“That’s what the man said as he hocked his shoes for the price of two bottles of Sneaky Pete. He drank bayzo, canned heat, and shoe polish. He did a phony routine in A.A. for a while. And then he got hold of the real thing.”
Bill got sober in 1945.
He thought that in his business, the furniture business, you had to drink. You had to drink to celebrate a sale, to drown your sorrows if there isn’t a sale.
First he drank only to celebrate or if he was depressed. Then he began drinking all the time. He needed no excuse. This was during Prohibition so he carried a flask.
Little by little he developed a persecution complex: his business associates said he drank too much, his wife expected him to bring home money on payday; the golf club asked him to resign for not paying his tabs.
He tried a geographic cure. He sold his business, went to Seattle, by way of San Diego, and went into business there and in twenty months was bankrupt. It took him nine months to get back to New Jersey.
Things went from bad to worse and one day he sold his shoes for 75 cents and bought two bottles of Sneaky Pete and a pair of “canvas relievers” (presumably cheap canvas slippers) to wear on his feet.
The Salvation Army gave him a bed and put him to work for ninety-five cents a week and his room and board. Soon they were paying him $5 a week. “No drunk can stand prosperity,” he wrote, and he got drunk and was out on the street again. But he had a pair of shoes and a gabardine suit much too large for him. He slept under the bridge and drank “bayzo,” (a product unknown to the author), canned heat, Sneaky Pete, shoe polish, anything that had alcoholic in it. He had no sense of responsibility, no moral code, no sense of ethics – nothing.
One day he ran into his wife who took pity on him. She took him to a hospital where the doctor suggested he try A.A. He told his wife A.A. didn’t allow women at the meetings, and that they had alcohol there to test them. When he came home smelling of alcohol, he would tell her he had been “testing.” When he finally came home dead drunk he said to her “Madam, they put me to the test, and I have failed!”
He called the clubhouse and he and his wife went there. The women took his wife aside and explained A.A. to her, a different version from what he had told her.
At the end of three months they asked him to speak. All he could say was “I’m glad to be here.” He sat down to tremendous applause.
Soon he learned that A.A. did not need him, but that he needed A.A. That gave him the beginnings of a little humility. He had divorced himself from the Church when he was twenty-one. But he talked to “Father McNulty” who told him not to worry “you’ll develop an awareness of God.”
He did. He began to see God in nature and in people. He would meet someone he knew and the first thing that entered his mind was “What is there good about that guy that I know?” Big people, he said, discuss ideals, average people discuss things, and little people – they just talk about other people. And you realize that if you put this all together, you get a little humility, a little tolerance, a little honesty, a little sincerity, and a little prayer – and a lot of A.A.