BY GLORIA MARIS “I’m on a first-name basis,” he said, “with vodka.” On a recent cross-country flight I was reading a paperback collection of short stories that I’d put away, half-read, some years ago. Stuck to the inside back cover was a Post-It note with a name, a phone number, and an Art Museum area address on it.
“Vodka, she speaks to me, and I speak to her. We get along well, except when we don’t.”
“When is that?” I asked.
“When I don’t respect her,” he said, and he refilled my glass.
When we met, he was updating one of those beat-the-test books for getting into professional school. He was facing a deadline for shipping his portion of the work on a new edition to his co-authors and editor. Although he worked at home in his apartment, the place was clean, if a little cluttered, in the way you’d expect an author’s pad to be cluttered. I remember hardwood floors; an open-tiered desk with papers and books surrounding a Mac, which had been left on; table lamps that were placed so well in the rooms that the layout seemed scientific; and the square, black, reflective shapes of a few uncovered windows along one wall. There was a wooden mission-style bed with a rumpled plaid-patterned comforter. We spent most of my visit on the bed, just talking and drinking.
He was from Buffalo, where the lake moderates the summers but smothers the city in snow every winter. His family had been in Buffalo for a few generations. He said he wasn’t the only alcoholic in the family, and not the first, either. He’d lost an uncle to vodka, an uneven sidewalk, and a snowbank a couple of decades ago.
“That’s very Russian,” I said.
“My uncle didn’t respect vodka the way I’ve learned to respect her.” MORE