Apprentice Alcoholics

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / Boyhood /
@ K. 2002 11 30

I grew up watching drunken adults throw each other in the swimming pool. The original gown of one beauty shrank to the size of a doll’s dress. Her beau was screaming that the ink had run on his $1,000 check: perhaps a deposit he’d gotten toward a state of the art welded pool. Our host had invented the welded pool, his post-war millions rolling in at a rate hardly less shabby than his wartime millions. Not too many people wore original couturier concoctions at pool side in those days. Not too many people had pools. And very few had checks for a grand to lose from fresh ink running.

Back in the ‘Thirties my father’s best friend had figured that Hitler could make him some money. War was coming. With war there’d be a draft. With a draft there’d be draft dodgers. What draft dodgers needed was a legitimate dodge. It was the Depression of course. Business upon business were bankrupt. Landlords whistled through unoccupied lofts. Ned Dunn bought up some used welding equipment. Rented its old housing for a promise plus a penny, hired back the unemployed welders for a nickel and change … and opened a welding school.

Of course everyone said that Ned was nuts. The welding business just folded, you fool. But Ned was convinced that welding was one golden draft dodge and Ned was soon right. There was war. There was a draft. And Ned had draft dodgers registering to learn welding in long lines, paying Ned their scrounged Depression money to stay home from the war.

By 1944 or so, Ned was a very wealthy man. His capital investment had been practically nil. His income was stupendous. Ned sold out for millions: just before the war ended. VE Day came, and no one was signed up to learn welding. Ned had lots of money to drink with and my father had always drunk to set the pace for anybody, even when his income was “zero: law student” or, later, young lawyer pulling down $20 a week (of which $15 went to his secretary). (Lucky to get a good girl for $15 a week.) I’m sure he given himself a raise by the end of WWII, but nothing to match the drinking money of Ned. Ned bought a big estate in Old Westbury, across from the Graces, down the road from Pete Bostwick: put horses in the stable and cows in the barn and invited my old man out to keep him company puking in the bushes.

The poor schmuck who bought Ned’s welding school was soon bankrupt. Ned bought his equipment back for about what he’d paid for it in the first place. Ned figured that the GI’s would be coming home soon. He figured that they’d want to get married, live in a home, enjoy some luxury … So he figured a way to weld pool parts in place: cheaper than pouring all that cement. The next thing you know, business was booming: and Ned added hot and cold running swimming pools to his Xanadu, both salt water and fresh. That was it for Ned the business man. When he sold the Swimming Pool empire for millions upon millions he stayed retired, seeing how many Florida yacht clubs he could get himself thrown out of. Oh, yes, I forgot to add: Ned was a yachtsman. My first overnight afloat was aboard his huge schooner, the Malaheennee. Alas, we were at anchor the whole time. Ned wasn’t really a sailor: he was a drinker.

2017 01 02 Perhaps I should mention that Ned was a good looking son of a bitch. His wife, Adele, was pretty cute too: as were both my mom and dad. In the ’30s Ned had made money starring in cowboy movies, good looking bastard.
I string a couple of other things to mention: Ned and Adele bought an ice cream machine in the early 1940s. I had homemade ice cream made with milk from Ned’s own cow!

So. Some of my earliest memories include tinkling ice cubes and shattering high ball glasses. Age about three I marched up to my father’s cigar smoking in the ashtray and his scotch old fashioned glass and helped myself to a slug and a puff. It was OK: I came to within mere days.

My next taste of alcohol involved poking my face into the foamy head on my mother’s chilled pilsner glass. Ugh. All that crap involves acquired tastes. With a kid’s first sip it all tastes just like the poison it is.

I didn’t begin and finish my own drink till I was fifteen. My mother was off somewhere for the evening: work, work, working. Her boss seldom brought her home from the Apple till other people had had dinner and gone to bed. There was an ale in the fridge. Twelve ounce can. She’ll miss it, I thought. She’ll know it was me. Whatever some angel and some devil said to each other on my shoulders, temptation won, and I popped the can with one of the once upon a time ubiquitous church keys. Ugh, that wasn’t very good. Ugh, that was sure filling. Ugh, half finished I wondered how anybody could ever finish one. I finished it. Burp! Oh, my, what an uncomfortable belly.

I was just old enough to begin to notice the bellies accumulating on the belt line’s of the high school’s football stars as they neared eighteen years of age. I though they were disgusting. I’d thought my father and his Ned were disgusting. What did I want to go and distend my belly for. It tasted lousy, it made me uncomfortable, soon it would make me ugly, shit-faced, slow footed: best dancer can’t even get out of his chair! If the first was so bad, why did I ever have a second? Or a third? Or a third, seventh, dozenth in quick succession? By the time I was sixteen, my friends and I were all veteran beer guzzlers.

My pal those days was Dick. Dick was older by at least a year. Not only could Dick drive, Dick could drive at night! He’d taken driver’s ed. Dick was seventeen: a real sophisticate. Soon other friends also had cars. Borny’s dad gave him a little Hillman Minx. Dick had his sedan. Charlie — Charlie A, not Dick’s younger brother Charlie — had a funny little green American Motors tin can sitting in his garage for months: just waiting for him to turn sixteen.

My friends’ fathers really loved to buy cars. The night Borny wrecked the black Merc’ sedan rod, Borny and three others of my best buddies were being stitched in the hospital, but Borny’s father was chomping to get into the showroom to buy a replacement for Borny. Old Borny loved that Merc’ rod too. He’d borrow it to drive into Wall Street where he was a partner at Kidder Peabody. My friends’ parents also seemed to live to get drunk.

Of course they were feeble amateurs compared to my old man. But at least they had families. My mother had thrown her philandering lout out. (She really should have considered whether she had a dollar saved before she did that.)

Anyway, I started this file to sketch some background in order to tell very briefly my Farmer Paul story, decided to come in through Ned Dunn, and still haven’t gotten to Farmer Paul. Here goes.

We’d bomb around town, six or seven guys squeezed into Borny’s roller-skate-sized Hillman convertible, guzzling six packs. Most of us were sixteen. Charlie A was still fifteen. Maybe Charlie K was too. And we’d come upon Farmer Paul’s. Farmer Paul’s was a cross between a country market and a convenience store. I was located where Long Beach Road intersected Oceanside Road forming a fork: just a skip and a jump short of the Long Island Railroad Crossing, a hairbreadth short of Sunrise Highway. Farmer Paul usually had some watermelons stacked up outside, cold drinks, canned goods, Wonder Bread … inside. Farmer Paul was supposed to be some kind of immigrant from Russia. Short. Bald. Had a funny accent. Looked like he had had a hard life. We descend on the place like a plague of locusts. Go in. Start piling up the six packs on the counter. A six pack of Rheingold was ninety-nine cents in those days: 1954ish.

Farmer Paul sees all the beer stacked up on his counter. “Are you guys sure you’re at least fourteen?” Farmer Paul asks us with concern. This was Long Island. That’s New York State. NY’s blue laws said eighteen to drink. Other states said twenty-one. Farmer Paul seemed to think the law said fourteen.

“Oh, sure, Farmer Paul, we’re fourteen,” we’d say. “You don’t have to worry about us.”

“Oh, good,” Farmer Paul answered. “Otherwise I’d put it in a bag for you.”

I’ll be slipping other drinking stories in here regardless of what decade they come from.

Reflection on the above: Farmer Paul was from Russia. Russia had no nonsense laws about drinking ages. People didn’t feed Vodka to the baby necessarily, but they had no law about it. Or so I came to understand. Of course the Soviets soon came to have other laws up the ass: put Americans to shame, all the laws they could write. But not about booze. I don’t think Stalin ever had any Prohibition.

August 31, 1956, 11:45 PM. I’m sitting at the bar in the Park View Tavern. I’m on my favorite stool, right on what’s been an accustomed spot for years. I’ve got a couple of beers lined up on front of me. Drinkers in the Park View planned ahead. God forbid Dan should be busy when you finish your glass. Having to wait a few seconds for your next beer would be a fate worse than death. The extra beers also helped both the drinker and Dan keep track of what you’d paid for. God help the owner’s business if Dan didn’t buy a round promptly after you’d paid for five. I think that was the ratio: the house bought the sixth round: or else.

“Dan, buy me a beer,” I said.

Dan walks over. I can see him checking his memory. One, two, three … No, I wasn’t due for a free round yet. But he saw I wanted him to. I’d asked him.

“Sure,” he says. And plunks down another beer in front of me. “What’s the occasion.”

“I turn eighteen in fifteen minutes. It will then be legal to serve me.”

In Waterville Maine, eleven years later, I’d have my ID checked in a restaurant. But back in New York … fifteen, sixteen, seventeen … I was almost never checked. People thought I was sixteen when I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight … But New York bartenders I guess were not big on law enforcement. Like tobacco: ask a kid how old he is when he wants to buy cigarettes? Never. This is America. They’ve got money? Sell them what they want.

And when I wasn’t guzzling down the booze, soon chasing the beer with scotch, or even gin, I was watching movies. The Thin Man. Here comes the cocktail tray. How elegant. Sophisticated. Humphrey Bogart. Drag Net. Have another cigarette, Bogie. Why not let a little smoke drift up into your eye?

God. What a revolting culture we lived in. Years later I read The Thin Man. I couldn’t believe how tobacco- and alcohol-ridden all of Hammett was. Jesus, at least Faulkner didn’t have his characters keep pace with him. And when they did drink at least they had the decency to do it in a disgusting way: drinking hooch out of oily car parts!


By the time I was in my late thirties I was drinking a terrible amount. It was finally beginning to affect me. Not just a little belly: I could feel my reflexes going, my courage. Suddenly this cliff diver was cringing back from the edge of my own terrace on the beach. Ridiculous. Skiing, I used to jump off stuff like that without looking. Dive from the sixth floor? Why not?

So I’m in my wonderful beach house. I’m tired of cleaning the whole huge place by myself. I advertise for a roommate. A professional please. (I get calls from nurses. Since when do nurses consider themselves professional?) When a beautiful airline stewardess showed up to ring my bell I minded less that she didn’t carry a PA plaque in hand. Whew, what a dish. She didn’t think the second bedroom was quite big enough for her: I had so obviously filled even that space with myself. But she wanted to become friends, stay in touch. Awright!

Except it wasn’t. Soon she was smitten with some grease monkey. Just wanted to hang around him while he drank beer in his shop, tuning a carburetor. Suddenly, her boobs, her hair, everything was a great deal less attractive. But she had dynamite roomies: a pilot and some fabulous stews. I phone her place. Her pilot answers. “Hey, what’s up?” I ask, preparatory to asking him where his fabulous women are that night.

“Oh, I’m just here, sucking on a bottle of wine.”

Ah. The diction of a poet. A Buddha who has awakened into consciousness. Sucking on a bottle.

Yes, baby. Aren’t we all wonderful little oral Narcissists?

Apprentice Alcoholics
FitzRace War

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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