A Curious Thing, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974
“I haven’t the slightest idea who said it; but it was assuredly a mouthful. “A productive drunk,” the man said, “is the bane of all moralists.”
“That this dark insight may have occurred to me independently I am sufficiently immodest to acknowledge. I could never, however, have expressed the idea with such felicity.
“A fact which has been observed by more than one sage is that humans like to think in cartoons. A man who likes dogs must be a man of gentle feeling and high rectitude. Should he turn out to be a dirty old man, we feel deeply cheated. We feel our sentiments have been short-changed.
“Even more than the man who likes dogs, the man who is blind must be a very compendium of the virtues. People get decidedly shocked when I point out that some of the rottenest characters I’ve ever met were sightless.
“There used to be an annual fiesta in the western part of Puerto Rico. It was the day of the blind. The blind came from all over the island. I’ve never met a more drunken, disorderly, and generally rag-tag body of men and women in my entire life. There are splendid blind people, and I’ve met them; but I’ve met an extraordinary number who fail to fit the stereotype society has assigned them.
“So it is with the human who is partial to the bottle. Because of his unfortunate addiction there are certain things this person must be. He or she has to be unreliable, prone to violence, eccentric in his personal behavior, and a bad credit risk.
“What the moralists should see is what some drunks are like when they are on the wagon. Their capacity to work, especially if they are in the creative fields, is often seriously impaired. While their personal relations are sometimes improved, more often it is the other way around–the dry alkie tends to be cantankerous, and impatient of anything less than perfect performance.
“These same fellows, sustained by the sauce, can be powerhouses. There is no need to emphasize that these people are a minority; but it is important to acknowledge that they do exist. They are productive in their work, and successful in their personal relations, precisely because booze releases paralyzing inhibitions in their nature.
“One American Nobel Prize winner in letters, and possibly our greatest contemporary writer, probably could not have cut the mustard without alcohol. I’m not talking about E. Hemingway, though there’s reason to believe he could not have cut it either without booze.
“An extraordinary number of driving business tycoons use alcohol to dreadful excess. Many of them will acknowledge privately that without their habit they would probably be cutting hair back in Phoenix, or wherever.
“This all fits into some kind of accepted psychology. What is stranger is the number of people who care nothing about the acquisition of money and power, priests and teachers who are in fact interested only in trying to find out the meaning of life and passing along the knowledge and are often nothing more than public drunks.
“This kind of man is and has always been a particular problem of the Roman Catholic Church, where men of pointedly saintly character sometimes drink like fish. That their character is saintly, or that they drink like fish is not all that strange, either.”
Hard Drinkers, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974
“As an adult consenting drinking man, I draw the line at calling myself an alcoholic. This is not because I’m afraid of the perjorative connotation of the word, but simply because its meaning has become so frightfully confused.
“From time to time some learned medical gentleman issues dire statements which equate hard drinking with alcoholism. As a drinker, and therefore a person who knows more about the effects of ethyl alcohol than more doctors, I know this is just not so.
“If the word alcoholic is to be used at all, it must have more precision than now attached to it, when cops tell you how drunk you are by giving you a roadside test. Towards a definition of alcoholic, then…
“As I see it, there are three kinds of people who drink too much alcohol: the dipsomaniac, the alcoholic, and the hard drinker. These distinctions are important, if we are to view the drinking proflem in the light of common sense.
“The dipsomaniac is one of God’s true unfortunates, a man as clearly pathological, and almost as much past help, as a man who has lost a leg. The dipso does not drink from the usual impulse of sociability.
“In fact, the dipso hates alcohol, since he knows from experience what it does to him. He is nearly always a periodic drinker. When he takes his first shot, he is off, on a flight of desperate imbibing, vomiting, incontinence, and finally coma. He can only stop drinking when his body wears out.
“We have all known dipsos in our life. They do not care for saloons. Their episodes, which are often paroxysmal in nature, resemble nothing so much as temporary suicide. There is no way the dipso can really be helped, until some lab produces something which can control the cause of his craving.
“Even aversion therapy isn’t much help here, since it is designed for the continual drinker, not the periodic. The worst dipso I ever knew went dry for life the day his wife died. Make of that what you will.
“The alcoholic is something less awful; though by no means good. I would say an alcoholic is a man who can’t function without alcohol–whose personal and working life needs completely the support of spirits. And who finally can’t function with alcohol.
“One way to assure you will never become an alcoholic, in fact, is never to take a drink while you are working. Yet a man who does good work doesn’t have to be ashamed of his habits.
“I never take a drink while working. That isn’t saying very much. Usually my work is finished, the writing part of it anyhow, a couple hours after rising. In that he doesn’t really like booze, the alcoholic is closer to the dipso than the hard drinker. The alcoholic simply must have it.
“The alcoholic can be treated, if he is willing to be brutal with himself. Aversion therapy works, and is quite often permanent.
“The heavy drinker usually doesn’t want to be cured. His habit is stupid, it is expensive financially and emotionally, but it is outside the range of pathology.
“The heavy drinker likes saloons and other places where people drink together. He enjoys drinking, unlike dipsos and alkies. What the hard drinker shares with all users of alcohol is distaste for the reality in which he is immersed, and a wish to blur same.
“Now, if something could only be done about reality…
“Granted that no form of drink is much good for anyone, what advice would you give the young who choose it anyhow, as most of their parents do?
“My advice would be Chesterton’s: “Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” I’ve not always followed this counsel; but wish I had more often.
“When you’re on a real downer, chop some wood, paint some tables, anything so long as it is a job. Drink when you’re filled with self-pity, and the next thing you’re drinking to get yourself through work. Then, brother, you’re headed for trouble.”
Man, I prefer riding the bus in summer.
In summer, the kids are all little, on field trips to the museum or the zoo. Happy, enthusiastic balls of energy.
In Fall, in Winter, in Spring I end up rising with High School aged kids.
I try to cover their voices with music, but some seeps in. Mean, evil, especially the boys, I don’t remember how I survived.
Call me in 20 years.
A flickr contact, davidteter, recently posted the above to his photo stream on that service.
It depicts a person sleeping, head on top of his backpack, in front of the large glass windows of a coffee shop. He is wearing one of his running shoes with bright blue laces and the other is off and sitting in front of his head. The window of the coffee shop is filled with people, apparently unconcerned that a person is passed out on the street, just below their field of vision.
I am profoundly ambivalent about capturing candid photos of the large population of persons who seem to be, temporarily or permanently, living on the streets of the city of San Francisco.
Historically, there is a precendent. Paul Strand had a special camera made, which allowed him to take a picture of something/someone, while appearing to photograph something else. Dorothea Lange’s portraits during the depression and dust bowl were rallying points for social justice.
I take BART and MUNI daily and walk around this city.
Just this morning I passed a homeless person’s “nest”, leaking urine, being cleaned up at the Civic Center MUNI platform AND witnessed a drunk, disorderly, and abusive person being removed from the N train.
Did I stop and take a picture of either? No.
First off, when on public transit, I am generally in non-communicative mode. I am afraid, by taking a picture, I will engage a person and risk an interaction. In my experience, the vast majority of interactions on public transit are pleasant, but the ones which are unpleasant are SO unpleasant, (risk of being beat up, robbed, threatened, yelled at, or worse,) that I try to avoid all interactions, unless someone is apparently lost or genuinely in need of help.
That either makes me a coward or a savvy city dweller.
I am uncertain of the protocol. Do I ask before taking a photo? What if they want money? If so, what’s an appropriate amount?
Also, really, I am not much of a people photographer.
I know people who are good at getting people to look their best, or in a certain way, for photos.
I don’t really enjoy that sort of interaction.
My whole photographer thing, what I enjoy, is capturing a moment as it happens, the way light is falling on a leaf or a face, not ME creating a moment for a photograph. I tend to be kind of stickler-ey about not even moving the subjects of my photography. Camera can move, but the thing is where it is.
Finally, I am not really comfortable exploiting others’ misfortune for my own gain, even if it is just internet kudos.
Both Lange and Strand were attempting to expose something that was not being seen by the larger public, idealistically you could say, for social justice, although, Lange for profit, Strand certainly not.
I am as ambivalent about the homeless situation in San Francisco as I am about taking pictures of it.
A person could spend all day, every day, taking pictures of the wasting expressions and faces of the youth in the upper haight and Golden Gate Park.
It is tragic and heartbreaking.
On the other hand, those people often REALLY annoy me with their intentionally comical requests for money and offers of “bud”.
So I look at davidtdeter’s photo and think: Is it staged? Did he give the guy money? Those are awfully nice shoes… Wow, it would really have been a better photo, if the cafe goers had been the squeaky clean en-tatooed young people in a trendy coffee spot on Valencia St, not anonymous Asian folks in a down town Starbucks…
..and on and on and on…
As wonderful as it is to have a profound selection of drinking waters, it just isn’t as fun to drink water with dinner as it is to drink wine or beer.
With water, there is almost zero chance of a miracle interaction, like where your wine pairing brings your food up to a new level.
And, well, every other damn soft drink on the planet is aimed at children, or at least those with the palates of children, pumped to the gills with sugar and cartoon level flavors.
Grapier than grapes. Applier than apples.
I don’t always feel like Coffee or Tea, though I do almost always feel like Cold Brewed Tea. If only it were easier to find decent, well made, unsweetened Iced Tea in the real world.
It seems like there is a whole category of non-alcoholic adult beverages missing from the market in the US.
Initially, it is awesome not to drink.
Feels like you have accomplished something, turned over a new leaf.
On your way to being a new person.
However, as time passes and things get back to status quo, it turns out you’re the same asshole, just sober.
From an interview with Saxophonist and artist Peter Brötzmann in Wire Magazine by David Keenan:
“The best decision I have made in my life was to stop boozing,” he reveals. “I would have died earlier than (Paul) Rutheford.” Near the end, Brotzmann was kickstarting his mornings with a cocktail of rum, champagne and mixer that he admits was “mostly rum”. “I didn’t drink beer anymore, I didn’t drink wine anymore, it just was booze all the time,” he says. “And then I got what Rutheford had in the last years of his life. I think you English call it gout. It starts mostly in the toe but it’s fucking painful because there are some crystals in the joints and so whenever you move it hurts. I came home from a tour in Poland, a cheap tour, everything was really shit. I was sitting at night and suddenly it was like someone put a spear through my leg. I called an ambulance and a young doctor came and he took his time and told me what he thought would happen: that soon I would not be able to move, that all the organs fall apart, that everything would swell up and shit like that and then it goes to the heart and you can say goodbye. He was a nice guy and very convincing. I decided that was it. I said, OK, I don’t move out of the house. I called my wife, asking her to bring the necessary things. It’s shaky, it’s sweating, you feel like shit really. But after a week it was over and then you just have to keep it in mind. I still have a bottle of schnapps in the house for visitors, and I don’t mind being around people boozing. When I’m on the road with the guys I tend to go earlier to my hotel because if they’re getting too drunk I don’t want to know what kind of shit I was talking back in the day.”
Even once you get past the physical and psychic reasons to drink, there are the pathetic psychological reasons, like having a prop to hold in your hand.
I’m not really a go out to a bar for drinking and fellowship sort of guy, but I am a music club kind of guy. The idea of going to a rock show and not drinking a beer? Crazy.
My whole idea of “what is cool?” is tied up with drinking, or at least holding a beer.
Reading an interview with the members of X, John Doe drinking a long neck beer and leaning against the wall at the back of an LA club.
Not drinking, what do you do with your hands?
What do I do to cover up my normal fidgeting tendencies?
Water bottle? Nalgene? Smoke?
One of alcohol’s strongest selling points, per yer average Western movie dentist or surgeon, is as an analgesic.
I always think of the body as struggling towards equilibrium.
If you add another element to the balance, it adjusts the other way.
The body has a bunch of strategies for dealing with pain, mostly psychological.
However, if you pour in an analgesic pain reliever into your gullet every day for decades, your body probably discards a bunch of those strategies for dealing with pain, or they fall to disuse.
You stop drinking and everything just sort of hurts.
Even worse, habitual use of a painkiller allows you to damage yourself physically without noticing it so much.
Not a good weekend for not drinking.
Wine with Pizza on Thurs. Drinks and Beer with a visiting relative on Friday. Drinks and wine at home on Saturday. Finally drinks and a beer out with visiting relative on Sunday.
Well, I’m not trying to be perfect, and there was no excessive consumption or drunkenness.