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Knocking On Hell's Door

The last time I drank


Getting-sober stories are like giving-birth stories in that they're rarely as fascinating to their audience as they are to the teller. Ditto "oh-what-a-lush-I-was" accounts lovingly delivered by recovering alcoholics entranced by their past lunacy to a degree that nobody else can understand.

So instead, I'm going to tell you about what I assume was my last alcoholic drink on this terra firma, with the fervent hope that heaven has an open bar. If it does, the first round I order will be for my overworked guardian angel. He must have been the one who kept me from being killed or maimed during those days of out-of-my-mind drinking, which excessive drinking always is. That's kind of the point.

My last libation was memorable for reasons besides being the last, and for that I'm grateful. It'd be depressing if my final tango with alcohol had involved something mundane like a bottle of wine consumed alone while waiting for some sorry-ass man to show, or one of those wretched sweet concoctions that make a mockery of spirits. Personally, I always wanted to taste my poison.

My last drink was a favorite kind, a Bloody Mary, beloved by lushes everywhere because it's one of the designated OK-to-down-in-the-morning drinks. You don't have to feel guilty if you're drinking a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa before noon. On the other hand, if you're standing in your boxers with your head stuck in the freezer pulling from a fifth of Stoli at 9am, you'd better start worrying.

This wasn't just any Bloody Mary, either, but was made by the BM master himself, Dick of Dick's shot house. Dick's wasn't officially called "Dick's Shot House," or anything else. It was just a little wooden house, Dick's house, where he served liquor after hours in what was basically his living room with some card tables set up. Every city has a few Dicks, known to the dedicated partiers. My fellow sponges and I were restaurant people, and when it comes to alcohol, it doesn't get more dedicated than that.

After humping it all evening for the assholes of the world and watching them suck down liquor, restaurant servers are in an absolute tizzy to go out and get snockered themselves, a frenzy fueled by the cash tips burning in their black pants' pockets. If you don't knock off from work until midnight, the legal bars just aren't open long enough, so wait people swoop through the wee hours like black-and-white vampires sniffing out the next source of hooch.

Descending on Dick's contained a little thrill of uncertainty because when we knocked on his door we never knew whether he was going to let us in or not. I'm sure he appreciated the hefty cash infusion we provided, but wasn't too crazy about having a bunch of loud, drunk, white people show up on his porch in the middle of the night. It probably wasn't always worth the attention it drew.

The very early morning of my last drink we had friendly, low-key Brian knock since he was usually the most successful at getting us in, and after a moment's hesitation Dick cracked the door open wider. Soon I was sitting at a card table drinking a cracklin-hot Bloody Mary, heavy on the vodka (Dick poured 'em good), and anchored by a knotty celery stub.

Physical details of the shot house are hazy in my mind because I was always already plastered by the time we washed up on its porch, but I do remember some kind of red material being tacked over the window, and on that creeping morn, as I swayed in my seat slurping my BM, it turned fiery from the rising sun's rays hitting it. Dawn is no more welcome to drunks than it is to vampires, yet I lifted my Bloody Mary to it in a kind of salute, squinting at the light burning scarlet through both the window and the drink.

Every once in a while I reminisce about that Bloody Mary, murky with liquor and dawn-lit. Mercifully I didn't know it was my last drink. That would have been sad, like knowing you're screwing somebody for a final time. Since it was the last drink, it's taken on an iconic status, representing all the alcohol I enjoyed immensely going down.

It came to mind when I heard about a drug the FDA is reviewing that helps "calm alcoholic cravings in newly sober people." My theory is that to truly overcome an addiction you have to experience your craving so full-force it feels like it's going to suck your eyeballs out, and deny it anyway. You have to know to your bones how excellent that Bloody Mary would taste and still pass, ordering your seven-thousandth San Pellegrino instead.

Unlike Dick's door, the door to the hell of being hooked on something swings invitingly wide at the slightest tap. The trick is to be able to get as close as the porch and still have the fortitude to turn yourself around and send yourself home, through the thinning darkness toward the light.

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