Job In Its New Times Sq. Clubhouse
Alcoholics Anonymous has come to Broadway. The organization that has helped life 12,000 drunks onto the waterwagon, many of them straight from the gutter, is now established in a new clubhouse on West 41st street, a few minutes from Times Sq.
It’s the old Knox Memorial, Collegiate Chapel, Reformed Church of America. Inside, church pews are lined up, and the Christ looks out over the audience benevolently from a stained glass window. But here the church similarity ends. Men and women sit around, waiting for the services to open, smoking. You look around and see the faces of people you know – some of them famous people, some of whom have been on Broadway, in the amusement world in general, for years.
The reporter’s training urges taking notes, but you discard that notion, knowing that you must respect their anonymity. Here is a great actress. If you as much as hinted at the play in which she had been famous, almost everyone would know her as well as if you printed the name in boldface caps. A man behind you speaks in a voice you’d heard before. Sure enough, he is the famous – rather, once famous – radio personality. And that man who just walked in, the one in the Navy officer’s uniform – you find out later that he is a lieutenant commander, just back from two years in the Pacific – he is an old friend, an old newspaper colleague: you had stood at the bar together many times in the “old days.”
But here, they are all fellow members of AA. Among themselves, they sometimes drop their anonymity, as your newspaper friend did when he got up to address the audience a little later. You know the history of his drinking very well and wonder how much of it he’ll tell. But he tells it all. And you say to yourself: if they’re all as honest as he, they’re honest indeed.
No Pulling Punches
Honesty is the quality that stands out among these people. For honesty is the approach to their method for curing themselves. They have a 12-step program. Boiled down, their program calls upon drunks to admit to themselves first of all that they are drunks, who can’t handle their liquor. Then they are advised to analyze their personalities and find out what made them that way; adjust their personal relations to normal life; depend upon some power outside of themselves to help them stay sober; work with other alcoholics, to help cure the latter and to help stabilize themselves.
This matter of depending on some outside power – that gets some of them down; that sounds like religious evangelism. But it isn’t anything of that kind. These are not religious fanatics or zealots. These are sensible men and women of the world for the greater part, some of whom had been much too blasé. They know the score. They’re hep. They don’t try to tell you what God to worship, or how – they don’t really care whether you worship any.
Proving the latter point is a guy from Bridgeport who gets up to tell his story. “I never knew anything about this God business,” he says, “and I don’t now.” And in his own, quite ungrammatical way, he tells how he finally caught on to the waterwagon and how he’s fought to stay on it.
There isn’t anybody around the joint sprouting wings. The “testimonials” that are given are intended only to add point to the AA program, to show that it really works. And there is no doubt that it does.
Social workers speak highly of the AA movement. The section on neurology and psychiatry of the New York State Medical Society has run articles in its official journal about the work of AA. Prominent psychiatrists have given it their endorsement. And of course religious leaders have blessed it. All have agreed that AA is the McCoy.
There are more than 300 branches all over the country, about 30 in the N.Y. metropolitan area alone, and a h.q. in Hollywood too. At the 41st street clubhouse there are billiard rooms and card rooms, a library and a writing room where members can relax, good fellowship and all the appurtenances of any good club – except a bar. For one thing is insisted upon by AA – don’t come to the club drunk or with liquor on your breath. AA knows that some of the members slip some times; these are helped to get back to dryness again. But they can’t come to the club until they had actually stopped drinking – no matter how recently. The steward of the new clubhouse, elected to office only last Sunday, is an engineer, a man well known in his profession, who had recently slipped back into drunkenness. But he has decided to give the AA program another trial; and the organization, in turn, accepted him for his deserved trial again.
The evening spent with the AA was exhilarating. You wonder: would these people care to have you talk about their work. You decide to ask the secretary. A woman nearby, an actress hears the inquiry. The secretary lets her answer:
“Yes, for God’s sake, do talk about our work. Show people will read it in ‘Variety.’ They’ll know were neither crackpots nor zealots – but just people, including people from show business, who have licked a hell of an important personal problem, and want to help others.”
That’s strange talk for a church. But then this isn’t really a church, not in the ordinary sense. For 12,000 former drunks, who won’t even shy at that word anymore, this has been something higher than a church.
(Source: Variety, March 28, 1945)