Tuesday Night

The temperature had been dropping about ten degrees an hour and the wind had begun to pick up as I stepped onto the back porch.  The Maglight helped negotiate the icy path to the barn and the Jeep started right up.  It’s a short drive to the Tuesday evening meeting but four-wheel drive doesn’t seem like a luxury in Dublin, NH in early February.  I’m lucky to have a car, house, job, etc., I know that.  What people did, how they survived, up here in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century I have no idea.  I know part of it was denominational beliefs, self-reliance and freedom, but really…
The parking lot for the library and town hall is behind the town hall and twenty feet below the level of route 101.  There were about ten vehicles.  The lighted entry way silhouetted a couple smokers just finishing up. Steve was coming out of the men’s and he said “Hey.”  There were about twenty people at the meeting I knew all but an elderly couple I ended up sitting right behind.  It’s a very capacious room and there is an exposed stone foundation wall that is particularly attractive.  I bought seven raffle tickets for a buck from Dennis, folded them and put them in my pocket, and sat down.  Billy said. “Hey Doc, what’s up?” Dave the bookie was talking from his seat in the front, right, aisle seat, across the aisle, to John W. about an upcoming commitment.  I agreed to go.
I wondered whether the incoming commitment would show up on a night like this, but most groups know what they’re getting involved in when they sign up to come to this meeting in winter. Anyway that’s why they call it a commitment.  So two old guys, turns out to be Larry and Vic, come through the door from the Pepperell MA Friday Night Group.  Larry, I vaguely recognized him from the past, w a cane, and Vic gimping along with him.  Both had the air of that guy sitting at the counter in Hopper’s “Nighthawks” without the fedora.  Russ, the group secretary, opened the meeting w a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer and asked for announcements and Dave commented on recent commitments, thanking the people who took them, and upcoming ones that need people to step up and fill.  As I said John and me, and as it turns out Larry and maybe Brian, are going back to Pepperell in a week or so.  The GSR said the annual breakfast was under discussion and the area assembly was going to be held somewhere North of here, I didn’t catch it. Russ said any other announcements and Dave said, “Don’t drink!” and everyone responded, “No matter what.”  It’s a group tradition.  Then Russ introduced Vic who was going to chair.  Vic said he was glad to be there, commented on the fact that Larry had ask for rides at a meeting because his vision was going and Vic had stepped up and he was driving him around and that’s the way it goes in A.A.  You have to give it away to keep it.  You have to help other alcoholics to stay sober yourself.  Vic was a small man, balding, keys on his belt a non-descript shirt and pants, skin tanned from the inside by smoking.  He looked off and up to the left when he spoke and sounded like a guy w COPD.  He introduced Larry.
Larry was a well nourished 70 something, with a round head and what we used to call a “whiffle” haircut, short and the same length all over.  He wore the same non-descript flannel shirt and pants, Vic and Larry style together, and had a vest of exceptional plain, utilitarian gray material.  He had trouble getting out of his seat and getting to the podium but once there you could tell he’d done this often, he had a story, he was going to tell it, and he wasn’t looking for laughs, or to impress you, it was just his story.  He had been a teacher, “driver’s ed. mostly, and he said all the cops from the surrounding communities had been his students and gave him a pass on the impaired driving thing but that was long before MADD and people taking the thing w the seriousness that they do now.  But eventually he got stopped for driving on the wrong side of the road and blew a .33 and then it was in and out of court and of course considerable professional embarrassment.  He started going to A.A. and it gradually “got him” through some men who really helped him, and he mentioned the names and many of us knew the names.  We could nod that “Yes, guys like that, old timers, they could help you, would go out of their way if they thought you were serious.”  If they didn’t think you were serious they would drop you like a hot stone until they saw some seriousness of purpose.  They, we, had all been there and that’s the way it works.  Larry talked about a lot of meetings, working the steps, helping other, like he was now getting help from Vic.  He said he had just had his 35th year anniversary.  Thirty-five years without a drink.  He said “Thanks for having us at your meeting.” and sat down.
Vic got up to finish up, and there was a lot of time left.  Vic had started drinking very early in his life, worked all day, cement work, and drank every night as much as he could.  He named the joints to knowing nods from people who knew the greater Fitchburgh-Leominister area.  He jumped around, the story wasn’t linear and he lost his way from time to time and had to be gently reminded where he was or what he had just said.  Things had happened to him, even before he stopped drinking, had had a marked significance for him, uncanny coincidences, strange experiences.  He had taken a motorcycle out drunk and crashed it, he wanted us to know exactly where that had happened, what town, what road, and had to have his leg amputated and lost the function of his left hand.  He should us how the hand didn’t work right, closed and opened it, wiggled the fingers, he said he couldn’t do much with it.  A good Samaritan nurse had passed by and had made a tourniquet out of her belt.  The odd thing was this nurse NEVER wore a belt in her life before this day.  And there was a scar on his upper arm that had gradually turned into his first initial, upside down though.  He showed us that too, although you really couldn’t see much at the distance.  He had fought w the physician throughout his car as an alcoholic will.  He became teary, forgot where he was, looking up and left at something.  Said he was in an apartment not drinking and there was some kind of sound that had some special significance and then an alarm clock that HE NEVER USED went off in the next room w the hands both at Noon, 12 and 12, get it? Even before he went to A.A. he was being pointed in that direction if only he had understood.  Now he was in A.A. and had been sober a long time and knew that God was watching out for him and had always really been watching out for him but he was too dumb and too drunk to notice.  There was a head of lettuce that had been in his refrigerator for FIFTEEN YEARS and it had never rotted, or gotten moldy, or had fungus, it just sort of slowly dehydrated.  He had told John Sweeney from Manchester about the head of lettuce.  John Sweeney was a very active and compassionate A.A. member, a dentist who never refused to help a recovering person w dental problems, forget the money.  Vic said John was amazed.  It wasn’t clear what the significance of the lettuce was, but it was important to Vic.
I thought as Vic spoke that if there was a newcomer in the room they would run out of that meeting as fast as the could.  In the first place they weren’t as old as Larry and few nowadays just drank alcohol, but Vic was way out there on the edge.  But both of these guys were sober and had been sober for a long time and attributed their sobriety to A.A. After the collection and the raffle, no one admitted to having the winning ticket, or perhaps they had run out of the room screaming and I just didn’t hear them, we joined hands and said the Lord’s prayer and the woman of the couple I mentioned sitting behind, looked at the extended hand of the guy beside her for a couple of seconds before she took it…I think she was just there for the husband.
I stepped out of the library into a fog of spindrift from the roadway above.  Russ was a phantom smoking in the freezing snow cloud. “Night,” I said, with the universal couplet “don’t drink.”  He said “Thanks.”  That’s the correct reply. And I crunched off to my Jeep and my home.   
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