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 you: 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.