IT is more than incidental to this story
that as a practicing alcoholic I cared little for motion
pictures. Part of the reason, I believe, was rooted
in a peculiar, somewhat appalling mental apparatus that
enabled me to stage productions of my own.
With the first drink, a projector would
start grinding out an extravaganza in which I performed
amazing feats of valor and reached heights of achievement
that were unprecedented in human affairs. These productions
were in Technicolor and Cinemascope, and while Hollywood
was still groping for the key to stereophonic sound,
I had already utilized that discovery via the uncorked
To the bartender and the other patrons
of the fifth-rate bar, I was a maudlin and malodorous
drunk sitting in the last booth, and would have to be
kicked out after my next drink.
Unbeknownst to them, at that moment
I was Henri Dubois, the brilliant and resourceful secret
operative of the French Sureté, and was racing
across the European continent in a luxurious passenger
train to keep a daring tryst with a desperate band of
enemy agents, whom I would capture after a brief gun
battle in a darkened street in Cologne or Copenhagen.
Henri Dubois was an earthy sort of fellow who quickly
returned to Paris after each triumph to be congratulated
by his superiors and, most important, to spend a few
days touring the famed drinking establishments of that
city with Suzette, the beautiful and provocative lady
agent who accompanied him on all but the most dangerous
of his missions.
But there came a day when crime must
have been rampant and completely unchecked in France,
for the master sleuth of the Sureté was spending
all of his time in the Paris bistros with Suzette.
When I tired of cloak-and-dagger thrillers
and Paris, my built-in camera would focus on a Western
scene. Tuned in on this frequency, I emerged as Lash
Lonehand, the fighting and courageous lawman of tempestuous
Abliene. I tilted my glass, the scene focussed clearly,
and abruptly I stood in the center of the rutted main
street of that small frontier town, while a hundred
yards away, at the end of the street, the most dangerous
killer in the southwest swaggered through the doors
of the Sudden Death Saloon and moved towards me in a
deadly half crouch.
All along the street people dived for
shelter, and then watched in fascinated silence as the
gap between us slowly closed. The tension quickened,
and momentarily held the whole town paralyzed.
Suddenly the killer's hand blurred in
my vision as he made a lightning draw for his pistol.
It was to no avail, for Lash's sixgun cleared his holster
with all the blinding speed of a striking cobra, and
as the staccato burst of gunfire died away and reverberated
along the housetops, the badman swayed soddenly and
toppled face-forward into the street.
As Lash Lonehand, I always won, and
later there were awed congratulations from the admiring
well-wishers and backslappers in the saloons, while
Flo, the dance-hall girl, sat on my lap and poured the
drinks. Soon Abilene must have descended into an inferno
of corruption, for the fearless lawman of the plains
was spending all his time in the saloons with Flo.
But sometimes the dream was of a more
altruistic nature. Another Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, I
boarded a small South American packet vessel bound for
the Latin Republic of Bolitivia, where the population
was being decimated by an epidemic of Cactus Cholera,
a mysterious, baffling plague which was thought to have
been brought into the country by the Lower Slobbovian
With the aid of my beauteous South American
assistant, Juanita, I erected a crude laboratory in
the jungle swamps, and, though almost losing my life
in the process, eventually hit upon the serum that halted
the epidemic. The grateful inhabitants of the country
all but overwhelmed me with lavish praise. I was bibulously
modest, however, and preferred to spend my time in the
quiet coolness of the bar of the International Bolitivia
Hotel, drinking tequila and Brazilian beer with Juanita.
But soon the aura of altruism fled from the dream, and
I seemed to be spending all my time in the hotel bar.
Late in the afternoon or evening my
reveries were inevitably interrupted by the bartender.
He was not aware, of course, of my other identities
as Henri Dubois, Lash Lonehand, or the conqueror of
Cactus Cholera, and seemed intent only on removing me
from the premises. The reels of the projector then stopped
turning as I wobbled waveringly out the door and down
the street, and to all who saw me I was what I really
was: the maudlin and malodorous drunk who had to be
kicked out of a fifth-rate bar.
of this occurred probably hundreds of times, but there
came a dawn from the awful darkness of this miserable
phantasy: the dawn of AA. It has now been over five
years since alcohol's anesthesia has admitted me to
the dubious glories of being a cloak-and-dagger agent
or a frontier gun-fighter. These vicarious thrills I
now purchase along with a bag of popcorn from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
and have even become a homespun authority on matters
cinematic, and can describe in detail everything from
the implements of warfare used in Ivanhoe to the type
of plumbing in the Sioux Indian tepees in Chief
Crazy Horse and White Feather.
When that type of film production was
the vogue, I was the only guy in town with contact lenses
made for 3-D. And the best of it is that the only hangover
I've experienced so far from daydreaming by way of the
film exploits of Alan Ladd or Gary Cooper seems to be
a mild constriction of the eyeballs and heartburn from
too much popcorn.
For a long time it was embarrassing
to remember the absurdity of these infantile dreams
of fame and power, but I gradually learned that this
sort of thing is, in a general way, quite common in
alcoholism. And perhaps it has helped to make me somewhat
more tolerant of the still-practicing alcoholics I meet.
. .after all, I can easily reason, as I happen to observe
an alcoholic being forcibly ushered from the dingy depths
of a fifth-rate bar. . .after all, it just might be
that he too is Henri Dubois or the conqueror of Cactus
Cholera. And I humbly acknowledge that but for God and
AA there go I too, as he wobbles waveringly down the
street, leaving his dreams behind in the smoky mist
of the bar.