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.”