The summer before my first year of college I found what I believed to be the answer to getting through my life: stay drunk as much as possible.
I loved myself trashed, perceived myself as funny, smart and sexy, my true self without the inhibitions. When I started freshman year, I found my drinking buddy peeps — cousin Bill, who was more like my brother, and my oldest girlfriend, Janet.. We spent the first two years at a satellite campus of a large university and lived at home, not happily. But our trips in Bill’s truck, up into the mountains, to drink ourselves senseless, made up for our sense of deprivation.
Miraculously, we always made it alive back down that mountain, sometimes arriving at the campus in time to tipsily attend class. Alcoholics are good at spotting other alcoholics, and one of our professors caught on to our game and started joining us. This added to our sense of specialness and rebellion every alcoholic loves. If everybody is getting tanked, it just seems…well, the thing to do.
I wasn’t drinking age yet, but my pattern for the next 13 years had been set. I would start something, a show, a job, a class, a new bar, find the other drunks, and party all night long. My alcoholism progressed during two summers of singing and stumbling in the Poconos and two stints in summer theaters.
I nearly got kicked out of college my senior year for drinking and sneaking off campus. I blew the singing job by drinking and acting out in a distinctly unprofessional way, locating and hooking up with the worst semi-celeb drunk in the Poconos. No matter how I started out for an evening, how great I looked at the beginning, I wound up in the worst bar in town, drinking and usually sleeping with the alcoholic I spotted across the room. Lucky I was that it was the 1960s (pre AIDS).
Not that I remembered much, as I had many, many alcoholic blackouts. But it still seemed great to me, the madness, the risk, the high.
New York City was the zenith, or nadir, of my drinking years. Oh, I pursued my dream of a theatre career in NYC as an actor and singer, and even had a modicum of success before wasting and squandering my talent and opportunities. Performing was great, but the real drama came after the show, the journey from Sardi’s to Clancy’s to God-knows-where. I landed a Broadway show at 25, wow, fantasy realized, found the other hopeless drunk in the cast, and somehow made it through the run, despite humiliating myself over and over.
A few ragged bar-ridden years after that show closed, I woke up one 5 a.m. in a seedy hotel on old 42nd Street with a failed alcoholic musician I barely knew. The ceiling was caving in, there were cockroaches on the walls, and through my hangover, I heard the birds doing the horrible morning thing that all alcoholics loathe.
I looked out the filthy window, and at my shaking hands and thought to myself, “This is exactly where I belong.”
…to be continued