Knocked Out of Being Loaded

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

I suggested we go out to the lot for a look-see. When I was still drinking I feared morning-after automotive look-sees, especially in the front bumper area where I was always chary of finding Cub Scout caps. In this case, the entire side of the Camaro was caved in — oh, yes, I did remember some difficulty opening and then shutting the passenger side door the night before — and the rear fender was crumpled into and pressing against the rear tire, where the metal appeared to have dug deep trenches into the rubber so that the inner white fabric was exposed.

She said, "I really have to floor it to get it up to speed."

She did agree, once we saw the problem, that it required expert attention. She said it was still under warranty, so she was going to take it back to the dealer. I bit my lip about the warranty. I did say, "You have to have it towed." But Molly, sober or drunk, was just not a worrier. She drove off into downtown traffic, engine roaring, tire smoking and shrieking, and gave me a wave. Next time I saw the car it looked brand-new.

Lily Padula

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Email the author at jim.schutze@dallasobserver.com.

You kind of need to be like that if you intend to go on being a bad drinker. It takes a certain nerve. Maybe that's what I lost. I still see that sheet of sparks in my dreams. I also wanted to be a dad about then. Nobody wants a drunk dad. Another big factor was that I had quit smoking the year before I quit drinking. Talk about a jones!

Oh, man. For one thing, I was the son of a Midwestern clergyman, so I had to start smoking when I was 12. My hunger for sophistication only grew worse, so that by late teenage I was smoking those French Gauloise cigarettes, which are sort of like smoking ground-up tumors. Even though I ran cross country, every single Gauloise I smoked made me want to sit down. Instead of blowing up railroads and getting hanged and stuff, all the French Resistance really needed to do was give away Gauloise to the Nazis. As we know, carcinogens and alcohol only cause the French themselves to have better heart rates, but that's another story.

When I started having trouble feeling my toes I got off Gauloise and retreated to milder American brands like Luckies and Camels, but quitting smoking, when I did it at age 37, was still really bad, with all the nasty physical withdrawal symptoms one associates with needle drugs. Somehow I did it. I was already on that fear-of-wife thing, so that probably helped.

Quitting drinking was different. First, it was much easier. It's different for everybody, but for me stopping drinking was psychological — more about not wanting to get killed, not wanting to kill anybody else and not wanting to be such an asshole — where smoking had been a needle in my arm.

Once the inner commitment was made, it wasn't that hard to do. And once I stopped being drunk a lot, I made all kinds of intriguing discoveries about the world. When I drank, I assumed everybody was as drunk as I was. I worried about America. How could a country survive with everybody roaring around drunk with Molly Ivins running into bridge abutments?

So that was my first big discovery. Everybody wasn't drunk with Molly. I was. In fact when I sobered up and started watching, I saw that the vast majority of people who drank had mastered my mentor's maxim about maintaining while losing.

I still watch. People don't drink at a flat level. They drink a little more, let the string out, and then they reel it back in, cut back on the vino at dinner, let themselves dry out a little. They adjust. That's so amazing. I never heard of that.

The second discovery was that there's something beautiful about drinking when people do it the right way. I watch them moving off on this vibe, this conversational wave that carries them out to sea for a while. Then they call it quits.

Quits. Who knew?

People ask me if I miss it. No, I don't miss my own drinking, because I don't miss the people shouting Italian swear words at me. I'm glad to have that out of my life.

What I miss, I suppose, is the ability to do it the right way, to maintain control while losing control. I can't say I gave that up, since I never had it. But I watch people who do have it, and I think what a gift it is. I can't ride out there with them on that wave. And yes, that's a price I must pay for never getting it right.

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9 comments
PerryMoore
PerryMoore

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
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. 

halldecker
halldecker

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.

 



gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

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

ItzallGood
ItzallGood

Jim,

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.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

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.

ItzallGood
ItzallGood

@Flabbergasted 

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

 
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