Went to see a movie show,
Found myself an empty row,
Thought the show was just alright,
Same old Saturday night.
Then I made the usual stop,
Coffee at the coffee shop,
Friendly face nowhere in sight,
Same old Saturday night.
At the end of my freshman year at Texas A&M, I spent some quality time with a guy named Mitch. We met at an affectedly avant-garde coffeehouse where both of us sometimes picked up shifts, and where, when the planets aligned just so, he would grab a mic and croon his favorite Sinatra song to much acclaim. I’ve never been quite sure if we dated or not. I mean, I was very infatuated with him, and he was admittedly attracted to me, but he had recently gone through a breakup and wasn’t over his ex. Plus, there was an age difference with which neither one of us was comfortable, and I was busy flunking out and gearing up to move to Houston, which put the kibosh on any chance of an actual relationship.
Off-kilter attempts at romance aside, he was also my first sober acquaintance. I don’t remember how it came up, but he once mentioned that he realized he had a drinking problem when every story he told began with, “So this one time, I was really drunk…” While this revelation did not immediately force me to review my personal imbibing issues, it did stay tucked in the depths of my pickled brain, bubbling to the surface whenever my own anecdotes started leading with the same disclaimer. I’m sure I drank heavily in front of him at some point or another, but he never called me out on it, and I’ve always been grateful that he set an example of recovery for me, something I could go back and reference when it was time to sober up myself.
I really thought – the papers I bought,
Would help me forget you for a while,
Believe me honey – the funnies weren’t funny,
They didn’t even make me smile.
Mitch and I communicated a few times after I left College Station but quickly fell out of touch, and while I occasionally found myself wondering what he was up to, I could never find any contact information for him. He was one of the first people I looked for when Facebook became a thing, but whatever he was doing, it was decidedly offline.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen a number of social media posts about a website called “True People Search.” Everyone seemed alarmed about the accuracy of the information it contained, which tripped a trigger and made me suddenly think of Mitch. Feeling encouraged, I hopped onto the website, typed in his full name and finally tracked him down.
He died in a car accident 17 years ago, a couple of months after I graduated. According to his obituary, he left behind a domestic partner of three years (a fairly progressive thing to include back then), so hopefully he was happy. I told a friend of mine about this, who immediately asked if he’d been drinking, thereby causing the accident. It’s a valid question. I don’t know the answer. But I knew him as a sober individual, and since the intimate details of his death are not available, that is the way I will remember him.
I’m trying not to feel guilty about not finding him sooner, especially since the resources to do so simply didn’t exist at the time. And I’m trying not to put undue energy into wishing that I could have introduced him to grown-up, sober me, or maybe even seen if there were any sparks left over from liaisons two decades old. Regardless, I will use the sparks I do have to light a candle for him, and I will thank him for being a good influence when I didn’t yet know who I was.
I really think he would’ve liked who I turned out to be.
How I wish you’d lift the phone,
Fun is fun – but not alone,
‘Til you let me hold you tight,
Same old Saturday night.
Random Dude at the Leather Bar: “I like your pendant! What is it?”
Me: “It’s a recovery symbol.”
RDATLB: “Oh, okay. [laughing] I thought it was from Harry Potter.”
Me: “Yeah, so did I. But I was REALLY drunk when I bought it.”
It is such a burden to be this hilarious, you guys. It’s like an albatross or whatever.
A friend of mine recently asked if I’d like to work a few hours a week at his fetishwear shop. I’ve still got my property management job and pick up the occasional mobile notary gig, but to be honest, I’ve always missed working in retail. Evil customers and low wages aside, I like being behind a counter, especially in mom-and-pop (or in this case, daddy) establishments. It makes me feel like I’m in a sit-com.
The shop itself has two locations: The first is a freestanding building next to Ripcord, Ye Olde Townne Leather & Levis Bar, and the other takes up a large corner inside the bar itself. I’ve been patronizing Ripcord since I was a wee little baby gay, and when I got sober, I mourned all the misadventures I’d had there. However, a little over a year into my recovery, I agreed to meet a date there and found myself surprisingly comfortable in the environment. I was neither triggered nor overcome with the urge to drink, which threw me off a little, until I realized that for as raging an alcoholic as I was, I never actually drank very much at Ripcord — I just showed up there drunk.
That epiphany, coupled with Ripcord being the Misfits‘ home bar, resulted in me spending an inordinate amount of time there, much to the
withering judgment concern of a number of sober acquaintances. “If you hang out at the barbershop, you’re going to get a shave,” they chanted while placing bets on how long it would take me to slink into a meeting and collect a new desire chip. But despite their hopes the odds, I’ve done remarkably well at the Rip. Everyone from the owner to the barback knows I’m sober, and it’s become an unexpected safe space for me, where I can sip club soda and get merrily groped by strangers without incident.
With all that in mind, I agreed to come aboard as a sales clerk, although I changed my work status on Facebook to read, “Notary Public at the Montrose Forge,” because I think I’m hilarious. And of course, within 30 minutes of me clocking in for my first shift, one of the Misfits texted me all, “Where are you?! I need something notarized yesterday,” so I took that as a favorable career omen and added a notary rate chart and that repellent sign to the shop’s décor, which amused the owner to no end. Especially after I told him he could charge $30 to have me schlep in from across town and notarize shit for walk-in clients.
Caught up as I was in the joy of getting back into retail and becoming the official notary for drunk leatherdudes everywhere, I managed to overlook one little glitch in the system: The store sells what are commonly referred to as “solvents,” or “polish removers,” or, back in the heyday of adult arcades, “video head cleaners.” And I say “commonly referred to,” because it is illegal in the great state of Texas to sell amyl nitrate or any of its derivatives for recreational purposes.
In other words, we don’t carry poppers. Poppers are bad. We would never promote nor encourage the purchase or use of poppers.
Which is good, because Drunk Me was a right proper fool for poppers.
For my 2.5 straight readers, poppers are an inhalant, which cause a brief but intense sense of euphoria. Along with the enjoyable head rush, poppers also lower blood pressure and relax muscles, which means they allow you to fit pretty much anything in your butt, hence their popularity in the gay community. I personally have not used poppers for any reason since before I quit drinking, but their acrid odor brings back fond semi-memories of drunken shenanigans, and in early sobriety, I found myself craving them more than cheap whiskey. I held firm and eventually lost all attraction to them, but I’ve also just put myself in a situation where I spend 12 hours a week with a display case of NOT POPPERS/POLISH REMOVERS a foot from my face. And that doesn’t strike me as 100% brilliant.
The original purpose of this blog was to document my recovery from alcoholism, but as I went from hiding in the rooms of 12-step meetings to functioning successfully in the Real World, writing about recovery seemed less and less relevant. Now, though, I’m starting to see The Second Coming of Bacchus as a tool for accountability. As I once told a roomful of recovering alcoholics who were not at all thrilled with my life choices (see barbershop above), I don’t care what anyone thinks about what I’m doing, so long as they know I’m doing it. It’s when I start keeping secrets that I get myself into trouble.
So. No secrets. I’m coming up on five years sober, and I’m working in a bar, selling video head cleaner to horny men who have never owned VCRs. And I am okay.
Thank you guys in advance for helping me stay that way.
You know how sometimes you’re dog-sitting your sponsor’s Yorkie, and you give him (the Yorkie, not your sponsor) his anti-anxiety medication, and he calms down pretty quickly, but a little later you’re like, “Wow, he’s… really calm,” and then your sponsor calls and is like, “You gave him how much?! Shit, don’t let him wet himself,” so you immediately take him out, but you have to carry him because he’s suddenly baffled by stairs, and then when you get outside he eventually pees but only after staring blankly at a tree for a full minute like it’s trying to explain calculus to him, so you pick him back up and think, “Well, at least there aren’t any witnesses,” and right on cue a girl walking her own dog goes, “You’re Thomas, right?” and so you try to make casual conversation like everything is normal, even though the Yorkie in your arms is drooling and clearly lost in a canine version of the Aboriginal Dreamtime?
Or is that just me?
Bartender: “Here’s your coffee!”
Patron: “Thanks! But I need the stuff to make it white.”
Everyone else in the bar: “…”
THIS IS WHY I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LEFT UNSUPERVISED, PEOPLE.