The plan was to make this my last column. Yes, the idea was to end on this topic, ideally with Column No. 1000, which would have been during the first few months of 2022. Figure, 52 columns a year (I’ve never missed a week!); today’s column is around No. 540, so we’re more than halfway there.
Here goes anyway, but in my round-about way, I need to give some background. I’m a teetotaler now, but not for any religious, social or moral reason. Quite simply, when I checked out of Christus-St. Vincent almost two years ago, after a bleeding ulcer, the attending physician suggested I not drink at all anymore, I assume because ulcers and alcohol don’t mix.
Why didn’t I shop locally and keep my tax dollars in Las Vegas? Well, the only doctor at the time who could treat my condition was out for the weekend.
The timing of the decision to give it up was perfect, as I’d already had my two beers that year. I’ve told people I enjoy a beer or two on Super Bowl Sunday, and I might go months without touching anything alcoholic. Strange, but building up a tolerance is easy. In the early ‘70s, when I was digging postholes for our 540-foot fence, a six-pack of Jax, which then sold for a dollar, would tide me over, as I was sweating it off.
The last time I had beer, weeks before the hospital visit, I’d begun my second glass during the football game and almost said to myself, “Self, you’re getting dizzy, and you don’t want to start slurring your words and embarrassing yourself and others.”
But the real reason I enjoy my teetotalerhood is that I’ve stuck with it.
Let’s make a few things clear: Like many who believe that registering as a freshman in college instantly converts them to legal drinking age, I’d had my share of imbibing. As a raw recruit in the local National Guard unit, I once overdid it while drinking with friends, all of whom must have passed out. I drove four buddies home, one at a time, and it’s difficult to pick up limp bodies.
Now let’s go back to those college days:
I must have been one of many moviegoers who believed it was hilarious watching people hung-over, say, from a New Year’s Eve party. We’ve all seen the tycoon with an ice pack on his head who’s muttering, “Why do I feel so lousy this morning when I felt so great last night?”
We laugh at that, probably for the same reasons we laugh when someone trips and falls: because it’s not happening to us.
My vivid experience was during a pledge night for a campus fraternity. Several of us freshmen had been invited to a beer bust at a local hotel. There was music, complimentary cigarettes, and lots of beer. The record player was blasting, and I got in line with what seemed like 50 young men to do the taquache, a rather pointless dance in which we link arms in a straight line and sally forward and backward.
My adolescent brain believed that was the most fun I’d ever had in my life. And I thought I was delightfully funny when in the men’s room, I grabbed a paper towel to place in the dispenser and read the word “push,” So I pushed the canister clear across the restroom floor. I don’t know why the older hotel guest in the room failed to find humor in my sidesplitting antics.
As the party wore off and my inebriation continued, I chose not to go home — yet. Mom and Dad would not be have been amused. One of the pledges had earlier invited me to spend the night in his dorm room in Mortimer Hall, which was then a men’s residence hall. It sat on the spot of the new Student Center.
I picked my words carefully, explaining to my parents I was going to pull an all-nighter, studying with Harold. Yeah, right.
The few short blocks between Grand and Eighth Street whizzed by, as I realized that not only was I going about 60 on a residential street; I was driving in the wrong lane. Now that I’m about four times the age I was then, I still wonder what would have happened if I’d killed an innocent pedestrian or driver, while cranking my car to the max.
Something — I don’t know what — stopped me. Did the car stall? Did I come to my senses? Did my conscience convince me what I was doing was wrong?
I parked the car right where it had quit, a few blocks from my host’s dorm, inhaled some night air, and realized I’d sobered up, somewhat.
Well, that experience cured me. I never ever ever drove again with even one drop of liquor in me. The thought of killing oneself, or of severely injuring myself and/or others, terrifies me.
So now you have it: The confessions of a person who might still be paying for his crime, had my car not have simply stopped.
Monday’s Optic editorialized — I believe quite emphatically — on the rash of DWI cases in this area. Where do underage kids get the liquor? Who supplies it? Will lab tests show who was drinking last weekend? In the case of the fraternity party of 1957, somebody provided the beer, as there were several kegs of it.
It would be naive to assume this column would influence others never to drink and drive. Yet I can hope it’ll help.
• • •
You’ll recall this topic was supposed to comprise my final installment of Work of Art, years hence.
Pardon my being premature, but the fatal accident — two killed, six injured — last weekend caused me to jump the gun.
The entire community suffers as a result of the tragedy.
Now, let’s hear it for sobriety.