Annie Get Your Nocino by Karen Uffelman
Anthony Humboldt’s suicide note became an instant internet sensation, leading to all kinds of unexpected consequences, one of which involved me.
I hadn’t even known Anthony Humboldt, or at least wasn’t aware that I knew him, and my name wasn’t one of the many listed in his pretentious, drama queen farewell letter. But he did refer to a certain liquor store, and described a certain clerk at that liquor store, and based on that description, a great many folk decided he had been writing about me.
…when Gregory abandoned me for that fraud (yes, I’m talking about you, poser), I didn’t have any other choice, did I? The pills in the medicine cabinet called simply for a reasonable accompaniment, and the lovely redhead at the liquor store sold me the appropriate bottle without a second thought. It’s going to be so easy to remove myself from your stupid equation…
So – two things. Most people don’t describe me as lovely, and I’m okay with that, but 1) I happen to work at the 12th avenue liquor store (in close proximity to Anthony Humboldt’s house), and 2) I am the only redhead that works there (we’re talking stop sign red – so, no mistake). And let me tell you something else – being referred to in some washed up B-movie actor’s suicide note is not an ideal way to spend your 15 minutes of fame.
The first thing that happened was my older brother called.
“Hey Annie – I guess you’re famous, huh?”
“Hello, Kevin. How are you? That’s how normal people start a conversation, you know.”
“No, Annie, I’m totally serious, you’re like, in the news and stuff!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Wow, Annie. You’ve got to get your head out of those sci-fi novels and pay attention to the real world once in a while. Anthony Humboldt just committed suicide and announced to the world that you helped him do it!”
“Who’s Anthony Humboldt?”
And so it began.
It turns out I was familiar with Johnny Arrow, the character that Anthony Humboldt played in Airstream Sex Machine. And from the sordid pictures on the internet I did recognize one of my regulars at the liquor store. But I would have never, not in a million years, guessed they were the same person. The years had not been kind to poor Anthony Humboldt. Johnny, the movie character, was slicked back and muscular, with piercing blue eyes and a weirdly compelling voice. Anthony, my regular, was anything but. Crazy haired, tending toward paunch, a little smelly if memory serves. Very polite, and always with requests for the most esoteric booze. I’m into the obscure liquors myself , so he and I would sometimes get into it about Crème de Violette or a particularly special eau de vie. And it’s hard to recall his voice – he mumbled, maybe, or smoked one too many packs of menthol cigarettes. I certainly would have recognized him instantly if he had spoken in Johnny Arrow’s dulcet tones. The Anthony I knew sounded more like sandpaper.
In any case, I remember quite clearly the last time he came into the store. He didn’t browse at all, which was unusual, but found me stocking bottles and said he needed something very special. It was close to Halloween and we’d just gotten in a case of Nocino for All Souls Day.
“Perfect,” he said in his scratchy voice, “just perfect.”
Apparently he drank the entire bottle with his handful of pills – it was completely empty when they found it on the floor next to him. I can’t imagine drinking that much Nocino. Actually, I kind of can. Like eating a sticky, bitter, two-pound Easter bunny in one sitting. Thinking about it makes me feel really bad.
But not as bad as I felt the morning after Kevin called.
When I arrived at work there were literally hundreds of people crowded on the sidewalk in front of my store.
“There she is! That’s her!”
A few of the folks in the crowd seemed to be actual paparazzi, with cameras and lights and the whole nine yards. And then there were the weirdos, dressed up like Johnny Arrow or other characters from Airstream Sex Machine. And finally, there were the gawkers, come to find out what was attracting the paparazzi and the weirdos, and taking pictures with their stupid little phones. And soon, they were all taking pictures of me.
I’d dragged myself out of bed later than usual that morning, after suffering through a night of crazy Johnny Arrow/Anthony Humboldt dreams. Hadn’t had time to sort out my hair and had thrown on the same wrinkled dress I had taken off the night before. So you can imagine everyone’s confusion at the adjective “lovely” when photos of me started reproducing in cyberspace. Me, trying to navigate the crowd. Me, trying to unlock the accordion gate across the door. Me, trying to keep the surging masses away from all of the precarious bottle displays while also trying to avoid having my picture taken. Me, with my hands across my face. Me, trying to shove everyone out of the liquor store and locking the door.
I somehow made it home that night without too much hassle, but at 3:00 in the morning when I got up to pee, some jerk was camped on the ledge outside of my bathroom window and managed to get three shots of me sitting on the toilet before I figured out what was going on. And then my first instinct was to flip him off. With my pajama bottoms around my ankles. You can imagine the scene, but no one else had to. It was like wallpaper on the internet – everywhere. My parents never mentioned that particular photo but they must have been very proud.
“Hey Annie, why did you let some dude take a picture of you on the pot?”
“It’s not funny, Kevin! I’m totally freaked out, okay? It’s like I’m under siege!”
“No, you’re right, Annie. It’s weird and inhumane, but you do know that you are like ungodly famous, right? I am the brother of someone who is ungodly famous. You gotta’ admit that’s kind of cool.”
Eventually the paparazzi went home. Some other washed up movie star killed himself or married a sibling or was spotted with cellulite. The weirdos in costume stayed on a little longer. My boss, Gary, refused to let me wait it out with sick days because he was convinced my notoriety was bringing in more business. Mostly it just meant our store was full of Airstream Sex Machine fanatics wanting to know what Nocino tastes like but too cheap to actually buy any. Apparently there’s a negative correlation between B-movie cult membership and disposable income, or maybe they were just afraid that it would somehow kill them like it did Anthony Humboldt.
The worst part, however, was not the paparazzi (naked bathroom portrait, notwithstanding), nor the costumed freaks. The worst part is this: I’ll get picked up in a bar, or in a club, or at the friggin’ Safeway – somewhere far, far away from the liquor store. The boy will be cute. He’ll have good taste in books, and tell funny jokes and make a decent cup of coffee. And then one night, a few weeks in, after we’ve hooked up, he’ll make some reference to Airstream Sex Machine, or Anthony Humboldt, or the fucking Nocino and then confess that he knows all about me. That when he read the story and saw the pictures online he had to find me. That he tracked me to the liquor store and then followed me after work to the cafe or bar or grocery store where he chatted me up. He’ll have the crazy pictures of me from the day after they found Anthony Humboldt’s body and he’ll want to talk about it. About how the metathemes of Airstream Sex Machine have helped him understand the universe and his place in it and how Johnny Arrow is his personal hero.
This has happened to me four times now – you think I’m kidding but I’m not – and I’m honestly going to down some pills and a bottle of Nocino (yes, an entire bottle) if it happens again. Be careful who you give good customer service to, ’cause you might end up in their suicide note and inherit a bunch of creepy stalkers.
Sometimes, to distract myself, I come up with lists of people I could mention in my own suicide letter. All of the creepy stalkers, for sure. My boss, Gary. Anthony Humboldt if he hadn’t already offed himself. Maybe my brother, Kevin…