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  • Bill Glass

Writing is a lonely business. Sometimes it’s nice to have your Old Grandad for company, or maybe Uncle Jack. Recently an interviewer asked me, “What’s your kryptonite?” Without a missing a beat, I answered, “whiskey.”


There’s been many a night when I got on a roll, words were pouring onto the page, and I could have continued writing into the wee hours if it hadn’t been for too many wee drams. I’m a natural-born alcoholic with every Celtic cell in my body clamoring for refreshment at the end of the day. Still, I can’t drink like I used to. I look back on the many boozy adventures of my youth, and while I don’t have any regrets about those wild times, I don’t miss them. Nowadays, two or three drinks on occasion and I’m ready for bed.


Many people my age still manage to guzzle drinks all night and get blotto. The ones I know are good-natured drunks and have an uproariously fun time getting tanked. As to what their mornings are like, don’t ask don’t tell!


Me, I’ve lost my capacity for booze. Probably because at the height of my hard-partying career, I went on the wagon. Marriage and children forced my hand. You see, my father was a degenerate alcoholic and I didn’t want my kids to grow up the way I did. It’s baffling to young people when your normally sane parents lose control. Only later do they figure out that it’s what they’re drinking that causes it.


Another factor in my decision was family history. Not all Irish people are drunks, and not all Scots love whiskey. But genetics do play a role in alcoholism and with Celtic blood on both sides of the family, and a sot for a father, I feared passing on a drinking habit to my three sons.


During their childhoods, my kids never saw me drink. Now that they are all adults, however, our family’s predilection for spirits has shown up in each of them. Fortunately, they manage to keep it under control.


Maybe my preaching during their early years helped. Chiefs and elders of American Indian tribes had some good sayings about alcohol that I relayed to my kids. One was, “Why put a thief in your mouth to steal your brains?” Another goes, “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.”


For twenty years, I didn’t touch a drop of liquor then as my oldest was heading off to college and the youngest was graduating from middle school, I fell off the wagon. My fear was that I’d immediately go back to swilling the volume of liquor I used to. But to my relief, that didn’t happen. My hollow leg was gone.


You might wonder why, at my advanced age and knowing what I do about the dangers of alcoholism, I still take an occasional glass. The only answer I have is that whiskey is the devil. If you are susceptible to alcoholism, then it’s a lifelong fight. Sometimes you win, other times you lose. Just don't give up.


I knew from the age of 16 that alcohol was going to be a problem. That was the first time my parents allowed me to have a drink. But one wasn’t enough. For more about what happened that night, here's an excerpt from my novel, As Good As Can Be. The character, Dave Knight, is based on me. This scene takes place at a debutante ball.


EXCERPT FROM: As Good As Can Be, by William A. Glass


“Would it be all right if I have a beer?” Dave asks. He’s seen several college-age boys walking around holding beer cans.


“Sure,” Knight replies, “you’re what now, sixteen?”


“Just make sure you only have one,” Bobbie says sternly.


“Yes, ma’am,” Dave agrees, and as his parents move off, he gets in line at one of the makeshift bars. Soon Dave’s guzzling a beer, despite the bitter taste, and gradually an unaccustomed sense of well-being overtakes him. His senses tingle and a warm glow spreads within. He decides to have another.


Dave doesn’t want Bobbie to see him in one of the bar lines again, so he goes to look for beer in the kitchen. There are none in the refrigerator, but several cases of liquor are stacked by the back door. Reaching into one, Dave pulls out a bottle of Scotch. Hurriedly he uses a paring knife to remove the seal. Then he fills his empty beer can. Presently Dave’s back in the living room, sipping the drink.


As the orchestra breaks into a jitterbug, Dave taps his foot. He wants to dance, but Mrs. Rice is nowhere around. However, lots of old ladies are nearby, so Dave decides to be a gentleman. He asks an elderly woman in a red dress to dance, and she acquiesces delightedly. Dave rests his can of booze on a side table and goes out to cut a rug. He has no idea what he’s doing, but that doesn’t discourage his geriatric partner. She takes the lead and does her best to get Dave into some sort of rhythm. At the end of the number, he politely escorts her back to their starting point. “Thanks for the dance,” Dave says with a little bow.


“You’re perfectly welcome,” the woman smiles.


Back on the sideline, Dave chugs Scotch as he takes in the scene. He’s dazzled by the swirl of color as the dancers spin past. What a lovely group of people, he thinks.


However, an older woman nearby seems sad, and Dave’s heart fills with compassion. He takes another swig of his drink, puts the can down, and asks her to dance. The lady’s expression takes on a youthful gaiety as he walks her onto the floor.


After dancing, Dave returns to his spot. Soon the beer can requires a refill. He makes his way to the kitchen and tops up. When he gets back, the band has progressed to a hipper part of its repertoire. People are doing the twist, and Dave gets the urge to join in. He has no trouble finding a blue-haired companion.


Dave swivels himself into a frenzy, then escorts his partner back to the sideline. On the way, he receives several compliments on his twisting. Then Dave retrieves his drink and nurses it a while. Later he wends his way back to the kitchen again.


The crowd has noticeably thinned when Dave returns, but those who remain make up in enthusiasm what they lack in numbers. The band essays more rock ’n’ roll and decorum is relaxed. Dave takes to excusing himself in the middle of dances to tend to his beer can. No one takes it amiss. His partners wait happily in the middle of the dance floor until he returns.


As the hour grows late, Dave is slow dancing with a woman who must have been something in her prime. They are cheek to cheek, and she’s gently caressing the back of his neck. That’s all Dave remembers until he opens his eyes and sees the water. “Don’t bite me, you son of a bitch,” his father says.


Slowly Dave realizes that the object being pushed down his throat is his father’s index finger. Knight’s other hand is on the back of Dave’s head forcing it into the toilet. Meanwhile, Dr. Wilbur Hughes stands swaying in the doorway. “He’s got to throw up,” the physician slurs. “Make him throw up.”


Knight energetically reams Dave’s oral cavity but fails to get the desired result. The tile floor is hard on his knees, so he stands and joins Wilbur in swaying. They look like two gentlemen aboard ship in a storm. “Son of a bitch won’t vomit,” Knight complains.


Dave laboriously pulls an arm up from the floor and rests it on the rim of the porcelain bowl. Then he lays his head on the sleeve. “Just want to sleep,” he mumbles, “sleep.”


“He can’t sleep,” Wilbur tells Knight. “That might be fatal. We have to walk him.” The two men take hold of Dave’s legs and drag him out of the bathroom and into the living room of the cottage. It’s all they can do to hoist the boy to his feet. Then they force their shoulders under his armpits and haul him across the small room. After several turns back and forth, Wilbur and Knight agree to take a break. They plop Dave down on the sofa and fall into armchairs. Knight lights a cigarette.


A few minutes later, Elizabeth Hughes breezes into the cottage. “Well, that was a shock,” she says. “Mrs. Ferndale couldn’t believe it when he keeled over just like her late husband.” Elizabeth finds a pillow and blanket in the hall closet, removes Dave’s shoes, and covers him up. “Let’s go,” she tells Wilbur.








MIRACLE at MIDWAY

By Gordon W. Prange

THE ADMIRALS

By Walter R. Borneman

REVIEWER: William A. Glass

Date: 01/11/2021


I recently read Miracle at Midway by Gordon W. Prange and got so caught up in the history of World War II in the Pacific that I next picked up The Admirals by Walter R. Borneman. These two books contain many revelations. I learned that famous American generals and admirals were often incompetent, that Japanese military leaders who prided themselves on their warrior spirit got cold feet at critical moments, and how vital FDR’s top military advisors were to the ultimate U.S. victory.


Incompetence among America’s top brass was evident from the first. In the days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both Admiral Husband Kimmel, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, and General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded our forces in the Philippines, were warned of a Japanese attack. Still, U.S. forces were not put on alert and the Japanese attacks on Hawaii and the Philippines had the advantage of surprise. Kimmel’s battleships were arrayed in a neat row and MacArthur had his airplanes parked wingtip to wingtip. Japanese bombers obliterated these easy targets.


Kimmel lost his command, but somehow McArthur kept his. He promptly led his army into a trap of his own making. MacArthur escaped capture by the enemy, but his troops were not so lucky. As they were led away on a death march, he was in Australia pledging to return to the Philippines. MacArthur looked and spoke like a great military leader and became a hero to the public despite his shortcomings.


Admiral “Bull” Halsey was another brass hat who looked and talked like he knew what he was doing. Early in the war, he commanded the carrier task force that ferried Lt. Colonel James Doolittle and his daring raiders close enough to Tokyo for them to drop bombs. This made Halsey a hero to the public, but afterward his story was one of bad luck, poor judgement, and sorry seamanship.


Fortunately for Halsey and MacArthur, the Japanese military leaders had worse faults that surfaced immediately. One more attack at Pearl Harbor to target U.S. dry docks, repair facilities, and oil storage tanks would have made Japan master of the Pacific indefinitely. But Admiral Yamamoto was anxious to head back to safer waters. So, the U.S. was able to rebound.


Next, Yamamoto messed up the plan for the Japanese attack on Midway Island by making the occupation of this American base the objective, rather than designating the U.S. Pacific Fleet as the target. So, while the Japanese were arming their carrier-based planes with bombs for another attack on the island, U.S. aircraft carriers launched dive bombers against the Japanese ships. Four Japanese aircraft carriers, thousands of sailors, close to three hundred planes, and an equal number of Japanese pilots paid the price.


Two years later, the Imperial Japanese high command decided to bet everything on one roll of the dice. The U.S. Navy was landing MacArthur’s army in the Philippines, and the Americans had to be stopped, or all was lost. Tokyo’s plan was to send a decoy fleet to draw Halsey away from his responsibility to protect MacArthur’s landing. Meanwhile, a powerful Japanese strike force would sneak through a passage between two Philippine Islands and destroy MacArthur’s troops and their transports. Naturally, Halsey fell for the Japanese ruse and took off after the decoy with all his ships. Incomprehensibly, he didn’t leave any to guard the strategic passage the Japanese strike force came through. The only thing that saved the Americans was the pusillanimity of the Japanese Admiral commanding the strike force. He skirmished with the few escort vessels guarding MacArthur’s landing, then retreated. Thus, Halsey was hailed in U.S. newspapers as the victor of The Battle of Leyte Gulf!


Back in Washington, Admiral William Leahy, General George Marshal, and Admiral Ernest King ran the war for President Franklin Roosevelt. Marshall was in overall command of the army, King was boss of the navy, but Leahy outranked them both. He was FDR’s chief of staff, plus his National Security Advisor. Leahy, King, and Marshall made all the strategic decisions during the war. They allowed guys like MacArthur and Halsey to get the headlines and be the heroes.


Historians are only now realizing how critical Leahy, King, and Marshall were to the U.S. victory. But congress knew. In 1944 they created the five-star rank. Leahy received it first, then Marshal and King. Guess who else got five stars? MacArthur and Halsey, of course! Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.


I highly recommend reading Miracle at Midway and The Admirals one after the other. This brief review contains only a few of the many revelations I gleaned from these magnificent works of history.

DIVE BOMBERS



REVIEW OF: THE BOY WHO LIVED WITH GHOSTS

AUTHOR: John Mitchell

REVIEWER: William A. Glass

Date: 12/26/2020


It’s said that no one does poverty like the Irish, but in this memoir, the Scots stake their claim. As in chronicles of Irish squalor, the father in this memoir is a binge drinker, the mother is loving but ineffectual, and the children are dirty snot-noses. They live in crumbling houses that are crawling with vermin. What lends shock value to these Dickensian scenes is that they play out during modern times in so-called advanced countries.


John Mitchell is five years old when we meet him. He lives with his parents, grandparents, and two sisters. His older sister, Margueretta, is getting messages from the devil with instructions on evil tortures to perpetrate on John. She’s mentally ill. That’s what inspires her vicious attacks. They only stop when John is old enough to fend her off. About that time, Margueretta redirects her attacks against herself, and the story increasingly focuses on her.


What I like about this book is its ambition. Rather than giving us a dry memoir from the safe precincts of hindsight, John Mitchell renders his story in the terrifying present tense. It’s stream-of-consciousness technique makes us privy to a young boy’s thoughts and emotions as he goes through the horror movie of his childhood.


With horror movies, you can put your hands over your ears and close your eyes.

However, for John, there is no escape. Even his sleep is tormented by screaming monsters coming up from the basement or down from the attic. His waking hours are infused with dread of Margueretta, knowing that’s it not a matter of if but when she will come for him. Reading this reminded me of what I saw once in the pediatric ward of a hospital burn unit. Nurses would come every afternoon to take children for skin debridement treatment. The dread on the patient’s faces as they were wheeled out of their rooms to face the agony was heart-rending. In The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts, John exhibits the same grim resignation in the face of daily torment from his sister.


The possibility of paranormal malfeasance hangs over John’s story and keeps the reader engaged. It’s not an easy read and I found myself wishing for a respite, if not for John then for me. The author’s frequent use of short declarative sentences enhances the shock value. “That’s gruesome!” Margueretta says at one point, which pretty much sums up John’s childhood.


Often memoirs become self-aggrandizing and fail on that account. Witness John Bolton’s recent effort. But in this one, none of the characters come off particularly well. Teachers are bullies, scoutmasters are perverts, relatives are alcoholics, and neighbors succumb either to madness or Valium. The author owns up to his failings, but it’s his intelligence and loving nature that allows him to climb out of the hell he grows up in. I give this book five out of five stars because of the story’s authenticity and the author’s creative approach to telling it.