Along The Boardwalk

 

I saw my first fallen-down drunk when I was four years old.

For the first part of my life, our family lived in a remote fishing village on the east end of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. It was a place where fishermen would get their paychecks on Friday, then drink them up at the bar by Sunday. On one Sunday evening we were walking from our home to the chapel for evening service, when I looked off the boardwalk to see a man just lying there. He wasn’t moving, like he was asleep in the grass and sprawled out like he fell. “Mom what’s wrong with him?” I asked.

“Just keep walking,” she replied.

Later on at the chapel I was told that he had been drinking and that he was passed out. Since my parents helped care for the physical and emotional well being of our fellow villagers, I can only surmise they determined he was fine and just needed to sleep off his booze right where he was. They would have NEVER left him in that spot if there was danger. I don’t recall ever seeing him again. How did this impact a four-year old kid?

I remember enough of it to share the story nearly fifty years later, and know first hand what true alcohol abuse looks like.

I never wanted to be that guy. I have never laughed about it. Through my teen years I remembered him. When I had my first alcohol ever, that dude along the boardwalk was on my mind. I was dry for about ten years during my 30s, because his sprawled out frame kept showing up in my head, and I didn’t want to end up lying in the grass somewhere completely unphased by passers by. This summer, while walking to a restaurant in White Center, I passed a man who was passed out and encircled by malt liquor cans – right along the sidewalk; immediately the man in Sand Point popped into my head and said, “Yeah that was a bender.”

Even last night, as I relaxed with my wife, I looked at my beer and thought of him.

He didn’t seem glorious, or a champion, or anything remotely like a life goal. He was a sad representation of a life wasted, alcoholism, and self medication. Was he using the bottle to run from depression? Bad relationships? Abuse? I’ll never know. Maybe he couldn’t stop, which was common among many of our friends in Sand Point. We knew a brilliant painter on the island who was also regular resident at the jail, and a slave to the bottle. It happened, and it was sad. Maybe this guy just overdid it after having a good time.

But when the result of your good time puts you face down in the tundra in the Alaskan bush, maybe the end game outweighs the excitement at the start.

At 53 years old I can safely say I won’t be him because I saw him, early enough to make the right impression at the right time. I know where to drink and when to stop. I like coffee just as much as I like Rainier, and can easily switch when it’s time to be responsible. Thanks to this unidentified man, sleeping off a weekend along the boardwalk to an island church, I have stayed clear from the damage of heavy drinking.

In some odd way, that fallen-down drunk kept me safe.

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Three Decades of Watching “Bullitt”

A Little Bedtime Entertainment - Nov 1, 2003

A Little Bedtime Entertainment – Nov 1, 2003

Early in life, David showed an interest in fast-moving objects.

Trains and cars on TV stopped him cold. He would always calm down when in a moving car; in fact, I often had to drive him around in the truck at bedtime so he would fall asleep. Our “Night Drives” were a precursor of outings to “go see Night Trains.” Movement and mechanicals have always figured highly in his character. So it was no surprise to me when I saw him in 2003, watching what is arguably one of the best car-chase movies of all time.

The film was Bullitt from 1968, starring Steve McQueen.

David was not quite two years old when I took this picture, watching as Lt. Bullitt is eyeballing a car driven by two hit men who have been following him around San Francisco. Aside from being filmed “at speed,” meaning the scenes were not artificially sped up to mimic fast driving, the chase also pitted the Ford Mustang against the Dodge Charger – two hugely popular muscle cars of the day. The movie is also notable for having a single swear word, uttered near the end of the movie – and almost unheard of in film making from the 1960s.

Forty-some-odd years later, Bullitt is still a thrill.

I would only allow David to watch that eight-minute car chase, minus the flaming explosion at the end that showed burning bodies in graphic detail. The rest of the film would have been too boring for a toddler anyway. He soaked it up every time, occasionally asking to see it again.

I can totally relate to his interest.

The first time I saw Bullitt, I was nine or ten years old. It was riveting, and a staple of weekend evening movie shows on network TV. I learned more about the movie in a high school Film Study class. My friend Bill Hemmen recorded it with his parents’ massive video tape machine that sat on top of their console TV, and we watched it countless times. In 1994, the stunning Mrs. Clark bought me a Laserdisc player for my 30th birthday; Bullitt was one of the first discs we bought. Not long after we bought our first DVD player, we also bought a copy of Bullitt. It was replaced later with an anniversary edition that had background programs and an interview with Chad McQueen talking about – and crying on camera about his Dad Steve. It’s very clear that he loved him.

Watching Bullitt – over and over for three decades – means that I can quote virtually every line of dialogue, find every foible, and ID every car. Regardless, it’s a movie I will continue to watch so long as I can hold a shifter in my hand. Thanks to an excited younger generation, I will always have someone to share the popcorn.

Pigga Pardon?

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Me and my Dad – 1968

My Dad doesn’t hear that well.

For my entire childhood – if he didn’t quite understand what was said – his response was always “Pigga Pardon?” The response was normal to me, and I knew what it meant, even if objectively it didn’t make a lick of sense.

It wasn’t until years later that I figured out he was asking “Beg Your Pardon?” instead.

Turns out I am the one who doesn’t hear that well!