By Jonah Nolan

Looks like I won’t get the chance to finish counting all the bottles in Mr. Diamond’s amazing booze shop. My best guess would be there’s a million of them, in every shape and flavor you could imagine. Egyptian honey wine in little blunt bottles, Grappa in slender blown glass, Jim Beam in a ceramic ’59 T-Bird. All the world’s cultures nestled together and fermenting happily on dusty shelves. We had everything; and if we didn’t have it, you were a damn fool for asking for it in the first place.

Eagle Wine and Liquor is impossible to miss, one block east of the intersection of M St. and Key bridge, capped with a flock of neon eagles (which always looked more like seagulls to me). It has been there as long as anyone cares to remember, and always in the possession of one Mr. Diamond or the next. Rumor has it that during Prohibition they sold bait and tackle up front and sudsy beer in back.

These days Eagle is old, but not charming. The floors are not parquet but linoleum, or, to be accurate, the remains of linoleum, worn through to the concrete below. The décor is composed strictly of junk, promotional detritus from six decades: mirrors and fake barrels and trinkets; even the mounted plastic head of a rhino. The newer stuff has little electric motors and blinking lights, but the concept remains unchanged: something bright and shiny to attract the drunks.

I got my first job at Eagle about three years ago. I was brought on to help hoist the summer wine into the upstairs warehouse. After that, I just stayed. I always preferred jobs on the dark side of customer service, so as soon as I discovered that people still think you’re doing them a favor by selling them liquor, I quit my job as a security guard. I became a cashier jockey, armed with a baseball bat and an extra roll of quarters.

I was also pretty charmed by my coworkers. Like Sam, who dropped bombs all over Germany from the back seat of a B -17, and could still sell barrels of brine to the ocean. Or Bob, another vet, who tried, in vain, to teach me how to sniff out the difference between an Islay and a Speyside. Or Olga, from Guyana, who sat in the front eating her vegetables and rice and barking incomprehensible orders over the PA. Or gentleman Jim, a bona fide genius in hiding, who spent his idle moments banging out novel after novel on the ancient terminal in the office upstairs. One day he handed me eight typewritten pages entitled “Interview with a Dead Person.” It was done in a Q and A format, and the answers were all left blank.

Life in Eagle was an anecdote told in the present tense. The stars were always the customers – a revolving cast of cops, college kids, lobbyists, drug dealers, bums and Congressmen. And lots of tourists, like the Japanese guy who came straight from the airport with two suitcases but no English. He wanted a six pack of Budweiser, which costs an even five bucks with tax. I rang it up and pointed to the numbers on the register. He opened his wallet and handed me five crisp hundred-dollar bills.

We had our fair share of veterans stop in, too; withering men in mesh-backed baseball caps that proudly advertised one USS or another. So many veterans that it felt, at times, like all the spirits had risen over at Arlington and hitched a ride across the river to pick up one last bottle.

More than anyone else, however, we waited on the boozehounds, crabby old men in cheap, grubby clothes. We called them “cork-clubbers” ” after our weekly ad in the Post that listed the heavily discounted booze. The idea, I guess, had been to reel in new, attractive customers who would stop by for the discounts and make it up to us by buying other items, like tonic water, or beer, or cranberry juice. I don’t know if these people ever showed up, but if they did, they were soon scared off by the real cork-clubbers, men who spent their days cruising enormous, filthy automobiles all over town to save a few pennies.

These guys never, ever bought anything that wasn’t on sale. They were so inexplicably proud of themselves that they would have fought to the death if you shortchanged them. But proud as they were, they had no compunction whatsoever about getting down on their hands and knees to root around in the lowest shelves for a bottle with an incorrect price tag. Sometimes, after a double shift, you didn’t feel so bad about selling them something that would knock a cool twenty minutes off the end of their lives.

I, myself, quit drinking a few months after I turned twenty-one. Family tradition. Folks occasionally ask me how I can stay on the wagon while working at a liquor store. I tell them the answer’s in the question.

This year I went out and got a “real job” making copies in some corporate palace in Bethesda, but I still work at Eagle on Saturday nights. I don’t really need the money. If you want to know why I stay on you’ll have to walk down there yourself some dark night and, when no one is looking, flick the switch at the base of the neon sign in the parking lot. It lights up like a bicentennial hand grenade; beautiful, and completely out of place in stuffy Georgetown. It reads “Free Parking while Shopping at Eagle.” It is a thing entirely of this century, and, unfortunately, not intended for the next.

Eagle is on the way out. Mr. Diamond has sold the land for a scandalous sum of money and ridden his bicycle back to the sleepy beltway suburbs. The cashiers are already fighting over the “vintage” rhino head. I wanted to eulogize the store, because I figured no one else would. They said it would be gone by March.

But March has come and gone and Eagle is still there. Rumor has it the new owner’s plans for elegant condos have all been given the thumbs down by the local powers-that-be. So it looks like Eagle will cling to life a little longer, floating on its sea of clinking bottles and plastic rubbish. Who was I, anyway, to think I could eulogize a place that had dragged so many of us, singing, smiling, fighting, a few feet closer to the grave. The best job I ever had.

Jonah Nolan is a senior in the College and a member of the Editorial Board of The Hoya.

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