The Great Vodka and Five Alive Story, Extended Version

I’ve told this story before, but somehow left part of it out; stuff happened near the end that I tend to think of as a separate story. But they overlap, and today I’ll bring them together for the first time. Well, the first time that I remember, anyway… It’s been a long haul, my friends.

After I graduated high school I was fully adrift. I had no idea what to do, or how to do it. So, I enrolled at West Virginia State College, which is a few miles from where I grew up, and declared myself a business major. Ha! My heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give a matched pair of shits, and the only good thing about it was the cover it provided. It was easy to hide behind the phrase “going to school.”

But I didn’t actually go all that often. Many days I’d leave the house with my books and stuff, head over to Budget Tapes and Records, and hang out there for several hours. Then I’d hook up with Rocky or Bill, and get drunk. You know, on account of my deep, deep passion for business administration.

One day Rocky and I blew off school, and ended up at his house, drinking vodka and Five Alive. I don’t know why we were dabbling in liquor, because that rarely happened. We drank beer almost exclusively, but on this day we were shaking things up a bit.

The Five Alive came in cartons, like milk, and Rocky was mixing it all up in a plastic pitcher. Then we’d pour ourselves great tumblers of the stuff, and chug it down.

And about three or four tumblers in… Rocky was smashed. We were all hardened professionals, of course, but this devil’s brew hit Rocky hard, and he was reeling. For whatever reason, I felt reasonably OK. But my study-partner wasn’t faring so well.


He started acting like a maniac: drunk and full of energy. At some point he got it into his head that he wanted to open the sliding glass door that led to the back yard. But he somehow got the door off-track, and wedged at a precarious angle. I was sitting there watching this vaudeville act, laughing and feeling a little apprehensive. I’d seen Rocky like this before, and there was never a positive outcome.

Frustrated, he gave the door one final yank, and pulled the handle off. When it came loose, he stumbled and turned over a huge shelf filled with potted plants. Oh shit! It made a fantastic crashing sound, and there was a HUGE mess that seemed to cover every square inch of the living room floor. Things had taken a turn, the kind of turn I’d anticipated in my woozy soul. Rocky’s mother would go scorched-earth on this crap.

“Help me clean this up,” Rocky slurred, sounding like Foster Brooks. We righted the shelf, and put the pots back where they’d been, approximately. But the carpet was covered in dirt.

“I’ve gotta vacuum this shit up,” Rocky proclaimed, and went to the hall closet to get the Hoover, or whatever.

“Are you insane?!” I shouted. “You can’t vacuum that much dirt! We’ve got to get most of this up first.”

“Fuck you! Get out of my way!!” he shouted, and began running the thing over great piles of potting soil that was three inches deep in some places.

There was a loud grinding noise, and it didn’t take long before the smoke started rolling. It smelled like an electrical fire in there, and the whole house was filled with smoke. Finally there was a loud wrenching noise, and the vacuum abruptly shut down. A big metal plate came off the bottom, and a different color cloud puffed out of the motor.

“Help me get this back together!” Rocky hollered. He was acting crazy. I looked around at the impossible mess, and coughed up some nervous smoke.

“Fuck you, Jeff! Help me with this!!” he yelled, after I hesitated. It was the second time he’d said ‘fuck you’ and that was my limit.

“You’re on your own, man,” I told him, and left.

I drove to Dunbar Beverage and bought some gum or Life Savers, to hopefully mask the smell of the booze. Then I went home. And as I approached our house… I saw what appeared to be a police car in our driveway. What in the honeybaked hell??

My first thought: Rocky is dead. But how had his cadaver been discovered, and the cops dispatched, so quickly? I debated whether or not to go inside, and decided I was OK to face whatever was happening in there.

My parents and brother were in the living room, talking to a cop. They asked me to join them, and I was told that someone had broken into our house during the day, and stolen some stuff. Or rather, walked into our house. ‘Cause the doors were never locked. This was Dunbar, WV, circa 1982. Nobody locked their doors during the day.

The Intellivision console was gone, along with all the games, and my brother’s collection money from his paper route. I think some other stuff was pilfered from my brother’s room, but can’t remember the details.

And I got to sit there, with half a snootful of vodka, answering questions from the police. In the living room, with my parents. It was surreal, but I maintained. Nobody said a word about my semi-drunkeness, which was a good thing. It would’ve immediately shined the light of suspicion on me. Shit missing… oldest son comes stumbling in…

We never found out who did it, but my mother was convinced Rocky was involved. I laughed and said, “It definitely wasn’t Rocky.” The guy was probably, right this minute, making snow angels in potting soil. I’d been with him all day. Plus, he would’ve never done such a thing. My mom didn’t know him. Sure, he was crazy, but not evil. Once you stripped away the Rockyness of it all, there was a good guy under there.

That night, around 8 pm, he called me, wanting to know why I was late picking him up for school. “Dude, it’s 8 o’clock at night. This isn’t morning,” I told him. But he was extremely skeptical.

Turns out his sister and a few of her friends had come home from high school, and found Rocky passed out half in the kitchen, half in the living room. They helped him clean up the mess, and I don’t think he got into too much trouble for that particular episode. Crazy.

And I’m convinced one of my brother’s friends stole our shit. There was one in particular that was a little nuts, and meaner than most kids. But if you’d ask my mother, even today, she’d tell you Rocky did it. Oh, she’s absolutely sure of it.

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  1. The famous Rocky photo reappears.

  2. Great story. I love those old stories from the Dunbar days.

  3. I can’t remember if I’ve said this before or not, but that Rocky picture always makes me think of one Robert Neil “Bob” Stinson, late, great guitarist of The Replacements.

  4. Hilarious!

  5. I had a friend pull the, “Why isn’t anyone at work?” routine on me once after a particularly raucous happy hour one evening. They are really difficult to convince that they are 12 hours off – even when the sun starts setting.

  6. Funny you bring up the “Dirt Story” again. We were flipping through channels last night and got affixed on the show “Strange Addictions”. This looney-bin chick on there was obsessed with eating dirt. They said that she ate an average of 43 lbs of dirt a year. Damn, she could have come in handy for Rock that day !!!


  8. That was hilarious! I think we should have a moment of silence for the Hoover.

    Funny, but years ago at a superbowl party, a friend fixed me a Five Alive and vodka which got me completely bombed. A very slow slide down a wall in a crowded bar was involved.

  9. “Snow Angels in Potting Soil”!
    I’m laughing so hard I can barely type this.

  10. Surly Shawn says

    “I was sitting there watching this vaudeville act, laughing and feeling a little apprehensive. I’d seen Rocky like this before, and there was never a positive outcome.”

    That’s some great prose, right there.

  11. johnthebasket says

    Maybe it’s because it’s in black and white, maybe it’s the Playboy shirt, maybe the wooden shed appendage to the brick building, but that photograph should damn well be in the Smithsonian History Museum.

    That might be the most depressing combination of structure and human life form I’ve ever seen. Everything looks worn out, from the building, to the pavement — all the way to any vestige of tread on the car’s tires.

    Good story — nice update. Thanks.


  12. Jazzbone Swirly says

    Whatever became of Rocky? Is he still with us today?

  13. Just sitting here playing World Championship Baseball on the ‘ol Intellivision

  14. Great story, Jeff! And welcome back.

  15. These kinds of stories really lift me up. Thank you so much for re-telling a classic, Jeff! I felt absolutely terrible about the unsubscribe message I sent a while back, and wouldn’t you know it – I had more than one email address linked to here and I wound up seeing my own message on your blog, and how it affected you. So in short, I’m sorry. I’ve not abandoned ship, and I’ll make it up to you the only way I know how – by clicking the “Buy Jeff a Beer” link. Thanks again for the hilarity, Jeff!

  16. Jeff, I am like Rocky. Someone will start one of those, “Remember the time” stories and I am like, uh, no. I grew up in a shit hole town in Western PA where there wasn’t much to do but steal our parents booze and smoke pot. Fun times, or so I am told.