Ethel the Gin Drinker

by Ed Mampel

Ethel's a nice dark-brown black gal who likes to drink gin in Wally's room. The reason she likes to drink gin in Wally's room is because it's Wally's gin. Her own gin she likes to drink in her own room. And Wally, who carries a limp and a cane, is a little "dirty old man" who likes to cry about all the gin that Ethel drinks in his room. He cries constantly about having to buy her gin constantly, and yet he wants her around constantly, and the only way she'll hang around constantly is for Wally to have gin around constantly. And she has been hanging around Wally for years, especially in Wally's room, which says something for Wally's gin-purchasing power.

The way it balances out, though, is really tit-for-tat. Ethel needs all the gin she can drink to put up with all the cussing and hollering Wally makes about all the gin she drinks. He complains that Ethel only hangs around till there's no more gin, then leaves. But she really hangs around longer than that. She hangs around till she sees for sure Wally ain't gonna buy no more gin, and then she leaves to drink the gin in her own room. Or wherever. She also drinks gin at a bar on Sheridan where she can get a certain amount on credit. And this she uses whenever Wally's gin-purchasing power is kaput, usually the last three days of the month, before his Social Security check comes in.

All in all, however, these are two people who need each other and who use and abuse each other as people will do. Wally needs a nursemaid, someone always at hand and beck, to clean up the messes he makes all the time and to make runs for him, so he buys Ethel gin and Ethel looks after his needs.

She does this in that strange way of hers. For example, she'll get up to move his refrigerator around when it doesn't really need any moving at all. One time, the plug came out and destroyed all Wally's foodstuff, including foodstuff which was unusual to have been there in the first place, such as cornflakes, oatmeal, flour, and sugar. But when Ethel cleans up, the fridge really gets the biz.

Somebody said they needed an ashtray once, so Wally got up to look for one, but he couldn't find an ashtray anywhere. "Gripes!" he cried, "Where're my ashtrays?!" They hunted all over for one, finally discovering them in the fridge, where Ethel had placed them "to cool off."

When she makes runs for Wally to the grocery store, he ends up with stuff he doesn't know what to do with, like baby prunes and paper plates and pretty colored drinking straws. There's no telling what she'll buy or when she'll return. Once, for instance, Wally was making stew and sent her out for a can of tomatoes. She came back with it two days later, but there wasn't any stew to add it to then. And this was a suspicious-looking can of yellow, pear-shaped tomatoes that came from Spain, at that. Ethel's not one for living in the world of time, nor in the vast world of distance, either. She travels no more than from her room to Wally's room, the grocery store, and the lounge on Sheridan. That is the space in which she lives.

She likes to walk about carrying a notebook with a racquet inside. She doesn't know how to read or write, much less play tennis or badminton—though she has two racquets, one for each game, which get only the use of being alternately carried around now and then. Never in a hurry, she'll stop and stare at something for several -minutes and giggle before she travels on. You can be sure when she is stopped and staring at something, even in a vacant lot, and then starts giggling with her hand over her mouth, that she is seeing something nobody else in this world can see.

At night, in this area with one of the highest crime rates in Chicago, at the closing of the bar on Sheridan, she will go through an alleyway and out into the beam of a night light which shines over the vacant lot and which is the pathway she takes from and to her room. At these times, she is attired like a superstar in silky purple costume with long, black flowing hair (her favorite wig) and wearing sunglasses, and is just as casual about it as you please. She will parade about and clap her hands at the sights only she can see.

"Oh Lordy!" she'll cry. And then she'll laugh and clap her hands again. That is because she has a hard time not seeing snakes and alligators and pearl-handled machine guns coming out from the walls or rising from the ground or wherever she looks at that time, which she does not mind as it beats staring at what's really there. She is completely without fear because one day, as she says, somebody struck her with a "punching knife" and knocked the fear out of her, and so she will go out at any hour of the dark to do her thing.

Another reason for her wonderful sense of security is that she has millions and millions of dollars with godfathers, godbrothers and godsisters everywhere and great grand godfathers and great grand god grandmothers with garbage cans full of money to help her along through life. She talks like that, and some of the stories she can come up with are something else. And when a story is really far out she'll tack a "Truly!" on the end of it, clamping her jaw and lifting her chin. Wally sez, "Whenever she sez 'Truly!' you can be damn well sure she's lying like hell."

Be that as it may or may not be, Ethel's a happy-go-lucky and entertaining gal to be around, and seldom gets depressed. Oh, she may cry about the car crashes in comic books or something like that but never over anything unimportant. In her world there is no crime or racism, poverty or unemployment; there is just millions and millions of dollars with godfathers, godbrothers and godsisters everywhere and great grand godfathers and great grand god grandmothers with garbage cans full of money to help her along through life.

Ed Mampel is a writer who lives in Kingsland, Texas.

See all articles by Ed Mampel