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My First Alcoholic (1966)

I didn't know about alcoholics, didn't
grow up with them, had the idea
they were drunks, lushes saying "sh" for "ss",
staggering, hiccupping, stammering,
being happy singing Irish or sullen muttering Polish
like the radio drunks, but worse, certainly
no one you can talk to, no one anyone you know
would hang out with; so when I met one,
I didn't know it, didn't know how

alcoholics adapt to drunkenness, can
resist it, look almost sober, just
slow, deliberate, a little too intimate,
leaning closer than is comfortable, being
a bit ruthless with my attention
(gripping it in a clammy fist, not hard,
but too long, like his handshake),
but with a surface politeness that precludes
protest or interruption, telling me
how I feel ("Right? Right!") with a
slablike certainty that would preclude
disagreement if it were possible to disagree
before one subject vanishes (and never
existed), and another thrusts into view,

and besides, I don't want to disappoint him —
he seems so pleased with me, just me and
him knowing how it is, you know, and I
DO know because I'm hip like him (he says) —
but it's slippery, because now he's
scolding me, "Man, you don't know shit",
scolding me for an opinion he himself just
ascribed to me — he even praised me for it!

This guy is, well, eccentric, I guess
amusing, a real "experience", but it feels
like the taste in my mouth of meat gone bad
when I've eaten most of it without noticing —

and then someone puts on Motown music ("It's
Awright, It's awright...") and he's dancing
(but not reeling) by himself, real slow, eyes
closed, almost standing still, and later my friend
says "He's a real trip, huh?" "Is he always
like that?" "Yeah, he drinks a bottle of whisky
every morning". "He's drunk?" "Drunk Hell! He's
alcoholic. You couldn't tell?"

I guess it means he doesn't just DRINK the stuff;
he's BECOMING it, brain cell by dissolving
brain cell — not drunk at all, but you could
GET drunk just by being in the same room with him,
yeah, that's what an alcoholic is: He's that
stuff that's supposed to be velvety smooth, aged
in wood, mellow, rich, manly and all that shit,
and you tell yourself these things to forget it
tastes like test-tube chemicals and gives you
heartburn and someone already mistook your
ice-twinkly fluted glass for an ashtray.

Copyright c. 2006 by Dean Blehert. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED   
last updated: September 22, 2006