I remember driving home from work one night. Eight and a half hours without a drink. The bolts were starting to pop out of the seams. The matrix of reality, warping and woofing. Psychosis nudging in. Fear already camped out. Making S’mores.
Besides a suspended license, I was driving with two feet. Why? Because I had drop foot, which is some form of alcohol-induced neuropathy. Or at least that’s what the Chinese acupuncturist diagnosed.
But what does a few thousand years of medical wisdom know? All I know is that it made me unable to lift my right foot. I can’t move it from the gas to the brake. Which turns out to be an important driving ability. And this was an important time in my life, to have good driving ability. Dig?
My solution was to outsource the job of braking to my left foot, while my dead right one would be in charge of flooring the gas. I’ll be honest, it’s not the easiest way to drive. Lot of lurching and sudden stopping involved. Especially when braking for the Iguanacolussus, an irksome multi-ton ornithopod from the late Cretaceous period that keeps scuttling out into the middle of the road. And then disappearing.
Anyway, I finally get my beer and I’m almost home. Whip-lash Larousse just has to cross Cerrillos Rd. and he’ll make it. Hands trembling. So close. To my beer. To relief.
Then I spot him. A cop cruising by the other way. I look up into the rear-view. Watch his brake lights flash.
Oh fuck no. Please no. Of course, yes. There he goes. Turning around. And coming up right behind me. Oh God. If he pulls me over for anything I go to jail. That much is guaranteed. Just don’t panic. The most important thing is not to panic.
I look away from the mirror in time to see the light turn red. I panic. Mash both feet down. The gas and the brake together.
Bad move. In terms of staying under the radar.
My back tires spin in a smoking burnout. Just lighting it the fuck up. All N.H.R.A. Funny car shit. The chassis tap dances through the red light, and into the middle of the busy intersection, where it comes to rest after I finally picked up my feet from the pedals. Traffic both ways screeching and skidding to a stop. Me just sitting there with my eyes shut. Awaiting impact.
There was one final tire-squealing brake, and then silence. I had stopped the entire intersection. Now sat there idling.
I am so going to jail. I am going to have to detox behind bars.
“Sweet Lord. help me.”
I look up at my rear-view. I can’t believe it. He’s gone. The cop is not there. Honest to God, he wasn’t even driving away. He was just…gone. I don’t know if I hallucinated him being there in the first place, but I know I didn’t hallucinate him not being there. Because if he really was still there, I’d be in his back seat.
Holy and most merciful Creator! Thank You for vaporizing that peace officer. And hopefully to a happier dimension.
I exhale. My spine puddles around my pants. I’m hanging on to the steering wheel, when I see myself in the mirror. My eyes looked like oven-baked marbles. All cracked from the heat. Glowing red. I looked insane.
Even I thought so.
I lift my left foot. And then press down with my right one. The car goes forward. Okay. We’ve got this.
I crossed Cerrillos and traffic resumed. I was going to get to those beers. And everything was going to be okay. Until tomorrow.
I became physically addicted to alcohol around 1995. The mental component had long been hooked. But it took a while for the body to catch up. It made it though. Hooray!
Previous to this, I had, at times, experienced some ill-effects from consuming liberal amounts of alcohol. Fire-hosing vomit across stranger’s laps could have been a warning that the quantity of beer I was inhaling wasn’t sitting well. But once I realized I could carry a chopstick in my back pocket–a black lacquered Chinese one, I figured I’d solved that problem. Now I could pick and choose where to discreetly dispel any tummy-upsetting froth.
The front entrance of Tom and Lenny’s Shoes, on 63rd Drive, in Rego Park, Queens was a favorite. I had worked for them once, and felt my treatment there had been unfair. Perhaps this wasn’t a valid way to protest it, but I just always seemed to feel better after barfing on their doorstep. And that was good enough for me.
So you see, back then, the repercussions from my drinking, just weren’t bad enough, to even contemplate stopping. Never mind actually trying to.
Sure, there were the usual hang-overs. Some of them notably brutal. But you learned to endure them. They built character.
The Tuesday morning of a three-day bender, I’d feel a little out of sorts. A little groggy and nervous about having to operate a vehicle. Vertigo making the floor roll and buckle. Eyes blurred from dehydration. Ice pick in the forehead. Tainted chowder gurgling in the guts. Bones hurting and feeling too loose in their sockets. Sore liver. Acrid bile percolating in the throat. Thoughts of suicide.
But it was nothing that a beer and chorizo omelet couldn’t fix. A tickle of the chopstick, some Gatorade and a breath mint, and I was right as rain.
Then one day, I woke up and noticed my hands were shaking. What’s this? That’s so after-school special kind of alcoholism. So stereo-typical. So not my Ripley’s Believe it or Not kind of alcoholism. When talking to friends, I would often cop to being an alcoholic. “But I’m not one of those…you know…” I’d hold my hands out and make them shake, “I need a drink or I’m going to die kind. All Ray Malland and shit.”
Well, it was looking like I was becoming all Ray Malland…and shit.
Accompanying the trembling was a rather snappy anxiety, one previously experienced while running from police or watching women take pregnancy tests. Now it had me teething on a high-voltage power line whenever my beer levels went low.
Fucking great. I’d sit there frozen in fear. Too terrified to even twitch. I’m scared to get up and brush my teeth. How am I going to manage driving to work on a suspended license, then dealing with the public for eight hours?
It turns out, not very well.
There were moments, when the alcohol was leaving my system, that I thought I would go mad. Only another Lost Weekender knows what I’m talking about. It’s a bad dream. Set-designed by a German expressionist. The furniture bending at strange angles. People are talking to you in Swahili or Urdu. What are they saying? Am I getting into trouble? Or are they putting together a lunch order?
“Did someone just say something about Bea Arthur’s vagina? No? Never mind…I…”
I don’t know what is going on.
Except that I keep seeing sad angels in my head. Skull people in concentration camps. A coughing flower.
My pencil has become sinister and I have to throw it away from me.
As far as possible.
It takes every strand of will-power not to run out into the street flapping your arms. Sweat pouring from your pits. Stomach knotted in an icy grip. Throat dry. You hear strange organ music coming from the employee fridge. Spy shadow figures darting around the periphery. They’re waiting for you.
They can smell your death.
So can you, actually. There’s a new strange funk that’s clouding out of your pores these days. Besides, the sour beer smell. It’s different. It smells…like decay. Killing off too many cells at once you are. That’s kind of unnerving. I better drink more so I don’t worry about that.
When I started morning maintenance drinking, it wasn’t done in any Cancun spring break, devil-may-care abandon. It was conscious calculation. I can’t function without having two or three beers before work. I’m not drinking to “party down.” I’m drinking so I don’t see the Devil while trying to make change for a customer.
I have to drink to make it. Without it, I will fall apart. Even faster.
I don’t care how much of a dumb-shit, clueless drunk you might be, but when an egg timer gets turned over after every last drink, you realize things. Like maybe, you’re fucked.
Which is actually good. To realize.
It’s the most important seed-thought an alcoholic can have. If they’re going to have any chance.
Fortunately, I had been having that thought a lot.
So things were already good. And I didn’t even know it.