As with the collecting of baseball cards, my brother preceded me as a clerk at 8th Street Wine and Liquor. He found a listing for the job at the NYU employment center and worked there throughout college, then when he was tapering off at the store I started my ragged tenure. Years later, after I’d come and gone at the store, he needed extra money and started picking up some shifts here and there. One night as he entered the store, which by then was on its last legs and almost always empty of customers, the owner and my brother’s coworker for the night were sitting at the desk in the back, site of almost all the billion bullshitting sessions that made that place into one of the best shelters from the relentless passing of time I have ever known (I feel the urge to digress as I talk about it—even talking about it in the first place is a digression, for I meant to speak only and briefly and pointedly about last night’s Red Sox-Rangers game, but sometimes the passing of time seems too cruel and I digress from the point before I even take one step toward making it and no wonder I end up talking about the liquor store, site of years of digression, of sideways expansion, of ingrown soulnails, not just for me but for many other aimless young men who passed months and years leaning on a broom and pretending to know something about wine, and for that reason it should be a historical landmark, or maybe an anti-historical landmark, a shrine to a place where nothing ever really happened, but instead it closed years ago and after a lingerie store came and went the site is now a Korean manicure joint with no trace of the old store visible), and heard the owner, Morty, a World War II combat veteran, speaking quietly, even tenderly, to the young man across the desk from him. My brother, hearing what was being said, paused with his hand on the open door in the classic gape-mouthed fashion of a lowbrow sitcom.
“Listen, Petey,” the owner was murmuring. He reached one of his combat-toughened mitts across the desk. “I too have shit my pants.”