“Three Tennessee whiskeys”, he gestures with three fingers, “Buffalo Trace, shitty, but it’ll do the job. Weller’s, good shit, always worth the price, a crowd-pleaser. Pappy Van Winkle’s, premium top-shelf behind-the-glass stuff, we’re talking $400 per bottle. This is some real snobby shit.
“The same company makes all three?”
“Yep, Pappy Van Winkle’s just sat longer. Buy a Weller’s, open it, let it sit for a year, and you’ll have Pappy Van Winkle’s.”
“Totally. My ex’s girlfriend’s friend works for the state alcohol bureau in Tennessee. She and my ex worked at the Weller’s distillery ‘tasting room’,” mockingly pantomiming quotations. “They’re both booze snobs, always talking about the fruit notes in wine, cascade hops vs chinook hops, and the smokiness of an old man’s testicles. The best part was how to get microbrews from other states without having to go there. Apparently, only a few retailers can import them, and in small amounts, a pallet or two, and her office is the one that ok’s the state to state transaction.”
“Dude, tell us about the time you got stabbed,” Xavier interrupts.
Nelson grinned. “You mean my knife fight in Grant’s Pass?”
“What? You got stabbed?” Danni asked, eyes popping.
“I was hitchhiking and this black guy—"
“Wait, why’s he gotta be black?”, someone jabbed from the hallway.
“Dude, the guy was black,” Nelson continued. “Okay, so this black guy picks me up outside Grant’s Pass. I’d been hitchhiking from Bend for a day or so and I had this shitty pack—you know, one of those Vietnam-era, metal-frame canvas rucksacks you get at army surplus. Probably good for jungle war but fucking useless for hitchhiking.
“What’s funny is, I’d told my dad I was gonna hitchhike back to Tennessee and that I dropped out of school, all in the same phone call and all he said was, ‘I’m jealous, be careful.’ I was expecting to get my ass chewed out. So now I’m hitchhiking back to his house in Portland to get my good pack and I get picked up by this guy.
“As soon as I get in this guy’s car, I immediately smell the beer on his breath. The backseat of his banged-up Sentra was being used as a trash can for fast food wrappers and empty cigarette boxes. The roof of the car has all these black marks where he’s smashed out his cigarettes. It smells terrible, but I do too, body odor, ass and smoke, so there.
“We exchanged names and he gave me something totally stereotyped, Teyshaw, or Rashaan, or some shit. I couldn’t pay attention because the blown speaker near my right ear kept buzzing every time the base kicked up on the radio. It was obnoxiously loud, and his smoking didn’t help, but I was so tired from walking it really didn’t matter what he said. At some point, I must’ve brushed my elbow against his 44-ounce soda cup full of beer, because he goes ape-shit on me. ‘Don’t touch my fucking beer!’ he yells. Totally throws me off. Now the car is dead silent.
“A while later we stop at a gas station. He doesn’t trust me in the car by myself, so he locks it and makes me wait outside while he gets another Mickey’s and a carton of cigarettes. We get back in his car, he fills up his cup, tosses the bottle into the weeds just past the parking lot, and we pull onto the highway while the fucker steers with both knees and an elbow. Now they guy is opening his carton of Camel Crush with a pair of scissors he must’ve kept on his person.
“I swear this dude’s done this shit before because his driving was smooth, lane changes, acceleration, two car lengths behind other cars, and he’s even signaling! He’s like Denzel in that movie “Flight” where he’s flying drunk. The dude’s finishing tearing off the cellophane wrapper on a pack of smokes with his scissors and I catch the white of his bulging eyes I my periphery.
“Somehow the dude thinks I touched his beer again and hollers, ‘I told you not to touch my fucking beer!’ and swings his scissors at me over and over. He hits my left hand, my left wrist, and the seat several times in a matter of seconds and I’m thinking, this asshole is gonna kill me with a pair of scissors. It all happened so fast and I just said to myself, ‘Fuck it, I might as well stab this guy.’
“It was a good thing I’d lost my pocket knife a few days before and had strapped my hunting knife to my belt on my right hip. I pull it with my right hand and drove it between his ribs and gave it a twist. I could feel it scrape bone, and the dude stops swinging his scissors. His eyes got huge and I told him, as calmly as I could “Pull over or now or you’ll get us both killed.”
“Did he die?”
“I don’t know what happened to the guy, but he pulls over, I grabbed my bag and hauled ass into the woods.
“I ran far enough into the woods that I couldn’t hear the highway anymore. I found a wooded drainage and washed off in the stream, sutured my hand and wrist with superglue, put on a compression wrap, and dug a hole and buried my clothes. I ended up hitchhiking the rest of the way in hiking boots, board shorts, a tank top, and a wrapped left hand.”
“Holy shit, you buried your clothes?”
Nelson shrugged. “Would you pick up a hitchhiker with a bloody wrapped hand and a bloodstained T-shirt?”
No one said anything for a moment. The story was half party talk, one quarter confession, and one quarter therapy session. Nelson opened another beer.
“What happened to the guy?” Danni asked again.
“I don’t know”
“How long before you were able to tell that story to anyone?”
“I’ll be honest, I was pretty shaken. My dad asked me what happened when he saw me a few days later. I told him I stumbled while rock climbing. It was about a year later, when I was hitchhiking again, that someone asked me, ‘What’s the craziest thing that ever happened you while hitchhiking?’ And I said, ‘I got into a knife fight once.’”