What a Long, Strange, Sober Trip It’s Been

There’s something that’s both desperate and hopeful about walking to an AA meeting. And then it gets weird and wonderful.

tray-sushiThe place had an interesting name – Teriyaki Boy – and as much as I resisted it, the sign itself began to pull at me. For all I knew this was a nationwide franchise, but the only place I’ve ever seen it was on 10th Street near Second Avenue in New York City.

It could have been a franchise because of the great goofy logo: a wide-eyed cartoon boy dressed up like a sushi chef. In design and attitude he seemed like a wayward Asian brother to Bob’s Big Boy. Maybe that’s what the artist had in mind. I didn’t think about it until I began to think about it all the time.

The year I’m remembering, I got stomped. It doesn’t matter that I myself was the primary stomper because I didn’t know that at the time. The mission of my life, which had once seemed so brave, so wonderful, was failing. I was a half-decade out of grad school with no book to show for myself, unmarried, and lonely in the peculiar way of a man who had many friends. My friends, good people all of them, weren’t of any use. With them, I just marked time. My real life was taking long baths and going to the movies. I slept less and more fitfully than before or since. I watched reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation as though my life depended on them.

I walked the same direction a few times every day for lots of reasons, but the walks toward AA meetings were always the most poignant. There’s something that’s both desperate and hopeful about walking to an AA meeting. I went to meetings in Tribeca.

Which means that I was walking toward the World Trade Center. Does anyone remember how truly ugly those buildings were? To me, they never stopped looking like a billion dollar bad idea.

The proximate cause of my despair was the death of a good friend. Actually, he was my sponsor, which is to say that he was both more and less than a friend. He’d shot a big wacky dose of heroin somewhere in California, and I’d flown back to attend his funeral, and it just fucking wrecked me.

In order to fully understand – and I’m not saying you should – you have to understand how much I loved AA. My life started when I went to my first meeting. People say that kind of thing all the time, but for me it was sharp and true and very simple. It was the first time that I felt like I really had a family. It was the first true discipline that my life had ever known. And then, at eight years sober, for about three months, that feeling of home was gone. Like the vacuum of space. Like death.

Around that time, Teriyaki Boy became a daily, vexing presence. When I walked down Second Avenue, I would turn my head west toward that sign – more like Bob’s Big Boy filtered through bad Japanese animation – and I would say, “Go ahead and laugh, Teriyaki Boy.” I don’t know where this came from, but it always cracked me up. I can say, with great certainty, that it was the only time I laughed all day.

I just said that I didn’t know where this refrain came from, but I think I do. During college, I hung out with a guy named Tim who said the most amazing things when he was drunk.  I don’t guess that he’s an alcoholic, but that’s only because I, egocentrically, equate alcoholism with complete stasis in my life: when I was drinking, I could barely get out of the house. Tim, I’ve been told, became a millionaire computer engineer. He married a doctor. I can’t even imagine.  Read more “the fix”…

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