Notes From the Liquor Store
It’s the second time Rita has been into the liquor store where I work in Chico, California. Last time was Wednesday, when it was pouring rain, and the man she was with was dressed from hood to boots in bright yellow PVC. She’s from Paradise, or what was the town in which the November 8th ‘Camp Fire’ destroyed 19,000 buildings, and she keeps telling me to watch the city council. I guess she’s gonna raise hell, she’s gonna change things around Chico. She leaned over the counter with a red licorice stick between two fingers as if it were a cigarette, and then picked out a whole bunch of goodies. The line behind her grew longer. She sent the man in yellow to fetch things for her from the aisles as she occupied the counter, “Honey, how ’bout you get us some Schweppes, you got Schweppes? Oh, any ginger ale will do.” But they both went easy on the “nippers” (those single $1 shots of hard liquor at the counter) because, she reminded him, “We gotta be careful, we’re Native.”
Tonight, she returned by herself– it isn’t raining today. “You remember me?” she asks. “What have we got for nippers today?” There’s a dollar in change spread out on the glass, and she settles on a 99 Bananas. She tells me that yesterday, when she was working at the homeless shelter, she saw a man buy a fifth of Jameson’s Irish whiskey. He drank too much of it, fell… and broke his hip. “I see a looooot of things, say, how much are these red things?” “10 cents,” I reply, remembering how she held the last red licorice stick like a cigarette. She has to go out to her car to fetch change, and when she comes back in, she pulls a handful of coins from her pocket. From among three ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ sobriety coins, she plucks a sticky brownish dime to pay for her red licorice stick. “You gonna pay for that licorice stick with one of those coins?” I ask her, eyeing the plastic sobriety coins she must have received at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “Ohh,” she laughs, “I only go for the coffee. They’ve got great coffee.”
Christina Lauren Quigley is review editor and web developer of Ethnography.com and vlogger at Laurelin the Other. Christina is a 2019-2020 Fulbright Scholar Alumna (Student Research Program). She began working and writing as an ethnographer–anthropologist in the mountains of northern California as an activist alongside Native American Mountain Maidu communities. Christina has also been known to work for minimum wage in America, selling booze to ordinary Americans at a neighborhood liquor store to further study cultural transmission of Americans’ methods of coping through alcohol and illegal drugs.
Once bewitched, Christina fell under the spell of Congolese rumba music, and lived at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa to research the ways that music culture diffuses across boundaries from eastern DR Congo to Tanzania and crosses secular–religious spaces. Christina is a Swahili speaker and holds an MA (Music) in the anthropology of music culture at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and a BA (Anthropology) focused on culture, society, and medical anthropology at California State University, Chico.