| print this
For An AA Meeting
warm and friendly customs have spread from the Golden State.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., September 1961
their attitude towards meetings, Southern California AAs
tend to display a certain foot-loose, fancy-free disposition
characteristic of this part of the country. Here an AA member
may "belong" to a dozen AA groups (in the sense
of being on the membership rolls), or to none. He may officially
belong to a group he seldom attends, and attend groups he
doesnt belong to. Shopping around is common. Certain
speakers are drawing cards. When word gets around that one
of these is going to speak, the usual attendance of a score
may jump to a hundred or more.
this is hard on secretaries. A secretary seldom knows who
really is a member of the group. In a year, half the membership
of a group is likely to have moved away or started frequenting
other meetings, without telling the secretary. And the busiest
bee in the group may turn out not to be a member at all,
or at least not enrolled.
one might expect, group membership fluctuates in volume
greatly, sometimes violently. Alcoholics here (like all
Southern Californians) are freeway-trained rovers. Hence,
groups draw their membership from far and wide. Whether
they want to or not, groups inevitably contend to a certain
extent for the same people. Supermarkets here have the same
open or closed, discussion or "speaker" meeting,
every group in Southern California observes two inviolable
custom is that of opening the meeting with the reading of
the first few pages of "Alcoholics Anonymous."
It dates back to the first AA meeting held in Los Angeles
on December 19, 1939, and it began by chance. A Denver alcoholic
had gone to the Mayo Clinic to learn that his alcoholism
was hopeless; but a doctor at the clinic gave him a copy
of the book, which had just been published, telling him
it might contain some useful ideas. The book stayed in the
alcoholics luggage on a drinking jaunt to Mexico which
ended in a Palm Springs hotel. Here, searching in his luggage
for a non-existent bottle one night, he found the book and
desperately began reading it to pass time until dawn would
break and the liquor stores would open.
He never did buy any more booze. Instead, realizing that
in order to keep his tender new sobriety he had to give
it away, he went to Los Angeles, assembled an assortment
of lushes and started a meeting. He had never attended one,
but he had the book. He began by reading Chapter Five, and
since then every Southern California meeting all
descendents of that first one has opened the same
the very start, the typical Southern California meeting
has a certain distinctive flavor which might be called the
the chairman opens the meeting with "Im So-and-so,
and Im an alcoholic," he is greeted with a "Hi,
is chosen to read the excerpt from Chapter Five is also
greeted with the "Hi!" when he (or she) gives
his name, applause as he walks to the podium and applause
when he concludes.
Chapter Five reader is likely to be fairly new to the program
but no matter hoe timid he is at first, the applause and
the "Hi!" will start him on his way to becoming
an AA ham.
typical Los Angeles meeting lasts an hour and a half. Most
start at 8:30 in the evening and end at 10 oclock.
There are usually two speakers, a man and a woman, but there
may be several, or there may be only one if a special speaker
from the "circuit" is booked.
is usually a five or ten minute coffee break in the middle
of the meeting, following the first speaker. The second
part usually begins with the reading of the Twelve Traditions
another opportunity to break in timid newcomers with
applause and "His!" If they get hung up
on the pronunciation of "autonomous" or "anonymity,"
as they often do, the applause afterwards is extra loud.
The impression, especially in the larger meetings, is one
of infectious joviality.
Southern California custom is that of celebrating anniversaries
with birthday cakes. At the end of the meeting, just before
the Lords Prayer, the chairman may say, "We have
a custom in AA of calling newcomers babies.
We do this because we believe alcoholics finding AA sobriety
for the first time have been in a certain sense reborn.
And as babies grow older, they have birthdays. Tonight we
are celebrating such a birthday. For 365 consecutive days
of total sobriety Jerry W.!"
this point, to the usual applause, Jerry, dressed in his
best because he knew full well what was about to happen,
makes his way to the podium while someone, such as his wife
or sponsor, emerges from the back room with a cake bearing
a lighted candle.
raggedly sung strains of "Happy Birthday, Dear Jerry"
real out somewhat discordantly (or once in a while with
grade AA barbershop harmony), and the beaming Jerry accepts
the cake. The singing concludes with a mournfully drawn
out "Keep coming ba-a-ack!" and Jerry blows out
the candle, a feat which evokes tremendous applause. Jerry
expresses his thanks in a few words, or sometimes enough
to give everybody the fidgets, and returns to his seat amid
newcomers expressed attitude toward this may be one
of supercilious condescension, and he may refer to it as
rampant, blatant, sloppy sentimentalism but he will
be impressed nonetheless, and is likely to nourish a secret
inner feeling of envious hope.
may be two or more birthdays celebrated at a meeting. Some
groups have an annual birthday night for old-timers who
are given cakes with as many as fifteen or twenty candles.
The sight of ten or twelve old-timers receiving cakes that
resemble ambulatory forest fires impresses even the most
groups give cakes decorated with the recipients name,
and he is allowed to take his cake home. In some groups,
the cake is sliced and served after the meeting. Emergencies
have been known to occur in which the same cake had to be
used more than once in the same meeting hastily taken
back, recandled and relit, and so on. After all, we are
not saints. We claim only spiritual progress.
thundered "His!" as each speaker gives his
name, the applause for everything, the universal scurrying
like wheeled rabbits to everywhere from everywhere; together,
they give an impression of cordiality, joviality and open-handedness
that is rather startling but usually pleasing to people
who encounter it for the first time.
course, some think it forced, even phony glad-handing greeterism.
A few are genuinely shocked by the fact that most speakers
and leaders give their last name as well as their first
names. It seems anything but anonymous. And this light-heartedness
(some might say light-headedness) is not found in all groups.
It is most noticeable in the larger ones and maybe
that is why they are large.
for the secretaries, the steering committees, the sober-sides
for all those who like things tidy, orderly and predictable
its a hard AA life here in Southern California.
Los Angeles, Calif.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., September 1961
practicing our Traditions, The AA Grapevine, Inc. has neither
endorsed nor are they affiliated with Silkworth.net.
The Grapevine®, and AA Grapevine® are registered
trademarks of The AA Grapevine, Inc.
| Grapevine index