My Life On Rye: Booker’s

Written by
Nathaniel Kressen




Money and power are not things to which I aspire. They are, however, the very metrics by which the majority of my colleagues measure their self-worth. Therefore, when Conor Fidelity taps me to succeed Morris as his deputy, it cues a certain reaction.

Superficially, all is well. Congratulations roll in, handshakes abound. Yet, everyone’s grip seems a little bit harder than it needs to be. Any fool could see the dead eyes behind the smiles. Or, perhaps, I am the fool for letting others color my emotions. Perhaps power lies in numbing oneself. Perhaps the rich get that way by selling off parts of their heart.

Conor’s on holiday my first week in the new position, however word comes down that I am to learn everything there is to know about our clients in Dublin as I’ll be flying out to join him the following Monday. “Everything there is to know” fills boxes, naturally, and quite quickly my new office becomes a cardboard Stonehenge. I ask my new assistant to reach Conor so that I might get some direction on priorities. He’s apparently unreachable, surfing off the sea cliffs of Ireland.

I finish my first day around seven. The city’s just as dark as when I arrived. I never saw the sun.

I bring home files with me. Poor Spud’s waiting by the door, hungry and in need of a walk. Over the course of the week, bad parenting becomes routine. I return home late each night, he’s whimpering. I apologize and cuddle briefly before diving back into work. Apologies matter not, if behavior stays the same.

Also a new routine: text messages from my wife. Monday, Kitty tears me a new one for telling her staff about her and the doctor. Tuesday, she says she’s hired a lawyer. Wednesday, she threatens to file papers. Thursday, she pleads one final time with me to make this transition easy.  

Friday, I reply, “Buried at work. Will call you tonight.”

By the grace of God, I get through preparing for Dublin. I would be lying if I said I didn’t pause each hour to question this new life choice, to dig up memories of my former self and try to reconcile it with me in this chair, in this suit, in this body. Surely, somewhere along the way, I must have gotten a tattoo. I must have differentiated myself somehow from these cogs. I am not just a number. I am not just an empty shirt. I am not what I appear to be.

Which is to say, by day’s end, I am spent. All I want is a drink but Spud’s waiting on me, it’s nine o’clock, and I still owe Kitty the call to end all calls.

How to Win Your Wife Back When You Can Barely Focus Your Eyes. Nolan Buckle, Bestselling Author.

Turns out, we’re out of dog food. I knew this. I’d made a mental note to order more. I walk doggie boy to the deli and buy him a half-pound of roast beef. He scarfs it down quickly, then looks at me with heartbreak.

“I have to call mom, now, okay?” I say. “I’ll get you more after, I promise.”

I lift the dead weight cell phone and reread her text messages. I reflect on the state of our apartment. Kitty equals joy, and this place has none of it. I pocket the cell phone, tell Spud I’ll be back, and head out the door to the bar.

It’s a Friday night. The place is packed and everyone is beautiful. I push my way to the bar and survey their whiskey selection.

First piece of good news: Their shipment came in. There is my Booker’s with its subtle sloping neck, its cursive and block font label, its fire and salvation inside. I signal to my bartender and without a word exchanged he brings it to me. I retreat to a corner to nurse my spirit and watch the crowd.

Looking at beautiful women is like sipping a drink that only prolongs one’s thirst. When one is thirsty enough, any thoughts of sex recede in the mind and a woman’s beauty morphs into a collection of colors and shapes, indefinable clouds forever on the verge of erupting in rain. One ceases to know what to do with such beauty — it exists only to be witnessed — and therefore the thirst never fades. The longing digs deeper. One cannot drag his eyes away.

Booker’s is to liquor what a great leader is to the rest of us. High proof. Tasty as fuck. It is a bourbon for when there is no woman to come home to, for when the dog’s been fed and walked, for when few reasons exist not to disappear for the night.

I sip and the Booker’s breathes and I feel present in my body. The first and second glasses pass in this fashion, a warmth growing inside. Its medicinal power will not let me think. It will not leave me wanting. It will not leave.

When a drunk is true, there is childlike joy in it.

In this drunk, my thoughts turn to home and it is a safe haven. Spud is still a pup. He curls into a circle in my arms, head nestled on the crook of my elbow. When has there ever again been such geometry?

In this drunk, I am a man full of ideas, inspiration. There are melodies in the air waiting to be caught, lyrics that could make a man rip his heart out. I am the one who will harness them. I will bring light to the world’s pockets of darkness. I will breathe each breath as though it is my last, valuing each day, pursuing great truths, emoting, creating, never standing still. In this drunk, I am who I once was.

Booker’s could make a man blast through mountains. Claim territory he hasn’t seen yet. Pillage in the name of God.

I stumble home after an indeterminate number of rounds. I start my trek feeling as though the city is a pillow, ready to catch whoever might fall. By the next block I’ve grown heartsick and am begging the universe — outloud — to simply let me go home. Please let me go home.

Someone out there is listening. Spud greets me with a woof.

The clocks are surely lying but everyone’s bought into it. I worked through lunch and I never ate dinner. Only one place delivers this late. I order dishes and sides without discerning meat or vegetable. Food is nothing but fuel. Why color it, why dress it up? Taste doesn’t matter so long as one survives another day.


I wake up, it’s morning. I’m still wearing my work clothes. Something spilled. A button’s missing. There was a time when I ripped off this uniform the moment I got home.

My phone shows six missed calls. I cannot read. I’m halfway through a one-eyed shower when I remember ordering delivery. I towel off, console the dog, and retrieve my phone to text an apology to the ghosted delivery guy. Another call steals my focus. Outgoing. An absurd hour. To my wife’s cell phone. I blink and blink again. Duration, seven minutes. Too long for a voicemail. We spoke.

Perhaps, in my drunken state, I articulated everything she means to me. Perhaps, she remembered what I mean to her. Perhaps, she’s on her way home right now.

Our apartment looks pitiful but there’s little I can do. I watch our front door while I dress, buttoning wrong, failing to find balance. I track the passing minutes but these clocks are pathological. Time has never moved so slow.


This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group.