Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” begins with the following words: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” and then a 40 page-long run-on sentence that evokes a junkie wanting to get a fix at night.
I’ve never done drugs. Not because of Ginsberg, although that madness imagery probably could have scared me straight. I don’t even drink that much, especially now that my wife insists that I snore like a buzz saw even after one beer.
When I lived in France, way back in 1986, I spent the night with grand-père Henri at his home in Limoges. We had a long (it wasn’t uncommon for these meals to last 4 hours) family reunion and meal at a country restaurant. I don’t remember what I had. I made a fool of myself by using the wrong silverware. “Ah, Ça fait rien,” said the waitress even though she was clearly put out by the fact she’d have to bring me new utensils. During the smoke break (the meal was so long, we needed smoke breaks), I walked out with the group, and ventured to comment that “in America we hardly ever smoke…” I was about to continue with “in my region, most people use chewing tobacco.” My host mother cut in with an angry snarl. “In America we do this! In America we do that! It’s all you ever talk about! Well once I met an American who was having a cigarette and he blew smoke right into my face! So what do you think of that? Huh?” I spent the rest of the night not talking, a knot in my stomach. And I drank. That night, we went back to Grand-père Henri’s. Maybe the nightcap was a bit too much. During the night I wet the bed. I mean, really wet it.
We have talked about it on occasion, Judi and I. We don’t like relinquishing control of our brain. We’re afraid of what will happen if we completely let down our guard to anything, alcohol or drugs included. This has always been more than enough pressure for either of us to get really good and wasted. I’ve seen enough people abusing alcohol up-close to limit myself to one glass.
That said, I really like beer. The flavor; not necessarily the buzz. The other day I had a beer, a 20 ounce Black Ox Porter from a brewery just down the street (Old Ox Brewery, if you wondered). I finished it up in 20 minutes. Good thing I’m not allowed to drive. I was having trouble saying the word pimento by the time I was done with it.
My kids seem to be in the same place. Neither has shown any interest in beer, or wine. Or drugs of any kind. I don’t think this has anything to do with our excellent parenting. It’s just that alcohol tastes astringent the first time you down a glass. The older child won’t even eat cheese because the taste/aroma is too strong for him.
Alcohol was a scourge around Curry County. The people who didn’t use it, and use it hard, seemed to be the exceptions. I’m not speaking for everyone; just my own experience. Maybe it is the hard living. Most of us were fishermen, loggers or mill rats. Every year we’d hear of someone dying on the job, or in the water. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe it’s a conquerable thing. We can always find reasons not to quit.
Recently I was talking to another Curry County friend (my distant cousin James Walker). He grew up like me, around lots and lots of alcohol. Without either of us knowing it, and for the same reasons, we had both made the same vow, years ago, to never have more than one. My stepdad, a hard drinker from the beginning, quit the stuff cold turkey at around 50. He’s a changed man. Smiles all the time. He seems circumspect about everything, and is a pleasure to talk to and fish with. My high school buddy Dugie Shields stopped drinking the stuff a few years back. He’s a great guy with amazing grandkids. He even has been known to write a poem or two.
I couldn’t be more proud. Breaking the curse is not easy but they all managed it. Someday we can celebrate and I’ll buy you a round of, uh, Coke. Or Pepsi. It’s on me!