Working in a bottle shop can be a lot of fun. You get a sweet discount on booze, you get to refuse service to underage suckers with fake IDs and you get to pretend you’re a wine expert when thirsty soccer mums come in and ask you what the di erence is between two brands of chardonnay. Most of the time I say, “This one has less carbs.” Does wine even have carbs? I don’t know.
But beneath its glamorous surface lies a bleaker side of working in a bottle shop that only fellow employees know.
The other morning, an elderly woman with a walking frame came in to the store to buy her usual $4 bottle of sauvignon blanc. We call her $4 Sauv Blanc Lady. Less than an hour later she returned, evidently having finished the bottle of wine, and in a slurred fashion said she was having trouble using her phone to call her husband. “I just can’t seem to… find my ear,” she said, as another sta member helped her locate it and make the call.
Then there’s the old guy with a walking stick who comes in every day to buy his bottle of Grants Whiskey, a ectionately known as ‘Grants Man’. Every day, without fail. He’ll often mention his health problems in which the source isn’t hard to pinpoint; he consumes an immense 30 standard drinks per day.
However, the store favourite is a mumbling, chuckling punter in his early seventies who we call ‘Clive’. Like $4 Sauv Blanc Lady, Clive has a walking frame and is very hard to understand. Clive has a number of entertaining stories from his heyday which normally involve getting really wasted and punching cops in the head. His good- natured demeanour and goofy grin disguise his stories as something to laugh at but in some way, they’re actually quite poignant. I can imagine the strapping young Clive in his twenties, partying on and having the time of his life. Girls would have loved him, blokes would have envied him. Now he’s a decrepit old man who spends his days wandering around a bottle-o, telling elaborate stories to unconvinced employees.
A workmate once told me that one becomes desensitised to a lot of the sad circumstances of bottle-o regulars. Personally, I disagree. My experiences in the shop have, if anything, increased my sympathy for them. Truth be told, alcohol was never a big part of my family life. My dad doesn’t drink, my mum enjoys a glass of wine and despite my tendency to enjoy a few bevvies here and there, I don’t consider myself a big drinker. So maybe that’s why seeing firsthand the e ects of alcohol abuse particularly struck me and my delicate, naïve brain.
What’s strangest about this is that I’m not sure whether the lives of these regular customers would be better or worse without alcohol. Sure, you could assume that if they stopped drinking, they would be healthier and perhaps they wouldn’t worry their families as much. But the idea that their problems would magically go away if they stopped drinking seems way too simple. For reasons I imagine are complicated, booze has become such an integral part of their lives that it’s hard to believe they could function without it.
Any job has its downsides. I’m lucky that the only downside of my job is serving a few lonely alcoholics
and being sad about it. But if you can, it would be great if you didn’t add to this problem by becoming one yourself. I never meant for this article to adopt the tone of your mother, suggesting you should drink responsibly, but the message still stands. As much as I appreciate the Clives of this world, I wouldn’t want anyone to turn out that way.
Words by Jordan Leovic