Knocked Out of Being Loaded

Drinks with Molly, a wrecked car and why some of us should stay sober.

The good thing about growing up in the daily newspaper business back when I did: You were surrounded by a lot of really good drinkers. I don't use that language facetiously. A good drinker is somebody who really does know how to drink, even drink a lot and still keep a handle on it.

I also was surrounded by some bad drinkers. The full spectrum. The choice was mine. I worked for a guy in Detroit who was one of the best drinkers I ever knew. He gave me a little speech one night at a bar:

"Schutze, drinking is the art of maintaining control while losing control."

Lily Padula


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Pretty pithy, eh? Especially when you're talking about beer. Oh, but wait. I almost forgot. There was another part to that speech. He said, "Schutze, you've got the losing control part down cold."

Yeah, well, much later and after too many years trying to master the other part, I just quit drinking. At that point I was in my late 30s.

People ask me sometimes how I did it. How I quit. Did I do A.A. or rehab or a shrink or what? I say no. I used a special program called "fear-of-wife." It gets me out of the question.

But since I did quit, does that mean I'm an alcoholic? Sure. If you want to call me that, if it's important to you, feel free. I won't argue. I happen to think I quit before I had to take that particular question to a jury, but I'm not touchy about it.

I quit because my drinking mentor in Detroit was right. It is an art. You do have to learn how. And if you're in your late 30s and still haven't got it down, then the window of opportunity probably has closed for you. At that point you're already wearing out your inner gizmos, so it can only get worse.

I always figured it was kind of like being in the ballet at age 38: You've put on some serious chunk; the knees aren't the pistons they used to be; you can't quite get up tall on those tootsies; and whenever you do hoof it out onto the boards the ruffians in the balcony start shouting Italian swear words.

So at that point maybe it's time to seriously reconsider. Maybe the ballet isn't the right thing after all. Time to call your brother-in-law about that offer in the lawn sprinkler business.

But what did make me quit? It can't just have been my wife. That kind of decision is too deeply personal. You make it for yourself. And why didn't I just learn the part about maintaining control? You know what? The losing control part was the only part of drinking I really liked. If you drink like that, you have a lot of brushes with stupidity and near-death in varying ratios. That was the cocktail I was going for.

I drank with Molly Ivins when she was at The Dallas Times Herald. We weren't close friends when we were sober, but we were great buddies drunk. Molly was the least technologically astute person I ever met. We spent hours in her rented house once, me on the sofa watching (and drinking) while she fiddled with a TV set and a huge dust-encrusted reel-to-reel tape recorder her father had given her when he packed her off to Smith.

The technology for recording television had just been invented and introduced. Molly heard about it. She was trying to do it by running the reel-to-reel tape recorder next to her TV set. She kept saying, "All I get is the sound." Molly also was one of the smartest people I ever met, sober. Drunk, I felt I was more her equal.

She gave me a lift home that evening. She had driven her old car, a VW bug or something, to a Chevy dealer for a trade-in. She chose that dealership, she told me, because it was the first one she came to. A salesman talked her into buying a Camaro Z28 with the biggest engine GM could cram into it. She was a terrible driver stone cold sober in a VW, so you can imagine what it was like riding with her in the age before seat belts when she was driving that rocket, drunk on her ass.

Somehow we wound up in the big freeway interchange downtown, which was nowhere near where I lived. Molly took a turn a little broad around a long bridge abutment. A thick curtain of sparks came up and danced in through the window that was cracked open on my side. She didn't notice. I had hot spots on my scalp and could smell burning hair.

The next day we both showed up late in the Times Herald newsroom, where we sat at desks facing each other. She came in and slumped into her chair. We nodded hello. Probably said hi, hey, how's it going, fine. A while later, she said, "My car is really slow."


"Yes. Unless I really step on it, it goes very slow. And then it makes a lot of noise and smells bad, and I can see black smoke in the mirror."

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Well written, Mr. S. My high school journalism teacher, who worked at the DMN back when, said that Blackie Sherrod could write a better story drunk than anyone else at the News could sober. I mistakenly assumed that the drinking was Mr. Sherrod's advantage. I later learned otherwise. I also learned what a waste of time it was to take journalism in high school. And college.

JimSX topcommenter

An old friend read this column and then asked me what Molly was really like. He said he assumed I made all of this up. Just for the record, I made up none of it. Some of it, I wish I had. 


Thanks,  Jim.

Like others,  I didn't know Molly well.  

She was the banquet speaker at a Media Law Conference in Austin;   had been at the Texas Chili Parlor,  fairly drunk and maybe a little stoned.  She had a six word outline on the back of an envelope.  And spoke for an hour on the rights and responsibilities of the Media,  the best presentation on it any of us ever heard.

When she autographed her books she'd write at the bottom "RAISE MORE HELL!"   If enough of us got up off our rears and did,  things may not be improved,  but they'd damn sure be a lot more interesting.

When you can find space for more recollections of Molly,   please don't hesitate.   The story she loved to tell of famous 'arthur' Bud Shrake giving Jim Franklin's chicken a dose of speed is a good place to start.

 God,   I miss her.



Praise to you, Schutze. Good work. I remember how you both looked. I was your copyboy. ~ / ~ OM



You tell the most beautiful stories!  I'm going to have my teenage son read this.  He's a Boy Scout and he doesn't drink or smoke but it's a good story on why to never start.  Thanks.


Yes, okay. Good. Great story.

Now, want to eat some crow after you do or do not, drink a beer?

All those questions by Nutall? All that questioning by Ranger? Seems they were on the right track, as many in DISD told you.  Paul Coggins may be coming in to see, how yet again,corruption reigns. And this time, it may be Hispanic-ly tied. So, give up on the beat up J  W  P thing and become a reporter again.

Wake up. Drink coffee, not Kool Aid.



Jim - no, never give up on the beat up "JWP thing".  That's the main reason I tune in!