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But something really odd happened while writing that story. I checked out. Well, not all of me. I didn't indulge any of my vices while working on stories. I'm 100 percent sure I was stone-cold sober as I pecked away on my computer, reviewed a stack of documents 6 feet high, and cajoled government investigators for information. So, "I" in some sense of the word was there doing all of that.
But "I" in a spiritual context wasn't. I don't remember writing that story. The essential "I" was nowhere to be found. The story was accurate to the last comma, and (since it was mine) a brilliant piece of prose. But when I looked at the article, it was a stranger at the door of my consciousness.
A few days after the story was printed, the developer, a truly charming swamp salesman, called me up. He told me he never expected me to write the story -- that I appeared too busy partying to get serious enough to nail him.
At this point in my epic, we're approaching the date of Jan. 21, 1990. I had spent many days sitting on my boat pondering how long a guy is likely to live when he finds himself waking up in distant lands without an inkling of how he got there. And, I was quite sure my boss editor would prefer that his ace scribes more or less remembered writing their stories. Moreover, this particular ace scribe really enjoys his work -- so blanking out for days causes the souffle to flop, metaphorically speaking.
Something had to change, I told myself. And, with great fear and trepidation, I guessed that "something" was "someone," me.
On Jan. 20, 1990, I drank my last beer, a 16-ounce Coors Light (you know, Silver Bullet). Some people would say only an alcoholic would remember a specific beer consumed a dozen years ago. I don't know. The next day, I didn't have a drink, nor have I had one since.
Time Warp Back to Circa Now: When Dan called, I knew he wanted more than to exchange greetings between old crewmates. And, I could pretty much guess what was coming.
People change their lives for many reasons and via many routes. For some, 12-step programs are salvation. There are other groups that put less emphasis on spirituality, the "God thing," if you will. Churches do it for many. And, so I've heard but never verified, a few people have such strong wills that they hop on the wagon without help.
My personal choice is ... personal. I'll just say I had a few friends who helped. And, I don't give myself the credit for 12 years without a crutch-in-a-bottle.
Dan told me his life had been miserable. He had finally gotten a girlfriend, then lost her. Ditto several more girlfriends. Barfights. A skilled lawyer in his Miami days, he barely had a practice. ("Chasing ambulances would be a big improvement for me," he conceded.) He was doing two bottles of rum a day, grass and coke when he could get it. Not to mention the cooler of beer in the passenger's seat of his car.
"You, uh, you quit, didn't you?" Dan inquired. So, I told him my story. I told him how bad -- joking aside, it was hell -- my life was 12 years ago. Things aren't perfect nowadays, but existence on any particular day ranges from tolerable to pretty damn good. Wonderful wife, strong marriage, five kids, great job, a little respect here and there. I have never aspired to be normal, but there's normalcy in much, maybe most, of my life.
"You think I have a problem?" Dan asked. "You think I'm an ... an ... alcoholic?" He almost gagged on the word. I wasn't surprised. I choked the first time I said it.
Dan, of course, is the only one who can answer his question. It's never been a problem I labor over. Life for me is a lot more fun without ingesting substances that make people stupid. The labels aren't important.
This wouldn't be an authentic Sugg column if I didn't vent about something. In most respects, I'm a libertarian -- in that I fervently believe the less government screws around with people's lives the better.
If it was my call, I'd legalize drugs. After all, who benefits from prohibition? Only the $50 billion illegal drug industry and the symbiotic $50 billion drug law enforcement industry. The proof is overwhelming that a saner drug policy would reduce addiction, that treatment is many times more effective at reducing drug use than is incarceration.
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