Abbey has a whole post about turning my blog topics into a poem…a rather morbid poem, because I guess all I talk about is DEATH and SPIDERS and MORONS. It wouldn’t sting as much as it does if there weren’t a bit of truth to it. All right then, I’ll write about something else then.
How about alcoholism?
I have an ugly family history of alcoholism, which has given me a lifetime resistance to the disease. I’m not about to take up drinking unless, of course, I become suicidally depressed, which could happen, since depression isn’t under anyone’s control. So I’ll never say never, but sure, if my life took a tragic turn, I could imagine trying to drown my grief and end my life in a puddle of vomit while shitting my pants. That’s what I think of alcoholism: it’s an ugly way of destroying yourself if you have such self-loathing that you want to degrade yourself into oblivion. How I came to that opinion was by witnessing such destruction.
When I was a child, I had doting grandparents on my mother’s side. She was an only child, so we were the only grandchildren they’d ever have, and they spoiled us. We often spent weekends at their house, staying up late, watching TV, eating cookies, etc., all the things we do to take advantage of older relatives. My grandfather taught me interesting things: he had a complete woodworking shop, where I learned how to use a lathe and a table saw. He was also an eager adopter of new gadgets, and had an 8mm movie camera, and taught me how to edit film. He was a cool dude, at first.
And then, the drinking.
It was an occasional beer throughout the day, at first. Then a six-pack in the morning. Then he’d have a case by his easy chair, so he wouldn’t have to get up to pop a warm can of Pabudschlitz, or whatever, when he felt like it, which seemed to be continuously. By 10am he’d be soused, slurring his words and veering frequently into racial commentary. When I was a pre-teen, though, I’d sometimes still be left in my grandparent’s care, and sometimes Grandma would be off doing grandmotherly things, and the moment of dread would arrive (no, not what you think):
“Hey boy, let’s go for a drive.”
This where I acquired my grim Nordic fatalism. We’d get in his land yacht, which was always some huge monstrous boat of a vehicle (it was a rule in the 1960s that the older you got, the wider your car had to be), and set off on an Epic Journey. He’d never get above 10-15 miles per hour, wobbling all over the road, terrifying the telephone poles, and stopping at every intersection to peer around blearily to figure where he was going. I could have told him. North on 1st Ave, left on Willis and a quick right, on to Meeker street, then left and right one block up, then pull into the parking spot. Our destination was a bar, of course. I think it was called the Moonlight Inn? Moon something? I don’t know, I’ll just call it the Memory Hole Inn.
We’d stop. He’d say, “Wait there, I’ll be right back.” He wouldn’t be. I’d sit in the car for maybe an hour or so. One time I got fed up with waiting, and walked into the Memory Hole Inn to see what was going on. It was the only time I ever set foot in the damned place.
It was dark. Lights were dimmed, there was a long dark wood bar, there were dark booths, dark tables, dark chairs, some benches upholstered with cracked red vinyl. It was dead quiet, except for the occasional clink of glasses. There was my grandfather, sitting alone at a table, slumped over a half dozen empty shot glasses. He noticed me and without a word we went back to his boat of a car and drove back to his house.
I cannot communicate the terror of driving with my grandfather, because I took it like a good little nihilist. He didn’t drive fast, just erratically. We were doomed, I’d probably end up with a broken neck or a face lacerated with shattered glass, but I would just sit there quietly as the world lurched by in unexpected proximity. Not even a seatbelt — this was the 1960s, after all — and I just contemplated with despair the tree branches that might punch through my eye or what ditch my sad little corpse would adorn.
I loved my grandfather, you see. If he saw fit to take me on a cruise on Naglfar, who was I to object?
Far more revealing, pehaps, was when he drove with my grandmother (she had no license, had never learned, 1960s yadda yadda). She lacked the Norwegian grimness, you know. When Grandma was in the car, she clutched the armrest with one claw, had the other braced against the dashboard, and would frequently shriek “NEHMEN!” Every moment we were one second away from Hel, and she let us all know it. While I was sitting quietly in the back seat, calmly thinking “we’re going to die any moment now” and goggling about owlishly, resigned to my fate, she was howling “WE’RE GOING TO DIE” while preparing to murder Grandpa in revenge. She was obviously the bravest woman I’ve ever known, with the courage to repeatedly mount the doom ride.
Also, she managed to stay with her husband as his drinking worsened, as oral cancer mangled his face, as he descended into foul-mouthed impotent rage, sitting in his chair howling his hatred of women and Asians and black people. At least he was unable to drive at all!
So today I am a grandfather, and my wife is a grandmother, and we’re getting ready to get into a car and drive across the state to see our granddaughter. There won’t be even a whiff of alcohol vapor anywhere in the car or from my person, because I learned my lesson early on. I learned a lot of things I shouldn’t do from Grandpa. Mary will still be terrified of my driving — I think it’s a Scandinavian Grandmother thing. We’ll probably survive, especially if I let her do all the driving.
So. I’m getting ready to go to Wisconsin. We’ll probably make frequent stops to see how the spider population is doing along I-94. Iliana won’t have to wonder what Grandpa is doing, he’ll be hunched over a spider web rather than a collection of shot glasses, which I think is an improvement.