Archives for posts with tag: Drinking

One of the things that I am trying to figure out in my relationship with Johnny is how to compromise: when should I compromise and when should I stick to my own inclinations. When I take up with Johnny it has been many years since I have been in a committed relationship (and my last serious relationship ended because we could not create a compromise in how/where to live). I don’t know how people learn the skills they need in relationships: compromise was not big in my family of origin, which was authoritarian in nature. Previous rounds of couples therapy with prior partners had not taught me either. Johnny could be both easygoing and flexible and utterly uncompromising. Perhaps that is true of me, too — after all, we were twelve years apart (plus four days) and shared a sun sign and a Chinese zodiac animal.

After Johnny’s successful blues gig at the Point Reyes Station House, the next thing on his plate was a Carnival gig featuring the music of The Band just six days later. He would cram in a movie, another memorial gathering, and three rehearsals before the gig. He wanted me to go to the movie and the memorial gathering, which I did.

Just two days after our luxurious dinner at the Station House, Johnny asks me if I will make soup for sixty people for his next gig. He remembers that I made two pots of soup in December for a caroling party at my house. Unlike Johnny, I know the difference between feeding a dozen people and feeding sixty. I start to demur and he says, “You can just make one pot of soup.”

Johnny will reimburse me for the soup costs. And, because he has a cushion from his brother’s insurance money, he offers to front me some money for an airline ticket to France (I have been singing extra shifts at BART for months to save the air fare, but the prices keep rising). I have saved $1000 and fares are now running about $1600.

I think I have two days off for the weekend — I have no Farmers’ Market shift — and I have been imagining reading, writing, resting, lounging around and only rousing myself to go to Johnny’s gig on Sunday afternoon. But Johnny is helping me out with airfare, so I will cook: Sunday morning finds me stirring up two pots of the simplest soup I make, a Mexican corn soup concocted of frozen corn, fresh lime juice, cilantro and jarred salsa. I have to chop the cilantro and squeeze the limes, but the rest of the preparation is dump and stir and heat. Then I puree half of the mixture in a blender and I am done: I have made soup for thirty, rather than sixty.

I am supposed to buy disposable bowls for the soup, but I am so used to avoiding the disposable aisle I forget to get them, although we have discussed it twice. I kick the bowl task back to Johnny. I do, however, buy baguettes to slice to go with the soup.

I arrive at Avonova in Oakland, a concert space built into a private home. I arrive before the show starts and Jimmy, the club owner, shows me the mezzanine kitchen overlooking the seats and stage. I admire some handleless conical measuring cups — I have never seen anything like them. Jimmy tells me they belonged to his grandmother.

The seats fill up as the crowd comes in. The band takes the stage. Johnny straps on his red Telecaster. The bass player and the keyboard player sing harmony to Johnny’s lead. They play “The Weight” and “ Up on Cripple Creek,” but also the rarely-sung parable “Daniel and the Sacred Harp.” The volume is a problem for me: the venue offers foam ear plugs, which I use, but they do not reduce the volume enough for me. I go up to the kitchen before intermission to reheat soup and slice baguettes. People line up and I ladle soup into bowls for them.

Johnny buys my airline ticket on his debit card as promised. I want to pay him what I have immediately, but he urges me to wait until I have the entire sum. A neighbor gives me a nylon-strung guitar, which I sell on consignment for $140.00. Every little bit helps.

The following Saturday, Johnny plays another gig at a private party. Although there is plenty of delicious catered food, I observe Johnny drinking and not eating. It looks to me like he is chasing a high. Someone else packs up a plate of food for him and I put it aside. First I ask him if he has eaten. Then I tell him he ought to eat. . He summons me to look at his lip to see if it is bleeding. It isn’t, but I guess he has seen a chip on the edge of a beer bottle.

The next night at my house we discuss the party. I tell him about chasing the high. He tells me, “The high was from music.”

Fair enough, but then it looks like the alcohol was to keep the high going when the music was over. I like listening to Johnny play gigs, but I get anxious when I see him drinking, schmoozing, drinking some more.

“Johnny, maybe I shouldn’t come to your gigs. Then I won’t have to watch you drink.”

Johnny says, “That is unacceptable. You need to have a different standard for my drinking than other people’s drinking.”

There it is. The old “I am not like other people.”

I don’t know what to do. When Johnny drinks — when Johnny seems to be focused on drinking — I feel anxious and scared. That is my problem, really: they are my feelings. I cannot rely on Johnny to ameliorate them because his behavior triggers them for me. If I cannot absent myself when he drinks, what options do I have? I can’t always find a friend to go to the gig with me, which would at least give me someone to talk to or check in with. I can’t drink with him: I have liver damage from mononucleosis and a family history of alcoholism. Drinking gives me insomnia even if I chase a drink with a lot of water. Also, I practice Buddhism and one of the precepts is not to use substances that cloud the mind, reminding me to be mindful of the occasions when I choose to drink. I already have the habit, developed in childhood, of watching when drinkers drink and how much they drink and what they do and say when they drink.

Johnny and I talk and we listen to each other. We make efforts for each other. He does not promise not to drink or to drink less. I do not promise not to have the feelings I have. I thank him for talking and listening and spending time with me.

The next morning he has booked a 9 AM meeting at the Berkeley BART station so he comes busking with me, singing and playing on my shift. This makes it a lot more fun for me than playing solo. I hope it will make a nice change for the commuters. Many nod and smile and some say “Beautiful,” but this does not translate to tips. This disgruntles Johnny, who mutters, “If it’s beautiful, drop a dollar.”

I am surprised that Johnny and I do not do better singing together — he is so good — but I am used to the world of busking where you can sing beautifully some days and gain nothing and you can stumble and falter and stop to tune or burst into tears and the passers-by throw money in your guitar case.

When Johnny and I arrived back in the Bay Area from our trip for his brother David’s funeral I was still trying to process the sights of Johnny vomiting in public and drinking whiskey at seven in the morning. Although my father and brothers were all alcoholics I had never seen them vomit from drinking or drink before early afternoon. My childhood gave me a baseline for how drinkers behaved, but Johnny did not adhere to conventions such as drinking only at proscribed times and he had shown no embarrassment at losing his dinner in a restaurant while servers scurried to clean the floor.

During our first post-trip night together, soon after I closed the bedroom door, I set to re-stringing my guitar, struggling to loosen stubborn bridge pins and pricking a finger on sharp lead wires. Johnny offered to change strings for me but I said no, feeling it was good practice for me to do it myself. Johnny pulled a bottle of whiskey from his omnipresent black satchel. I went silent. He drank and played aggressively with my cat. I let him put on the last two strings after my pricked finger started bleeding.

I do not know how to talk to Johnny about his drinking without resorting to blaming and judgments. I know I don’t know how to talk to him about it. When I say his drinking makes me sad he calls me “mopey.” When I say that “regular” people don’t drink in the morning, he says he is not a regular person. He tells me he accepts everything about me (poverty, cerebral palsy, my living at home) and he wants the same acceptance from me (but he does not accept my discomfort over his drinking, which he thinks I should get over).

I consider reading the AA Big Book. I consider attending Al-Anon meetings, although I never cared for Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings I attended in the past. I write him an unsent letter that begins “Dear One, I can’t handle your drinking” and ends “I do not like it when you are belting whiskey morning and night and I do not like it when you turn on me and make it my fault. You keep saying you are being charged with another man’s crimes, but I am talking about your drinking, not my father’s drinking or my brothers’ drinking or anyone’s else.”

Johnny has gigs in March and April 2013 — he’s playing a private party in late March, and appearing at an April 1st benefit for fiddler Sue Draheim. He and I will play our second duet gig at The Arlington cafe on April 5th and he has a blues gig scheduled for April 15th in Marin County and a band gig on April 21st in Oakland.

Johnny and I rehearse for our gig. We enjoy running through our songs on April 3rd and 4th, fine-tuning our arrangements and laughing as he drills me on the pronunciation of “one” in “My One Desire.” He pronounces it “wun,” reminding me of a movie gangster who says “dese” and “dose.” We take in The Good Ol’ Persons reunion show at Freight and Salvage on the third as well.

After we play The Arlington I need to get down to the annual business of preparing my tax returns. I dread doing my taxes every year because I am a self-employed sole proprietor with no business background: I dutifully slog through IRS publications and forms for the creative pursuits that produce my tiny income, counting CD sales, gig money, painting sales and writing consultations. I do not earn enough to pay someone else to prepare my returns and my record keeping is idiosyncratic to say the least. I tackle my returns with a mixture of confusion and resignation: I will get them done (I always do). I live in fear of an audit: I am scrupulously honest, but I am afraid my documentation might not pass muster.

On Sunday night April 7th, just as I am about to start my taxes, filmmaker Les Blank dies of cancer. Johnny stays up half the night writing a five-page obituary for his friend and mentor and emails it to me. I read it and inform Johnny of a discrepancy in the titles of two films in the piece (like me, Johnny is a stickler for accuracy), but I don’t fully take in the meaning that Les’s life, art and philosophy had for Johnny. The obituary lays this out beautifully and yet I don’t absorb just how important Les was to Johnny (Later Johnny will request that he himself be buried in Sunset View Cemetery as close to Les’s grave as possible). I do register that Les’s death is a second loss for Johnny, closely following the death of his brother David.

On Tuesday morning of tax week, Johnny emails me to say that he’s been invited to a gathering to remember Les, organized by Les’s ex-wife Chris Simon. Johnny wants me to go with him. I have told him I can only do three things during tax week: talk to him, work at my day job and do my tax returns. I answer that I do not want to go to the memorial, that I did not know Les well, that I would go if it weren’t tax week or if I had finished my tax returns.

Johnny fires back an email telling me how he would handle my tax returns (skip work until I get them done or file an extension). He tells me that it is important to him that I appear as his partner. And then he writes this paragraph, in which he criticizes me for taking a two-hour break from tax prep to watch an episode of “American Idol.”

“I know how stressful this week is for you,” he writes. “And of course you need to relax sometimes. Still, you were okay with taking two hours last night to watch a T.V. show starting at 8:00. And my impression is that you actually stopped working on your tax stuff at least a little before that hour. I hope making this appearance with me could be given at least this much time.”

The morning of the Les Blank memorial, Johnny receives notice that Sue Draheim has died — death #3 in the space of less than two months. I agree to attend the Les Blank gathering and Johnny agrees to spend the night with me following the get-together. He tells me he will pick me up at 5:30 PM for the 6:00 PM party in the Berkeley hills near my home.

Unbeknownst to me, Johnny has passed out at his home in San Leandro that evening while I sit, dressed and ready to go, anticipating a ride or a phone call informing me of a change of plans. Johnny’s driver cannot rouse him until 7:30 PM, at which point they drive to my house where I have been waiting for two and a half hours. Johnny’s driver has not cleared space in his station wagon for me to sit, so I perch on Johnny’s lap in the passenger seat for the ride to Les’s house.

Unwinding myself gingerly at the curb, I pick my way over a grassy strip, turning at the sidewalk to see Johnny lurching his way across the grass, barely able to remain upright.

We enter the house. Johnny introduces me to a few people, including the hostess, and accepts the first drink on offer. In no time at all, he has vomited mucus on a leather chair and part of the hardwood floor. I speed to the kitchen for paper towels to clean up the mess and a woman I don’t know says to me “He shouldn’t drink.”

I shrug my shoulders. Does she think I am responsible for him? How is it my job to control his drinking?

Meanwhile, Johnny, feeling better after vomiting, has grabbed another beer. I drink a ceremonial champagne toast with a couple of musicians I know, raising a glass to Les’s memory, and then I am ready to go home. Johnny, however, wants to have a long conversation with each person remaining at the party.

We got back to my mother’s house around midnight and got into bed. I began to cry. I could not fathom how someone could be too sick to eat, throw up the contents of his stomach and then open another beer: when I vomit, I rest and take cautious sips of ginger ale. I considered breaking up with Johnny that night, doubting whether I could sustain a commitment to him, having visions of being dragged to more parties where I knew few people, could not participate in music beyond my skill level, and got stuck listening to the all-afternoon or late-night drinkers rambling on to one another.

By the next morning, after little sleep, Johnny was his kind and loving self again. He ate a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese and salsa, toast and butter. Later on he sent me a sweet email: “Thinking of you with love, honey. Good luck with everything today. XXX JH.”

I finish my tax returns on April 14th, and mail them on April 15th before Johnny whisks me off to his evening gig at the Station House in Point Reyes. He calls me up to the stage to sing “Sitting on Top of the World.” I get polite applause for that and sit down again. He calls me up again to sing “Clueless,” my own song about the mishaps of our courtship, and the crowd loves it. In fact, every single musician there makes a point of telling me how much they enjoy it.

Johnny and I sing “New Love Thing” together. One couple gets up to dance and some people sing along. Also, Johnny and I get to sit down to a delicious dinner on the house: I eat skirt steak and broccolini and half of Johnny’s bread pudding. He orders a rich, cream-based oyster stew. I am happy to have an elegant meal and a relaxing evening. The drummer plays tastefully. The bass is not overloud. And the piano player is smokin’.