Lately I’ve been reading Fat City, the circa-1969 novel by Leonard Gardner. The book is set is 1950s Stockton, and was adapted for a film a few years later by director John Huston. I’d gone back to the central city of the place where I grew up a few months ago, one night to see my old pals the Authorities at some hole in the wall on Weber Avenue near the old Western Auto store, and the next night at the old Fox California Theater on Main Street, which got renamed the Bob Hope Center for the Performing Arts a while back, to see the Authorities open for Pavement. After that show, which was an unexpectedly sad and intense experience for me, I stood on the landing out behind the stage with Brian from the Authorities, my friends Kelly and Jeff, and Steve and Mark from Pavement, talking about life in the San Joaquin. Mark was the only one of us who hadn’t grown up in or around Stockton, but he started talking about Fat City, and it turned out we were all fans of the book.
That conversation haunted me for several weeks, and then I was in Time Tested Books on 21st Street here in Sacramento and found a reasonably non-dog-eared used copy; it had been a while since I’d read Gardner’s downbeat account of hard-luck boxers in a dead-end California valley town. As soon as I picked it up again, I remembered why. Maybe it’s from personal experience, because I was a little kid in the late 1950s and remember some of the places in Gardner’s book pretty vividly, but reading it really churned up an avalanche of ghosts.
My dad was an alcoholic, and my mother was a depressed woman in her late 30s who was stuck with a crummy job in a Weber Avenue insurance agency, a precocious and marginally autistic young son, and a rambling watch-out-for-low-flying-aircraft husband who couldn’t hold a job to save his life. He’d get a job selling cars, or awnings, or farm equipment, and then he’d get wasted on apple wine and forget to show up for work, or he’d show up totally blammed and the natural denouement of that misdeed would be “you’re fired,” and then he’d be off for a while until the next job started. When the old man wasn’t working, we’d have to loiter in traffic on Weber Avenue across from the old courthouse — which I witnessed getting torn down, and a shame that was because it was a beautiful rotting gray old building with a capitol-like dome ringed with clocks, surrounded by creepy cemetery palm trees — where we’d pick up my mom when she got off work at Peirano Brothers.
My memory of those days is framed by what the old man was driving — bulbous Rambler Americans, skinny and Soviet-blockish (post-Starliner) Studebaker Champions, a big old 1950 Buick Special, a 1957 Ford stripped-down sedan, a black Toyopet Crown, which looked like a half-witted knockoff of a Hillman Minx and was the first car sold in the U.S. by then-unknown Toyota, and a big lumbering DeSoto Firedome. I have always been obsessed with cars, and my mother used to say that when I got a set of alphabet blocks, the first word I spelled was “FORD,” which is kind of funny because I’ve been a Mopar man for quite a while, but probably didn’t have two Ds to spell “DODGE.” When you’re stuck outside a bar sitting in the car with a grapefruit-sized metal globe memorizing the continents and countries of the world pre-African independence with maybe your collie dog as company, you tend to be acutely aware of what company manufactured your prison. And I remember the joints we were parked in front of, too — the Weber Inn, the Channel Inn, assorted other low-born watering holes where the old man would get his tank on and then we would swerve home, as in those days it was a lot harder to roll a deuce, with the old man saying, “Well, li’l buddy, we’re really in the doghouse now.”
I can almost taste the old oily funk coming off the streets along with the eye-blistering peat from the Delta that would come blowing into town on a bitter and sharp wind, and can picture the yellow smoke-belching City Bus liners drifting by, and the top of the old Medico-Dental Building with the flickering neon “California Western States Life” lights hung across scaffolding on the roof, which later got replaced by an ugly “KJAX Cloud 99” sign. And I remember Washington Square in Gardner’s book, which was a major hangout for the layabout transient population, and almost seemed like a graveyard with its palms and brown and wino-strewn lawn, but then they knocked it down to build the Crosstown Freeway, which can be seen in the opening to Huston’s film.
And I can remember getting dragged into smoky bars where I was told in no uncertain terms to lurk silently in the corner until the old man finished his medical mission, which was to bring his blood-alcohol count back up to a comfortable range, and the one consistent thing I can recall about every bar I was in was the boxing posters. Boxing was a big deal in Stockton circa 1960; maybe it was big everywhere but it was huge in the place I still love to refer to as Palookaville (but don’t you go calling it that, unless you’re from there).
Anyway, I think about my old town a lot these days. People bag on it without understanding the soul of it, the way West Coast people who’ve never been to Texas dump on that place. Stockton is a lot like Texas. It’s a lot like George W. Bush’s vision for America, and we had all that stuff in Stockton — the stratification of the classes, and a concentration of wealth among a small group of people while a huge portion of the population fought for the remaining table scraps. We had endless waves of immigrants brought in to do a specific task — the Chinese to build the railroads, the Filipinos to drain the swamp at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and build levees so others could get wealthy farming that reclaimed land, which had “the second-best soil in the world, next to the Nile Delta,” as my mother would put it, the Dust Bowl Okies and the Mexicans to bring in the harvests in the fields and orchards, the blacks from the South to work in the shipyards — and as soon as the work ran out, some of them figured out how to do well, while others got mired in cycles of poverty. We had weird crimes before the rest of the country got them — post-office shooting sprees, schoolyard shootings, weird and violent crimes, gangs, drive-by shootings — so by the time they became commonplace elsewhere, they were old hat to Stockton natives.
But it was a great place in its own weird way, too, and on a pleasant day, you could feel a good clean and cool Italian wind blowing through the Golden Gate and across North Beach and then up around Alcatraz and through San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Straits and Suisun Bay and across Big Break and Franks Tract and the rest of the Delta islands into town, carrying with it the words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and the sounds of the jazz joints on Broadway and Vallejo Street and Columbus Avenue to connect with the erstwhile presences of hometown boys Lord Buckley and Gil Evans, and I could tune into that feeling and drew comfort from it.
So, well, maybe I should stop typing and get back to Gardner’s book. You should read it, too. —Jackson Griffith
For some reason, I got nuttin’ tonight.
Speechless. But very, very happy. —Jackson Griffith
Now, I’m not sure how things are going to play out on November 2. Perhaps the $140 million that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman spent of “her own money” — to which my involuntary response goes something like “[cough cough] Koch Industries [cough cough] Valero, Tesoro [cough cough] horsepucky bullswaggle [cough cough]” — will be enough to propel her into the governor’s office. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mrs. Harsh is going to be horribly butthurt on the morning of Wednesday, November 3, however I am not a psychic so don’t count on my hunches and above all don’t put any money on them.
Anyway, I like Meggie’s whole California poppy logo thing and also her ads, which have a certain pastoral vintage Massengill vibe to them. But one thing that bothers me is this whole “I’m gonna run California like a business” meme that she’s been banging like Khrushchev’s shoe on a U.N. desktop throughout her campaign. A lot of these conservative pols seem to get mileage from the idea that a government would be much better if it were run like a business, which I can’t understand. They’re two different things.
For example, when I had a dog, I wouldn’t try to run him like a cat, which would have meant that I could just let him out into the street whenever and expect him to come back, and ignore him except to feed him and clean his box, which he would not be crapping in, because as much as I might wish that my dog was a cat, a dog is still fundamentally a dog, unless you feed him magic mushrooms, at which point if you then duct tape a cute little pair of red paper antlers on his head, he becomes a reindeer.
Also, if I stick the keys into the door of my apartment and expect the engine to start so I can drive my apartment over to your place so I can raid your refrigerator because I’ve heard really nice things about the fruits and vegetables you keep there, as much as I want to step on the gas and get over there mucho pronto for the putatively topnotch snackage, it ain’t gonna happen; first, there’s no gas pedal, second, there’s no steering wheel, and third, a house is not a car, unless you’ve of course ingested certain ergot-derived chemicals, at which point Jack Webb will be stepping out of his pale blue Fairlane sedan to have a talk with you.
Let’s review: A dog is not a cat, and a house is not a car, and government is not a business. One cannot step in and fire everybody willy-nilly and outsource half the various state departments to, oh, Sri Lanka, or Andhra Pradesh, and one cannot just randomly “clean house” in Sacramento because one spent the equivalent of a million dollars a day for almost five months to get elected, which entitles her royal imperiousness to come tell us how a CEO does things in “Silicon Valley” — let’s see, you clean out the company treasury, you tell anyone who complains to go “fark” themselves with Steve Jobs’ pointer, maybe you run a hostile takeover on Nevada, or maybe Oregon, and then you go spend the rest of your time enjoying all your purloined loot somewhere else, like a villa in Tuscany.
My gut sez Guvnah Meg’s a longshot, but is she does pull it off, her shenanigans will make great fodder for editorial cartoonists and comedy writers. Nothing says “ha ha ha” like a Nurse Ratched lookalike behaving like Marie Antoinette might after polishing off a box or two of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes, before crashing from the high and getting really really surly.
As for my vote, you’ve probably figured it out now. We’ve already had five years of what was essentially George W. Bush with an Austrian accent and a bunch of IMDb credits. We can ill afford another four or eight years of disastrous governing, especially from someone who looks like serious trouble, who spent several dozen buttloads of cash to buy the office of governor, who spouts all the usual dogwhistle memes about aliens and Mexicans, and whose own grown children have a history of behaving like entitled thugs. Not promising. So, yeah, I’m gonna vote for Jerry Brown, who will take office and immediately be besieged by every nitwit radio nutjob who’s trying to make his bones with Clear Channel or Citadel, not to mention Sal Russo and the rodeo clowns over at Eighth and L Streets, who should be bored and disenchanted with the whole Tea Party Express juggernaut by then so they’ll go back on the Hating Governor Moonbeam wagon. Which ought to be fun to watch, as they wheel out that perennial weapon in the arsenal of butthurt California Republicans all over this great state of ours: the recall.
Pardon me. I’m going to the store to stock up on popcorn. This oughta be good. —Jackson Griffith
A couple of Saturdays ago, I got my usual ritual going — laundry loaded, the laptop with me to do some blogging while washing the clothes, plus some reading material in case I wanted to peruse something not published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I figured that maybe I’d saunter over to Jim-Denny’s luncheonette on 12th Street for a leisurely breakfast, and then after a nice omelet with some hash browns, I’d get the clothes washed before noon. A perfect morning, in my humble estimation.
Well, I got there, and something was wrong. First, there was no place to park. Second, large, well-fed people were getting out of big sedans and SUVs and waddling in the direction of my destination. So I parked, and when I got to the door of Jim-Denny’s, every seat was filled, and there was a throng of people waiting. Damn, I thought. “It’s gonna be at least a two-hour wait, Jackson,” said Monica, the woman who usually takes my order.
“What the?” I asked. “Man vs. Food,” she replied, referencing some hot show on the Fat People’s Channel.
So another one of my favorite joints has become the beneficiary of some cable television show (actually, it’s on the Travel Network, whatever that is), and now every glutton within a 100-mile radius is making a pilgrimage there for something called “The Works,” which is an omelet with lots of meat in it — four different kinds. I’d try one, but I stopped eating meat several years ago, and I’ll occasionally eat eggs and cheese, the former not very often.
I took today off, because I’ve felt crummy all week long. It isn’t a stomach thing, though, more just a general sinus-headachy malaise, and I was pretty hungry, so I went over to Jim-Denny’s, which is a dozen blocks from where I live, figuring that it might be easier to get a stool and some chow. Turns out I was right, and when I asked what time it gets busy now on Saturdays, Monica said she tells people to get there at 7 a.m., when the joint opens. “We’re full up right at 7,” Patsy, the current owner, piped in. “But it won’t be a two-hour wait then,” Monica added.
As it were, I had to wait a while for my food, while Patsy cooked several to-go orders. Most of the people there were eating “The Works,” which is kind of a peculiar deal — I mean, this is a brick of an omelet with four meats, four veggies, cheese and of course eggs and grease, plus hash browns and, on a separate plate, a pancake as big as a large frisbee and as thick as a sumo wrestler’s hand, which is to say that this is not casual eating. After knocking that breakfast back, I’d venture that one would be incapacitated for the better part of a day, with the subsequent downloading session resulting from its digestion being of such duration that the sitter would be able to read several sections of the newspaper all the way through, between grunts.
Maybe television is that powerful a medium — if Man vs. Food featured some dive whose specialty grub was a mess of pulled pork, okra, grits and ground-up Toby Keith CDs wrapped in biscuit dough and deep-fried, then slathered in bacon-flavored gravy and Velveeta and served in a red wheelbarrow, I’d guess there would be more than a few people who would hightail it down there just so they could eat what they saw on the teevee. Comedian Dana Carvey used to say that if you put a grapefruit on television for a week and then you put it on display in a shopping mall, people would crowd around it and point and say, “Ooooo, there’s the grapefruit that was on TV.”
Which, well, I don’t want to disparage Patsy — who’s selling the place, because she moved to Montana — and Monica and the rest of the crew, because Jim-Denny’s is an independent business, and if this helps generate profits, I’m all for it. Better that than some foodie-type selling a plate of what’s essentially hors d’oeuvres that costs twice what you’d pay for The Works, or another chain. Or — and if you’re in Sacramento, you’ll know what I’m talking about — another sushi joint.
It’s just that I guess I feel some kind of entitlement, because I used to go there when the late Jim Van Nort owned the place, after my pal Steve Jones turned me on to it in the late 1970s when I first arrived in this town. I got pretty obsessed for a while, rolling in a couple times a week for a cheeseburger, side of chili and a thick malted chocolate shake. I don’t eat that way anymore, but I have a lot of love and respect for places like Jim-Denny’s and Nationwide Freezer Meats and even Ford’s and the Squeeze Inn, where they still take the workingman’s chow seriously.
I don’t want the hoopla to die down for Jim-Denny’s, either — even if I can’t get in there to dine on one of their fine veggie omelets without a long wait. I started going there last year, when I was so broke that R.V. Scheide, then the news editor at the Sacramento News & Review, felt sorry for my newly skeletal state and would slip me coupons to eat there (thanks, R.V.; you and a few others saved my life). So imagine going there when you’re seriously starving, which I did, and I learned to love the place. That love ain’t going away anytime soon, I’m guessing.
And if I choose to hit Jim-Denny’s on a Saturday now, well, I’m used to getting up early. —Jackson Griffith
They say that dogs have an uncanny eye for when they’re being cheated. Dogs will pay attention to what treats the other dogs are getting and they’ll get all caught up in that unfairness and start whimpering. But dogs also are supposed to be all buddhist and in the now and all that, so I’m kinda confused. Plus, they sniff butts.
What I can say is that the secret is in the doing. Which means get home from work, pick up the guitar and work at fleshing out all those songs I’ve written over the years, try to get a good and reasonably flawless set of them together, and then find someplace to play them and hope that some people show up and that I’m good enough that they not only stay in the room and not walk out mid-set, but maybe come back for a second helping sometime later.
I was going to post a bunch of negative stuff. Instead, I’ll say that it’s great that certain people can fast track their successes. As for me, well, I’m such a slow learner. Hell, I dunno. Maybe I’ll keep after it for all the time I have left, and then after I’m gone, someone will listen to what I’ve left behind and go, “Meh. Guy’s stuff wasn’t very good.” Which will be okay with me.
Because even if you suck, that’s not the point. The point is that you gave it a shot, that you kept after it, that you tried to get as good or as non-sucky as it was humanly possible for you to achieve, and that even in the face of not getting a biscuit or petted or anything, you still got up and worked at whatever it is that makes your soul feel complete.
Ah, gosh darn. This isn’t what I’d planned to write. I’ve got a head full of grander designs, but my body has been feeling really crummy all week, so I get home and fall asleep and then wake up and meditate, which is one thing I’ve been disciplined enough to do every day for three years and nearly three months, and then I try to write, which is something I’m trying to discipline myself to do on a more regular schedule.
Anyway, more later, when I’ve got more life in me. Time to crawl off to bed, methinx. —Jackson Griffith
Um, sorry if the quality of the posts here hasn’t been up to my usual standard. I’ve just been feeling slightly under the weather lately, and so there may be kind of a half-baked quality to this stuff where it would be fully baked with cherries on top if it came out the way it does when it’s in my head before I sit down to type.
I really love writing here, because my writing elsewhere has slowed to a trickle. If I’da had my druthers, I would have gone down to that secet Cake show at the Blue Lamp that Jerry Perry told me about like two hours before it started, and time was when I could turn on a dime and go do that. But a salad bowl called, and then an early bedtime, probably because after a few days of feeling really drug out, I figured that being all comfy in bed might trump being packed into a club like a human sardine.
Anyway, work calls. More later, perhaps. —Jackson Griffith
Conservatives must poke fun at liberals. I mean, all those California jokes, along the lines of “Q: How many Californians does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Five — one to screw the bulb in, and four to share in the experience.” Knee-slappers, every one of them. And who can forget all the jokes about “Governor Moonbeam”?
Being somewhat of liberal temperament, I think conservatives can be real knee-slappers, too. Sarah Palin only has to open her mouth, and I start laughing. And I get major yokkage out of lots of other conservative pols, too, like Rand Paul. Even though I can remember a time when conservatives seemed quite grounded and sane, even though I may not have agreed with their positions, ever since the sainted Ronald Reagan, and then bomb-throwers like Newt Gingrich and ruling-class clowns like Rush Limbaugh, it seems that mental illness, irrational beliefs and impaired logical faculties may be prerequisites for conservative marquee status. And, speaking of bugnuts crazy, don’t even get me started on Glenn Beck, who’s probably going to find his own set of golden plates inscribed in “reformed Egyptian” buried in his backyard once his current denomination catches wise and gives him a well-deserved bum’s rush.
Then, there are the pols who speak without thinking. Like Virginia senatorial shoo-in George Allen, who learned a few years ago that if you’re going to poke fun at someone extemporaneously or tell a joke in the age of YouTube, make sure that it doesn’t turn into a macaca moment that sinks your campaign. And even if you’re going to use media less active, like e-mail, make sure it isn’t something that people can beat you over the head with later, like Virginia Republican official David Bartholomew learned when he passed around the following comedy classic:
“I went down this morning to sign up my Dog for welfare. At first the lady said, ‘Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare.’ So I explained to her that my Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify… My Dog gets his first check Friday. Is this a great country or what?”
Naturally, the doggie poop hit the whirling blade once it started making the rounds. Loved the responses on Gawker:
“So I went down this morning to sign up my dog for the Republican nomination. At first the lady said, ‘Dogs are not eligible to be Republicans.’ So I explained to her that my dog is white, functionally and technologically illiterate, aggressive, and threatens other male dogs while mounting them in private. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify… My dog gets his first check from Karl Rove on Friday. Is this a great country or what?”
And: “I went down this morning to sign up my cat for the GOP primaries. At first the lady said, ‘Cats are not eligible to help run the United States.’ So I explained to her that my Cat is white, crazy, arrogant, doesn’t give a shit about humanity as long as he gets fed, can’t speak English and has no frigging clue what the First Amendment says. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify… My cat is on the ballot for November 2nd. Is this a great country or what?”
Is this a great country or what? Meanwhile, in the great state of California, apparently there was some kind of a kerfluffle over Jerry Brown not hanging up his iPhone properly, and someone he was talking to calling his opponent Meg Whitman a “whore,” which Ms. Whitman, or more accurately Mrs. Harsh, tried to beat Mr. Brown senseless with a metaphorical dildo, or Lead Pipe, in the Study, while Professor Plum and Miss Scarlet were en flagrante delicto in an adjacent boudoir, but again I digress as usual. Anyway, were I a political consultant working for Mr. Brown, I would have suggested the following debate response: “Ms. Whitman, I erred in agreeing with the person who called you a ‘whore.’ Given the context of this election, I would say that your role more accurately would be that of a ‘john,’ and the whores would be the people who co-sign your bullshit and vote for you on November 2.”
Which, of course, is why I’m not employed in politics. —Jackson Griffith
Well, I almost lost it again at IKEA yesterday. I’d made it into the store on a blitzkrieg run to pick up some cheap houseware swag, and I filled one of their yellow bags with a bunch of inexpensive made-by-slaves kutchenkrappen, and then I dodged a bunch of furriners who didn’t know better to get out of my way because I hate shopping I hate shopping I hate shopping I hate shopping I hate shopping and I needed to get from point A to point B, the checkout counter, as soon as possible. So then I got into what appeared to be the shortest line, and then the people in front of me couldn’t get their credit cards to work, which kinda reminded me of the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara scene in the hotel lobby in Best In Show, except then after 10 minutes or so, I turned around and there was about 20 or so really pissed-off looking people behind us.
Finally, they found a card that worked. So then the checkout guy rushed me through, and I paid, and then the guy behind me pushed his stuff at the checkout clerk to start his transaction as naturally he was in a hurry and time is money and all that, as I looked at my just-purchased pile of swag, then asked the clerk, “Uh, what about a bag?”
“Those are 59 cents,” he said. “Or 64 cents, with tax.”
Reaching in my pocket for some change, I asked him for a bag. “Um, we’re not equipped to do this,” he said wanly.
“You can’t sell me a bag?”
“No. I can’t take cash, and I’ve started on the next transaction, so ….”
“So I’m shit out of luck?”
He looked at me blankly. I nervously stacked the stuff I’d just bought into a shopping cart, and then I wheeled it away, muttering under my breath. I got halfway out the door before the rising pissoff turned me in my tracks. I parked the cart in a quiet corner and found someone in a blue and yellow vest who would interact with me, after several tries with her colleagues.
“Um, I just bought all this stuff,” I told her, “and I’m kind of IKEA-dumb, and I didn’t realize the bag was extra, and by the time I realized I wouldn’t get a bag, the clerk had rushed into the next transaction, and he wouldn’t sell me a bag, and I need a bag for all this stuff ….”
She started turning away from me. I guess I fixed her with the kind of crazed eyeball juju most often seen in people who blow up buildings, because she stopped.
“Look,” I continued, “I’ve got way too much stuff to shlep without a bag, and I’ve got the money, and usually I’m a calm and reasonable man, but now I’m about to blow my stack and start shouting a bunch of profane gibberish, thus embarrassing myself and everyone else here, because I have the 64 cents I need to by a bag for this shit, but nobody at IKEA seems to want to sell me one.”
She sensed my urgency. She calmly asked me to wait for the next available self-serve register, and then I put in 70 cents and got six cents back so I could bag my stuff and leave. Which I did, sheepishly, but glad I didn’t start shouting a bunch of made-up pseudo-Swedish cursing: “Ya, I am getting so fersnutenshlaking fnorft about the balshatenslaggut treatment you snugognslurkenblat klakkle are giving me thant I am about to blattenshlakklet fukkenuppenstuppl all over somebody’s assenflut.”
Damn IKEA drives me bitshat stupid sometimes, but I still end up going there. Go figure. —Jackson Griffith
One of the things that continually astonishes me is the chutzpah of some of the so-called conservatives in this country. I mean, they sat there like complete morons waving their little flags for eight years while Dick Cheney and his meat puppet Jorge Arbusto drove this country into a metaphorical ditch, and as soon as they lost the White House almost two years ago, the right wing started in with all this business about how Barack Obama and the Democratic Party ruined the economy and turned the United States from a constitutional republic into some kind of socialist nightmare where old folks are pried forcefully from their Buicks in Walmart parking lots, their voting records are examined to filter out those few elderly liberals who aren’t driving Volvos, and then the Republican oldsters are shunted off to death camps in Barry Hussein-O’s gulag.
Ahem. I won’t comment on the irony of flag-waving so-called patriots operating out of the Joe Stalin playbook. The wimpy liberal in me says, oui, I understand that people are stressed and angry and feel all discombobulated about the way things are going, and it’s easy to point fingers when Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and the rest of the cheerleaders of the flying-monkey contingent of the right wing are pointing fingers. But then the part of me that has had enough of this nonsense wants to tell anyone who offers these feeble clowntime excuses for an argument that their inflammatory Foxaganda doesn’t pass the smell test. As in: “You clowns had eight years in the White House to stack the deck they way you like it, and now there’s a different crew running things, so please go to the back of the room now, sit down, STFU and let the adults fix the mess you idiots made when Dicksferatu Cheney and Jethro Mussolini were calling the shots.”
This entire business makes me a sad panda, though. I really don’t want things to be so polarized, and I have more than a few friends who profess conservative Republican politics, and I respect them for their positions, even if we have a “we’ll just agree that we disagree” stance on discussing the issues. Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy, but it really pains me that I can’t talk politics anymore with people who watch a lot of Murdoch media programming, because I really get sick and tired of being called a goddamn communist by people who don’t have the open-mindedness or patience to sit down with me and have a reasonable discussion about what’s going on in our city, or state, or country, or the world. And this makes me deeply sad.
Because I really think we can learn from each other. I don’t think politics has to be a dirty word. I think that business and government people can collaborate on finding solutions to what appears to be overwhelming problems. I think that strength springs from diversity much better than it can arise from closed systems, and that maybe some kind of swarmintel solution will materialize that we’re just not seeing right now, in kind of the way an ant colony that is much smarter than any of the little ants running around spraying pheromones on the ground to mark the path. And I don’t want government apparatchiks running everything any more than I want to see government drowned in Grover Norquist’s proverbial Dupont Circle bathtub so that the brothers Koch and the rest of the GOP rogues gallery of robber barons can rape and pillage whatever they haven’t gotten round to raping and pillaging yet.
So that’s what I’m thinking this Sunday night. Maybe I should go watch a baseball game. —Jackson Griffith
Used to be I’d have drunk dreams, or dreams where I was in some kind of situation where I was presented with a choice to drink, or not to drink. And, given the book I was reading before bedtime last night, Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari With a Cast of Trillions by Mark W. Moffett, you might think I’d be having some kind of hallucinatory epiphany involving our earthbound hymenopteran sisters. I can’t say I’ve ever had a dream where I’ve 12-stepped someone. As of early this morning, I no longer can say that.
I was in a large company restroom — not the place where I work now, which has more deluxe lavatories, but a generic corporate loo — and as I was washing my hands, I noticed this kid, or young adult, with glasses, long and stringy hair and a tie that was slightly askew. He was standing next to me, and he pulled out a flask that smelled like scotch. “Uh, don’t mind me,” he said, tipping the contents of the flask into his mouth, which he then wiped with the outside of his lower left forearm. He had that sheepish look that we get when we’ve lost control of our drinking, and we’re doing what we usually do, which is bring our blood alcohol level back to normal, and we realize somebody is on to us.
What happened next was that I started talking to the guy. He knew that I was observing his behavior surrounding his alcohol intake rather intently, and when he apologized for polishing off the flask before he could offer me some, I shrugged off his mumbled “sorry” by saying, “You don’t need to apologize, pal. I used to drink in bathrooms, too.” He looked at me with vague surprise, and I continued: “Yeah. I quit drinking 18 years ago, because I completely lost control of my drinking, or my ability to stop. I got really scared, and I kept trying to quit, but then I’d keep starting back up. So I started going to meetings. …”
I could sense that I was losing him, and he looked at me with that kind of “ah, shit” look that people get, and then he went into a stall and sat down. Not wanting to belabor my point, I just said, “Hey, man. Take it easy. If you ever want to talk to somebody who understands how you feel, my name’s Jackson, I’m in the company directory, and I’m not too hard to find around here.” Then I pushed through the door into the hallway and the dream ended.
I’ve always been kind of uncomfortable 12-stepping people. I watched my dad, who was in the program, and his buddies go 12-step drunks in coffee shops back in the 1960s, and they’d just walk up to some random drunk and bellow, “Hey, you: You wanna get sober?” My dad used to go out on 12-step calls where he’d spend all night helping some guy sweat through a bad case of delirium tremens, and I don’t think my mom suspected him of hanky panky, because he weighed well over 300 pounds and most likely wasn’t out chasing tail. He did spend a lot of time helping my cousin Judy, who got sober, then died in a house fire years later in Virginia.
Anyway, my attitude about other people’s drinking has been pretty laissez faire. Many of my still-cocktailing friends know I’ve been sober for a while now, and some of them were unlucky to have known me when I was a slobbering drunk. I figure if they hit a point where they want to talk about losing control of their ability to drink like so-called normal people, they know I’m available to talk without passing judgment. But maybe this dream is telling me to be more pro-active? Or, maybe, a dream is just a dream.
Speaking of dreams, lots of sober alkies have what are called drunk dreams. Perhaps the dreams provide a route for the brain to work out this whole not drinking one day at a time thing. I had one drunk dream, early on, that still sticks with me: I was in Greenwich Village in New York City, but it was like a ghost town at high noon in a old Gary Cooper Western: no one was around but me. I was standing in an intersection, and there was a bar at one corner, and it was really hot and somewhat humid, with the sun bearing down overhead. There were two open doorways, one on each intersecting street, on either side of the corner, beckoning.
I walked to the doorway on the right and in. The L-shaped bar was empty, not even with a bartender on duty. At the elbow, there was a shotglass filled with something. I hoped it was whiskey. I thought, hey, who’s gonna know? I walked directly over to the shotglass, and in one motion grabbed it, swept it up in a curl with my arm to my mouth as I kept walking, felt the whiskey burn down my esophagus, slammed the empty shotglass on the bar counter and walked toward the other door.
Who’s gonna know, I thought? Well, I know. I felt horrible, having just blown my continuous sobriety for the momentary satisfaction of a furtive shot of whiskey. And then I woke up, shaking, scared, wondering if the dream meant I was in some kind of jeopardy. I think I called my AA sponsor, who assured me that lots of people have drunk dreams, and as long as you don’t wake up and make a beeline for the liquor store, it’s probably not to worry.
So what does it all mean? Jeez, I dunno. Your guess is as good as mine. —Jackson Griffith