The other evening Duck Diamonds and I are parked at the Liquor and Rubber Balls Sports Emporium and Feed & Farm Supply trying without success to keep from staring at the new bartender. “It ain’t cool to drool,” mutters Duck, as she bends over to scoop something out of the cooler. “But I can’t help it.”
The teevee is running a report on gambling addiction, how it’s on the rise as a result of too many unemployed people with too much time, desperate for a break. I ask Duck, who’s a professional gambler, if he knows anything about Gamblers Anonymous.
“No, I don’t,” he says. “I steer clear of gambling fools and the bookies that live off ‘em. That’s a bad scene and people can get hurt to death.
“But lemme tell you a story about addiction,” he goes on. “Because whether it’s drink, drugs, gambling, or collecting bobble head dolls it’s all the same, and nobody – nobody – can predict what it is that makes somebody quit once they’re hooked.
“My old pal Belknap is a talented writer – magazine articles, advertising copy, documentaries, you name it. Interesting guy. He liked the horses, too, which is how I know him. This is back in Cincinnati.
“One day one of his editors tells him he oughta think about writing a book. Tells him he’s got the goods, just needs to find something he wants to write about, and spend a few hours a day on it. What the hell, right, he can write everything else, so Belknap gives it a try.
“But he can’t. Something’s blocking him. He sits down at the typewriter – this is a while ago – stares at the paper, and it’s like everything he does every day of the week to make a living deserts him. It really starts eatin’ away at him, too. So he starts drinking.”
What – to help him write?
“I guess he figures that might loosen him up, but what happens is, he manages to make some words, but when he reads it the next day he sees it’s total shit. He tears it up, starts over. Which makes him drink even more.
“Long story short, a cuppla years pass and he’s a total alky, not working much, just sitting around belting shots and cursing at his typewriter. He’s got an angel for a wife, but he’s pushing her ‘way past the breaking point. Which is what she tells me when calls one Sunday morning.
“’Duck,’ she says, ‘It’s all over. Nine o’clock and he’s on his second vodka. I told him Friday if he’s not sober on Sunday I’m throwing him out Monday, seeing our lawyer, and changing the locks. He says he doesn’t care, but I’m serious. You wanna come talk to your old friend? It’s his last chance.’
“I know she’s serious. But what the hell can I or anybody say or do that we haven’t said or done already? But I grab a coffee, get in my car, and go on over. He’s in the kitchen working on a half gallon of vodka. Doesn’t look surprised when I walk in.
“’Don’t start,’ he says. No hello, no howyadoin’, just Don’t Start. ‘Me’n her have had this conversation a million times. I’m not gonna stop drinking, so you might as well stop talking.’
“Meanwhile, I haven’t said a fuckin word yet. ‘No problem,’ I say. ‘In fact, you got any orange juice, you can make me a screwdriver, and I’ll join you.’
“He looks at me funny, points at the fridge, so I haul out some OJ and me makes one for me. Just what I want on Sunday morning, right? I sit down, offer him a cigarette, and we sit there drinking and smoking for a few minutes. I can’t think of a goddam thing to say.
“‘Not on me. Why?’
“I pull out my change, slide 3 quarters over to him. ‘You keep these on you for a while. We go ‘way back and had some real good times and I don’t want that to stop, but after today I don’t know where you’re gonna end up – cardboard box, empty building, steam vent – but when you feel like getting together, you find a pay phone and call me. I’ll come by and we’ll have a drink or whatever. You run out, I’ll bring more. Okay?’
“He don’t answer. I finish my drink, stand up, give him a grin and a clap on the shoulder, and that’s the end.”
The end? What d’ya mean, The End. What happened to him?
Duck summons the wet dream, who brings us two more ice cold Grolsch drafts. The juxtaposition of a broad this hot and beer that cold threatens such weather disturbances I expect coastal damage. God I love LRBs.
“Here’s what I found out. After I leave, he calls a guy he knows who has some clout with a local rehab center. Belknap knew everybody. The guy arranges for Belknap to stay in a cabin the center maintains for recovering abusers, starting that same night. Belknap packs one bag, no booze, and heads off. He spends 30 days in the cabin with nothing more than a radio. And at the end of that month, he’s clean and sober. He goes back to his wife, he starts taking real assignments again, and never fucking touches another drop of alcohol to this day.
“I get all this from his wife. She keeps asking, ‘What did you say to him? What did you do?’”
Damn good question, Duck. What DID you say, really?
“Nothin‘! Just what I told you! And just that blunt. Who the hell knows why that’s what decides him after all that time. He sure don’t. You ask him today why he quit, he just grins.”
That’s amazing, Duck. No meds, no meetings, no buddies, just dries himself out all by himself.
What about the book he never wrote? Did he give up?
“Sure hope so. Like WC Fields said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, to hell with it. No sense making a damn fool of yourself.’”
WC Fields. Now there’s a role model for sobriety.
“Well, yeah. But it’s before ‘Rehab is for Quitters.’”
We’re silent for a while, past the point of sneaking looks at the bartender and now staring stupidly like two dirty old men in a rundown bar. Just like that, actually.