Grumpy in New Orleans

Sober in New Orleans
(link to the full article on best of new orleans.com)
Jules Bentley on what it’s like living the dry life in Alcohol City

“New Orleans is a great place to drink. You’ll have adventures, you’ll be surrounded by witty, sexy people, and if you’re feeling reckless, the rabbit holes here go so deep that if a pebble or a person gets tossed in one, he or she won’t be heard hitting bottom for years. New Orleans has the best bars in North America; it’s no wonder the city draws thirsty cats from all over looking for a comfortably cool porch under which to finish dying.”

Yow! “Thirsty cats from all over looking for a…porch under which to finish dying.” That is some fine drama AND hyperbole.

“I’d always considered people who didn’t drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life’s beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.”

And, oh man, that IS a dismal assessment, which I don’t really find borne out by my own experiments with sobriety.

“Identifying what triggers your cravings is a crucial piece of sobriety. To the degree that anything in my indolent lifestyle resembles work, being actively engaged in some activity, paid or otherwise, gives the desire to drink less space in my consciousness — but then, I don’t work in our city’s exploitative service industry.”

I would say, “Letting go of what triggers your cravings is a crucial piece of sobriety.”

“Without the armor of alcohol, I am histrionically sensitive to bad art. Lazy or uninterestingly inarticulate art, art that comes from a place of complacency, psyschologically dishonest art — all are intensely triggering for me. This makes post-Katrina New Orleans a minefield; I avoid St. Claude on gallery night.”

The author’s amusing grumpiness aside, there are some good quotes in the article.

“You’re around a lot of people with drinking problems — immersed in the tragedy of it,” he said. The presence of multiple Ghosts of Christmas Future has a deterrent effect. “With so many far-gone drinkers all around you, you’re like ‘Oh, right, that’s what I’d look like if I was drinking. Or that. Or that. Or that in a year or two.’ You have access to all the booze in the world, so it’s not as interesting.”

Heh. Word. No matter which side of the bar those ghosts are on.

Anyway, I’ll finish with this quote.

I spoke with Alex, a sober friend who works in investment and keeps a busy calendar of high-end, relatively exclusive Uptown social events. I was curious whether he felt being sober held him back socially or professionally. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s a non-issue,” he told me. “Most people really don’t care what’s in your cup, as long as you’re holding one.” To the contrary, he finds sobriety gives him an edge. “If I had two drinks, I would probably have 14, regardless of the situation. Even at an event where I should have been paying attention to the people around me, to get their business, I would get too drunk and forget their names. So I think it’s actually helped me in social situations that I’m sober.”

If Only You’d Apply Yourself, Erik

Of all the criticism I have heard in my life, I would say this is probably the most frequent.

“You’re a smart person, Erik, if you’d only apply yourself, you could go far.”

Whether it was my English teachers in 6th Grade trying to teach me grammar, or my Math teachers in 3rd Grade trying to get me to learn my multiplication tables, or friends wondering over my puzzling, and often self defeating, career choices.

In point of fact, I can’t really apply myself in the same way others can. I am an intuitive, insightful thinker, not a methodical, plodding, stepwise, thinker.

I would, in fact, rather gouge my eyes out, than really learn multiplication tables, no matter how much it would improve my life.

The funny thing is, I am really good at memorization, but not in a conscious way. If I repeat things out loud, I can memorize pretty much anything: random numbers, letters, lengthy text, times tables, etc, but I can’t consciously pull it up, and don’t really understand it. It is as if I am reading it out loud for the other smart person who lives in my brain, and then can only access it, if that other person interrupts me with their insight.

I have to distract the Erik who lives from day to day to get any insight into my real thoughts and feelings.

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.”

Lack of Adult Beverages

As wonderful as it is to have a profound selection of drinking waters, it just isn’t as fun to drink water with dinner as it is to drink wine or beer.

With water, there is almost zero chance of a miracle interaction, like where your wine pairing brings your food up to a new level.

And, well, every other damn soft drink on the planet is aimed at children, or at least those with the palates of children, pumped to the gills with sugar and cartoon level flavors.

Grapier than grapes. Applier than apples.

I don’t always feel like Coffee or Tea, though I do almost always feel like Cold Brewed Tea. If only it were easier to find decent, well made, unsweetened Iced Tea in the real world.

It seems like there is a whole category of non-alcoholic adult beverages missing from the market in the US.

Die Like A Dog

From an interview with Saxophonist and artist Peter Brötzmann in Wire Magazine by David Keenan:

“The best decision I have made in my life was to stop boozing,” he reveals. “I would have died earlier than (Paul) Rutheford.” Near the end, Brotzmann was kickstarting his mornings with a cocktail of rum, champagne and mixer that he admits was “mostly rum”. “I didn’t drink beer anymore, I didn’t drink wine anymore, it just was booze all the time,” he says. “And then I got what Rutheford had in the last years of his life. I think you English call it gout. It starts mostly in the toe but it’s fucking painful because there are some crystals in the joints and so whenever you move it hurts. I came home from a tour in Poland, a cheap tour, everything was really shit. I was sitting at night and suddenly it was like someone put a spear through my leg. I called an ambulance and a young doctor came and he took his time and told me what he thought would happen: that soon I would not be able to move, that all the organs fall apart, that everything would swell up and shit like that and then it goes to the heart and you can say goodbye. He was a nice guy and very convincing. I decided that was it. I said, OK, I don’t move out of the house. I called my wife, asking her to bring the necessary things. It’s shaky, it’s sweating, you feel like shit really. But after a week it was over and then you just have to keep it in mind. I still have a bottle of schnapps in the house for visitors, and I don’t mind being around people boozing. When I’m on the road with the guys I tend to go earlier to my hotel because if they’re getting too drunk I don’t want to know what kind of shit I was talking back in the day.”

Tightrope Walking

From a Shakestir.com interview with Mr. Erik Adkins:

“It’s a tightrope. I always think there are two types of bartenders: those who have quit drinking, and those who are on their way to quitting drinking. There are a lot of bartenders I know who have quit drinking, because you can’t manage it. If you drink at work and you drink when you’re not at work, then you’re just a drunk.

“In my 20s, you’d say, “Only drink after the sun goes down,” but during winter, that’s a problem. Now, I have a glass of wine with dinner, I may split a beer with another bartender, but you’ve got to have those boundaries.

“There was a bartender I once worked with, he’d only drink at work — when he was at home and on his days off, he wouldn’t drink. Most of us do the opposite. It’s hard, because then you get home and you want to unwind, and that’s at least two drinks — or three — and if you’re not careful, you’re gonna wake up and be tired. I have a set wake-up time, so if I decide to stay up late, I pay the price, and that reminds me the next time it wasn’t worth it.

“When you’re in your 20s, you don’t have to worry about it. In your 30s, it doesn’t hit you physically as much, but in your 40s, between eating restaurant food for staff meals and consuming alcohol, there are some serious lifestyle issues with your health. My doctors laugh and say it’s an occupational hazard, like it’s forgiven because of my job, but it still has that effect on your triglycerides and your blood sugar and all that stuff.

“You’ve got to set your lifestyle for what you’re going to be doing in your 50s and 60s.”

An Inappropriate Relationship

From an interview on ShakeStir.com with Mr. Dale DeGroff:

“I did have a period when I was a heavy drinker, but I don’t know a single bartender who’s out there working as an older man who still drinks heavily.

“A doctor said to me about 10 years ago, “You’ve got problems—they’re not serious, but your liver is stressed. You can keep drinking the way you are for another 10 years and then you’ll probably die; or, you can stop drinking for a while, and if you leave your liver alone and let it recuperate, you can probably go back to moderate drinking.” And that’s what I did.

“There comes a point—your body will tell you—that you either do what I did, or you take the tradeoff and die when you’re 65. I had a customer at the Hotel Bel-Air in L.A., who got exactly the same ultimatum I did at the same age. He’d sit at the bar and talk about it, and for a year he tried to stop drinking; eventually he said, “Oh, f*ck it,” and several years later, he died. He made the other choice, and he was happy—drinking was too much a part of his life, and his life wasn’t pleasant without it.

“Every bartender who’s a heavy drinker will have to make this decision when it’s time.”