Grumpy in New Orleans

Sober in New Orleans
(link to the full article on best of new
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.”

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.”