After 16 months of languishing in a storage locker just outside of Baltimore, I finally managed to schlep the bulk of my worldly belongings back to my apartment in Cincinnati. Moving is never fun, but sometimes the process can unearth aspects of your life and your past that you had completely forgotten about. For me, that forgotten chunk of history was found in an old rubbermaid bin that contained all of the clippings and copies of my writing from when I was in high school and college. Predictably, much of it hasn’t stood the test of time while some pieces made me cringe while I was reading them, but there were a few that still I felt stirrings of pride and joy for. One of these was an article I wrote for a publication called The Bullsheet.
The Bullsheet was the alternative daily paper at Denison University, small liberal arts college in central Ohio that I attended for about a year before being politely asked to leave and told to never come back to again. Generally, the school was a upper-middle class bubble of wanton WASPiness located in the middle of nowhere and I wasn’t too terribly crushed to leave, but I was–and am–saddened by the fact that I had to leave my post as an editor of The Bullsheet, as it was the greatest gig I have ever had. Every Thursday night, I would ride up to the 4th floor of the school’s student union and open up The Bullsheet office, which was decorated with un-filed back issues, tens of empty liquor bottles and a wall dedicated to displaying the clippings of the times an editor had found his or her way into The Denisonian–the school’s horrifically boring paper of record–in their page devoted to student arrests.
Once there, I would peruse through a few submissions and advertisements and then go about figuring out what I was going to write that night to fill the front (and sometimes back) of the 8″ x14″ publication that would be distributed all over campus the next day. Most nights I wrote about whatever topical/bizarre news event I could find–Kim Jong Il, gay sheep, the science of “beer goggles”–but there was one evening where I decided to write a relatively serious piece on alcoholism. At the time I was 20 years old and still didn’t know that I was/would be an alcoholic and an addict, but I had certainly had my fair share of signs that my life was headed in that direction.
I remember distinctly going to the campus library and renting Cat On A Hot Tin Roof–the original with Newman and Taylor and Ives–and being blown away at how thoroughly I identified with the movie’s alcoholic protagonist, Brick. He drank the way that I drank and he drank for the same reasons I drank–that is to say, he drank alcoholicly. In the article you’re about to read, which I wrote in September of 2006, I come about as close as I could at the time to coming to grips with my own burgeoning addiction: I recognize it in others, but I can’t quite recognize it in myself. Fittingly, I would receive my first DUI 8 days after writing this article and it would be my drinking and drug use that got me kicked out of Denison later that year.
Tomorrow, once I’ve actually gotten a decent night’s sleep, I will try to write about the grand jury decision not to indict a Staten Island police officer in the choking murder of Eric Garner and what that means for us as a nation. But, for today, I just want to print this little piece of my past in the hopes that someone reading might identify with it in the same way I identified with Tennessee Williams. It’s not perfect, but it was the best that 20 year old me could do.
About a hundred years ago, a fine ole Mississippi couple had themselves a boy whom they brought into this world under the name of Thomas Lanier Williams III. Well, once this boy was growed up and started writing plays he decided to change his name to Tennessee—has a nicer ring to it than Tom does. Anyhow, Tennessee Williams took his new name and became one of the best damn playwrights the world has ever known. In one of his plays, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, he wrote this character by the name of Brick, as the man took a shine to not-so-usual names. Brick was named Brick because he was just about as dense as one and even harder to move one way or the other. At least, that’s why I thought his name was Brick. I don’t put much stock in those critics who spend their whole lives picking apart other folks’ work, so I never read their damn books.
Anyways, Brick was quite the drinker, much like Tennessee himself, and he spent most of his days drinking bourbon like it was goin’ outta style. You see, like most alcoholics, Brick drank to stop thinking so damn much about everything—life in particular. He was always talkin’ ’bout this “click” in his head. The way Brick explained it, he had to keep on drinkin’ ’til he felt this little click in his noggin that let him squash the fire burnin’ up in his head and have a little relaxation.
It’s sad, but since most of people’s art is based on their own lives, Tennessee had a fire in his head too, and goddamn if he didn’t douse that fire in booze all his life tryin’ to put it out. Now, ask any sensible man or woman what happens if your pour liquor on a fire and they’ll tell you it flares up like a 4th of July fireworks display. Tennessee wasn’t capable of thinking that way though and he ended up dyin’ alone in some New York hotel. Poor boy choked to death on a bottle cap, but it didn’t matter much as he was fixin’ to die soon anyway. At that point, his liver was like a grape that’s been left in the sun too long, but ain’t quite a raisin yet.
Tennessee knew all too well what that click felt like and so do I. Anybody who’s gotten royally pissed or stoned to high hell knows what that click feels like. It’s that one moment when you just stop—and then you’re fine. When you get that click the hamster spinning around that wheel in your head goes all slack-jawed and falls flat on his face while his little rodent body keeps the wheel turnin’ as he’s passed out. Now, the more you drink or smoke, the harder it is to feel that click. The real son-of-a-bitch of the situation is the harder the click is to get, the more you need it and before you know it you’re downing half a bottle of Dewar’s and you still feel stone sober. You need that click so bad because it feels like little kids are shooting roman candles at the back of your eyes, so you drink again or light up another bowl. Fuck it if it’s Tuesday afternoon, you need the flames to leave you the hell alone.
But the thing is, that searing feelin’ you get in your head is what makes life great. People need that pain because without it we wouldn’t know what pleasure is. Great art comes more from despair than it does euphoria or some damn hackneyed idea of happiness. Tennessee Williams didn’t become one of this country’s best writers by livin’ some wonderfully charmed existence. His life was filled with sorrow, heartache and loneliness, all of which were fueled by the booze he drank like rain water.
My grandmother died at 56 on account of alcoholism because she drank a bottle of vodka most nights…and on other nights it was two. The floor of her bedroom was lined with empty liquor bottles—dead soldiers my mama calls ’em. She stopped drinkin’ and joined AA, but the damage was done. Now, I certainly ain’t no teetotaler and I sure as hell love goin’ out and having a good substance filled time, but with that being said, I know you gotta keep a tab on that click in your head. ‘Cause as soon as you start drinkin’ to get the click instead of finding it by accident, then you’re as dense as a fuckin’ brick and before you know it you’ll be as motionless as one too.
Categories: Drug News
Reblogged this on My Circus Monkeys and commented:
Beautiful writing about the horrible darkness that is alcoholism.
Beautifully written. I can also can relate to the click, and alcoholism runs in my family, too.
I liked the description of Tennessee’s poor liver “At that point, his liver was like a grape that’s been left in the sun too long, but ain’t quite a raisin yet.” An off-hand reference to raisin in the sun? As a point of medical interest, though — unknown to your unusually self-aware 20 year old self — cirrhosis makes the liver stiff, so inflexible that the considerable blood flow normally going through the organ is impeded.
You know, like a brick. Maybe Tennessee was onto something there, too.