Alone, But Not…

Alone, But Not… Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“I was getting deep into one of those somber and highly charged novels of Miss Iris Murdoch, the accomplished British writer. I hadn’t gotten past the part where the butler is sort of explaining who the characters are, when I ran into the following bit of chilling self-exegesis by one of the male figures in the story.

“‘I hate solitude but I am afriad of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself and to turn it into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction.’

“‘The company I need is the company which a pub or a cafe will provide. I have neer wanted a communion of souls. It’s already hard enough to tell the truth to oneself…’

“Here, as neatly as a bit fits a peach, is a description of nearly all my friends, and of myself. There’s more to us than the detached and cruel encapsulation, to be sure. Yet the words tell the essence of that band of men, and increasingly of women, who find their greatest comfort in the amenity of a good saloon.

“There is a deal of malarkey set out about the role of the saloon as confessional. It is true you may delineate the nature of your predicament to the barman, but the true saloonaire is not about to tell the truth to anyone, least of all a barman.

“The saloon is where he comes to find the truth–the highly acceptable truth that he conjures up like an alchemist, in that long private conversation with himself which the booze supports.

“How marvelous are these little editions of your life, working themselves out with long practice after three or four jars! You, of course, are the victim; but far too decent a chap to let it show, much less scream out in public for succor.

“In this job of ego rehabilitation, the saloon is the essential ingredient. You just couldn’t do it sitting alone on the banks of a lovely lake, even if you had a jug of red mountain with you. There must be this consciousness of reserve, of suffering in the silence amidst the bustle of life–as represented by the other customers at the bar. You are holding out on them, you are refusing to let them know the stinging of that exquisite pain produced in your abraded soul by an uncaring world. You can’t hold out on a band of fishes in a lake.

“‘Communion of souls’ is precisely the most abhorrent thing of all, to those who fear intimacy and hate solitude. Telling the whole hurt vulgarizes it beyond belief, though there can be a great deal of enjoyment in merchandising it, and peddling it to a credulous world. ‘Communion of souls,’ like a lot of other things, is only acceptable when faked.

“For people who do not drink, the hardest thing to understand about people who do drink, and who drink as a part of their nature, is that drink is an anesthetic, the most pleasant and effective anesthetic in the world. It is very hard to reach a person under anesthesia, partly because of the drug, and even more so because of the evasive need which sends–and sometimes–drives the drinker to his potion. He wants to be alone; but at the same time to be in the midst of life.

“To those who are foreign to the world of drink, there is no sorrier sight than the single man, clutching his schnapps in hand and staring moodily ahead, the picture of isolation. I suggest that, more often than not, the lad is the most content man in the place. His most private needs are being satisfied, which is as close to a definition of happiness as you can come by in a bar.

“And, above all, you are doing the man no favor by giving him a little jolly chatter to let him know he’s wanted. He doesn’t want to be wanted, thank you. If he appears polite, and listens to you, do not believe it–that private conversation with himself is still going on. The drinking man, the solitary who can’t stand solitude, will do anything to preserve the integrity of that private conversation. More marriages, and less sacred relationships, have been ruined by kindly feminine attempts to break into that conversation, than I care to think of right now.”

Eureka!

Stout talk addressed to men of greatness, indeed.

Eureka! Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“How come a doctor gets so smart? I am referring to Dr. Charles Berry, who is chief physician to our noble astronauts. He has uttered one of those staggering simplicities which tend to confirm the view there is still some sanity abroad. He was talking about the general practice of medicine, a subject which has produced some fairly profound nonsense. The doctor’s words, exactly.

“”Take some aspirin and some Scotch. And if that doesn’t work, take more aspirin and more Scotch and go to bed. This is a formula for all ailments.”

“Those are the words of a man who knows what he is talking about. There is absolutely no nonsense here. No therapeutic smiles. No tender loving care. No injunctions to stop doing what you like to do. Just the stuff, on target.

“I remember hearing a distinguished physician say that it was only about 40 years ago that doctors began to be be sure that their administrations were doing more good than harm to the patients. How far into the area of benignity the profession has moved in recent years, ask your favorite sawbones. I’ll stick with Dr. Berry.

“For years it has been my claim that Scotch was a lot better for you than aspirin; but it took the good space doctor to make that further deduction which distinguishes mere information from inspiration. We’ve all seen apples falling, but it took a cat named Newton…Scotch and aspirin! The simplicity is thrilling. Mix one great analgesic with another great analgesic, and add the most marvelous pain killer of all, sleep. Bob’s your uncle.

“Too little is heard these days about the affirmative effects of booze and boozing. Everything you have heard against the sauce is regrettably true. The Bard, who is known to have taken a dram from time to time, hit it on the head in Othello:

“”Oh God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! That we should with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause transform ourselves into beasts!”

“Yes, we are not at our loveliest after the fourth martini, and the lies about women, and the general bigmouthing. Even the career drinkers, those dogged souls who carry on a lifelong combat with their livers, are not necessarily at their best when tanked.

“What applies to the gents goes approximately double for the ladies, especially in the martini league. To the average female temperment, gin and french is like the priming of dynamite. This is a mystery which has been explored by many talented tipplers, both male and female. It remains just that.

“On the credit side, there is the old French proverb that there are more old drunkards than old doctors. The number of guys who have been polishing off a fifth or so for 50 years or so is more than the righteous care to admit. There is some credibility to the view that booze acts as a sort of pickling agent to the human frame, with preserving effect.

“Spirits are especially good for the spirit. When you grow slightly nauseous from the heaving of the passions, there is nothing to equal a double for starting the healing process. Over the years I’ve found the sauce mightily useful for combatting two rather nasty ailments: Falling in love, and falling out of love. Both are made easier by firm applications of the grape.

“In Dr. Berry’s sage utterance I do not find any hint of that dread medical word: Moderation. Like, booze is lovely provided you don’t get drunk. That course is about as satisfactory as making love on a bicycle. If I read the doctor correctly, he advocates getting blind drunk if the pain is great enough, and sleeping it off. And if you hurt when you wake up, more of the same. This is stout talk addressed to men of greatness.”

Autumnal Ramblings

My primary goal was to mostly not drink all summer and see how it goes.

A pause in my bar working life made this pretty easy to pull off.

My clever self-deceiving strategy for distracting myself, making Root & Ginger Beers all summer has more or paid off. I’ve been too distracted with making them to drink much. Though, I have to say, both are fantabulous mixers with Rye Whiskey.

On the whole, I have been “Mostly Not Drinking” all summer.

The thing which has been the most successful at reducing my alcohol intake has been, “No Drinking Alone.” Instead of popping a beer when I make dinner, or making myself an amaro spritz, while I’m waiting for Michele to get home from work, I’ve skipped, and maybe watched an episode or two of some Anime series on Netflix or Hulu. On the whole, it is not great tragedy, and not getting a start on the drinking helps a great deal with the dynamics of the relationship. Just taking this extra drink or two out of the mix, helps a great deal.

For the most part, I’m OK with not drinking to excess, I feel better and don’t really miss it.

I also started running a couple times a week and riding my bike to the job once a week. The bike ride is a bit intense, 6 miles both ways, but I feel way better after riding the bike than after riding the bus. The problem, of course, is the impending rainy season.

The thing I really miss is having beer or wine with dinner to celebrate the end of the week.

Heading into the fall, I think the goal will just to have more alcohol-free days a week than drinking days.

I’ve also been meaning to transcribe some of Charles McCabe’s ramblings re: drinking to the blog. I’m going to be doing that for the next bit, I hope you enjoy.

Mother Ran a Speak

We talk about the glamorous speakeasies of prohibition, but really most were probably like this.

Paying for homemade made booze in someone’s kitchen, with optional entertainment.

Mother Ran a Speak, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“If only I hadn’t gone to Dublin in the first place, and if only I hadn’t gone to that place where they play the music on Saturday nights, and if only the master of ceremonies had not used the word melodeon. Well…

“A melodeon is what most people call an accordion, or a squeeze box, or many other names, and it is something my mother used to play, sitting there on the best chair in the house, and looking pretty and satisfied, and the melodeon on her knee, and the sounds of things written by Tom Moore and Bobby Burns coming out.

“After my mother threw the old man out of the house she had to find some way to support the children, and she was too proud to peddle herself. Teh times being what they were, New York City in the 1920’s, the best thing she could do was make whiskey and peddle it.

“It wasn’t bad whiskey. I used to help her make it, in the big stone tub where I had my weekly bath on a Saturday night. There were a lot of copper coils involved, and the operation was very honest indeed, for my mother would never be involved in anything that wasn’t honest.

“She sold the stuff for a dollar a shot. The clientele was entirely male, naturally. I grew up in what was very like a cat house in atmosphere, except that booze instead of sex was sold there. My mother never did anything that wasn’t honest.

“There were cops and firemen, the elite of the neighborhood. They would come in and sit around the kitchen stove, and the old girl would take out the melodeon, and with that fixed smile on her face play, “Oh Paddy Dear and Did You Hear,” and that sort of sweet nonsense. The cops would get up, with their blue jackets off, and do a clog dance.

“Every once in a while, dazed and dreaming, I would wake in the middle of the night to got to the gents, which meant crossing the kitche, and I would see all of these fellows getting sloshed and my mother playing the melodeon, and she would say to me, “Sing for the boys.”

“And I would sing something called The Sweet Galtee Mountains, which had, at some point, thirty-two verses, dedicated to the thirty-two counties of Ireland, including the ones owned by the Protestants up there.

“And they would throw dimes and nickels on the floor and I would pick them up, which possibly explains why I am now in the entertainment business.

“With all those dollars she got for all those shots my mother became in time respectable and bought us a house in a neighborhood where the rich Jews lived, and I remember one of her strongest more injunctions.

“We would be having one of those catastrophic confrontations which the Irish call a family difference, and she would conclude it with the stern words, “You’re raising your voice, Charlie.” And then she would add, “The Jews will hear you.”

“What with one thing and another, it wasn’t a bad life. I grew up in the firm conviction that I hated my mother, and I’m sure she thought I was the world’s smallest stink. It has taken a long time for me to know that she loved me, and that I loved her. It was all a part of being Irish, or human.

“None of this would have come to mind, or been expressed, if that guy in Dublin hadn’t said the word melodeon. The sound of the box comes to me now, loud and clear, and I think of the courage of that dear good dead woman, and of our failure to know each other, and I am fit to weep.”

Evil Little People

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.

Profound Ambivalence

Untitled

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…

Props

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?

Systemic Analgesic

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.