Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Southern Comfort

In the early 80s when I was unemployed and developing a strong taste for bad vodka, my sole daily meal often was two 7-Eleven hot dogs slathered with free condiment. Once or twice, when I was foolish enough to run out of drink late at night, I would gather my change and hit the same 7-Eleven to buy a bottle of bad wine. I'd get the runs the next day, but that wasn't an issue at the time.

After I stopped drinking, I went back to school to become a counselor so I could use my accumulated and wide-ranging wisdom to save all the addicts. I failed dismally at this, but was privileged to work with drinkers and crackheads, meth and heroin folks, cokers, pot-smokers, Robitussin office boys, vanilla extract housewives, youngsters addled by Xanax and pain-killers, the occasional Listerine lady and one gentleman who, having destroyed the linings of his throat and stomach with booze, found that he could get blackout-drunk by doing alcohol enemas.

While working at the various rehabs, I developed a lecture on the evils of neighborhood convenience stores that cater to every bad habit known to man. Of course they sell alcohol, snuff and cigarettes, sugar-based products, caffeine, and fast food of negative nutritive value. They also have ATMs for quick money to spend on, say, lottery tickets. Or sex magazines. Or legal antihistamines. Or your dealer, for that matter. The stores are open 24/7, are costlier than other shops, offer little or no fresh fares (the one near me now has bananas and an occasional apple), and encourage bad planning. In short, what may be "convenience" for one is relapse territory for another.

Who would have thought the little business created by an employee of the Southland Ice Company of Dallas, Texas, would have such an influence on my life...

Here's installment 13 of Wasted Miracles.

With Joe the Cop gone Colin took stock of his surroundings. They were pretty paltry and he wondered why, all in all, he didn’t really care. He went to the kitchen, fixed a cup of coffee, returned to the living room, let himself fall on the couch. It sagged beneath him with a tired sound.The apartment was meticulously clean, he swept it daily, had gotten into the habit when he worked out in the dojo and his sensei insisted the place be made spotless after each session. He closed his eyes, remembered a less sparse living room in a house that was his home, with a woman who was his wife and two children who, after awhile, stopped speaking to him. He remembered being stretched out on a couch, much like he was now, a large bottle of vodka on the floor beside him, an ashtray smoldering next to his head.He was never quite sure when it started, when he took what had been either the giant leap or small step.In the newsroom in the early 70s, everybody drank, before during and after work. Ed Campbell, the aged copy editor who supervised the lobster shift, had a bottle of gin stashed in his typewriter well and routinely poured a slug or two in the ever-full glass of milk he kept close at hand. Baldy Brudwell drank cheap scotch mixed with 7-Up; Doris Meckler--the only woman on the floor in the very early morning--replenished her half-gallon of Gallo white every other day, kept it beneath her coat with the screw-lid off on the chair next to her. On the floor below the typesetters drank, the tubes that crisscrossed the newsroom and carried copy from one department of the newspaper to another occasionally disgorged tiny bottles of Smirnoff, Jack Daniels or Four Roses. Baldy, who also ran the numbers at night, routinely rewarded winners with a fifth of J&B.There were legendary drunken events retold and amplified on slow news nights, I-was-there-when stories of Small Frank setting off the sprinklers after a binge; of Neville Chanter, the Brit expatriate, pissing on the Managing Editor’s desk after the latter killed a story Neville had spent weeks polishing; of Willard Chambers returning from covering the Olympics in Asia where he had purchased a collection of throwing knives. Once, reacting to an imagined slight, he had hurled the weapons at Doris Meckler with surprising accuracy for one so befuddled. She’d grabbed her half-gallon of Gallo and hid in a stall in the lady’s room, refusing to come out until the day shift arrived.Colin had listened, watched with awe, rarely turned a drink down, joined the others at the Corral or the Post House after the paper was put to bed. It had seemed both innocuous and exciting.

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