I just returned from my walk to the Mercado where I had a restorative bowl of menudo for breakfast. Unctuous bits of stomach floating in a red chili broth garnished with chopped white onions, oregano, and finished off with generous squeezes of fresh lime.

The streets were still wet from last night’s rain which started at 2 am and didn’t finish until daybreak. I find that you can always tell how much rain fell judging from the amount of mud that had washed into the intersection of Calle Madero in front of the Mercado.

My sleep was interrupted by fiesta at 11 pm last night when a street load of people a few doors around the corner did a windup preparing for the colossal madness on the 25th by blowing off horns, banging drums and whatnot till the rain finally shut them down.

I read and wrote a comment before breakfast this morning to an article entitled ‘Why Do Writer’s Drink’? The author sited many of those same grizzly stories of legend populated with all those familiarly iconic faces of the writers who drank themselves to death. It made for a good read over coffee this morning but asking the question of why – other than to thread the proverbial needle – seemed more than a little unnecessary. The comment before mine weighed in with the opinion that Hemingway blew his head off because he couldn’t write any more. I think it was more complicated than that although a more popular myth speculated in another direction. So I started my comment with ‘I thought Hemingway killed himself because of impotence’. And then went on to say ‘But it’s of no real matter. I too like to drink. I am mindful of the fact that half of my childhood friends never made it out of the ’60s. Some of them made it to the ’70s, a few to the ’80s but those that didn’t lose that lifestyle had definitely ran out of road by the ’90s. Brendan Behan died at 41. F. Scott Fitzgerald died at 44. I am still alive and kicking down here in Mexico at 57. I try to offset my writing addiction with taking long runs in the mountains of Michoacán wearing only shorts and sandals. So far it seems to be working’.

That article on writing and boozing – and my comment – in conjunction with my most recent of accidents suggest that Providence appeared to be nagging at me in her usual somewhat mysterious manner to weight in on the subject. And I can be reminded on most days that I sit down at my work desk that while I might not be a famous writer, I am not a dead famous writer either.

In the long analysis, asking why writers drink doesn’t prove to be anymore useful than asking why policemen drink. It might be better to start from the other direction and ask why people with a predilection towards drinking become writers and policemen. But that doesn’t appear to be very useful either. Maybe it’s better to examine the life that was lived. Is it better to be a great cop with a drinking problem or to be a famous writer with same? Probably neither if you end up dead. Hemingway might have disagreed with that as he once said something to the effect that it was better to be a lion for a day than a lamb for life. But then again, he might not have because for all the bravado that is an over-simplistic statement concerning a very complicated question. Like one of my very favorite bumper-stickers with its emphatic ‘War is Not the Answer’ is only true depending on what the question is because like it or not, sometimes war is the answer. Poverty. World hunger. All complicated issues have more than one answer; it all depends on the question.

So why do writers drink? The answer is I don’t think it matters. What does matter – the only thing that truly matters – for drunk writers and all alike is that we emerge on the other side of our little march through life as a survivor. Yeah, yeah no one gets out of here alive and all that, so that’s obviously what I’m not saying. And I’m not saying that there aren’t those of us who don’t need to go down some of those existentially dark roads either. What I am saying is that any idiot can go out there and do something stupid and get himself killed; my metric says you only win if you live to tell the tale. History doesn’t much remember Brian Jones other than he was one of the original members of the Rolling Stones. He missed out on contributing whatever things he might have to music and the world had not drugs and drowning gotten so seriously in his way at the age of 27. Or Brendan Behan bloated up like the raging drunk that he was when gave up the ghost at 41. What an absolute waste of a brilliant writer. I am sure that most of these guys would take do-overs if they were given the chance. I mean Kurt Cobain, come on? The split second after he pulled that trigger he knew he f***ed up. I think now of a guy that I grew up with who has been in prison since 1975. He hasn’t taken a vacation, slept with a woman, or drank a single beer in all those 38 years. Who is worse off I wonder, him or Kurt Cobain?

I am limping around the house today feeling a little annoyed at my house’s total lack of comfort enabling amenities. While it is certainly no one’s fault but my own; still I could seriously use a couch to lie on and a big screen TV to watch for the next couple of days. But nope, no such luck. I am in Mexico living the frugalista’s dream with a total lack of preparedness for a contingency such as the one I have on my hands at the moment.

I tripped going down the stairs a couple of nights ago. The iron stairs with metal bars as tread are certainly cost effective but were not designed with flip-flops in mind. I caught myself but not before one of my toes got wedged, sliced, and then partially unpeeled as arresting my fall necessitated yanking it free. I stood at the bottom of the steps waiting for the mists of pain to part then hobbled over to the light switch to access the damage. Under all the blood I could see that the left big toenail was torn diagonally in two and that the toe itself would benefit from a few stitches. I winced as I poured a half bottle of alcohol on it, then limped around in the same sticky pair of flip-flops with a wad of paper towels wedged in place to stanch the flow of blood while I went on to finish making dinner. I was following my own quite delicious special recipe for what I call Mexican Osso Buco. One of the secrets is using the local butcher’s freshly cut, never refrigerated beef shanks. And you musn’t let the marrow go to waste which I had lightly salted on toast as an appetizer just minutes before the accident.

I took a shower after dinner hoping that the rinsing suds sluicing down over my injury would add some further antiseptic action. I finished my glass of wine – a splendid little Cabernet-Malbec from the Mexican Baja – wrapped my toe in a clean paper towel, secured it with a piece of tape and went to bed.

I gave my doctor a call the next morning and said, ‘Mom? Remember that table-saw accident that you helped me through a few years back? Well, I…’ So I promised to go in if it got infected but other than that I was intending to self-convalesce by keeping it clean and limping around the house for a few days.

As a general rule I don’t like doctors. The few I know well are all condescending pompous bastards. I had the misfortune a few years back to travel for 2 weeks in South America with a German orthopedic surgeon and he confirmed the last of my suspicions concerning those who practice the medical trade. One night after a few too many pints he confessed that surgeons were just ‘looking for an acceptable batting average’; they of course expected to lose a few but needed that ‘batting average’ to stay hospital employed. How Babe Ruth would positively shudder if he knew how his much loved sport of baseball got maligned by that totally wicked misappropriation of phrases!

And then somewhere else along the way he told me that when someone’s insurance ran out that was when the caregiver, in their most solemn voice and with that special – saved just for that moment – doctorly demeanor, told the patient, ‘There is nothing more we can do for you’.

So it was dear reader, with great satisfaction that I chose a German doctor character to be the only bad guy in my first novel;  in which I ascribed to him characteristics of only the vilest sorts. Where in the immortal words of Winston Churchill ‘History shall be kind to me for I intend to write it’ and so Mattias, I skewered you and your types; or at least will, providing the story gets published anyway.

I marvel at times like these how anyone cannot believe in God. I should have broken my neck falling down those stairs. And this wasn’t my first stairwell accident. Nor was it nearly as serious as a lot of the other accidents that I’ve fallen victim to throughout the years. I’ve always considered myself living proof of infinite grace as I wander through this world as God’s own special fool.

I was not in as much discomfort as he who had just had a barium enema; one and a half hours of public humiliation as a laboratory specimen with a tube up your butt. I learned this while talking to my oldest friend on the phone the morning after the accident. Watching my injured toe ooze blood and lymph fluid as our conversation wandered happily over into the food and beverage department. His thought, which I liked, was that he shouldn’t feel guilty about having that extra glass of wine or finishing that porterhouse steak right down to the bone. His reasoning was that after having also survived the ‘60s (and the equally scary ‘70s), he felt that he was entitled to a little comfort in his old age. We both agreed that while moderation was the best policy; sometimes a person just strays over that skinny yellow line; but that’s okay.

Somewhere in the subsequent conversation I confessed that ‘I like it all’; which is the answer to what’s my favorite poison like scotch, bourbon, beer, red wine, tequila, or what not. I’m not picky. Tell me what we are having for dinner and I’ll pick up beverages. I can easily have a beer or two in the afternoon, then a martini or two before dinner, a half bottle of red wine with dinner and then a cognac or two after dinner. And I can do that and still manage to do a 10 or 15 mile run the next day with absolutely no problem.

So I guess it’s fair to say I must be a very well preserved 57 year old guy; pickled and all that right? And you’re thinking, ‘you’ll be sorry someday’. And you’re probably right; but not today. Well maybe a little; my toe is still keeping me mostly confined in doors, which really sucks. Had I been drinking prior to the accident you wonder? Let’s just say that it happened between the close of cocktail hour and the advent of dinner. Was the booze culpable? No, the beef shanks were desperate in need of turning and haste as we all know makes waste.

Like we all know that that the people who have the really serious drinking problems are always that other guy anyway. Like the bartender I overheard one Sunday morning in Auburn, California say ‘Oh-Eight? I wake up with an Oh-Eight’! I was feeding quarters into the newspaper machine right outside the tavern’s open door when I heard that. And given both the context and the matter-of-factness with which he stated his outrage one could only gather that his response was to the State of California’s then recently announced plan to lower the DUI limit from .10 to .08.

He obviously had a problem, I just like drinking. I like the taste of alcohol in all of its many wonderfully different manifestations. But I also like food a whole lot too. I’d definitely be a fat man with a bad case of the gout if it weren’t for my running habit. My daughter and I got onto the subject of last meals while riding bikes last month. The topic was initiated by me as a way to pass the time in order to keep my mind off how cold I was with Lake Superior drafting on to us like an open refrigerator door. Or maybe I was pulling that 80 lb. bike trailer that was pogo-sticking all over the place and I needed to get my mind off how tired and miserable I was. I kicked off the discussion with the question ‘what would be your favorite last meals’? The question was purposely posed as a plural which either went unnoticed or she was just too cold or tired to get into the spirit of a good food talk. So after a short and rather uninspired reply I firmly got the bit between my teeth and launched into lengthy monologue rhapsodizing on not one but a half-dozen or more different meals that I wanted to have before I died. But I need to save this for another time. This story is starting to get a bit too lengthy and this isn’t a novel is it?

Advertisements