For the great Pete Hamill, it was a packed party at the old Lion’s Head, in celebration of Normal Mailer’s 50th birthday. As Hamill writes in his brilliant memoir A Drinking Life: “Joe Flaherty (was there). Jules Feiffer. Jack Lemmon. Hello. How are you? What’s doing? … Whatta you hear?”
For me, it wasn’t quite so fancy a setting. It was a liquor store across from a Wawa off of Jersey’s Route 9 on a Saturday morning.
I certainly wish I had a whole lot more in common with Hamill. Unfortunately, the one thing we shared was that impulse.
“Suddenly I wanted a drink,” is how Hamill puts it.
The Mailer party is one of the culminating moments in A Drinking Life when Hamill is tempted to go back to drinking.
“I turned toward the bar and saw more laughing idiot faces. And said: No, f**k it all, no. Not a drop. Not here. Not with these people. Never. I pushed my way through the crowd, found my coat, and went out to the street.”
Not me. Like a thousand times before, I stupidly went into that liquor store across from that Wawa.
I’d already tried cutting back, stopping altogether. “Not a drop.” For weeks, for months.
But I kept going back. Even if I had to lie about it.
There’s only so much you can hide.
My four kids are older now, and we are all under one roof hours on end with this damn pandemic. And when I couldn’t hide things anymore, I just left that roof and the whole loving house behind, just went out into the world.
Which only made things worse. So I lied some more.
And then I tried lashing out at whoever was around me. That included those four precious kids, and my wife, and my mother, and my sister.
They were all there. I was the only one who was not there. I wish I was. I wish I was there to stop myself.
That’s what I’m doing now. It’s too late. But I’m stopping this all now.
I always had older friends, so when they started drinking as high school juniors and seniors, I started drinking in eighth grade. That’s nearly 35 years ago now.
And I could easily spend another 35 years trying to figure out why I took to booze so intimately, so early and so often.
That’s part of the work I need to do now. Now that I have hit what I can only hope and pray is rock bottom. And if it is I am luckier than most.
But I always have been. Haven’t I? In some ways. Though not in others. And I think that’s part of the problem. We all look at the things we have, and we can be eternally grateful, but it is a rare person who never ponders: Christ, why do some people have so much more?
How come I didn’t get invited to Norman Mailer’s 50th birthday party? Or Pete Hamill’s?
There are approximately 7,582 students enrolled in Harvard right now. Another 5,963 attend Yale. Hundreds more folks are full-time tenured faculty members at these elite schools. When they are not teaching the best and the brightest, they write best-selling books.
Who the hell are these people? What gives them any right whatsoever to belong to such an exclusive club? And why the f**k not me, huh?
What’s it get you to ask such questions?
For starters, a drinking problem for close to 35 years.
Enough is enough.
I don’t get a packed Lion’s Head, with Norman Mailer speechifying.
I get a living room full of people who love me, and who I’ve hurt and disappointed, and whose trust I desperately need to earn back.
I’ve gotten an awful lot of mileage out my degrees from The College of Staten Island, and that may be a good thing and that may be a bad thing, but in the end, it is the only thing I have. And I managed to jeopardize even that.
The only thing worse than lamenting your meager accomplishments is imagining them simply vanishing. Or worse - losing them. Having so much right there in your hands and just dropping it. Because of another stupid decision made in a Wawa parking lot.
Not a drop. Not here. Not with these people. Not to these people.
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