Jack D. Hunter's Blog

22 December 2007

As a reader of this somewhat unconventional blog, you've no doubt already picked up on the fact that I have never been noted for my conventional ways — meaning that while most folks are out there zigging I'm likely to be over there, zagging. This is no mere affected eccentricity. It's just the way I am, and it has proved to be a source of major perplexity and exasperation, not only to me but also to almost all of those whose paths cross mine.

For instance, I have a puzzling assortment of holes in my memory box. I can remember the number of the rifle assigned me at Ft. Benning in 1944, but I can never remember my Social Security number, the need for which seems to crop up daily. I can remember the name of my first grade teacher of 80 years ago but I can't remember how to spell the last name of the sharpie who stiffed me for five grand last month. Nor can I ever seem to remember holidays and anniversaries — despite a thousand-year-old family tradition that insists on proper observances for meaningful dates.

All of which adds up to my current delight at having been reminded that this blog entry is made within the 2007-2008 holiday season and gives me this chance to send you all my heartiest best wishes for a really peachy-keen year-end and a gee-whiz, nifty, mellorooney year beginning.

My best wishes always!


Party Time

T’is the season to be folly, tra-la-la-la, la, la-la-la, la — and by a quirk of circumstance, as they say in the Golden Book of Cliches, I came across a very old tape in the bottom of a very old drawer I once used to store things before I myself became a very old cliché. It was my recording of the holiday party story told by a very old friend, Sam, and I thought you might enjoy it as much as I did.

Thanks to his once-spectacular drinking career, virtually everybody in the state was breathing easier now that Sam had become a dedicated member of AA and was devoting all his free time to helping others who wanted to recover from that weird and devastating disease. It was a time long before alcoholism had become as “respectable” as it is today, when everybody claims to be an expert on the subject, when the government spends millions on studies of it, and when physicians and clergymen meet openly to discuss it. In Sam's day, doctors would often refuse to treat alcoholics, and when they did, they always called it something else. Newspapers rarely mentioned alcoholism because it was considered a symptom of weak-willed moral degeneracy, like TB and cancer.

Anyhow, Sam’s tortured drinking had darned near killed him, so he enjoyed his subsequent years of sobriety with the same appreciation the survivor of a shipwreck feels for dry clothes and home. And he showed his gratitude by hanging out at the AA clubhouse and answering SOSs when they came in from less fortunate boys and girls still floundering in the boozy seas.

Sam and I worked in the same company, and we’d have lunch now and then. He knew I love a good story, so he’d regale me with his adventures as a house painter, a construction worker, and as a sober adult pursuing the hard-won education that eventually lifted him into the company’s ranking suits. But my favorite yarn was the one about Halloween, which I eventually persuaded him to put on this tape for me.

Said Sam:

It was one of those big parties they used to have in the old days at the AA club house. Members would bring their spouses and their kids, and there’d be tons of great things to eat and nothing to drink — except Cokes and coffee, naturally.

Well, this one year the club decided to have a costume party on Halloween night, and so everybody showed up in alligator suits or cowboy hats and like that. I was wearing a Wizard of Oz outfit, and I was watching some citizens who were bobbing for apples when Bill, who was dressed like Mickey Mouse, came out of the crowd to tell me there’d been an SOS from Herb.

We’d known Herb as a drinking buddy from way back, but when we sobered up he’d continued on in a single-minded, single-handed effort to drink Canada dry. Bill and I offered a couple of times to come around to his house and talk about the AA program, but he’d shake his head vigorously and tell us to forget it.

Herb’s wife didn’t know anything about AA and didn’t want to, Herb assured us, because she considered anybody who had anything remotely to do with liquor to be a low-life wretch who ought to be drawn and quartered. She kept telling Herb that all he had to do to get sober was to show a little manly willpower, and she’d punctuate her speeches to that effect with liberal applications of a broom handle to his unmanly back.

And so, out of respect for her carefully reasoned point of view, Herb would white-knuckle it through the work week. But on payday he’d invariably feel he owed himself a little snort as a reward for his week-long demonstration of manly willpower. And one snort would lead to another, and soon he’d have to be put to bed with a severe case of ‘gastritis,’ as the doctors called it in those days.

This night Herb had done his snorting at an armpit where the ashtrays were screwed to the bar and the tables were screwed to the sawdust floor so they couldn’t be used in settling the fights that were always part of the nightly entertainment.

After a time, Herb had become remorseful over his inability to control his number of snorts, and, sobbing with despair and afraid to go home, he had called the AA clubhouse for help. Bill took the call, tugged me away from the apple-bobbing, and asked me if I’d give him a hand with poor Herb. I said sure, and we left the party to drive down there.

So Bill and I walked into the saloon, peering through the laughing and arguing and cussing and tobacco smoke, and trying to locate Herb. But all of a sudden a great silence fell over the place, and it was only then that Bill and I realized we were still wearing our costumes.

Every bleary eye in the place was on us, the Wizard of Oz and Mickey Mouse, with everybody obviously panicked by what was surely a massive attack of hallucinations at best, DTs at worst. Even the bartender, a toothless tattooed lady shaped like an oil drum, froze in mid-pour to give us an open-mouthed stare.

We waded through the sawdust and cigarette butts, hauled Herb from behind the corner table where he’d been discussing American foreign policy with Flat-Nose Johnny of Front Street flop-house fame, and half-walked, half-dragged him out the door to the car. And there wasn’t one more sound the whole time. Everybody was absolutely mute and motionless, like they, too, had been screwed to the floor.

By this time, of course, Herb didn’t want any help at all, claiming that his phone call had been his Halloween prank as a fun-loving kid and that nobody could handle his liquor better than ole Herb-baby. We just let him nip on the first-aid pint (which we often carried in our cars in those days to pacify unruly clients) and drove him home.

When we got to his place, we helped Herb-baby out of the car and eased him up the steps, sort of like we were moving a limp Steinway. And that was when Herb’s wife flung open the door.

She stood there a moment, trying to decide whether to be sore at Herb for being drunk or to be surprised that he was being escorted by the Wizard of Oz and Mickey Mouse. Surprise gave in to anger, though, and, shoving Herb into the house, she chased Bill and me all the way to the car, whacking us with a broom handle and screeching, "You drunken, smart-aleck SOBs! I’ll teach you to lead Herbie astray!"

We drove back to the clubhouse, but our backs were pretty sparky and the fun seemed to have gone out of the party. So Bill and I went on home.

(Note to Happy-Ending Dept.: Sam said Herb eventually got the AA message and sobered up, and his wife saw the self-defeating folly in her broom stick, and for many years he and Bill had a great good friendship going with them.)

Copyright © 2007 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.