Tag Archives: alcoholism

Separate summers

Datura outside our bedroom window yesterday. There’s also aloe vera.

MY FATHER DIED a quarter century ago when he was just three years older than I am right now.

He was a sad man, but he loved summer. He worked evenings, which gave him days free to labor in the yard where we lived in Northern Florida in a ranch house.

He loved the Atlantic beach, sand and saltwater, and he loved tending the yard. Neither interfered with his drinking, however. Heat stirs well with highballs.

I don’t drink — well, not anymore — and maybe that’s why I don’t like gardening, and I don’t live near the beach though we can get there in three hours down the autopista.

And I loathe heat, the lack of which makes my mountaintop home wonderful in summertime. But things really grow here, much better than they did in my father’s yard.

Gotta be the latitude.

Every winter I blaze through the yard like a machete-wielding madman even though I actually use a small saw and branch trimmer. The golden datura is slashed back to basics, leaving the trunk and some nubs. It’s soft wood.

It booms back in June once it feels a touch of rain.

My father had a pink-flowered mimosa of similar size in our Florida yard. It was the only thing of any height. The rest were pansies, petunias, such stuff, all planted in rows.

Here I have a Willy-Nilly Zone where things grow, hemmed in by rock and concrete, in any direction they desire.

And for things of size, there’s monster bougainvillea, the towering nopal, a gigantic fan palm.

I was pressed, as a boy, into yard-mowing duties, and I received a small sum. I forget how much. And I once cut the Hacienda lawn too, years ago, but not anymore.

That’s why the Goddess invented pesos for me to pay Abel the Deadpan Yardman.

About a decade back, after I moved to Mexico, I drove a rented car slowly by the Florida house. The mimosa was gone. Everything was bleak. The grass was spotty due to cars being parked on it, just like a rack of rednecks would do.

There were no flowers at all. Nothing.

In the 1950s, the area was the middle class moving up. Now it’s the working class barely holding on.

Summers separated by half a century of time.

Southern Roots

beach
Florida, 1961. Father on left, me in middle, friend on right.*

MY FATHER was born in North Georgia on the edge of Atlanta during the First World War.

I was born in Atlanta during the Second World War. My father’s parents were born around 1890, which means I am just two family generations south of the Victorian Age.

My father’s parents’ parents were born shortly after the end of the Civil War. I’m not sure where, probably North Georgia. If they were not born there, they moved there.

My father was an arrowhead collector, a newspaperman, an excellent writer and poet, a boozer who shunned coffee and tobacco, and he wasn’t much of a father either.

For a while, he was a chicken farmer. He was drafted into the U.S. Army late in the Second World War and sent to Korea on a troop ship. He didn’t like that one little bit.

Yes, he was in Korea during the Second World War, not the Korean War, which came later. He never fired a shot at anyone, and nobody ever shot at him. He was a typist.

pop
1987

The war ended, and Uncle Sam shipped him back to Georgia. He never traveled anywhere again if he had anything to say about it.

He was not an adventurer.

As I said, he wasn’t much of a father. He had no interest, and it showed. About the only things that interested him were my mother, booze, writing and arrowheads.

He died in Atlanta of a heart attack in 1991. Coincidentally, he was lying in a hospital bed due to some unrelated issue, and was on the verge of being discharged.

He died just moments after brusquely hanging up the phone. He was talking to me. I had called.

He had not called me, of course. He never wrote me a letter in his entire life. He never wrote my sister either.

Those were pre-email days.

Minutes later, my sister phoned to say he was dead.  Age 75, three years older than I am now.

It was Mother’s Day.

I didn’t much like him, but I am just like him. I look like him. I think like him. I sound like him. I think I was a better father, but my daughter might tell you otherwise.

I did make an effort. He never made an effort.

He and I both stopped drinking in our early 50s, but for both of us the damage had already been done, irreparably.

My father was a lifelong leftist. He had witnessed Pinkertons shooting at strikers during the 1930s. For most of my life, I was a leftist too, as was all our family.

Unlike him and the others, I wised up late in life.

Will our many similarities include dying at 75? I hope not because I’m having way too much fun.

* * * *

(Note:  The inimitable Jennifer Rose recently noted the 20th anniversary of her mother’s death. This got me to thinking about my father, which led to the above. I wrote about my mother after she died at 90 in 2009.)

* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.

Afternoon man

afternoon
Thursday afternoon. Not a Gringo in sight.

WHEN I MOVED from the state capitol to this pueblo on the mountaintop over 16 years ago you could count the number of Gringos here on the hands of four people.

There were oddballs and misfits among them, a lunatic or two, probably even some crooks on the lam. My arrival brought normality and intelligence into the mix.

Flash forward to today, and the Gringo population — I’m including Canucks —  has increased 10-fold.

And they’re becoming more humdrum people. I haven’t heard of anybody being extradited in years.

Alas, they seem mostly to be a left-wing lot, which appears to be the norm for northerners who move over the Rio Bravo. Conservatives stay above the border, mostly.

There are two Yahoo forums that service our area. One is called Michoacán Net and the other is Morelia Connect. The latter is the older, but the former is the more populated.

Michoacán Net is full of left-wingers, and Morelia Connect is more convivial for conservatives. Michoacán Net says “no politics,” but if you phrase a left-wing issue just right, it’s fine and dandy. Not so for conservative issues.

About 10 days before the U.S. presidential election, someone announced on Michoacán Net an election night celebration. There was no mention of the candidates, but you knew who they thought they would be celebrating.

Whoops-a-daisy!

Election night came and went, and there’s been no more mention of that fiesta. Maybe they threw a wake.

One odd thing about the Gringos here is that they circulate downtown almost entirely in the mornings. My schedule is just the opposite. I’m rarely downtown in the mornings, but I’m there most every afternoon.

tequilaSo I rarely see them. I think in the afternoons they are back at their adobe homes, soused on tequila and ready for their nappies.

I, on the other hand, am sitting at a sidewalk table with a café Americano negro, reading my Kindle and watching beautiful Latinas walk by.

I am an afternoon man.

A Florida childhood

sibs
Circa 1955.

I WAS RAISED in north Florida, Jacksonville, where I lived throughout the 1950s and on into the 1960s. I graduated from high school in 1962, and left the state forever.

That’s me and my sister, Diane, sitting on the bentwood bench in the back yard of our home in the Jacksonville suburb of Arlington, across the St. John’s River.

I don’t know why we were dolled up like that. It likely was Easter Sunday, and my paternal grandparents must have come to town. Otherwise, we would have ignored Easter because my parents were socialist agnostics, usually.

But when my father’s parents were around, we were upstanding citizens, good churchgoers, teetotalers. My father hid his booze bottles. Paternal grandfather was a Baptist deacon, and grandma was a Methodist.

Around them, we were another family altogether.

mother

Here’s my mother, Virginia. She died in 2009 at age 90, but she would have been about 38 here. I wonder if her Miltowns were in the purse or on the kitchen window ledge, which is where she usually kept them for easy access.

Our green 1950 Dodge is parked in the driveway. I have no idea who those rug-rats are who are opening the screen door. Probably kids of the Dawsons who lived next door.

My sister towered six-feet-tall in high school and had just one date the entire time. I wonder if that was when she began her spiral down the road where she ended up decades later as a militant, explosive, feminist, lesbian fanatic?

But she was very nice when she was young. She was smart and kind and reasonable. I miss that sister.

An American family of the 1950s. You never know what hides behind the Easter Sunday smiles and lies.

Divergent lives

New Image
Roundabouts 1968

THAT’S MY child bride on the right when she actually was a child. The other is a sister, one of many.

They lived in a small town in the State of Michoacán.

My child bride became a civil engineer and, at the age of 42, married her first husband, a Gringo.

This sister, who is one year older, never married anyone, had four babies from two men, and lived for many years with a worthless drunk who is now dead.

Divergent lives.

The bass player

bass

THIS OLD BOY is part of a street band. They stand next to sidewalk tables, and start playing and singing loudly whether you want them to or not. They work for tips.

The group varies in size, but it’s usually three or four. There were five on Sunday. I gave them 20 pesos.

This character is my favorite because he always looks as if he just woke up from a bender that scored 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Were the photo in color, you’d see bloodshot eyes.

No matter. He strums that bass with enthusiasm, and his instrument appears to date from the Revolution.

It’s very old, but it works. Just like him.

Memory Lane

WELL, THAT’S enough about you. Let’s focus on everyone’s favorite topic: Numero Uno, themselves.

Here are four of my favorite photos of my own true self. Sure, some have been posted here before. So what? When one focuses on oneself, overdoing is not an issue.

I was young once, but I’m not anymore. I like to look back and think, Gee, is that me?  And it always is.

My life up to this point has been a bit more varied than most. I did not choose that road. It just happened. Some was fun. Some was decidedly not. Booze played a role for a long spell.

But I’ve been a teetotaler now for 16 years, and I’m having an even better time than before. What does that tell you?

With no further ado:

OneSitting in a San Francisco streetcar in 1963. I was 19 and in the Air Force.

I had dropped out of Vanderbilt University about a year earlier — women troubles — and enlisted. Women have long been a curse for me.

It was only when I latched onto a Mexican woman late in life that the curse was cracked at last. Heed this, young men.

twoFlash forward about 15 years, and here I am sitting in a Cessna 172 in New Orleans. The cap was a gag item. I used to fly small planes.

I never mixed booze with planes because I am not totally stupid. I did, however, mix booze with motorcycles on a regular basis, indicating I am somewhat stupid.

Roundabouts the same year, someone took the next photo, likely my second wife. That’s my daughter on the back.

She’s cute, and considerably older now. Pushing 50.

fourOver the last couple of years, I’ve developed a real hankering to buy another motorcycle. I’m not going to,  however, for a number of reasons. My bones won’t mend so easily, and Mexican roads are full of potholes and maniacs.

The previous photos are in time sequence, but we’ll have to back up a bit — about five years — for the following.

threeI love this shot. I’ve even used it as an avatar online.

Note the cigarette and, if you’re sharp, the apron. I like to cook, or I used to. Now I just prefer to be served.

And I used to smoke — cigarettes, cigars, pipes — but I stopped that stupidity about 25 years ago.

The photo was snapped by my Argentine girlfriend atop our penthouse apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Now I’m 71 with a child bride. And feeling fine.

And that ends today’s stroll down Memory Lane. Feel free to post your own old photos in the comments.

Marriage perp walk

Julie

LET US CONTINUE down Failed Romance Lane. We’ve already passed the Argentine penthouse and the First Marriage Apartment, so the only address left is the Second Marriage Ranch House.

The photo, which I should have taken better care of, is from 1979, and it was taken in New Orleans. We did not move to Houston and purchase the Second Marriage Ranch House till the mid-1980s.

Meet Julie.

I was with Julie the longest of all, about 19 years, but we were married for only the last decade. I have been married to my Mexican child bride for 13 years, but we lived together just a few months before the wedding.

Julie and I met at a French Quarter party in New Orleans. I arrived with two dates, one of whom was married to somebody else, and I was drunk as the proverbial skunk. I could hardly stand up.

Julie told me years later that the first thing she noticed was how pretty I was. The second was how drunk I was. Forget him, she thought.

But my rakish charm won out in the end. But not that evening.

A sharp observer might notice my glassy eyes in the photo. Yes, I was happily under the influence. I mention this issue — again — because there are few people more annoying than a reformed boozer. Perhaps someone who’s stopped smoking. I did that too, years later. Ahem!

During our many years together, I supported us while Julie bounced from one business venture to another, all of which failed. It was only after she dumped me in 1995 did she become self-sustaining, by necessity, eventually earning far more than I ever did. She’s a computer wizard.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

She lives today in that Houston ranch house, which was entirely in my name after the divorce, but which I gave to her as a gift the following year because I am a really nice guy — or a total idiot — depending on whom you ask.

I prefer the first option. My mother embraced the second.

Penthouse playmate

Puerto

WITH ABOUT 85 percent of one’s life lived, it’s easy to focus more on the past than the future. I tend to do this especially at 5:30 in the morning.

Two periods in my life stand out as being particularly tasty. During both I was living in the Latin world, and during both I was living with Latin women. I married the second, but not the first though I considered it.

I drank a lot.

The second, of course, is my current, third and final wife who is Mexican and was a civil engineer. The first was Argentine and was a hooker. I rescued her from a life of sin. She found work as a legitimate waitress, and we cohabited in a penthouse atop a five-story apartment building overlooking the sea in Old San Juan in the early 1970s.

Readers who’ve hung around here for a spell have heard all this before — do forgive — but the focus today is the top photo, which I do not think I’ve posted previously. I could be mistaken, but no matter.

I have the memory of a tree trunk.

I do not recall who snapped the top photo. We rarely had visitors there on the roof. There was no elevator up the five floors and the stairwell risers were not uniform, making it an arduous ascent.

We tended to go out no more than twice a day. Once was to go to work — mine at the newspaper and hers at the restaurant, both night jobs — and then there was the second descent for whatever, groceries, lunch.

The likely photographer was Luis Muñoz Lee, a good friend and the son of Luis Muñoz Marín, the “George Washington” of modern Puerto Rico. Muñoz Lee was an artist and he also worked with me on the newspaper out on the John F. Kennedy Highway.

Luis, like me, was quite taken with the Argentine who was not your typical ex-hooker. She was very bright and incredibly rebellious.

She was just 20, and we fussed a lot.

In the top photo, the door to the left was the entrance from the stairwell. The door I’m leaning against, wearing my knockout bell bottoms, was the living room door. I was just inside that same door facing the opposite direction in daylight when I snapped the photo below.

Things come back to you at 5:30 a.m. If you’re lucky, you have photos.

And if you’re really lucky, you have people who will listen to you ramble on about them 40 years later.

silvina