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.”

Demon Rum

Demon Rum, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who knew one when he saw one, defined an alcoholic as ‘a man you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.’ And Mrs. Fred Tooze, president of the 250,000-member National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, a still flourishing outfit, tells us that ‘in every crisis Americans have turned to drink.’

“With these two pregnant reflections, I think we may have profitably get through the morning.

“It is generally accepted that Dylan Thomas died as a result of drink. He was a terrible drinker, would follow beer with creme de menthe, and that with rye. He drank with the clear purpose of getting drunk as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. His last terrible days were spent in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, New York, no more than a stone’s throw from some of his favorite bars.

“My own definition of an alcoholic is a man who allows the drink to notably affect the quality of his work. Some of my friends take a sterner view of the situation. They say an alcoholic is a person who lets the booze interfere badly with the conduct of his life, and specifically with the treatment of others.

“But there is a terribly hard question involved in accepting this broader definition. It is easy to enough to see the bad effects of whiskey and beer on the people we love. The insensitiveness, the childishness, the plain damned brutality. It is much easier to be a rotter when you have a bellyful. This is the part about alcohol that everyone, including Mrs. Tooze, knows about and talks about.

“A subject much less explored is how much genuine love for other people is liberated by the Demon Rum. Alkies are bound up people, usually little talented in the delicate matter of showing their feelings, especially the tender ones. They are suspicious of life because they feel, usually rightly, that it has not treated them well. They cannot give with ease.

“Yet somewhere within they usually want to give, and that is where the booze comes in. With all its acknowledged bad effects, a little ethanol tends to let you give and receive love.

“This is true of both the sacred and the profane kind. You may indeed want to have every chick in the place after the third martini; but you are also quite likely to say just the right things to just the right girl, which may result in something quite pleasant indeed for a period.

“So don’t rap anything too hard which provides a release from the prison of self. It has been estimated that the population of Ireland would be damned near the ideal proposed by the Zero Population Growth people, were it not for the emotionally liberating qualities of Guinness and Paddy’s and such. How many of my friends and relations would be around to tell the tale if the old man hyad not been fired up by Dutch courage provided by Irish booze.

“So, in balance, it is really quite hard to make a sound guess on the effects of booze on the feelings. These effects are indisputably good and indisputably bad, and it would require a sapient lad indeed, or some kind of damn4ed psychiatrist, to assign percentages and priorities to the good and the bad. There’s a little bit of each in it, as in everything.

“Whatever the point the good Mrs. Tooze was making in her WCTU statement escapes me now, and that surely is a bad thing, it is, it is.”

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.”