The Rough Dry Ground

I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink just fine, thank you. My problem is that I think that drinking is the cause and solution to most of my problems, only not at the same time. Whenever things go wrong, I find a nice neat glass of whiskey makes it more palatable. Unfortunately, when I look in the mirror, at my bank account or lack of progress in my life, I tend to think that maybe if I drank less those things would get better. Realistically, I’ve found that it just doesn’t work that way.

Every day I try to get off on the rough dry ground. Get off the Merry-Go-Round, the Carousel, or the Bandwagon…but because those things are fun, all my life it’s been much easier to take a ride or wait until someone tells you to get off, you fall off or the ride ends. And in some very dark place, you would much rather ride until it ends, once and for all.

I got to this place quite honestly thru no fault of anyone but myself. I can’t blame it on any particular family member, they all drank just not to any debilitating degree. Can’t blame peer pressure. Hell, I outdrink most of them and still was the most dependable designated driver. And, I really don’t see it as a disease, so much as just one of the defining aspects of who I am. So, in order to change it would be to severely alter my very DNA…or that’s at least how it seems.

I remember everything about how it started.

Holidays weren’t quite complete until my sisters and I could have a little glass of Mogen David Concord grape wine to celebrate the occasion. Football Sundays with Pops were made that much more special when I could sip on one-sixth of his ration of Old-Style beers for the Bears. Staying up late and crashing my Mom’s after-set with her Jazz buds weren’t complete until someone dared me to take a sip of whatever brown liquor, they thought would do the trick to put my lil’ ass to sleep. What usually ended up happening was them grabbing their drink back before I downed it and me doing my best Richard Pryor impersonation from beneath a ski mask as to hide my true identity and allow for the words I was using in my Mother’s presence.

The Granny’s helped a bit too. One time, Pop’s Mom was cooking something on the stove for hours and my 2 cousins and I bugged her all day about the contents. Turns out she, a Cherokee descendant, was making tomato whiskey or moonshine. After she was done late in the evening, she got 3 shot glasses and poured each of us a taste. My cousins cringed at the taste and fell asleep within minutes, but Granma Ruth and I stayed up listening to Al Green 8 tracks and finishing off a nice amount of her new brew. She also drank Old Grand Dad 100, but she wouldn’t start to share that until I was much older, like 12. My other Granny and her live-in daughter, my Aunt Jean, made wine in a large plastic garbage can bought for that specific reason, but again, they didn’t allow for much consuming unless it was tied to a holiday.

In the local neighborhood, I had my share of being bullied by the “older boys” and didn’t really find common ground until the one night of “The Bet”. Hanging out on the porch of my next-door neighbor and his band of 15-16-year-old buds, a few “40 oz” bottles were procured. I had a couple dollars and when I asked to partake, I was told, of course, that I wasn’t Man enough to handle it. So, I bet that I could chug the whole damn bottle which was met with a bet of $1 and a ten second limit. I did it in 7 and used the extra loot to put in for the next liquor run. My status went up a bit, and from then on, I would often be included in any future drinking sessions.

My 4-foot 11 mother was a Jazz booking agent and I, all of 6’2” at 13, spent many weekends helping her carry promo material and hanging at the club while her musicians played. In that time, I met the owners, musicians, bouncers and everyone in-between. By me being so much taller than my mother and introduced as simply her son, nobody questioned my age and when offered drinks, I took them and drank them with the experience of someone who had been drinking for years, as I had by that time.

Now, it was my godbrother, a gay friend of the family that helped me take it to another level. On my 16th birthday, I suited up and joined him and his crew for a night of clubbing. We started the night with my first Giordano’s stuffed pizza, which I credit with helping me soak up the alcohol of my first and, by no means, last Long Island Iced Tea of the night. Sitting on a stool at the Bijan on State St., I was drinking a Screwdriver I’d had for years up late with Mom and her jazz albums. One of the crew had a tall drink with a lemon wedged on top. “Hey, what kind of drink is that?”, I asked. “Oh, you couldn’t handle this” was the response. Challenge accepted I took his drink, finished it and proceeded to have 2 more for the start of a legendary pub crawl. The 5-liquor drink immediately became my favorite and helped usher in a new, higher tolerance than had previously been held. That night also made me realize that the right clothes and attitude can get you in almost anywhere.

I still hung out during high school with my friends at house parties and House parties at local schools and venues. But it was just as likely that you would see me wearing a sportscoat and spending my hard-earned fast food and telemarketing money at Jazz joints like The Other Place, Chic Rick’s, and The New Apartment Lounge. It was also during this time that I found that I couldn’t take the hypocrisy of my Mom’s helping to end my childhood but wanting me to stay in a child’s place when it was convenient for her. Then it was my Pop’s bullying and asshole way of trying to make me feel less-than up to that night when he found that punch, he threw to my chest didn’t move me but ended in me moving in with my Granny. And finally, me moving to my own one-room apt because Granny’s curfew of 10pm was just about the time that the band would be starting their 2nd set at the club.

I have an idea how I was perceived in school because, well, I was there and present for most of the feedback. But most of my classmates have no idea that by the time I was a senior, I was dating women who were twice my age and may have been somebody’s mother that they knew. I’m not bragging about any of this, but it’s just a fact of my life that when presented with the quandary of who to take to my prom, I chose the youngest lady I was dating at the time, a junior from Columbia College.

Just to skip ahead a bit and wrap-up this sharing session, I’ll just say that drinking has been a part of life for as long as I can remember. I imagine for some people it’s easier to remember me because when they think of DJ, they probably think Jack Daniel’s and then JD and then “Oh yeah, DJ!” Like I said to start, that liquid I.D. or id to be more precise is nobody’s doing but my own. They say you shouldn’t have regrets because good or bad, your life has made you who you are and it’s up to you moving forward to make any changes you feel you need to make the most of the rest of it.

That sounds good and all. But for me, I just want to be happy. Do I want to look in the mirror and like what I see? Sure. Would that make me happy? Probably. But I’ve never been a “gym rat”, and would it make me happy to do it? Probably not. But who knows? Would I have more money in my bank account if I didn’t drink so often? Sure. But then what am I saving it for? Travel? Do the drinks taste better there? Would I get more accomplished if I were sober more often? No doubt. But for who? At this time in my life, I no longer have any contact with any of my relatives. I have no kids. My best friend is 2,000 miles away and, of the friends I have that are close by, we haven’t been close. And as far as a HER, well let’s just say that I let Her go 25 years ago and my attempts at a replacement have been laughable, at best. Also, my fault.

I don’t want pity and I don’t want prayers. I’m not that dude. What I would like is for those who have met me to have some sort of understanding as to the Why’s. I will continue for whatever and wherever this path will take me. And who knows, maybe I’ll even “do some good” before it’s all said and done. But I have no illusions that my dreams have, for the most part, been deferred and mostly because of my fears, complacency and procrastinations. I’ll have to live and die with that. But in the meantime, I’ll probably just drink to it and try to smile while I do.

© D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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