, knowing they had to be even hotter than I was.

Paul kissed Sydney, they walked down the aisle together and the groomsmen and bridesmaids followed. Another one of my high school friends had gotten married lowering the number of single guys down to only a handful (right now, I believe it is between three of us for last man standing, and the other two finalists were the other two players in tonight’s story).

Everyone got to go inside the glorious air-conditioned room where immediately the boys that were all friends in high school lined up at the bar. Many of my friends were enjoying drinks such as bourbon/ginger, bourbon/coke, vodka/tonic and I had my beer.

I’m not citing peer pressure on my decision to try something new, especially since I was in my late twenties and they never told me I needed to try one, but I guess curiosity truly took over. I wanted to know what made this so popular. So the next time I was in line, I ordered my first Jack and Coke, and suddenly realized why people drank this exceptionally delicious drink.

Needless to say, that was not my last Jack and Coke that evening.

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            The reception was like so many others, that we would all refer to as a good time. People got a little bit softer now. Then they got a little bit louder now. On a fairly frequent occasion people tended to “Shout.” I am certain there was sliding of the electric variety going on. There was possibly the style of dancing known as “chicken” happening.

Yes, the wedding was a good time, where we all enjoyed getting drunk on free booze, dancing and smoking while we celebrated the union of Paul and Sydney in the fashion that we had grown accustom to celebrating. We had drank an almost toxic level of alcohol and danced until our hearts almost beat out of our chest, then we went back to the hotel (thanks to the shuttle) and decided to continue the party that had been simmering in bourbon for the last few hours.

Many of us had decided that getting a hotel room would be a good idea. We all knew that none of us would be capable of driving home that night after an open bar, and this truly seemed like the better option (see, Sally, I do occasionally make the right decisions).  Carter, Fink and I had all gone in and purchased a room together so a group of us that included Paul, Sydney, Paul’s brother, Chad, their sister, Moriah, and Moriah’s boyfriend, Josh went back to the room to continue to drink.

This was at 11:30. By 4:00 a.m. one of us would be in a hospital, blood would cover a hotel room, one of us would be missing and I would be knee deep in a drunken conversation with a couple of police officers. It was a good wedding.

The eight of us sat in the hotel room, passing around a bottle of Jim Beam and sipping on beers that we had loaded up on before the wedding had begun.  We laughed, joked around, and generally celebrated a wedding the way it was intended to be celebrated. Friends and family hanging out in harmony, remembering the past, and all the different stories that lead us to the glorious day in which Paul and Sydney finally walked down the aisle together.

Around 12:45 Paul said they were going to have to go to bed. Their plane was leaving for their honeymoon early in the morning. He asked us to go out for one last smoke with him before he left, and Chad, Josh and I went out with him.

The four of us stood outside of the hotel, most of us barely capable of standing without swaying back and forth. We smoked our cigarettes and talked to Paul about the upcoming honeymoon. Obviously, he was excited and ready to go. He wasn’t thrilled about the early morning departure, but was willing to put up with it for a week away from everything in the real world.

We finished our cigarettes. Chad and Josh decided that they needed to pay for alcohol and went to the hotel bar. I wasn’t going to pay for alcohol when I had a fridge full of beer and a bottle of Beam up in the room. I bid them all adieu and told them I would see them in the room in an hour or so since the bars in Virginia all close at 2 a.m.

The elevator doors opened. I poured my drunk ass out of the lift and headed up the hallway. As I came walking back up the hallway I could hear a ruckus coming from the room. The exceptionally obvious voices of Carter and Fink were yelling at each other about something that I couldn’t make out. I walked into the room and see the two of them standing about a foot apart, Fink yelling about how he doesn’t like to be hit in the head and Carter saying that he didn’t care. Going on to say Fink can’t push Moriah (or something. What happened in the room I’ve never truly understood because both of them say they agree on what happened, but never have the same story). Fink yelled back at him about how he didn’t push her and Carter yelled at him he did. Basically this was a conversation that would only happen with a couple of drunken asses (and long time good friends).

I asked what happened and Fink started explaining what his side of the story was, getting ever constantly interrupted by Carter who was interjecting his side of the story without letting Fink complete a sentence. I told Carter to shut up and let Fink finish his story and then he could talk, to which he replied that I wasn’t needed to “mediate this shit” (‘cause that would have been such a bad thing) and had nothing to do with it. So, in the most mature (and well thought out) way, I said, “Fuck you, Carter. I’m out of here.”

I grabbed my backpack and jacket and walked out the door, down the hallway, toward the elevator. Fink came running down the hallway after me, screaming about how I shouldn’t drive (probably a safe bet).

I told him I don’t care; I would have rather risked driving home than stay in the room with the self-righteous prick, Carter (my best friend). He could always think he was right, he could always think he was the leader, the one in charge, the most mature, but he had no control over my life. Fuck him.

Fink begged me not to drive. He said that it would all be ok tomorrow. He said he wasn’t even mad at Carter anymore, and we could all stay there in peace (yeah, he was wrong). I told him I would stay there, but I wouldn’t forgive Carter.

The two of us walked back in to the hotel room after going down and smoking a cigarette. Carter and Moriah were sitting on opposite sides of the room. There was an eerie quiet that rested in the air. There was tension between us for the first time in years.

About an hour passed, it was just after 2 o’clock, the bars were closed and Chad and Josh were still not back. Moriah texted them to find out where they were but there was never any response. She was worried about her brother and boyfriend and since the other three people in the room weren’t exactly friends at this moment we decided it was best if we went looking for them. Carter was checking hotel floors, Fink and I went outside to look around to see if maybe they went to go get high in their cars.

We walked around the entire hotel parking lot looking for them in any of the cars that were still parked there, but couldn’t find them anywhere. After a few cigarettes and enough time to cool off from being angry at Carter we went back to the hotel room without Chad or Josh in tow.

Of course this is where worry set in. What could have happened to them? Why hadn’t they returned text messages or phone calls? Did they get arrested? Did they meet some girls in the hotel and hook up with them? The questioning went on and on and on, each one a little more outlandish than the one before it until Carter said, “Actually, I don’t care what happened to them as long as all of us are good.”
Fink immediately said they were fine, and Carter looked at me waiting for my response.

“Yeah,” I said coldly. “We’ll be good.”

(I am exceptional at many things, one of which is holding grudges.)

“Okay,” he said as he picked up the bottle of Beam and handed it to me. I accepted it and took a long, hearty pull from the bottle.

We sat there in a stoic silence as Sportscenter played mundanely on the television.  We had forgiven each other, but the presence of anger rested in the air around us. Separation was hanging on our shoulders, weighing down the night formerly lifted by the levity and joy of a celebration of togetherness.

Then Josh walked into the room.

Immediately we wanted answers. Where had they gone? Where was Chad?  What the hell happened over the last two hours? Any animosity we had toward each other was suddenly transferred to the situation at hand. We weren’t angry with him per se, we were angry at a boiling cauldron of bad decisions and drunken misunderstandings. And in Josh’s infinite arrogance and wisdom he decided to not to answer any of our queries. Not only did he keep quiet about what had happened, he began insulting the three of us with his actions (taking our bottle of Beam from Carter’s hands and drinking it without asking), as well as his words (calling me a liar and us pricks). Moriah sensed bad things were looming in the near future and took him into the bathroom just before the three of us had reached our absolute boiling point.

As stated before Fink, Carter and I had been friends for two decades at this point, give or take a few years. We had also known Paul about the same amount of time; Fink knowing him the longest. I had met Moriah 14 or 15 years prior when she was just a kid in elementary school and was the little sister we didn’t want hanging around. Carter and Fink were closer with the entire family, so they felt the same way about her that I did. We all looked at her as a little sister that we wished we had (I am kidding Kate, I am glad you are my little sister).  At least, that was the feeling we all shared that moment.

We could hear Josh yelling in the bathroom and in between his bouts of drunken incoherence we could hear Moriah sobbing. That was where we drew the line. It didn’t matter about anything else that happened earlier in the night. We now knew we needed to rescue our “little sister” from this drunken fool, who was not only willing to tell random strangers that he was on probation for a few things but honestly seemed to be bragging about it at the time. It was as though he thought telling us this would have garnered him some sort of respect from three people of which only one (me) had been to jail before.

Fink walked over to the locked bathroom door and said that Josh had to go. Josh replied with a very adamant “fuck you.” Fink banged on the door and told him to open the door, but to no avail. The two of them were locked in the bathroom together and in all honesty I really had to pee.

I took apart a pen (writers always have a pen on them), took the ink cartridge out and slide it into the circular key hole that accompany most doors inside a home, I pushed gently on the locking mechanism and twisted the door knob open. Fink pushed the door open and I took a step back giving him room to get Moriah out of the bathroom (she was sitting on the floor crying when we got the door open). He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of the bathroom. She ran past me and into the other room where the beds were.

Fink told Josh he needed to go, who in order to protect himself from being carried out of the hotel room had sat in the corner of the bathroom like a petulant child.

“Fuck you,” I heard him say, just as I had truly reached a tipping point of anger that I don’t think I had ever reached in my life up until that point and haven’t reached since. And I still had to pee.

Fink turned toward me, getting ready to inform me Josh was not leaving on his own accord, when from inside the bathroom Josh, using the wall as leverage, kicked the door, hard, in an attempt to shut it. The only problem was that Fink’s foot was in the way of the door. Unfortunately for Fink he wasn’t wearing any shoes or even socks.

The sound of his foot breaking made an audible crunch as his big toenail got ripped instantaneously from his foot as blood began to pour from the fresh wound. Fink screamed out in pain, as the door remained open.

Fink crawled out of the way as I ran into the bathroom, just as Josh was attempting to stand. I grabbed his taupe dress shirt that was too big for him with both hands and threw him back to the ground.

“What the fuck is your problem?” I yelled. “You come into a room with three best friends and break one of their feet. You fucked up, Fucker.”

As you can see, even though I am a writer, when I am drunk my vocabulary is exceptionally limited.

I noticed something out of my peripheral and turned to see Carter coming around the corner. Just as I turned my head to see Carter, Josh yelled out, “I’m going to fucking kill you,” as he took a swing at me, missing miserably.

Carter grabbed Josh by the arm that had failed to reach its intended target of my face and threw him into the awkward hotel bathroom hallway. Josh crumbled like a ragdoll as Carter pinned him down with his knees and began administering face-crushing blows with alternating hands.

I was the only one fortunate enough to have experienced what this scene looked like. To understand fully, one must know Carter, much to his chagrin, looks remarkably like that famous savior guy, Jesus. It was as though I was watching, and I’m not sure why, it happen in slow motion. Jesus Christ was pounding the living shit out of a heretic. I think this was more of the savior the Jews were waiting for to return; I will have to ask Fink.

As Carter was raining down blows of righteous indignation on the drunken fool I reached out and grabbed him, yelling, “Carter, we can’t kill him!”

As Carter looked at me, Josh had his face covered by his arms, Fink was screaming on the bed about his foot and I had no idea where Moriah was at that moment.

Carter nodded his agreement and in another slow motion moment of the night Josh mustered up any strength he had and took a swing at Carter, my best friend, the guy who was there to protect us at the moment, the guy who one day will be a doctor saving the lives of people and somehow I do something I didn’t really know I could do.

Before I go on, I have to tell a really short story about an event that happened a week or so prior to this wedding. I will attempt to do this as quickly as possible because this story is already longer than I intended it to be.

A week before, my friends and I were in Baltimore for a Red Sox series against the Orioles. We grabbed a hotel and decided we would stay there so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving back that night. This also afforded us the right to get as hammered as we wanted. Lots of stories happened that night (picking up a prostitute, flaming shots, synchronized vomiting) but the one that comes into play the night of the wedding was the one of the Hard Rock Café.

One of my friends was employed by the government and had been trained in some advanced hand-to-hand combat moves. In our drunken state, we felt that in the middle of the Hard Rock Café we should be taught these moves just in case somebody were to try to attack us in Baltimore that night. The most effective technique we were able to do that night was a simple one known as the “arm bar” which renders your opponent helpless for fear of breaking his or her arm (or the bar stool next to you while you are trying to get out).

So, back to the night of the wedding.

Josh’s hand was moving in slow motion through the air toward Carter’s face. I somehow reached out and grabbed his arm as it was moving, twisting it up and placing my free hand on his elbow applying just a small amount of pressure, pushing him to the ground.

“I swear to Christ,” I yelled. “If you move I will break your arm!”

Josh struggled for a quick second but I added more pressure and suddenly he saw that I had the ability to snap his arm and he stopped moving immediately.

Fink ran (hobbled) over and started waving his foot in Josh’s face, blood spraying from his nailless toe and dripping from different spots onto Josh’s face.

“You Fucking Bitch, Cunt, Mother Fucking Whore,” Fink screamed. “You broke my foot, Cunt Whore Bitch! I will fucking kill you, you cunt!”

To find the true humor in this is to know that Fink is an exceptionally large pacifist that wouldn’t harm anyone.

“Fink!” I yelled. “That is not helping!”

He sat back down on the bed and continued to yell at Josh who was unable to move in the slightest in fear that I would actually snap his arm. I don’t even know if I could have done it. Physically, yes I could have but I don’t know if I, Matt Wright, as a person could have mustered up what was needed to intentionally break the bone of a fellow human being. But I was willing to find out that night.

I’m not sure who it was, but someone yelled out, “What should we do?”

We couldn’t kick him out now. We had just kicked the crap out of the little shit. If I let him go he would certainly attack one of us again. In the off chance he didn’t try to attack one of us then he certainly would have taken Moriah with him when he left. We were at a bit of an impasse.

“Let’s call the cops,” I suggested.

It made sense, at least at the moment anyway. So Carter called the front desk and asked them if they could call the police and tell them to report to our room.

At this point Moriah had asked me to let Josh up and I agreed but threatened if he moved his back from the sink counter Carter and I would put him back on the ground. She agreed and they sat there quietly whispering to each other.

The cops and EMTs were at the hotel in a few minutes. The room had a calm about it suddenly as the EMTs came in with the gurney to get Fink out of the room and take him and his shattered foot to the hospital. The cops asked Fink if he wanted to press charges against Josh. Moriah begged him not to since he was on probation and this would put him back in jail. Fink agreed not to even though I thought he should have. Part of Fink not pressing charges was under the assumption that Josh would pay his medical costs. That never happened.

Carter went down to the lobby with Moriah to get her a hotel room under the assumption Josh would not be allowed to stay with her. That did not happen either.

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Not What They Really Looked Like

While they were gone, the only people that were in the room were Josh, White Cop, Black Cop, and me.

White Cop: Man that kid was really bitching about losing a toenail.

Black Cop: See all this blood. That had to hurt like a mother…

White Cop: Yeah, but do you think you would have beat a guy up for ripping yours off.

Black Cop: Shit. If this guy had ripped off my toenail I would have shot him in the face.

White Cop (to me): What were you all celebrating?

Me: Friend’s wedding.

Black Cop: Looks like a good one.

The entire time we spoke Josh stood there, motionless, staring at the same point in the mirror-covered closet doors. I really didn’t blame him. One of the cops had basically threatened to shoot him in the face. I had an arrogant little smirk across my face, knowing there was nothing the poor bastard could do to make himself look good that night.

After everyone had left I sat and looked around the hotel room. Blood was all over the floor and on some areas of the walls in the awkward bathroom/closet hotel hallway. Beer cans were scattered all over the place and an almost empty bottle of Jim Beam were thrown sporadically around the room.

Carter had gone to the hospital with Fink to make sure he was okay. I stayed behind because Paul had left his overnight bag in our room and it had his passport in it and he would be coming to get it before they took off that morning.

It was around 4:30 when I finally fell asleep, still in the clothes I wore to the wedding which felt like it was a lifetime ago by then.

About an hour or so later (I can’t be sure, I was still a little drunk when I fell asleep and can only assume I was when I woke up again) there was a pounding at the door. I was certain it was Paul and Sydney. I got out of bed, groggily walked to the door, avoiding any and all beer cans that were splayed across the floor and opened the door.

Paul and Sydney walked in as I moved my way back to the bed. They looked around the room.

“What the hell happened in here?” Sydney asked.

“There was a fight,” I said, climbing back into bed.

“Where’s Chad?” Paul asked.

“Disappeared,” I said.

“Where’s Moriah?” he asked.

“Room upstairs,” I said.

“Where are Fink and Carter?”

“Hospital,” I said. “Fink lost his toe.”

I told you I was a little groggy and drunk still. I think I wanted to say toenail but just missed a syllable.

“Are you serious?” Sydney asked.

“Yeah, there was a bit of a fight,” I said.

“Oh my god!” she said. “This was a wedding!”

Paul came in and grabbed his bag as Sydney started asking how he could be so calm about everything.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I’m going on my honeymoon with my wife. I’m not worrying about it until I get back.”

They left, I fell back asleep.

I have heard the story of Fink and Carter at the hospital a million times and it never ceases to make me laugh. Fink rolling around in wheelchair asking people if he could bum a cigarette, even going so far as to break up a Tibetan prayer circle to ask if any one of them smoked. The story of them getting dropped off back at the hotel in a cab around 7 in the morning, Fink on crutches, and Carter with a shirt covered in blood from pummeling a man in the face the night before.

The next day we all went back to Fink’s and my apartment building and crashed for a while. We just needed to sleep off the night.

What’s funny about that night (besides the entire story) is my first Jack and Coke was also the first time I got into a real fight (even though I never threw a punch, nor got hit). That night went from the celebration of new beginnings and togetherness to a night where three friends who had been friends for almost twenty years proved why they were that close of friends.

I was never sure of certain things in my life. Would I ever like Jack and Cokes? Would I ever be able to handle myself in a fight? Would I be able to defend my friends at all costs?

The night of the Paul and Sydney’s wedding I discovered that the answer to all three of those questions was a resounding “yes”.

Needless to say though, it took me quite sometime before I was able to drink another Jack and Coke.

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