The First Party I Went to Where the Drinks Were Flowing Free

by on September 19, 2011 · 12 comments

in From the Soul, Life Events

Boy, things you do when you’re seventeen.
Especially when you think you just about the coolest thing
the world has ever seen.
Know what I mean?

Photo courtesy of Michael Oh on

Now, I was cool at seventeen,
not to brag or anything,
but being a teenage male Negro
in 1955,
a dude had to be cool
just to stay alive;
That’s positively no jive.
You were cool for simply
maintaining your cool,
resisting that nagging
everyday urge
to crack a tool
upside some ornery redneck fool’s
in a world where if you looked at him
like the fool he was,
your ass could end up
“Ain’t no justice in that,”
a man once said.
Cool enough to bypass
the crushing pain
that accompanies
such preposterous disdain
through grooving with the likes of
Ella and Sassy
and Miles and Coltrane,
digging how they
artistify and funkify
some mellow jazz refrain.
So soothing to my soul.
So soothing to my brain.
Look, the game
was be cool
or go insane.
And you ain’t looking
at no crazy man.
But being cool,
you understand,
ain’t all it’s cracked up to be,
especially when something
comes along
out of thin air, seemingly,
and lays before you a reality
unlike any that’s ever played a role in
your 17 years of human history.
Like one night at a party
with folks
close to ten years older than me,
an experience
that was totally brand new to me
as up to then
most of the parties I had been to
were heavy into
blindfolded kids with sticks
frantically trying to beat the hell
out of a burro or a cow
made of papier-mache
while somebody’s daddy
kept moving the candy laden beast out of your way.
But, hey, I can hang.
Ain’t no big thang.
Grown up party
for a sophisticated man like me?
Look, I had already traveled the country
by bus and by train.
I could cite passages from Paul Laurence Dunbar,
Zora Neale Hurston
and Mark Twain.
I knew a thunderstorm
was no time to take a stroll
in the rain.
Don’t tell me I don’t know everthang.
So, I sauntered into
the most merrymaking
I had ever seen
and the first thing
that registered on my face
when I stepped into the place
was all the women occupying the space.
Wall to wall!
Looking to have a ball!
Movin’ and groovin’
and shimmying and shaking
their hallowed behinds,
in time
to The Penguins and the Drifters’
rhythms and rhymes,
convincing me that
that I was in the midst
of the very best of times.
Lawd, have mercy,
I mean to tell you them chicks
so fine,
so sublime,
so in their prime.
They made my eyes pop out like Mr. Magoo’s
and if it had been written up in the news
the reporter would have had to describe
how electrified
and tantalized
I was
with all kinds of vibrations
and sensations
and erotic inclinations
flowing from the depths of my imagination
down to my thighs,
giving birth to fantasies
that a mortal human being
could never realize
and how any powers of reason and logic
I may have possessed
was to be put to a test
as there was available to me,
all makes of “ignant” oil
as far as I could see,
with unrestrained availability
like it was “National Git Yo Head as Messed Up as It Can Be” Day.
You couldn’t get out of a drink’s way
if you tried
and I didn’t try.
Age 17.
A flat out novice
in the drinking scene.
That’s why.
Now, I had had a drink or two
with my homeys
and we had gotten a little buzzed
but at the end of our little dissipation
I could stand on my own two feet
and I always knew who I was.
we didn’t have the economic wherewithal
to get our heads as bad
as mine got
that night.
Hey, if it took a penny to go round the world
we couldn’t have gotten out of sight.
We had to scrape pennies together
to cop some rot gut drink like Thunderbird
to which we sang:
“What’s the word?”
“What’s the price?”
“Who drinks the most?”
“Colored folks!”
Ohhhhh, we were sooooo cool,
don’t you know,
drinking straight out of the bottle
in a brown liquor store paper sack,
absorbing just enough
to make us giggle and talk smack
about some notion like buying a cadillac
or “gittin’ some
which, in fact,
was about as likely
as the country electing
a president who was black.
Being out of my element
is an understatement
I can easily claim
since I was treading on
virgin terrain,
soon to enter the strange
and deranged domain
of the temporarily insane.
“What you want, my man?”
the bartender would say to me:
“Whisky? Vodka? Gin? Scotch?”
“How about a little of everything you got?”
He and I had that little conversation a lot
and each time he’d take it up a notch.
I mean it was Bottoms Up
and Down the Hatch
several times
and again
and it seemed like
the boozing
would go on
until the 20th Century came to an end.
I was throwing them down
like Niagara Falls
pouring into a gallon bin
like to not do so
was a mortal sin.
There was no such thing as
“Say when.”
And it wasn’t long before
my inhibitions
evacuated the premises like
Rhett Butler in
Gone With the Wind
and I can’t tell you
where or when
in this din
of iniquity
it occurred to me
that I was the master of the universe
and all that was within.
It came in a moment
as if by sleight of hand,
There was this Wham!
And I was: The Man!
Every ride at Disneyland!
Stepped center stage
and took command
like I was anointed
to be in demand!

I commenced to moon walking
the boogaloo
and broke into James Brown just
“Doing the do! Doing the do!”
and they hadn’t yet become dances to do;
Same goes for the Twist,
the Cha Cha Cha,
and the Monkey too.
Threw in some Black Bottom
and the Charleston
and the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
And before I was through
I was both Bud Abbott and
Lou Costello!
Old Yellow!
Sgt. Bilko!
Satchmo looking for a horn to blow!
Somebody should have called
the Ed Sullivan Show
and why they didn’t
I don’t know.
Then I commenced to singing
to the cheer:
“Get that jive ass drunk motherfucker out of here!”
But little did they know
they were about to hear
every song that came out that year.
“Flip flop and fly
I don’t care if I die…”
“Ling, Ting, Tong, tried to sing that song called
I sa mok em boo di ay,
I sa mok em boo…”
And at some point,
perhaps in the middle of my recitation
of the Gettysburg Address,
I guess,
I hit the absolute jackpot
of drunkenness
without as much as an SOS
to hip me that I was in distress.
And I went from
glib and facile of tongue
to speaking in tongues
to sounding like
Buckwheat with a bee stung
swollen tongue
and the room
spun and spun
and spun and spun
and spun and spun
like a tornado
and where it stopped
I sure as hell was never to know
and my legs seemed to no longer know
their reason for being
and my eyes lost all concepts of seeing
and somebody yelled:
“Is that fool peeing?”
And I woke up
like a sack of potatoes
on my front porch
with no memory
of ever being.

Well, anyway,
all this is second hand info
to me
the first party I ever went to
where the drinks
were flowing free
and at 17, admittedly,
I really didn’t know everthang.
But I did get to know one thang:
two fisted drinking,
even for one night,
brings nothing but misery
and I think learning that
is pretty cool of me.

Photo courtesy of Michael Oh on

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth September 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Ernie, I really enjoy your writing. Well done.


Ernie McCray September 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Thanks, Seth:
I had a lot of fun playing around with this one.


Allen Lewis September 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Dam good Ernie, it reminds me of a party I went to in 1963 in OB, and it didn’t end intel 1971…


Ernie McCray September 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Lord, and we survived.


Terry Connor September 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm


Such fun to read!! Brings back Oh, so many memories. But you were way more entertaining than I ever was. I still say, I would love to read your first novel!! So much enthusiasm in your writing. You’ve got to have a novel in there.


Ernie McCray September 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I’ll get on it, amigo.


robin evans September 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

That was a nice read thanks.
Funny thing is as i got to the bottom of the page i noticed the authors name.
Ernie McCray…I think you were my Horton Elementary principle when i was a kid.
Good to see you are doing well and Thanks again for the read.


Ernie McCray September 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Hey, Robin: that was me back a long time ago. Good to hear from you and I’m glad you liked my little “sinful” memory (smile).


Shirley September 23, 2011 at 8:17 am

Another great read! I think that at seventeen girls just dream of falling in love. You guys, on the other hand, just want to get drunk! At what age does it switch?


Ernie McCray September 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

I think it switches when guys sober up and girls see us for who we really are and then they start pouring them down from the horror of it all (smile). Hey, kiddo, I don’t want to call out any names but I bet you can figure out where the party was. Remember an old dear friend (well, she wasn’t quite ten years older than us but a few years our senior) who had two men’s names and married an airman (like who didn’t) with three letters in his name beginning with “A”. Yeah, you guessed right. They called SWAT (my mother) the next time I showed up at one of their parties – but they could throw a par-tay!


Brenda October 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm

The story you told, I felt I could mold and melt in the gold of your youth! The truth where you’re at, Ahhh, such a cool cat and spinning…I know all ’bout that. So thanks for the read, true lessons indeed ~ I felt I was there and could see (every thought and feeling so eloquently expressed!!!). Thanks, Ernie, for sharing so deeply :)


Ernie McCray October 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

It was a lesson, I’ll tell ya that.


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