S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Red Dragon,” Park talks about what alcohol does to him and some of the resulting situations.
I got a letter from my doctor yesterday, saying she was retiring. I’ll miss her: not only was she a bright, quirky character, but she’s the one who told me what my physical problems with alcohol stemmed from, i.e. a lack of the liver enzymes (ADH and ALDH) that metabolize alcohol. So the booze went in … and couldn’t get out.
It should have killed me and was certainly the reason I had cirrhosis by twenty-five. The significance of those enzymes postdated my affliction, though, so I can’t fault the long line of physicians and shrinks who offered poor (or no) explanations for my early onset d.t.’s, debilitating blackouts and wet brain behavior.
The closest I came to answers for any alcoholism-related problem was the “blood floods” (what I called it when I turned beet red from booze), and in retrospect my enzyme deficit was the culprit there, too. I was twenty years old and barely a novice rummy when—after a couple days and nights of gin drinking—it happened for the first time. It started with my face flushing crimson, then my forearms, neck and chest, as a pinprick of blood would appear beneath the skin, spread into a quarter-sized puddle, finally merge with other blotches until I glowed like a beacon.
Who does that? More importantly: how was it that—two years out of high school—I was that far gone already?
I passed out quickly that night, and when I woke I felt like I’d been run over. I was working as a surveyor near Concrete, Washington at the time and waggled an appointment with the local sawbones. He was a surly old guy who drank in the same tavern I did, and after I told him what had happened he explained my predicament thusly:
Well, that’s not so bad, I thought. I’ll just have to drink slower, stay away from gin. The latter was easy enough but pacing myself? That took years. Along the way the ugliest moments came in bars (particularly well-lit ones), when the woman I was hitting on would spot the flood:
“Oh my God! Why’s your face turning red?”
I’d try to make light of it (even as my ears rang and my heart pounded) by rolling up my sleeves, displaying my forearms on the bar.
“Seeth all the bluth spots?” I’d say. (Still another tell, because my swollen tongue made me sound like Daffy Duck.) “Arenth theyth boothiful?”
Most of my intendeds fled immediately; the only exception was Judy, a meth freak at the Tradewinds bar in Cotati, California.
“Oh,” she deadpanned, “I was hoping I’d meet a wino tonight.”
Then she rolled up her sleeves, showed me a string of needle sores.
We called it a draw, kept the lights off in the motel later.
* * *
I wrote a couple columns ago (“Reason to Believe”) about the alcoholic “amends” process, and how (because of blackouts) I only recalled three times when I needed to apologize for my behavior afterwards.
That was overly euphoric recall it seems; the real number is probably closer to twenty, with my ’70 World Lit Final the most glaring emission of all. It was the end of the junior college term and—when I woke the morning after the Final—I had no memory of taking it. Not walking the six blocks to the school, not being in the classroom, not coming home afterwards or, for that matter, anything I’d done the day before.
This wasn’t so unusual: what was out of character was me getting that drunk during Finals week. For all my sodden, give-a-shit deportment I’d always been a serious student, the jerk who ruined the curve for everyone else.
Particularly in World Lit: that was my wheelhouse for christ sakes, and I’d skipped the Final for a beer and LSD bender? I was mortified. Drank a couple Buds and popped a cross-top to get things right, began the long, slow Walk of Shame to campus.
My professor, Dr. Lefevre, was in his office, and he assured me that—not only had I taken the Final—but I’d passed out and snored several times in the process. So to keep me from disturbing the twenty other students (probably a little late for that), he sat down beside me, shook me awake when I face planted or toppled out of my chair.
Really!!? This was even worse than I thought.
“And that’s not all,” he said. “You filled five Blue Books in the process and—though the handwriting was a challenge—your answers and reasoning were excellent. I gave you an A+.”
It’s still the strangest, most inexplicable thing that ever happened to me as a drunk: it seemed impossible then (particularly as I flipped through the Blue Books someone else had written) and it still does now.
But putting Professor LeFevre, in his fortieth and final year of teaching, through something as rude and pitiful as that? (Thank God I hadn’t puked, too.) That was beyond forgiveness to me.
Not that I wasn’t touched, of course. I run into young people who balk at attending junior college (it isn’t cool enough), but I tell them I met some of the finest enablers I ever knew there.
* * *
For all my addictions eating is certainly not one of them; like my mother (who barely picked at her meals) there is little about the preparation and consumption of food that interests me.
Take last night’s dinner, for instance. I had a small salad, half a glass of milk, half a can of soup and half a piece of cake, and that’s pretty typical. There’s no way I ingest 1,000 calories most days and, other than a lack of appetite generally, I’m also managing my gastritis (eating smaller meals at earlier hours).
But mostly I hate being full. I stuffed myself a few times as a kid and the bloating sensation was awful, made me wonder why people did it. (Well, with anything but beer, of course.) So I’ve been the guest who eats less since, careful to put my fork down long before I’m sated.
You’d think fellow diners would appreciate the discipline involved but the insecure ones take it personally, think I’m mocking their gluttony. (Not to mention the whole “fussy host” bit generally, how they’re abashed by the beanpole—the guy with the most room to spare—resisting their fare.)
It’s even worse than they know, actually, as I’m also the most stoned guy in the room. Fortunately pot has never affected my appetite much (I’d be a three hundred pounder otherwise.)
You know, maybe that’s why my ex-wives and girlfriends never cooked for me: they knew they could get away with it, that I’d hardly notice.
Rat bastards. I like to imagine them in steamy kitchens later, with the hubby and brats clamoring for chow:
What a dream that Wilson High was, they’ll think. That loser lived on air.