Selling Fuel to Wildfires


mibryant via Pixabay

“…looking to buy five or six bottles of whatever stupid drink TikTok has tempted them with.”

The thing is, I work at the liquor store. I’m not going to tell you which one since I would really like to keep my job–it makes me enough money to pay my bills, at least. I’ve stood behind the counter there since October, and in that time, I’ve seen my fair share of crazies and alcoholics and regulars. 

In fact, when I decided that I was going to write this article, I made a list on the notes app on my phone where I would document the people who made my eyes go wide. As I said, I’ve seen plenty of them. 

The Regulars

Some of my regulars aren’t that bad if I’m being honest. There’s the little old lady who comes in about once a week dressed head to toe in color-coordinated outfits, down to her costume jewelry and her hat. She comes in, dressed in bright oranges and purples, buys her husband a half-gallon of whisky, and leaves. She’s one of my favorites–on the rare occasion that she buys something for herself, she only takes recommendations from me. Not my manager, not the owner of the store, me.

There are also the ladies who have been sent with a list of things to find for weekend trips or class reunions, who have no earthly idea what they are looking for. When they come in, I get to stop whatever I’m doing for about half an hour and show them all of my favorite shit around the store. It’s always the best part of my day.

I wish every customer I get could be a ray of sunshine to my shift. The majority are anything but that, though. I get the assholes who ask if I have a man, and if I need one. I get the people who scream in my face if the state hasn’t delivered whatever they want yet, and the folks who ask for liquor specifically because they know it’s near-impossible to get. 

One woman come in with her mother last week. She bought around $200 worth of liquor through about four different purchases, just because she kept changing her mind and picking up more than she wanted. Eventually, she stopped herself and told us, out loud and in front of her mother, that she was starting to cut into her “ounce money.” 

Ebbs and Flows with a Bottle in Hand

I have discovered that, at least in small towns like this, there is a specific way that business flows throughout the week, and that there are reasons behind that. Mondays are a shining example. Other than the regulars that show up every single day, I don’t sell shit to anyone on a Monday. The reason behind it? The weekend. This is a college town with nothing to do–students and burnouts alike drink like the world is ending for two or three days straight. Then Monday hits, and they’re all either nursing a hangover, going to class or work, swearing off the bottle, or some ghastly combination of these. 

This is the same god-awful situation that leads me to work my ass off running the store on a Saturday night. The entire population of Cleveland and the surrounding tiny towns flock to the liquor store, either mine or somebody else’s or both, looking to buy five or six bottles of whatever stupid drink TikTok has tempted them with. People will roll into the parking lot as I am locking up the doors, a little past 10 p.m. when I am legally not allowed to sell any alcohol, and get angry when I won’t let them in. On nights like that, I sit in my car and wait for them to leave for fear of them following me home.

This Shit Makes You Need Therapy

I say all of this as if I’m better than a drunk–I’m definitely not.

It’s not exactly a glamorous job, and not one that you can put too much thought into without wanting to off yourself. I sell vices to addicts and make a living off of them. People waste away, people spend literally their last dollars so that they can have a drink, and I watch them come back later when they scrape up some change and buy just a little more. I encourage people to indulge in their bad decisions, to dig themselves deeper into their holes.

A few months into the job, I asked my manager, let’s call him Travis, how the hell he dealt with the emotional stress of all of this. The two of us were friends at that point. The only advice he had to give me was to just not think about it. He had worked in liquor stores for years, and that’s all he had to offer. I’ve taken his advice, just because it’s either that or wallow in guilt and self-pity over selling fuel to wildfires.

Is it all just a Glance in the Mirror?

I say all of this as if I’m better than a drunk–I’m definitely not. There have been mornings where Travis and I both show up to open the store insanely hungover. I’ve acted a fool in public after one too many drinks. There are absolutely nights that I don’t remember anything but flashes of. I look forward to Sundays, the only day I’m guaranteed off, so that I have mimosas and vodka for breakfast. I’m not above the people that I sell to.

 I do that thing where I try to justify it to myself, too. I’ll tell myself that my little employee discount makes it worth it. That it’s been a hard week and I deserve to get blackout drunk. I need to drink what I sell so that I can recommend things to people.

Introspection is difficult- I don’t exactly know what to say. Is there a right answer? I could take the moral high ground and put in my two weeks, but it’s good money. Jobs aren’t exactly easy to find in Cleveland either. I could preach to people who come into the store, but the store’s owner would be pissed. I doubt people would listen anyways.