Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Week # 6 -- "The twirling universe stops dead."

     I'd never have thought to write a recovery book. Then again, I'd never have thought to go into recovery. But circumstances forced my hand — 10 years ago last week — and landed me in the middle of it. If I've learned one thing from reading Dante, it's that if you find yourself in hell, take notes.
     So I did, and wrote "Drunkard"—originally titled "Death of the Drunkard," based on a line I spied on the vaulted ceiling of a Vilnius tavern. But the geniuses at Dutton didn't want to have "death" in the book's title, not that it mattered. Not a best-seller. Though I still hear from people who were touched by the book, and that is enough. I've also heard that it's one of the few recovery books that makes a person want to drink, due to passages such as the following:

     I don't drink right away. No, no, no. That would be wrong. Overeager. As frantic as I sometimes am, staring intently at other, lesser bartenders, who often lag, too slow to notice me, too slow to get off the phone, too slow to find the Jack—there, you idiot, right there!—so slow I want to slap the bar and snarl, "Hurry the hell up!" As eager as I sometimes am, moving down the bar and dipping my head to catch their attention. As carefully as I track the composition of the drink—the glass, the ice, the booze—once it has arrived, I always pause to gaze for a rapt moment at the filled glass, the ice, the Jack, the square napkin, the dark linoleum bar. The twirling universe stops dead, the Jack its motionless epicenter. I pick up the glass and take a long draw.
     You probably do not drink whiskey. you might not drink at all—a third of the country doesn't, a static that astounds me, the way I am astounded by the fact that one -third of all Americans believe in UFOs and two-thirds believe in angels.
    But whiskey tastes wonderful—sweet and smoky, cold and comforting. The first sip doesn't do much but reassure the : the overture, the fugue, the opening beat of the orchestra saying, "Just wait; you're in the right place." Soon—two sips, three—the glass is half empty and the grating clank of the day begins to soften and fade. I've made it. I am rescued, plucked from the icy chop and flopped gratefully into the lifeboat, covered with a wool blanket and heading for home. 

23 comments:

  1. I read this book when it came out and thought it was honest and funny and beautifully written. I can imagine that its evocative writing would instill some kind of desire and those who like to drink. For me though… Well imagine if most of the world told you that for them chewing gum was some sort of social lubricant that sloughed off the rough edges of the day. Probably find yourself like me re alcohol thinking "are they making this up? Is this even possible? Surely I can't be that different than other human beings but I guess I am" Just lucky I guess. And they sincerely mean that.

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    1. Cheaper to drink some at home.

      Goodness, I don't even like that liquor type nor am I a drinker but you made me want to have some after that description.

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    2. Liquors aren't good for diabetics.

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  2. An alcoholic describing what it's like for an alcoholic to take that first drink. In my top 10 favorite books of any subject. There's also a line I remember you describing what it's like to stop after the first couple, something like holding 10,000 dogs back.

    Andy

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  3. Anyone trying to quit, or thinking about quitting drinking should read this book. I have read this book 3 times and it has helped me immensely, I am now 92 days sober and still refer back to certain chapters. It doesn't matter if you're a different type of drinker, we are all drunks in the end.

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    1. Congratulations on the 92 days. That is truly the hardest part. The good news is, it does get better as the years clock on. They're not just numbers, the thing recedes, or has for me, most days.

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    2. P.S. Where was that lovely, fall photo that was up yesterday taken, Mr. S.?

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  4. Three and a half years ago when first quitting this book was welcome comic relief during a generally depressing period. It was a comfort to know that I wasn't alone in my initial take on AA.

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  5. This one is, for me, in the words of Archie Bunker, the "piece of resistance."

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  6. Best wishes to you , NS. Well written as usual.

    I've tasted Jack or other whiskeys, too harsh, wine or beer is a bit better but even that, a rare thing. I understand that even not so hard liquors is off bounds for the recovering person.

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    1. So far I've only read your "Chicago" book and did enjoy it.

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  7. Why AA, if it wasn't your style? There are other rehab programs.

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    1. I had to experience it to find that out. And in rehab, you can't really pick and choose. They tell you what to do and you do it.

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  8. "Who looks back on any event in the past and wishes he had drunk more? Nobody." I will always remember this thought. Thanks.

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  9. One of the saddest books I've ever read. And one of the best.

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  10. I knew about this book but never got around to it. Will now.

    Grew up in a dry household because my grandmother, way back in the day when "drink" was the scourge of the working classes, ran a family shelter, many of its inmates women abused by drunkards. But I suspect that was largely a social/cultural thing -- competitive tippling at the local saloon on the way home from work -- rather than addiction. There is, I think a difference. When I escaped to college I overindulged a bit but moved on to less demanding vices and never, luckily, felt a physical craving.

    Tom Evans

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  11. While your father may have felt somewhat exposed by your book about your trip together, you laid yourself bare in this one. What courage it must have taken to do so.

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  12. 10 years--congratulations, old friend. It's hard to keep up anything for ten years.

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  13. I enjoyed this book immensely, and frequently relate some of the stories. Thanks for it.

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  14. I read this when it came out and saw you discuss it on a panel at the Book Fair with David Carr and Rick Bragg, which made for a pretty impressive trio, indeed. I agree with Coey that you certainly pulled no punches, though they were directed at yourself, and that it was very enlightening and well-written.

    This excerpt is quite a compelling description of what taking a drink represents to an alcoholic. Though neither a drug addict nor alcoholic, I can surely appreciate the appeal of having "the twirling universe" at least slow down on occasion.

    I wondered at the time, NS, did you feel that being in the public eye actually was helpful in maintaining your recovery? Obviously, it wouldn't make it any easier, and the publicity at first must have been truly brutal. But, later, putting yourself on record with the book and being a public figure, regardless, did you feel any extra sense of motivation to not backslide? Or was that beside the point, given the personal crisis and family situation that would have been paramount for any recovering addict?

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  15. The snowing U-turn back to Otis Liquor Store. I have done that in one way or the other 50 times in my life. That alcoholism. I felt I was there reading the book. Read it the first day it came out in 6 hours.

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  16. I read your book four years ago when someone I love was fighting addiction and not winning. The book left a lasting impression on me and helped me have more compassion for him, and more hope. He did eventually manage to quite and is almost three years sober now and doing very well. I have recommended your book to several people simply for the humanity and bravery in your writing.

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