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.