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Monday, March 23, 2015

Penetrating Insight


There was always booze in our home, growing up.  And everybody drank.  Beer, mostly.  The fridge was consistently lined with cold ones.  Two whole shelves dedicated to the cause.  Plus, additional cases piled high in the basement.  We had plenty at all times and never ran out.

As a kid, I saw very few bottles of wine.  There were delicate glasses kept on a high shelf over the stove, champagne flutes and a handful of goblets, but Mom and Dad never used them.  I'm pretty sure they were wedding gifts.  I got the impression that wine was way too fancy for our crew.  A luxury reserved specifically for ladies who weren't serious about their drinking.  And pussies.

Run-of-the-mill hard stuff was available, as well.  The inexpensive, yet effective kind.  Liquor was stored in one of two octagonal end tables in the living room.  My parents didn't tap these additional resources regularly.  Mixed drinks were generally reserved for company.  House parties.  I remember the first time I took a swig of something and tonic by accident.  I thought it was 7-Up.  I could not believe grown-ups drank that shit on purpose.  All the maraschino cherries in the world weren't gonna change my mind.

Although my folks approached alcohol with comparable zeal, they had very different styles and goals as far as drinking was concerned.  My mother wanted to mix it up and share a few laughs.  She could handle herself fairly well and ventured into most occasions, hoping to have a good time.  Unfortunately, her inability to control how her husband behaved prevented her from enjoying all that much.  As soon as she had a few beers, she became obsessed with his condition.  And rightly so.  He was our ride wherever we went.  And if he was wasted, we were screwed.

Dad was shy and uncomfortable in social settings.  He didn't know how to relax or make conversation.  He wasn't a gossip.  He did seem determined, however, to poison himself at every baby christening and First Holy Communion party we got invited to.  He either fell, shit his pants or both.

She might have been terrified, but Mom still chose these moments to pick fights with my dad.  She called him names and attempted to embarrass him.  It didn't do any good.  Most of the time, he was too far gone to be either combative or cooperative.  Besides, he was never a fighter anyway.  Like I said, he was a faller.

I hated coming home from school and seeing a bottle of gin or rye appear unceremoniously on the kitchen counter.  It didn't happen often, but it never ended pretty.  Hard liquor brought bigger problems than the usual Budweiser kind. My folks had a hard time gauging the effects of spirits.  Dad, in particular.  He's always been a glass half empty kind of guy.  And once that glass was emptied, it needed refilling.  Until he couldn't see straight.

I was always relieved when the dust settled.  When the vodka and whiskey were returned to the living room cabinet, and Mom and Dad went back to drinking just beer.

I think I was eleven when my father got drunk at a cop party and threatened to shoot somebody in the face.  The NYPD sent him to some facility in Virginia to dry out.  Several months of rehabilitative treatment.  When he came home, he was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  Every day for ninety days, so he could get his gun back and return to work.  But the cure didn't take.  He was drunk again by New Year's.

In the seventh grade, my teacher explained to the class what alcoholism was, and I decided both my parents had it.  My ears became highly tuned to the sound of the bottle opener.  I started counting all the empty cans in the garbage.

Eight beers is way too many for one person, I decided to myself.  And I told my mother so.

"You're drunk," I said.  This accusation did not go over well.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" she slurred.

Who did I think I was?  Nobody, really.
And what could I do about their drinking?  Not a damn thing.

I don't recall what happened to change the way I felt about alcohol, to make me come around to appreciating its appeal.  Nor do I remember exactly when I realized that I could have a go at whatever was in those bottles in the liquor cabinet if I wanted.  I may have been about fourteen.  I rinsed out a Prell shampoo bottle and loaded it up with a combination of booze so foul, my little girlfriends and I had to hold our noses to swallow it down.

Some of my them balked when I suggested we do it again.  The buzz was short-lived, the shit tasted nasty and the headache that came on its heels lasted for days. They didn't see the point, whereas I only saw the possibilities.  I'm a glass half-full kind of girl.

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