Let’s Play: Was My Dad An Alcoholic? – Sabrina Small

I had an edgy conversation with my sister two weeks ago on an Italian lake: Lounge chairs….umbrella tables with their own personalized ashtrays….kids frolic amongst swans, pedal boats, giant inflatable rafts.

In the lounge chair in front of us, a mahogany bedpost in his 70s, silver haired and deservedly paunchy, is snacking olives and spitting the stones straight into the sand.

I’ve been itching for this discussion all week, waiting to examine new findings with one of the three investigators that’s been studying this subject as long as I have. The other investigator couldn’t make it to Italy due to bad timing and family obligations. So I turn to my sister and say, “Dad was an alcoholic and mom was clinically depressed.”

And then, because it lands with Tourette’s starkness, I add (schticky Jewish character voice) “Discuss.”

She says: Well, he was compulsive but he was compulsive about everything; exercising, cleaning, socializing, work.

She says: Alcoholism is something that has a clinical definition.

She says: I should know, I’m a clinical psychologist.

I say: He drank wine at night. Every night. Not just a little wine. He drank about a bottle, give or take a glass at minimum and maybe three or four at the parties he constantly held.

My brother in law says: He was at our house a few nights when we didn’t have any alcohol.

I say: Yeah, and I bet he fucking hated it.

It’s not just my parents’ individual behavior that needs to be questioned now, in the light of their deaths, it’s also their dynamic. And by dynamic, I mean, the two of them. His & Hers, little knitted caps placed over rolls of toilet paper in their bathroom, a quaint 70s gift from the August they married. The His & Hers toilet paper caps were probably handknit by a hippie friend with a name like Mari or Donna or Judy.

They were married during that time in Los Angeles’ cultural evolution where Woody Allen was writing his best jokes about the place and it was considered provocative to take your date to a screening of Deep Throat. Hippies were over and Yuppies were coming. In between there was a confusing amount of facial hair and polyester.

When they married, he was 21 and she was 19. When they married, her father implied that my dad would be taking over payment for my mom’s education, should he see fit for it to continue. He passed the baton respectfully to his son in law, like it was a torah. He really made the Man and Wife of “I now pronounce you Man and Wife,” crackle.

So they got married and lived in West LA and continued to go to school for Anthropology and Modern Dance, at first, and then for Law and Recreational Therapy, when reality forced its hand.

I want to continue down this road with my parents, I really do,  but the kids keep coming over and asking for things. My sister suggests we change our parents’ names to Joe and Susan so that we can keep talking about them, in between handing out turkey jerky, reapplying sunscreen, promising to go in the water soon. We’ll be in soon.

I say: Think about it this way, if Susan was your friend, what would you say about her relationship with Joe? I’d say, Joe is a narcissist and Susan is a doormat.

She says: Hmm.

I say: And in fact, she didn’t have friends, Susan, that is. He had all the friends. She was his plus one.

She says: We were her friends.

I say: We were her children.

When my mom was depressed, she ate in her car. Secret shameful things like McDonald’s and malt balls. She also read romance novels, the cheap paperbacks you’d find in grocery stores. The BODICE RIPPER, which always sounded like a rapey superhero to me, though it counts as a genre of literature. She read them and stored them under the bed. She read so many the bed actually lifted off the ground, balanced on quivering members and pink petals of femininity, instead of the floor.

Her depression looked like a spaced out, stepford number. She moved through the world without really existing in it. She was quiet. Spoke when spoken to. But then again, she was a mother of three and didn’t have the luxury of being really depressed. I wanna be like, damn girl, try it my way, oneweekon oneweekoff…but that week off baby! I can disappear completely, become a ghost in my own home. Only the smell of old cat litter and the occasional foodin foodout to remind me I’m still here.

When she wasn’t depressed, she was dieting. I’m so LA, my mom and I did Phen Fen together. My mother was usually on a diet, which I guess means she wasn’t usually depressed?  

We had thick issues of fashion magazines around. Vogue, Bazaar, Seventeen, Allure, Domino. These were our gateway drugs. When my mother was on a tuna and grapefruit diet, I had the idea to cut out her head from old photos and place them on the bodies of models, which I then taped onto the fridge and snack cupboard. These frankenstein creatures lived in our kitchen, the most social room, for over a year. The mommadels were funny and so they stayed in view.

What did she think of these freakish amalgamations of her face attached to lithe fashionable bodies? Did she think I was mocking her? Was I mocking her? I think I was truly interested in helping.

Because I used photos that no one minded cutting up, her expressions were often grotesque, caught mid blink or mouth open about to yell. They were better because of the wild expressions. They were campier.

I think this was my way of showing my mother I loved her. Love for her was never something I felt sure of, both the giving or the receiving end. I felt sure she was trying to love me, and that that was excruciating for her a lot of the time.

But there were languages we had in common. We both knew deeply what it felt like to fantasize about bodily perfection and obsessively mount campaigns to achieve it. We both knew how to shop and how to identify what looked good and bad on our bodies. We both spoke the language of dark surrender to forces that were no longer in our control.

But everything outside that conjoined circle of our venn diagram was fodder for fighting or something to tune out.

It occurs to me that I’m wading into quicksand. I am not clever enough, distant enough to avoid being sucked in. These are, after all, my parents. They mean something whether I want them to or not. I want them to mean what I want them to mean. I want the issue sorted. My instinct is to reveal the sludge that bound them together.

The room I am decorating worked in my head, but now that the furniture is laid out, it’s tricky. I selected 60s Danish teak, marble, brass, caramel leather Barcelona chairs, then realized the room I was decorating was the oval office. None of it will work.

I’m mad at myself for making things weird at the lake. Why did I push for their marriage to be revealed as bad? For their habits to be revealed as clinical issues? I had to wrench myself out of the free fall. I had to drop the subject, then, but I know I will come back to it.

I’ve got a bone to pick with you, and I think you know it’s true.

When I reenter the subject, I’m still ashamed of my behavior, of my Shiva the Destroyer act, but a part of me needs to push. So I start by looking up definitions–functional alcoholic, drinking problem, alcoholism–and find there are many, though they only differ in nuanced ways.

  • Alcoholism: Alcoholism is defined by alcohol dependence, which is the body’s physical inability to stop drinking and the presence of alcohol cravings. Individuals with an alcohol addiction may go to extreme measures such as stealing, lying, hiding alcohol, drinking household cleaners that contain alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors to obtain alcohol due to cravings and the fear of withdrawal. In the absence of alcohol, these individuals can experience alcohol withdrawals, which are characterized by agitation, tremors, hot flashes, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, and seizures. Withdrawing from alcohol can be lethal, and therefore, individuals should seek professional help when trying to quit their drinking habit.

Mea culpa. I misused the term alcoholic. Story over.

No but seriously folks, there was something not kosher about my dad’s drinking. There’s something here, especially if I look at the behaviors that characterize alcohol abuse. Here, let me show you… (magical chimes sound and we shift cinematically to the list portion of this essay):

Always having to finish an alcoholic beverage or even another person’s unfinished beverage

Hot train wine. It happened in between lands, on a five hour train ride from Prague to Berlin. I had a baby they were meeting for the first time, my daughter. It was a momentous occasion which happened in deep winter. She was born in November and I think they visited in February.

We stayed in one of those grand hotels with its own turkish sauna, tattered by years of neglect. I recall the darkness, the sense of potential during that time. It was a brief moment when I felt like my life was on track and fulfilling.

Time in Prague is hazy in the way all time after the birth of a child is. I recall a few specifics; my mother wearing socks and suede loafers on a below freezing walking tour. I reacted furiously when I saw how uncomfortable she was and how hard she was trying to hide it. I brought her into a shoe store and forced her to buy real boots. It was the first time I felt I had failed as a mother.

I recall the dark depths of garnet Jewelry, the perfect color for Prague to be associated with.

There was a museum cafe that my mom and I holed up in while Edgar and my dad continued the walking tour of the Jewish Cemetery. Without a home to rest in, the cold drives you inside. Places like cafes become a temporary shelter and while I don’t have any specific memory of what happened in that cafe, it’s the feeling of it being a home that I recall. My mom, my daughter and I, making ourselves comfortable, staring out of windows, talking lightly.

But this story concerns the train and the wine on the train.

The ride home was 5 hours long. It began in the early afternoon and continued until evening, maybe 3 to 8. The view–while there was enough light to have one–was immaculate snow on pine trees. An endless winter wonderland. The weather made us crave warmth and sustenance, constantly. My dad asked me to go with him to the dining car. We went alone, leaving the baby with Edgar and my mom. This was our bonding time. This was our celebration of my adulthood, which unfortunately seemed to coincide with a gastronomical low-point. The fact that trains have dining cars is sort of romantic and probably chic in the golden age of rail-travel but today the cart has the sweet and acidic smell of cheap beef stew. The menu is limited. They have beer and coffee. They have peanuts, candy bars, and industrial pre-packaged sandwiches. They have twist off bottles of red and white wine and unfestive mini bottles of champagne. The champagne is probably for bachelorette weekends. My dad orders the stew, sparkling water, and two mini bottles of wine. I forget what I got but I do remember him assuming I would drink the other wine.

He says: “So what’s new BB?” I’ve just had a baby, but that isn’t  news he can use, so I probably talked about work in that pantomime of adult conversation you often have with parents in order to make everyone feel safe. “How’s the wine, dad?” I ask, smirking. “It’s not bad. It’s not bad.” He doesn’t make eye contact when he eats, my dad. He is still very much a shtetl Jew in that way.

Or maybe I make him uncomfortable, with my life in a foreign country, and my German baby-daddy who looks like Dolph Lundgren. Maybe that’s why he isn’t looking at me. I persist, about the wine. I say, “No. it’s not good. It’s wine that lives on a train. It’s been under fluorescent lights for god knows how long. It’s cheap red swill that” –I examine the bottle more closely, holding it in my hands like a disdainful sommelier– “claims to be from France, but is probably from Moldova.”

I take the vessel the wine is being held in, plastic in the shape of a wine glass. I take a sip and stick out my tongue, like a rueful toddler. “This is undrinkable.” I declare, defying my dad to take another sip.

But he does, of course he does. He finishes his bottle and he finishes mine. Having thrown up a wall, vis a vis the wine declaration, I find it hard to be pleasant the rest of the time. I sit across from him and we make conversation, but I retain an edge of defiance. During this trip, my dad was the only drinker. Edgar is a recovering alcoholic, my mom can take it or leave it, and my best supporting actress role was on hold because I was a fresh, nursing mother. I could not accept his gratitude in the form of alcohol though he bought plenty.

At the local discount grocery store, he bought the most expensive bottles he could find. At restaurants, he ordered and drank most of two bottles (white for me, red for him) but there weren’t many occasions like that over the week. They stayed in our apartment, not a hotel. We ate the Turkish food our neighborhood is famous for. We went places where beer was the only option. My dad never drinks beer, only wine.

The wine in the train doesn’t seem like much, now that I search it for meaning. There’s a lot of ways to explain it, without it seeming like a red flag:

  • He wanted to celebrate with me and that’s the only thing they had so, what the hell!
  • He really didn’t know it would be terrible. It’s Europe, after all and Europeans are sophisticated. Ergo, even their train wine will be good.
  • He bought it so he drank it. Any other decision would be a waste of money.
  • He ordered it as a reflex, dinner goes with alcohol, and this was dinner. Is it really so weird to continue that tradition on a train? It might even be cute, what with the individual serving size, and scuffed white plates on blue trays. Sort of a, when in Prague, story to tell when he gets back.

But, my memory is tinged with desperation. That’s the only word for it. I was watching a man who needed to drink hot train wine. I don’t know how I knew that. I just knew.

Drinking daily

It’s harder to recall the days he didn’t drink. I can’t see them. I can only see his high stemmed goblet on the table every night. The cascading glugs of the first garnet liquid pour. First sip, always followed by a sound that suggested a deep thirst being quenched. I see endless parties with endless bottles being opened and opened and opened and poured and somehow finished by the end of the night, with no trace left by morning.

Cleaning up was important to my dad. Cleaning it all up so that the house was reset to its factory default state. That state was something the rest of us struggled to see but he would point it out to us, crouching to pick some food debris off the floor, releasing an audible kvetch as he bent down. He was strong but never flexible.

The towels in the bathroom reminded me of a sitcom with a rich and exhausting cast of characters. The bath towels hung in pairs, neatly spaced across a brass bar, their younger siblings, the hand towels no one was allowed to use, hung above them, neatly spaced so they hit the exact center. The hand towel we could use was hanging from a ring, and this one could be himself; slightly askew and off-kilter, a little bit wet in spots, a little bit stained and compromised. This towel took on sculptural significance in a world of obedient pastel rectangles.

What I’m saying is that there was a right way to do things and he could see when it needed to be done. Not just that, he was deeply annoyed that we were so unhelpful.

There were rituals that played out daily in a precise order. He came into the kitchen while we were in the den watching tv. We could see his car pull up from that room. We watched him walk past the stained glass window with the orange flowers, watched him as he reached the door, heard the same papery swish of his entrance, stack of mail in hand, the plop of his keys, the garbled “Hello” to us girls, his girls, draped across the forest green leather couches, none of us looking up or popping over to give a proper greeting.

The first prayer begins: Whose shoes are these? Are these your shoes? Hello? Somebody answer me.

But none of us answer. We never do. He always persists. He is staring at a pile of shoes on the step that separates the den from the kitchen. This room used to be the garage and was converted to a family room. The step is beige carpet. It is where we kick our shoes off before plopping onto the forest green couches with our snacks, one after the other, after the other, like synchronized swimmers performing a lazy ballet.

Whose shoes are these?

In 1996 these would have been white converse low-tops, J Crew platform flip flops that looked like thick coral tongues, soft buttery mountains of Uggs. They were our shoes. I mean, like duh. Why even ask?

I’m gonna throw these fucking shoes away if you don’t put them in your rooms in five seconds. I’m serious.

The prayer ends when he squeals God damnit or we squeal Ok, we’ll do it, and one of us, probably me, emerges from the forest green leather couch tsking and scowling, hunches down, scoops up the pile of shoes, stomps to the back of the house and dumps them at the foot of the stairs leading to our bedrooms.

The second prayer continues in a silent progression of my father’s movements. Thudding up stairs, whir of electric toothbrush barely audible above the tv, thudding back down stairs, hefting the gym bag onto the counter, grabbing his keys, a distracted bye, answered by a robotic chorus of bye in unison, slamming of the door.

The final prayer happens an hour later, when he’s back from the gym, sweaty with victory, sweaty with the accomplishment of discipline, a sweaty crown he doesn’t remove or shower off, but takes straight to the wine cabinet, where he selects a bottle, lovingly, and opens it and drinks. It ends when he makes the thirst quenching sound, finally at ease.

Having chronic blackouts (memory lapse due to excessive drinking)

So, 3 Jews head to German wine country. Papa Jew, Mama Jew and Baby Jew. Baby Jew is a decade past drinking age and living in Berlin. Mama and Papa Jew are not thrilled by this decision. Still everyone tries to enjoy the sloping hills around the Mosel river, ooh and ahh at the majestic castles, sample the region's famous smoked pork products. The 3 Jews stay in an honest to god castle, decorated in the 80s and not updated since then. The effect is like if Family Ties took place in a castle. A lot of plaid.

The Jews arrived day-drunk and were shown to the room the three of them would share for the night. Three little Jews in their stone turret, freshening up before dinner.


The bathroom was open to the bedroom. Except for the toilet, that was private. But the bathroom sink and massive stone shower were open in a sexy cosplay way. I guess there was a lot of fair maiden/ powerful prince shit going on there. Lucky for the 3 Jews, we had never been a modest household. Everyone in my family has seen everyone else in my family shit, multiple times. My sister used to prefer having company. She asked for entertainment and I obliged. Shower curtains please. The show is about to begin. I told a few jokes, sang a little Les Mis–an impromptu showcase. So I wasn’t fazed by my parents' nudity, had spent a lifetime not looking directly at my father’s dick, while admiring, in a proprietary way, the strength of his back and shoulders. He was objectively the best looking dad in Van Nuys. I cherish this memory. My mom and dad, naked side by side at the bathroom sink, while I shower beside them. The three of us chatting the whole time, about plans for tomorrow, shampoo quality, outfits.

At the castle, dinner is served at 7. It was one of those places, very formal without actually being fancy. We sat and ate in a room full of old Germans. It was uncomfortable. My poor mom, the child of survivors, trying not to show fear or disgust, for my sake, because I would have jumped down her throat if she’d said anything. I would have pounced and defended Germans just to hold the enlightened position. Now I can admit my own ambivalence about living in a country that is famous for schnitzel and Nazis. But then then I was all spit and shoe polish.

We all got drunk so I don’t remember the meal, except that I found it disappointing. My mom and I could not drink to keep up with my dad so he soldiered on without us. I think we ended with Eiswein, exquisitely sweet and flavorful, because the sugar in the late harvested grapes are halfway to being raisins by the time they’re picked.


The three pickled Jews go back to their room and flop onto their beds. Sometime in the middle of the night, Baby Jew is awoken by the sound of Papa and Mama Jew in the shower. Papa Jew is sick. He’s saying, oy…oy…oy…oy…oy…and Mama Jew is trying to help him get it all out and then rinse him down. Baby Jew has never witnessed Papa so drunk before. She pretends to be asleep, knows this is not her domain. But still she’s frightened. In the morning, she comes down to breakfast and sees Mama and Papa eating fruit and bacon. Papa Jew looks better. She asks him to be sure: are you feeling better, Papa? Last night sounded rough. He answers: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I feel fine. Pass the bacon.

Feeling guilt and shame about their drunken behaviors

My parents were forced to visit Germany because I live there. They always hated Berlin and, due to some combination of shit-luck and Murphy’s Law, I always took them places where the service was exquisitely terrible, the ground was covered in rats or dog shit, and the goods for purchase were not to their liking. KaDeWe was an exception.

The best floor of KaDeWe is the food floor. It’s very labyrinth, very mirrored and vast.  As you walk, there are lots of little alleyways presenting different stations for food making or food purveying. The amount of stuff and people and smells is dizzying, a pandemic petri dish.

The stand my dad liked was the oyster stand and I liked it too. It’s a little oasis of white tile, bright light, and minimal furnishings in a chaotic sea of style and taste. I love oysters. No one had to convince me of their worth. I got it immediately. It’s like feasting on briny aliens. I love the sauces too. The horseradish or the shallot & lemon one. We would go to KaDeWe to eat oysters and drink champagne.

The place was mad and bustling and we felt like royalty up there, yelling our conversation to each other, getting drunk enough that I banged my tooth on the rim of the champagne glass, but the champagne and oysters kept coming. There was a balls to the wall decadence to the experience. Sip and slurp, sip and slurp. Laugh till you almost piss yourself. When we were good and sauced, we would wander around the 6 level luxury department store, high enough to spend ALOT of money.

My dad bought a Nespresso machine there one time. I was already carrying about 10 shopping bags filled with coffee tea challah bed linens limited edition adidas jo malone perfume and foundation.

We stumbled, literally, onto the housewares section where my dad saw a Ferrari-red Nespresso machine.

Convinced they were giving it away for that price, he tried his charm out on a female store clerk with no English skills. At KaDeWe, they didn’t waste English speaking employees in the housewares section, but my dad persisted and implored me to use my pidgin German to woo her, a real Cyrano de Bergerac schtick for the two of us to play out. But I struck out. I couldn’t understand her and she couldn’t understand me.

My dad sought my assurance that he was making the right decision, but it was more like his job was to convince both of us that he was.

He’s a really good salesman. He once sold insurance to a devout christian who, upon his showing up for the appointment, informed him that Jesus had spoken to her and told her not to go through with it. My dad said, “well that’s crazy because I also spoke to the lord and he told me to make sure you did go through with it.” She fucking bought the insurance! Finger guns, finger guns, finger guns. Pwoot, pwoot, pwoot.

So yeah, he convinced himself to buy the nespresso maker.

It was red. It required its own suitcase to get back to the US of A and once he got it there, it needed an adapter the same size as the fucking coffee machine. Every time I saw the full apparatus on the counter, two machines side by side (about the size of a respectable fish aquarium) with the sole purpose of making a cup of coffee, I felt Iike I had made the mistake too.

Engaging in risky sexual behavior when intoxicated

Jesus christ. I fucking hope not. Gross.

Driving drunk

He would make it seem like he was doing you a favor.

Of course, he was the one that ordered the 3rd or 4th or 5th bottle that no one wanted. But now it was on the table and someone had to finish it. Dead soldiers. That’s what you call the bottle when it’s empty. A battle metaphor. The battle was to appear sober enough to drive home. I can hear his defensive falsetto, I’m fine….I’m fine….I’m fine…. Sometimes he would joke that it’s safer with him drunk than with mommy sober. badum ching! It never occurred to me then that he was very drunk most nights we went out to eat.

Drunk driver driving drunk with his wife and kids.

Surrounding themselves socially with heavy drinkers

The Van Nuys gym crew was legendary.

Meltzer: World class mullett, homuncular strength, spent life in gaping BUM tank tops and loose mesh shorts

Leather Joe: So named because he was tan-as-fuck. Joe was a bouncer that definitely knew his way around a steroid and once ran over his girlfriend Tracy with his car on purpose.

Danny: Who no one liked

Robbie: Who was closeted and wore a singlet when he worked out. Sold candles.

Doc: A.K.A The Dentist. He had a satin bomber jacket and the other guys would sing doc in white satinnnnn to tease him.

Seth: With the hot racist South African wife who made hideous jewelry

This crew ruled the Valley from the Spearmint Rhino to the Sagebrush Cantina. We used to roll 15-16 deep into the Out Take Cafe. Friday night special; dinner and a movie.

I was 15 and had a boyfriend, Julian, a sweet boy with no bone to pick. We would go out with the crew too because–what could we plan that would be better? This way we got free dinner (Julian was partial to the duck), a few glasses of wine, and a free movie. There was no awkward attention paid to us. We were just another couple out on the town. The fact that they were my parents and their friends seemed incidental.

That was friday. Sunday they all came back.

Early mornings, sitting around our kitchen table while my mom made fruit salad, french toast, pancakes. Seven dwarves in worn down gym clothes, except for Robbie, who looked like an Alvin Ailey dancer. We were not intimidated by the sudden burst of testosterone in our 4 on 1 estrogen zone. I’d stare down Leather Joe. I stared at him silently, still in my pajamas, sleep crusted eyes, until he said “Sorry dear.” and gave me my seat back. My rightful place as eldest daughter in the house they all worshiped.

Back then, my dad was really enjoying a moment of raucous masculine camaraderie. There were Hells Angels, Russian Gangsters, C-list celebs, ex-military. A motley assortment that wandered in and out of our backyard during legendary barbecues.

Daddy had these ridiculous charms that guests were supposed to put on their wine glasses so they could identify their glass after it was set down. No one ever remembered though. They were all too drunk.

Sometimes daddy would get so drunk, he let himself get emotional in a russian patriarch sort of way. He’d call me over and ask me to sing for everyone. BB, sing something. I’ll give you 20 dollars. A court-like atmosphere requires entertainment.

A young maiden, recently deflowered but still blushing in her youth, sings Rhiannon to the crowd of rabble rousers—plates piled high with t-bones, sausage casings, hunks of discarded chicken, slippery brown with barbecue sauce–While daddy looks on, proudly territorial.

At the end they’d raise their glasses and those little wine charms would clink and tingle in approval.

An increasing sense of denial that their heavy drinking is a problem because they can succeed professionally and personally

For starters, daddy drank EXPENSIVE RED WINE. He was not slurping Mad Dog or crushing cans of beer on his forehead while he watched Nascar. It was a respectable man’s poison. Very popular in LA at the time. Very normalized to have wine with dinner, like the Europeans.

We went to wineries all the time. Drove up to Napa, with the rolling hills and fields of lavender. Rows upon rows of grapes, pruned to bonsai precision by Mexicans. At the end of each row, there was always a rose bush for some reason. Not a Terroir reason, something else I can’t remember. In these settings, the alcohol is given at the end of the tour. A tasting where you swish swish sip spit across 8 or so bottles.

Daddy’s palette, for all his drinking, never made it past adolescence. He knew it and he was impressed by anyone who could decipher the code of smells and flavors behind the wine.

We’re more inclined to refer to a man who drinks copious amounts of wine as a bon vivant than a drunk. The fact that he could afford it, stock it, pour it for guests, speak intelligently about the premium selection at Costco–all of that artifice put his drinking high up on a shelf, beyond reproach.

But when his professional life was unstable, when he was going through bankruptcy after a failed venture, he found a way to keep the wine flowing, and it was not above board. Someone at the gym knew some mafia guys that used to knock bottles off Ralph’s Grocery trucks. Daddy, with his vast network of fancy wine addicts, was the perfect middleman for the distribution. He would look at a list of what was on the truck, tell the gangsters what to lose, and then talk it up to his friends, selling the danger and intrigue–of course–but mostly selling the once in a lifetime reduced price. Get it while it’s hot boys. Get it while the getting is good. Tignanello, Super Tuscan, Yes I mean Champagne, not sparkling wine. Like I said, he was an excellent salesman.

Not being able to imagine their life without alcohol

This one seems unfair. I can’t imagine my life without alcohol?

I mean, I can actually imagine it, but it looks pretty fucking brutal to me. A life of missing out on something I love, in so many forms. The spiked smoke of whiskey, the deep pleasant burn. Those fat red wines from Provence that taste a little like blood and raspberries. The herbal froth of IPAs.

I used to be a wine critic. I think I did it for my dad. I think I was always looking for a way to make the things he loved most, my whole life. I wanted to show him that I was clever enough to make that work.

With the masters in Gastronomy (the insipid privilege inherent in that degree, yeesh!), he would summon me for our nightly performance. He poured, and the day slowed down, distilled to the bottle and the glasses and the liquid within both. We both sipped, and he’d ask me, “So, what do you think BB?” And I’d guess the varietal, which was easy because he only drank Cabs, Pinots, and occasionally Malbec or Syrah, but it was always a heavy red.

So I’d say: It’s vegetal and a little hint of chocolate mint. This is a big boy, lots of sun, lots of alcohol. Not a Pinot. I think it’s a Cab from Santa Barbara.

And he’d say: On the money honey, in an exaggerated radio DJ voice.

L'chaim. Drink.

Who can imagine their life without alcohol? Who, except someone who has been forced to? And even if you’re forced to, it’s not like that’s a smooth transition. Why the fuck do you think there’s AA? It’s insanely hard. It requires constant support. Relapse is the rule, not the exception. It would have to be a disease before I’d quit and I won’t go down without a fight.

As for daddy, he stopped drinking when he stopped eating. When he flipped to the morphine drip and made peace with the life draining out of him. I wonder about his last bottle and whether he knew it was the last. He had nothing saved for such an occasion, I’m sure of that. He drank it as soon as it came into his possession. But maybe he was clear that things were going downhill fast and he bought all his old favorites, clasped them to his chest with the joy of a man rediscovering his most enduring love.

  • Drinking problem: Having a “drinking problem” is different from having an alcohol addiction due to one main delineating factor, the ability to take a step back and quit. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), excessive drinking is categorized by heavy drinking, binge drinking, underage consumption, and women who drink during pregnancy. By gender, heavy drinking for men is defined as more than five drinks in one sitting and more than 15 drinks per week. For women, it is four drinks in one sitting and more than eight drinks in one week. These individuals may be classified as “almost alcoholic.” They are still able to take a step back and assess their situation and make proper adjustments.

There you have it. Daddy was almost an alcoholic.