A Curious Thing

A Curious Thing, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“I haven’t the slightest idea who said it; but it was assuredly a mouthful. “A productive drunk,” the man said, “is the bane of all moralists.”

“That this dark insight may have occurred to me independently I am sufficiently immodest to acknowledge. I could never, however, have expressed the idea with such felicity.

“A fact which has been observed by more than one sage is that humans like to think in cartoons. A man who likes dogs must be a man of gentle feeling and high rectitude. Should he turn out to be a dirty old man, we feel deeply cheated. We feel our sentiments have been short-changed.

“Even more than the man who likes dogs, the man who is blind must be a very compendium of the virtues. People get decidedly shocked when I point out that some of the rottenest characters I’ve ever met were sightless.

“There used to be an annual fiesta in the western part of Puerto Rico. It was the day of the blind. The blind came from all over the island. I’ve never met a more drunken, disorderly, and generally rag-tag body of men and women in my entire life. There are splendid blind people, and I’ve met them; but I’ve met an extraordinary number who fail to fit the stereotype society has assigned them.

“So it is with the human who is partial to the bottle. Because of his unfortunate addiction there are certain things this person must be. He or she has to be unreliable, prone to violence, eccentric in his personal behavior, and a bad credit risk.

“What the moralists should see is what some drunks are like when they are on the wagon. Their capacity to work, especially if they are in the creative fields, is often seriously impaired. While their personal relations are sometimes improved, more often it is the other way around–the dry alkie tends to be cantankerous, and impatient of anything less than perfect performance.

“These same fellows, sustained by the sauce, can be powerhouses. There is no need to emphasize that these people are a minority; but it is important to acknowledge that they do exist. They are productive in their work, and successful in their personal relations, precisely because booze releases paralyzing inhibitions in their nature.

“One American Nobel Prize winner in letters, and possibly our greatest contemporary writer, probably could not have cut the mustard without alcohol. I’m not talking about E. Hemingway, though there’s reason to believe he could not have cut it either without booze.

“An extraordinary number of driving business tycoons use alcohol to dreadful excess. Many of them will acknowledge privately that without their habit they would probably be cutting hair back in Phoenix, or wherever.

“This all fits into some kind of accepted psychology. What is stranger is the number of people who care nothing about the acquisition of money and power, priests and teachers who are in fact interested only in trying to find out the meaning of life and passing along the knowledge and are often nothing more than public drunks.

“This kind of man is and has always been a particular problem of the Roman Catholic Church, where men of pointedly saintly character sometimes drink like fish. That their character is saintly, or that they drink like fish is not all that strange, either.”

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