Marty Graham 3 p.m., Sept. 22
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One Ugly Thirst
To get this bad must take a serious imbalance of the humors: I find myself in Mission Beach– like literally in Mission Beach– waking up with half my face in the sand; a gnarly gash in my knee; dry, caked blood all down my shin; missing a flip-flop and burrito all over my shirt and beard. How many days have I been on this bender? I know it all started Friday at the Coaster with their $2 drafts. That's it. I'll blame it on Leah, the bartender. She keeps 'em coming like an assembly line, and that's why I got so tanked. Alcoholics have very creative ways of blaming their iniquities on other people.
I get up and stagger around a bit. Usually this is where I go grab a beer, but this time my body's making damn sure I know this ride's over. Dry heaves kick in as I check the wallet– still got a few bucks left. How much did I start with? Five, six hundred? I could've bought a flat screen or flown up to San Francisco for the weekend and a show at the Fillmore. I could've paid off my credit card. But us drunks don't think about that kinda stuff till after the fact.
My phone says 8 AM, and from the date I know this thing's been going on for five days. Five days of complete inebriation! An entire work week– like it's my frickin' job! Pathetic. Pathetic. I also see I called my ex-wife. I can only imagine what kind of stupid was coming out of my mouth. This is the last time I'm doing this. Once this hangover's gone, I'm controlling the booze! Not the other way around. I'm gonna get active and find a purpose. You'll see.
Finding a cab this time of the morning's a challenge, but I manage. "Hey, homie, I'm headin' downtown– Front St. exit," I tell the cabbie. And as we head south past Limberg Field, I look out at the Harbor Island Sheraton and the tranquility of the bay. This town's the epitome of sublime– so replete with opportunity for adventure. Most people on this Big Ball O' Blue can only dream of such a place. This guy driving me, I can tell he's from Somalia– a country with no government, where day to day life is challenging and precarious. And here I am– squandering away Paradise by living in a bottle. Utterly depressing.
After he drops me off at my condo in the Gaslamp, I go upstairs, draw the blinds, turn off the phone, put the TV on real low and curl up on my couch trying to disappear. That's when the cold sweats start, and it ain't sweet summer sweat from dancing in the courtyard. It's the putrid, viscous, endocrine and alcohol based daiphoresis from the skin helping an overburdened liver expel toxins and dead cells from my body. I wish I could dance to forget.
Some time later, flashes of memories kick in: getting tossed from the Beachcomber, getting comped at Sandbar, getting denied at the Pennant, telling Hayley I'm obsessively in love with her, asking Laura to show me her feet. People must think I'm a wack job, and maybe they're right; but I'm gonna change from now on. They're gonna see that I'm different. They're gonna see that I'm normal.
The dry heaves become unbearable. My body convulses like an epileptic. I try to yack to feel better, but nothing comes up. There ain't even bile left in there. I drink a little water 'cos I know I need it, but I can't even keep that down... That's right. I have poisoned my body so badly that my stomach rejects anything I try to put into it in a mad, desperate attempt to make itself better. At this point, all effort is exhausted, and I just lie there– one noxious and useless heap of flesh.
Anyone whose been through this knows what comes next: Short naps give you periodic reprieve from this torment, and the next day you feel good enough to at least go outside and walk around– have a smoothie and some water. By evening you can even stomach a small, healthy dinner– soup or a wrap. You're getting well. That night you only sleep three or four hours, but you wake up feeling reborn. Detox complete.
I jump out of bed and seize the day– start with a five mile run in Balboa Park and sweat the good sweat. Rejuvenated, I go home and take my first shower in a week. Then I hit the book store and spend hours reading at Embarcadero Park wondering, Wow. How have I been missing out on this? Today is the first day of my real life.
Evening rolls around, and my hunger's back in full force; so I go to Nicky Rotten's for a burger and contemplate a beer.... No. Not quite yet. I stick to water. Later in the night, I hit the Gaslamp Tavern and Bareback Grill for the Laker game, sipping O'doul's the whole time. Kobe wins it with a buzzer beater. This can't get much better!
I hang out a couple more hours, then head home sleepy like a baby. I'm gonna zonk out like a rock tonight, and it's gonna feel great! I strip down to my Dickies and crawl into bed thinking about the coming morning. Maybe I'll kayak La Jolla coves or rent one of those stand up paddle boards and cruise Mission Bay or hike Cowel's Mountain and savor the Elysian panorama of this Heaven. I'm out of the dark haze of alcohol, and my life is blessed as I doze off....
That's when I hear 'em. The people. The LOUD ASS drunk people. The bars are letting out, and the streets are filled with drunk chicks and kooks screaming and yelling a cacophony of idiocy; and their obnoxious dissonance suffuses into every corner of my pad.
It's okay. They'll be gone soon. Don't get mad.... But they don't leave. They just keep getting louder and LOUDER and LOUDER!! These cantankerous imbeciles are infuriating me beyond explanation: couples fighting, bad music, horns, alarms. I snap! I get up, turn on the lights and pace around, breathing all tense and heavy.
Keep calm. Any other night you'd be right there with them or so drunk, you'd sleep right through this; but tonight's different. And these dumb ass cops with their siren blips and bull horns only exacerbate my rage! It overtakes me....
I'm aware of what I'm doing, but it's a detached awareness– like looking at myself from the outside as if in a movie. I open the drawer of my night stand and grab my .357. It's nickel plated stainless steel with a wood grip. It's got a six-inch barrel with an adjustable rear sight and fiber-optic red front. It holds seven rounds. And yes. It's fully loaded.
Sticking it in my waistband, I head outside. As I watch myself, I don't even wonder what my intentions are because I know I have none. My actions are purely automatic, irrational and irrepressible.
I am in a state of psychosis.
I get two steps out the main door when I hear it slam shut behind me. At that instant, reality swings around and cracks me across the skull like a two by four. I suddenly come to my senses and realize I'm standing in the middle of the Gaslamp Quarter naked save my Dickie's, locked out of my complex with a partially concealed loaded gun and dozens of people all around me. A brief moment of panic ensues. Then I run to a garbage can, pull my piece, stick both hands in the trash, empty the cylinder into one hand, pocket the cartridges and dig around for a bag, big piece of paper– anything to wrap the pistol in. People look, but I'm mostly invisible– just some deranged hobo looking for a snack. Finally, I come up on one of those styrofoam to-go boxes with half a sandwich in it. I dump the sandwich, box up my gun and get out. Yeah. This bum found what he was looking for, and he wishes it was only food....
As I sit in front of my complex, I wonder if this is what they mean by "rock bottom": When you've destroyed your life so thoroughly with your drug that sobriety actually makes you worse because it removes the one and only thing that allowed you to hang on to the last tiny strand of sanity you had left. When people who once loved you reject you because you've hurt them so many times, they lost faith. When all the other wonderful experiences and potential of your time on this planet fail to make an iota of difference in the massive void in your soul because nothing but your drug can fill it, and you know that that "fulfillment" is temporary and false. When you encounter this hard, irrefutable, conclusive and final truth: There is no hope for you– not the remotest chance of atonement, redemption or expiation. I have utterly failed at every good thing I have ever attempted in my life. I am as worthless as the garbage I just dug through.
There is no light that shines from me.
Mercifully, a neighbor staggers up. He doesn't even notice me as he opens the door, and I walk in behind him. Back in my condo, everything's the same yet so different– so surreal. In this very place I briefly lost my mind. It was only a few moments ago, but it feels like ages. I take my .357 out of the box, set her on my dresser and stare at her. Some voice keeps telling me to look up in the mirror. Look up and see yourself! Gaze into your own eyes and do some deep soul searching!
But there's no way. Not right now. Right now I just keep staring at my revolver with full knowledge of exactly what it is I have to do. Before I lose it for real. Before I make innocent people pay for my transgressions. This will be quick. This will be easy. And the world will be better off.
I take the bullets from my pocket and reload my revolver. This thing I'm about to do–it's the only thing I know. And I'm too damn stupid and weak to learn anything else.
I take my gun, put her back in her drawer and head straight for my liquor cabinet.