by David P. Hillgrove
Chapter One (1)
Everyone who’s ever been trapped in a business meeting of questionable importance knows escape is hopeless.
One is trapped, surrounded by other listless participants, held captive by adults who thrive on hearing themselves talk. The boredom of this meeting itself was outdistanced only by the monotony of the speaker’s voice. On and on he droned, the cacophony of the sighing and weight-shifting noises challenging all present—beyond their limits.
His words were followed by even more uninspiring rhetoric. However, these words had meat:
" … and so, a decision has been made at the highest levels to make some rather significant changes around here."
Fourteen business-dressed attendees sat around a rounded-corner mahogany board-of-directors table. The owner of the table, McQuade Concepts, operated within the top seven floors of a 20-year-old building in downtown Madison Grove. The 17-story marble-faced structure—home to Madison Grove’s third most successful advertising/public relations firm—was located in the heart of downtown, just an eight-block hilly stroll from the Lilly River.
Madison Grove was a town like so many others in middle America, one which had undergone several changes in the past century. The Lilly River provided the transportation venue to make the town a marginal merchant port in the 1770’s through the later 1800’s.
In the second half of the 1900’s it became a banker’s town, with no less four major firms here, anchored in the city of 220,000 or so. Then, the time came when all four banks became victims of the all-consuming bank merging which took place at the end of the 1990’s.
And Madison Grove, under the proper administrative leadership, transformed itself into a more artsy city, a town proud of the ever-growing community of painters, sculptors, theater troupes and artists of any form. This change brought a change of business to Madison Grove, and that is one of the reasons that there were enough advertising firms in town for McQuade Concepts to rank at least number three in the Madison Grove metro area.
Significant changes…HAH, thought Helen.
The year was 1999 and significant modifications had been threatened since 1997 around here. His Highness’s words were—as usual— filled with double speak. "Highest levels" refers to his father, the benevolent Henry McQuade. While it frustrated the new president, many who had known him for decades referred to Hank as “Sonny” or “Junior”. "Junior" needs to let everyone know that despite his whimpering and waffling, he has his father’s approval on this, so we’d better heed, Helen surmised.
The "significant change" refers to something that is as frequent as the changing of towels in the bathrooms. From his graduate school textbooks, "Mr. Executive" surely thought that by modifying every little detail of his daddy's business he was proving his empowerment, "putting his stamp on the firm" as he called it. Frankly, Junior is always changing something because he has no clue what it is that he is doing, Helen concluded long ago. He’s constantly reinventing the wheel, clogging up some very creative minds with hyperbole and meaningless paperwork. If it weren’t for his father fluffing him into the V-P’s office years ago, Hank McQuade would be another wimpy pain-in-the-arse wannabe somewhere, without the advantage of having "Father" to cover his mistakes. Helen Wade, 29, is a creative person with the title of Creative Associate. She has been under the employ of McQuade Concepts for over six years. The first four and a half years Helen worked hard for Henry McQuade, the firm’s founder, and a fair man. He is a thoughtful man, a good judge of character and inspiring on many levels. A year and a half ago Henry had a heart attack and decided that he had delayed promoting his only son as long as he could. It was time for the Boy to become a Man. Hank became president, at age 36. Hank took his promotion as a badge of honor, ignoring the one fact that everyone in the office knew all too well: Hank McQuade wasn’t V-P material. He wasn’t president material; he hadn’t earned the position, he’d been born into it. His early company decisions showed his need for authority and control, rather than anything based on sound leadership principles. A classic example is dress code in the office. During the 90’s, offices across America saw a move to casual dress, business casual dress, or some kind of relaxed dress code. The intent was to reduce stress, reduce budget-busting clothes-shopping sprees, and to improve morale. Helen, a bit thin for her frame but not so much one needed to worry, generally wore skirts and little make-up. She didn’t see Hank’s input as much of a threat, but many were upset. Hank decides he’s "going to be on the front edge of change" and demands a much more structured office dress policy. He claimed it would lead to a superior work culture. It lead to two resignations and a lot of grumbling. He hardly noticed. His "modifications" continued. And they continue now, as Helen focused back into the meeting. "These changes involve everything from creative input, account assignments, and work schedules … right straight through to compensation" Junior paused. Heads around the table suddenly lifted up, attentions focused when the word "compensation" was pronounced. Something about futures and paychecks and take-home-pay now made this serious business. He now had their attention, Helen thought. This better be good. Dozens of local firms had been going through cost-cutting downsizing. Several friends have been affected, finding little or no work in this semi-sluggish economy. Why would this firm be any different? Hank McQuade—balding, with a comb-over—loved the attention his last statement brought. Surely now they would realize who was calling the shots. Finally, if even for a brief moment, he felt the control that belonged to him. He paused to drink in the power of his birthright. Associates shifted in their seats uneasily. He certainly had their focus. "We have had some moderate success here at McQuade Concepts. We are proud of the level of service we’ve given our clients. We have won a few marginal awards. We have a fine staff … some of whom have a considerable amount of talent," analyzed the 37-year-old President of Operations. He attempted to gaze at several so-called marginal talents. His downplay of the firm’s successes was designed to justify any changes he was about to suggest. "We pay salaries at or above average scale. We reward proper talent with sizable bonuses. We’ve managed to make several of you happy enough that you have worked for me or my father for over ten years. We’re doing several things right". Like the pause at a wedding when the minister asks "Is there anyone here who would object to this union?", there was an eerie, anticipatory silence in the room. Any time "salaries and compensation" are mentioned in the same breath, employees are reluctant to chirp smart aleck comments. "So we’re enacting a new compensation plan. We’re proposing to you a system that should allow you to make more choices about your focus and your concentration. As an employee of McQuade Concepts, you will not have to worry about the recent cutbacks that so many competing firms are experiencing. You’ll be able to make choices with your time, choices which can give you more time with your family, or less time at home … and a comp plan that in many ways allows you to set your own salary". The icy silence was broken by the sound of a few cleared throats. "Starting in two weeks, we will divide our accounts into Team Status and Floor Status. In many cases, we will certify our creative staff as Team-Eligible and Floor-Eligible. You will be notified of your particular status in writing, in the next five days. "Team Status accounts will be, of course, worked on by teams. In this general regard, there will be little or no change. The difference will be in the process of who works on which team. Or rather … HOW you are selected to work on each team. "Before I get to that, let me first tell you how we will process our Floor Status accounts. The smaller accounts, the newer accounts, the lower-maintenance accounts will be allocated for this status. These will be the accounts where heretofore ONE employee"—he held his index finger up in rehearsed, yet emphatic delivery—"worked them. Now … there will be ONE (the finger again) TEAM that works on them. "This ONE Team may well "put their hands on" (cute finger quotes around his head) every account in Floor Status. As an assembly line worker put together the old Model-T’s, so too will McQuade Concepts process a higher volume … with greater quality … of accounts. "This should go a long way towards improving production costs, turnaround time, and creative morale." Junior paused, and attempted that "leadership-type o’eyeballing”. He was not at all good at looking sincere doing this. The sighs and the rolled-eyes elicited a few grins from those watching for reactions. Hank McQuade was so far into his canned speech he neither stopped to notice nor made mental notes as to his detractors. "But the real excitement comes with the concept of Team Eligible Creative positions. With each sizable account, there will be drafting of talent by Project Managers. The PM’s will choose who they feel they need for particular projects, and that Creative Talent will report to the PM and work as closely on the campaign as possible. In some cases, it will be the only campaign that the Creative will involve him or herself with. In others, one well-liked Creative may be on several teams. "Which of course, means more money," snickered McQuade. Poorly timed and poorly delivered thought Helen. This guy needs finishing school at Leadership 101. "Because a team shares the profits made on a project. So … it … behooves … EVERYONE to minimize mistakes, hit deadlines, produce outstanding work." Junior went on to over-explain three separate examples of how the new set-up would work better for the lowly employees of MC, Inc. and thus how their endearing loyalty will immediately be showered on the Deliverer of The Message, The Moses of The Plan. Basically, the idea speaks to a P.M. choosing who he wanted to work with. And the folks that the P.M. picks have Project-Based-Management-Power. So they can make critical decisions involving many ideas, from color through slogans. And every team that makes the firm money gets a post-production bonus. And, of course, it guarantees that the really popular or the obviously talented folks would go as "high draft choices". And that left little “unnoticeables” like Helen wondering if she’d ever be picked.
At the end of the meeting, Helen retreated to her cubicle for whatever peace and quiet she could find amidst the confusing thoughts in her mind.
As she ends her twenties and moves onto her 30’s, Helen tried hard not to let her fears control her. She was as clearly concerned about her being selected on a creative team, as she was about maintaining her positive reputation as a hard-worker and valuable contributor to many projects. She also knew that sometimes she simply needed the world to rotate on its axis a few times in order for her to gain clear perspective of a situation.
One thing was certain: she wasn’t going to let Hank McQuade rent any space in her head for free. Helen had lived in Madison Heights for almost all of her life, and certainly all of her adult life. This was not the first piece of disappointing work news she’d had to deal with. She knew that others would have opinions on the meeting. Before long, half-past five had arrived, and with few deadlines looming on the horizon, several of the staff decided to hoist a few over at Phil’s after work.
Phil’s was across the street and three doors away, and had occupied the corner of Manchester and Craig for over forty years. Three generations of Youngs had run the place during that time, and Helen wasn’t completely sure who exactly "Phil" was. She ate lunch there occasionally, but it wasn’t often that she met colleagues for drinks after work. At least it had been a while since she had. But today offered an opportunity for reviews of Toy Boy McQuade’s presentation.
Criticism came easy for this staff when discussing Hank, in direct opposition to the gang’s analyses of the elder McQuade’s management style. In fact, many of the thirteen who adjourned for the Critique Up The Street session pined for the days when Henry the Elder was running the show. He offered respect: genuine and a-plenty and that—more than anything—is what most McQuade associates missed most about his office. They discussed this at length that Tuesday evening, amidst beer, cocktails and diet Cokes. If insults and criticisms were sticks and stones, Hank McQuade would be one bruised administrator.
Helen spent an hour in Phil’s—more than usual—as she ate two different appetizers for dinner. She spent most of her time in long discussions with Patti Wright, Becky Brown and Tom Eubank, the three people whom she was closest with at the office. All were skeptical about the direction that McQuade seemed to be espousing, and all were clearly animated in their reaction to the announcements. Patti, after two highballs, spoke loud enough for several tables to hear her, referring to McQuade in a number of derogatory terms.
Tom seemed to have the most philosophical bend on the issue, claiming this may be the one way folks could reduce the number of undesirable team members one had to work with. Tom could be philosophical about the issue; as Assistant Creative Director, he may well be one of the team leaders who is given the authority to select his team members.
Helen spoke sparingly, afraid she may spew more of what Patti was speaking to, than participating in a positive direction with Tom. Afraid to be completely open, even with her closest work friends was a trait Helen had dealt with all of her life. For today, she was merely an observer. And not having any alcohol helped her to keep a lid on her public emotions.
Now, if I could get a grip on my private ones, she thought.
Three winning tickets.
Cause and effect.
Confusion and clarity.
Three different Higher Powers.
The last of the foursome crowded out into the confined alley as the joint was just being lit up. The pungent odor of cannabis sativa filled the nostrils of the eager participants as Frank spoke up first.
"I am SO looking forward to this …", exclaimed Frank Lawrence, a 32-year old businessman, visiting on a business/pleasure trip from over 120 miles away.
"I cannot believe it has been this long since I’ve seen you guys! And to be gettin’ high with you, again, just like the old days …Man! I can’t tell you how stoked I am!", continued their former classmate.
"Yeah, yeah, we aims to please, Frankie Boy. You know that! It’s just as good for us to see you," provided Joe Sullivan, as he again embraced his old pal’s shoulders. “Two years is a long time; the year 1997 seems even longer ago than two years.”
"And as the perfect hors d'oeuvres to the perfect evening, we thought you’d enjoy a little butt-kickin’ reefer to get you primed for the Good Humour Band!". Just as Brian Zacharias finished his sentence he hit the joint hard, inhaling several times quickly and making a rushing air noise through his mouth. "We hope you go nuts!"
Frank took the doobie from him and, as if talking to the cigarette itself, responded in a soothing voice, "I’m sure I will, guys. I’m sure I will." He too inhaled as if this was to be the only chance he’d get for the intoxicating hit. He passed it to Doug.
Four men, all over thirty years of age, stood in the alley behind a cobblestone-faced bar known as the DewDrop Inn. Their reason for gathering this late summer/early autumn Thursday evening was to celebrate the homecoming visit of Frank, who had not been back to his high school town in over two years. While his reasons for being here were somewhat ill-defined, their reunion was a shot in the arm, at least in theory. The other three had never moved away from the suburban Ashby Heights. This fact was both a testimony to their conservative roots as well as their lack of ambition. Life changed little in this town of 70,000.
Ashby Heights was a former boom-factory town. The Lilly River supplied the power needs for many pre-1800 mill machines, and the use of the river for power and for transportation continued through and up to the mid-1960’s. A railroad hub was located within two miles from the river and so in many ways Ashby Heights was a crossroads of merchant travel.
Yet, earlier than most middle America cities, one by one some of the bigger factories began to close, and more and more “Ashbians” started to lose their jobs in “the Heights”. The lack of employment brought frustration to the town, and with the lack of taxes came a degradation of public works and public services. The town was completely different now, in 1999, than it was in 1979, and two of the boys in the alley’s Posse’ were lucky to be working at all, never mind in one of the remaining solvent factories near town.
All of the ceremony ran its course, as was tradition. Someone coughed rather hilariously, someone made mention of someone else wetting the joint’s end, and the obligatory roach clip was brought out as the stick neared its dying moment. The honor of the final nose hit was left to the guest of honor. He accepted.
"I cannot believe how long it’s been since I've gotten high, man," said Frank as he scratched his nostrils clear of smoke debris. "I’ll bet you I haven’t seen five joints since the last time I was here. You guys are bad for me", he shared with a false guffaw.
"Yes we are, and we are actually sorry for having to twist your arm as violently as we did to get you out here, " shot back Joe.
"Yeah, Frank. You waited all of about a half-hour before you asked me if I had any. That’s what—a record for you?" quipped Brian.
Frank was now starting to feel the effects of the potent marijuana kick in, as well as the beginnings of a weekend of razzing and abuse from his high school chums. "Well, you know me … I’m always ready …"
"Yeah, We KNOW you," interrupted Joe, Brian and Doug, in chorus.
Without saying so, the three knew that Frank was most likely going to repeat his similar pattern of talking about pot, babbling about pot, and rationalizing heavily about pot. For a man who claims to never think about it, never find any, never run around with friends "back home" who smoke it, he sure seemed obsessed with it.
It was the assumption of all three of the Ashby Heights crowd that Frank was rarely very far from a connection and that his talk about abstinence was balderdash. For each request he makes to get high comes at least two suggestions that he is the last one of their group who needs it.
Standing in the alley strewn with recycled cans and bottles of stale beer, next to garbage waste and paper trash was a below-standard gathering point for the "Posse". So without saying anything , the four left the 65-degree weather outside and ventured back into the 35-seat bar/restaurant to continue their pitchers and exaggerated stories.
The crowd at the Inn, although fully cognizant of the recent whereabouts and do-abouts of this gang of 30-somethings, cared little about their reentrance. The men talked openly as they removed their jackets and headed toward their booth on the side.
"So Doug, why so silent, Man? You haven’t said three things in an hour," inquired Frank.
Joe and Brian’s eyes met sharply in anticipation of the response. No one had warned Frank of Doug’s recent changes in his home life. The silence that met the question told Frank that something wasn’t right; the giddiness of the pot buzz disengaged his tongue-restraint-processor.
Doug’s gaze was glued to the floor, his response negligent.
Frank continued. "It’s not like you to be so quiet, man. What’s up? You can’t hold back on me, dude!"
His mates came to the rescue, in their own special way.
Joe first. "Doug is having a few… um … challenges at home."
And then Brian, with all the tact of flatulence in an elevator, said "Yeah, he hasn’t gotten laid in about four months." Doug cut an icy glare to Brian.
As Joe playfully thwacked Brian across the top of the head, Frank leaned forward with both elbows on the table. All four men picked up their beers for a stalling tactic, with Doug taking the longest pull from his frosted mug.
The response was put on delay when two couples entered the DDI boisterously. The crowd turned to see who disturbed the imbibing serenity. A wave of hellos from a majority of the crowd of 30 greeted the foursome. Their loud comments were now directed toward Frank and his booth.
"Oh sure! You get back in town and it’s straight to your watering hole! Just forget about the dinner invite we sent you," said Myra, with sarcasm and insult dripping from her voice.
"Gosh, I meant to call you to RSVP, but …" backpedaled Frank. His pot-soaked brain was losing it’s normally quick, comeback-snappy-answers.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll just bet you did," Myra continued. "Bob said to not even bother to put out a plate for you, but I thought that surely you’d have grown up enough to let me know." Myra had both guns a-blazing now and would be fine after she got in a few more digs.
Frank simply sat there—disinterested it seemed. Flushed in the face, but guiltless in his heart.
As the four newcomers took off their coats, a table was pulled over to butt up against the booth, in clear violation of at least two fire regulations. Soon eight folks were loaded up with new pitchers and glasses, three out of the eight lit up cigarettes, and traditional "How’ve you beens?" were passed around the gathering. Six out of the eight were 1985 graduates of Dwight D. Eisenhower High school; five out of these six were inebriated on marijuana, while all eight planned to drink on towards happiness.
The Good Humour Band was to open at 9:30 in Marie’s Inn, the only other bar on aptly-named High Street. That gave the eight-some, and their four later-arriving guests a good two hours to get their dinner, their catching-up on lives, and their blood-alcohol content aptly elevated. There was a lot of moving around within the cavern of the DewDrop Inn; Joe and Frank managed several periods of uninterrupted conversations.
"Tell me about Doug, Joe. He looks shell-shocked," began Frank.
Joe inhaled a long breath, then drained his beer. "He’s in a bad way; he’s really been run through the ringer. He looks bad because it IS bad, Frank.
"Brenda really never gave him any clue she was unhappy, if she was. I don’t know, she just … met him on a Tuesday afternoon after he got home from work and said she’d been sleeping with someone from work. She said she didn’t love Doug, and there was little or no chance in changing her mind. She gave him no input, the dumb witch. She ripped his heart right out … and made the poor guy move out!"
Frank nearly choked on his beer. "HE moved out? Why?"
"I’m telling you, man! He was devastated. He had no clue as to what to do. You know Doug, he’s never been a woman-chaser. Brenda was IT, the only girl he’s ever paid attention to. The only girl he ever cared for or even showed any emotion over."
Frank interrupted. "Not that he showed very much, even with her."
"Yeah well, he doesn’t have too wide a range of feelings, does he? And so, when the woman who he came home to every night, the mother of his two kids, the only gal who ever gave him the time of day tells him that his love, life and heart are no longer needed … well, it knocked him on his ass. He may not get over it for awhile." Joe knocked back a huge drink while Frank hit him in the solar plexus with the next question.
"Kind of like your divorce, eh Joe?"
For reasons he would only know later, that comment began to take on a life of its own.
Joe was stunned.
The stoned visitor provided further evidence of his lack of sensitivity. Normally, that kind of a comment would come out without a response, but Joe did not view the question as rhetorical.
Frank continued. "That kind of puts you and ole Brian in the same boat. Seems somehow poetically fitting."
That comment changed the mood of the conversation, as well as the evening.
"Yeah well, some of us have feelings Frankie Boy. Some of us give a damn about those whom we say we love," retorted a somewhat visibly teed-off Joe.
"Karen couldn’t love you that much, Pal. She asked you to leave too, right?"
The next moment seemed like an eternity; Joe neither drank nor changed his facial expression.
He stared at the man who has been making thoughtless comments through most of the 20+ years of their friendship. For a brief moment, Joe considered throwing a glass of beer at him, or lifting the table up onto him, or merely expressing his dissatisfaction with the question in the sternest, most vulgar words possible.
It was a little early in the homecoming for these kind of feelings to again be resurrected.
He took his next best shot. He said nothing, but stared angrily into Frank’s eyes. Frank shifted uneasily.
"Can you tell me why?" he nervously began, hoping to smooth things over with his 6’2”, 260+ pound friend, who could perhaps cave in his sternum with one fell swoop. Joe is a former football player who carried his weight in his thighs, his saggy chest, his beer gut and his broad shoulders.
"Not because I want to dig up that pain again, but so that I can learn how to miss the pratfalls myself?" Even as he attempts to correct a stupid comment, Frank manages to selfishly turn a sensitive question into one centered on himself.
"You’ve hit the pratfalls dead-on, Mr. Philanderer. Several times, in fact. If you weren’t such a great bullshooter—or should I say liar?—you’d be paying so much child support and alimony that you couldn’t afford this dinner out. Why don’t we talk about that for awhile? Why don’t we talk about how you can’t seem to honor that little vow you made in front of a couple of hundred people? TWICE, in fact!" Joe was getting hot.
Frank was a wiry, middle-sized guy, with a mustache and perfectly styled hair. A grin broke out across Frank’s face, yet he chose not to make eye contact with his angered friend.
Joe continued. "Why don’t we talk about your eight-year-old who won’t even talk to you, eh Frankie? Why don’t we talk about her NOT loving you, eh? You want to discuss missing pratfalls … how’s that for an attention-getter? Am I getting close?"
No eye contact still, but the grin was now removed from the-businessman-on-a-homecoming-visit’s face.
And just as the evening was about to take a dramatic turn, the first of several conversations in Frank’s visit was interrupted by two, then three friends from a nearby table. Crisis number one averted.
A mixed blessing, for Joe and his unthinking friend, Frank.
For a few minutes, Joe found himself sitting alone at the booth while the party went on around him. It was an all-too-familiar position to be in.
Frank has always had the capability to push my buttons, thought Joe. He’s always looked out for number one, always taken care of his side of the street before he considered everyone else. He’s always operated from the perspective that many or most of the people in his life wake up every morning hell-bent on finding ways to make Frank happy. He seems to believe that everyone wants him pleased and satisfied.
In addition, especially during a night of intoxication, Frank regularly utters heartless things, mindless thoughts that should never have left his own mind. And while that crack about Joe’s wife not loving him hurt him, Frank can be defended with the understanding that he wasn’t trying to hurt me specifically, thought Joe.
He was simply too insensitive or uncaring to realize that holding one’s tongue is also an option. Nonetheless, the caustic comment bothered Joe for the remainder of the evening. And while he would never let others see that it got him down, it was a more somber and less enthusiastic Joe who spent the remainder of the evening in a pensive mood. He was not his usual self while they finished their dinner of beer at The Inn.
He followed along quietly as the group of friends switched locations to be able to hear Good Humour. This five-member band was nearly the age of the Posse’ and they usually brought the house down with nearly perfect cover versions of classic ‘70’s tunes. Tonight, they had a sixth musician sitting in with them. The band was tight, musically and relationship-wise. They featured an incredible guitarist named Mike McArthur, who could have earned a living in music had he not made so much money as a computer network engineer. Playing guitar onstage at Marie’s seemed to be one way this talented man could merge his artistic right brain with his mechanical and mathematical left brain.
While the other four—bass, keyboards, rhythm guitar/vocals, and drums—were quite talented, they did not approach McArthur’s talent. However, the bassist was extremely humorous and had for years kept the Posse’ laughing with his antics. A convinced Party Animal, he had engaged the boys in the Posse’ into many stints of late-night drinking and carousing. Tonight may well be no exception.
Joe was not the one who started most of the applause or hooting/hollering while watching the Posse’s all-time favorite local band cover some of FM radio’s greatest album hits. Joe didn’t drink as much as the others throughout the remainder of the evening, although it is doubtful that he would have passed a sobriety field test. Ergo, he became the designated driver, specifically because no one else in their crowd even approached being appropriately sober for driving.
When he deposited everyone back on his apartment’s living room floor a wee bit before 2:30 am, most had expected this type of conclusion, just like the old days. Despite the fact that it was a week night, there were no complaints from the concert-goer/partiers. All but Joe had "enjoyed" too much to drink and drive. Beddy-bye time was, naturally, following a round of hot cakes and flap stacks at the truck stop on Route 11. Frank did not join them for eats, having stayed behind at Marie’s Inn.
All this was after Joe had churned The Comment over in his head and his gut an additional twenty times.
Morning came early that next day. Yet the thoughts remained. They were not happy thoughts and they were not inclined to improve.
Again, an all-too-familiar position for Joe Sullivan to be in.
“Hello everyone! My name is Alex and I’m an alcoholic”
The entire room shook with a chorus of “Hi! Alex”
While he collected his thoughts, there was a silence across the room, save for the slurping of community coffee from Styrofoam cups. The 8:00 pm meeting was running perfectly on time; it was now eleven minutes after the hour, following the reading of the opening statements and Step Language.
“This is a good topic for me, for tonight. I need to focus on Gratitude regularly. Most especially when things are going GREAT for me.
“Things ain’t going that great for me right now, but life is a helluva lot better than when I was ‘out there’.
“After my initial years of drinking, I took a lot of things for granted. I think I figured that EVERYTHING that came my way did so because I DESERVED IT. I complained bitterly about the things that I did NOT receive, but rarely did I stop and thank anyone or anything for any success or opportunity.
“Then, drinking stopped working, at least on a consistent basis.
“It wasn’t fun any more. I could never be sure when I was going to laugh, cry or fight. And more and more—it seemed— I tried to fight … anybody, anywhere. Got my ass kicked enough times for all of you in here (guffaws and laughter abound). I was stupid … and very, very ungrateful.
“The sadder I got, the more dependent I became on drinking. I was in the dumps? A little hoddy-toddy oughta cure that! Work was going REAL Bad? Nothing a little Happy Hour couldn’t cure!
“Wife wouldn’t talk to me? Screw her; I’d rather drink.
“Also … drinking made it so I couldn’t screw her, by the way.”
Laughter ripped through the church basement in a wave of emotional release.
Alex looked around the room at several of his close friends. His face was somewhat flushed.
“This IS a program of rigorous honesty, right?”
Again, laughter. Unusual as it may seem, few people commented out loud at his humorous asides. Alex had the floor and so the room gave him his space.
“And then I found this fellowship and you people. And you taught me that I oughta be glad I’m not in jail … again. (chuckles). You taught me that I should be grateful that I found these rooms. You showed me through example how true the old axiom is that goes: ‘I cried because I had NO shoes … until I met a man who had no feet.’”
Alex shifted his weight and leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees. He stared directly into several member’s eyes.
“I am thankful and I am grateful that I haven’t had a drink today. I thank my Higher Power for a program that teaches me to believe in myself and NOT be paralyzed by fear. And I love all of you who grow together with me in this Fellowship.
“Thanks Alex,” commented the majority. The remaining members said something along the lines of “nice share”, “well done”, or “well said, Alex”.
Alex stared at his shoes.
“My name is Anne, and I’m an alcoholic/addict”
“Hi Anne!” chorused the Fellowship.
This group of needy folks occupied the multi-purpose room of St. Paul’s church in Madison Grove. It had filled this room with laughter, cigarette smoke and coffee stains for over five years on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sunday afternoons. It delivered hope to many whose emotional bank accounts had run dry due to the mental anguish brought on by the Demon Rum.
“I gotta tell you, most of the time I hear the topic ‘Gratitude’ I wanna throw up. I mean … what could a divorced woman, working in a retail department store till all hours of the night … feel grateful for?
“And to hear these Big Book Thumpers stand up and tell us ‘how grateful they are to be an alcoholic’ or some such nonsense makes me wonder if they took a lot of acid as younger folks.”
Anne paused for the presumed laughter, which did not come.
These rooms laugh at references to alcohol, pot and some pills. LSD is not on the approved commiseration list. Recovering alcoholics develop a wonderful sense of humor, and they are given to laugh at themselves. Many “old timers” didn’t reach their nadir in substance abuse with anything but liquor and some pills. And this crowd, this night, did not find Anne funny with that crack.
“But there was something that kept me hanging around. You people had something that I wanted. You laughed. You smiled. You enjoyed yourselves without booze.
“And you didn’t HATE me! You didn’t make me prove myself. You let ME in your groups, and you listened to me and I didn’t have to bring the booze, the drugs, food money or sleep with any of you.”
Now the laughter, and a myriad of rolling eyes and glances a-casting.
“And for that I am grateful. Grateful to finally find kindred spirits. Grateful to learn how to laugh without a buzz-on.
“And yes! Grateful to BE an alcoholic.
“Because without having hit my alcoholic bottom, I would never have had a burning desire to quit drinking. And knowing that I do not have the capacity to do so on my own, by myself, I never would have found you, or this great spiritual program.
“I am grateful to feel great! I pass”.
And so it went. From nineteen after eight, until four minutes before nine o’clock, nine more members of the Tuesday Night Sobriety Seekers on Manchester Avenue shared many of their inner most thoughts, feelings, frustrations and insights. Some talked too long, some spoke in measured verse, and some spoke in recovery buzzwords and pat phrases that many had heard thousands of times before. Words of wisdom were shared, and as always, most knew not how much influence they presented to this room full of struggling humans.
Their humility hopefully kept that in check.
Helen Wade sat and listened tonight. She was a regular sharer. She’d even cried a few times while sharing some rather personal story. She possessed enough of the rather deep, rather intimate stories of an alcoholic, and Helen was above average on the emotional and passionate scale.
But tonight she didn’t feel like talking. True, she had some frustration from work. And true, she had a lot to be grateful for; she knew that. She may be able to “reach someone” with her perspective. She had nearly five years of continuous sobriety. So it was likely that someone in the room of 44 people would grow from her words.
What she really needed was to sit down with her sponsor and sort out this mess from work. Dorothy was thirteen years her elder, and had nine years longer sobriety, and she was wise beyond her years. She had steered Helen through some particularly sobriety-challenging times, and now that Helen’s obsession to drink was somewhat removed, Dorothy remained a wonderful sounding board and a fantastic friend.
And she didn’t let Helen feel sorry for herself. Not for too long.
But tonight, Dorothy had some family things she needed to do, a basketball practice for one of her grandchildren or something. Helen would call her later and they’d have a chance to catch up one day this week, perhaps for lunch.
Until then, Helen had her Program, her Steps and her Higher Power to help sort things out.
It was Friday, and for most folks, this was a working day.
It was for Joe, as well, at least officially. But, being in outside sales, he set his own hours. In this case, the hours were gonna set Joe, because the morning was going to start late. He’d used too many vacation and/or sick days for hangover days this year, and thus he’d have to finesse a “work on sales calls out of the office” manner to the day. There was no way his boss would understand how important it was that he entertain his mates.
Joe was not completely convinced he did himself.
Joe took his eight meds from their case and swallowed them as he realized just how early he was going to be ending his day; he and Frank had golf on the agenda.
The Posse had its roots in the early 1980’s, when at least two of the men were in seventh grade in one of Ashby Heights three middle schools. All four of them were athletes, and soon or later than were all on several middle and high school teams together. Their families knew each other and sometimes picnicked or vacationed together. As they got older, the boys’ social lives began to center more and more on night life and less on sports teams. None of them played organized sports following high school.
They had remained friends—if not friendly—throughout the 80’s and the 90’s, even through a variety of personal crises.
Brian was passed out on Joe’s bedroom floor. Doug was asleep in the second bedroom; Frank had either gotten up early to run, or had not returned to Joe’s last night. Joe didn’t feel the need to wait up. Frank was a big boy, even if he does act like a little twit sometimes.
While he didn’t drink altogether too much last night, Joe did put a lot of alcohol in his body over a six hour period and this explained his congestion and stuffy nose. He didn’t have the shakes or the queasy stomach. It was obvious that he’d been out drinking the night before, however, and that alone demanded a “battle plan” that included slow early morning movements.
His shower was over and his underwear donned when the front door to his apartment opened and in walked Frank. Joe had not been at all surprised that Frank had asked to stay behind at Marie’s Inn. He had been chatting up a woman all evening long; picking up women had never been foreign territory for Frank, but staying out all night in his hometown was, and Joe didn’t think it too bright.
“Did you get lost?”, asked Joe rather directly, from the other room.
“No, I found my way quite nicely, thank you.”
Joe emerged from the bedroom, tying his tie.
“I’ll bet you did. That’s a well worn path for you old paint,” said Joe, without hiding his disgust. Frank picked up on this without comment.
“Have you got time for a chat in a bit, Joe?” asked Frank. “I mean, before you go off to fake work?”
“I suppose so. Were you talking about chatting here, or going out?”
“Either is fine with me. I just want to call home beforehand,” responded Frank. He left the room without waiting for the response.
Joe was left with his anger, as yet undefined.
Recessed deep within this mornings thoughts was the humbling perspective that he was in the company of thirty-four year old men who partied last night to the point that they all spent the night together at Joe’s apartment.
Things had changed little there, over twenty years. Some would see this as a great testimony to their long time friendship: they still know how to party!
Others would see this as a testimony to a lack of emotional maturity: will they ever grow up?
But for all the adolescent behavior of the night before, Joe felt very much like the thirty-ish, overweight man that he was. Divorced and unhappy about that. Living alone in an apartment— unhappy about that. Reliving a stagnant and worn-out scenario the night before did little to make him feel younger.
And to hear Frank confront him with truths about his stagnant life he didn’t want to process put Joe in a funk he’d have to confront. And no better person to play the devil’s advocate role that his eternal love-hate pal, Frank.
Within 20 minutes, a pound of bacon had been fried and Frank emerged looking a little apprehensive. They were still the only two awake in the apartment.
“You seemed rather pissed last night, man. Anything wrong?”
“I was pissed at you. But I got over it.”
“Pissed at me? For what?”
“For what? Do you want them by priority or alphabetically?”
“What are talking about Joe? You said you got over it, but it doesn’t seem so.”
“Frank, do you just talk without thinking, as if you’re hearing the words for the first time? Or are you completely confident that everyone will forgive you if you say something which makes you sound like a jerk?”
“Where’s all this coming from, man? I come down to visit you and you act all hurt and stuff. What’s happened to you?”
Joe took a deep breath and put a bit of water on his fast burning fuse. He realizes this may be the one time he has to say this to his oldest friend. He wants the message to get through.
“Sit down, Frank. If we’re gonna talk, let’s get it all out, like friends.”
“First of all, I was pissed and I was pissed at you. You said some crap last night which I hated to hear. I was in the mood to shoot the messenger; or at least beat the hell out of him.”
“Me … you mean?”
“Yeah. You. Do you remember what you said last night? It was thoughtless, and perhaps heartless. But it’s got Frank written all over it.”
“What do you think I said?”
“Frank, don’t give me that. I know what you said. I heard you. I was there.”
“You mean about you and Doug? Is that what this is about?”
“This is about 20+ years of you living with your head up your ass. It’s about your insensitivity and about your self-centeredness. You have no idea.”
“Self-centeredness? Why would this be about that?”
“Because if you had any concern for me or Doug, you’d try screening some of the things you say. You just blurt them out without thinking, and your rationale is that ‘we have to deal with it’.”
“Yeah … but …”
“But if everyone in your life treated you like that—and if you had a heart—you’d have it broken by everyone else’s similar blunt and direct manner.”
“People DO speak bluntly to me. What? Are you kidding me? Go right ahead and knock yourself out! Speak as directly to me as you like.”
“No, go right ahead. Give it to me, both barrels.”
“Alright. Okay. You’re a whore, Frank Lawrence. A bona-fide, heart-breaking, gal-chasing whore. You’ll sleep with anything that moves.”
“And what? What do you mean … And? You want more?”
“I want to know what that has to do with you? What that has to do with us? How does that affect twenty years of friendship and your being pissed last night?”
“It has to do with you spending time with your wife one week, and sleeping with someone else the next weekend. It has to do with consistency and living what you say you’re gonna do. It has to do with you having a woman who loves you and you can’t keep your zipper up, Frank!”
“Hey, look here Joe. Just because I enjoy chasing the ladies shouldn’t affect us, you and me. What’s going on with you? You’ve changed, man.”
“I know I’ve changed, Frank. And you were none too subtle about how you pointed that out last night. And perhaps I should thank you for that. Because besides the fact that it’s hammered home the fact that you’re so damned selfish, it’s pushed me to spend some time thinking.”
Frank paused before responding. Joe continued his point.
“But Frank, the real problem is not that I’ve changed. It’s that you haven’t. You haven’t grown up at all since we were running around high school hallways.”
“What? Whatdoya mean I haven’t changed? I’m damned successful, Joe. I have over 30 people who report to me.”
“That’s great Frank. You know I’m happy for you there. But you still take care of YOU first. Your word is no better now than it was then. You still are out to pleasure YOU first and foremost.”
“And this has you pissed? Who else should I be out to please?”
The pause made its own point.
“That speaks volumes about you Frank.”
“And what the hell do you mean my word is no good? That’s horsecrap! My word is every bit as good as yours or anyone else!”
“Oh is it? How’s this for starters? What about ‘honor and cherish you, till death do us part.’?”
“What kind of crack is that, Joe? Have you become a woman on us?”
“Watch that mouth Frank. I don’t want to break your nose today.”
That one stopped Frank. With Joe out-sizing him by over 40 pounds and a good three inches, Frank knew he was out of his league in that category. Still, he had a point to make.
“Well, what kind of crap are you pulling now, of all days. I come down here to see you guys and this is the way I get thanked?”
“You came down here to pleasure YOU, Frank. You came down here to see Good Humour, and to smoke pot and drink your face off. You came down here to relive old memories and to get laid. The fact that we are byproducts of your enjoyment is just a convenience. You get no points for that.”
“I don’t want any points, Joe. For Chrissakes! what is this all about?”
“It’s about you, and your acid tongue and your comfort level with saying anything you want to and to hell with the consequences. It’s about you, and how you’ll cheat on your wives at the drop of a hat, but you expect us to believe that you are a true and loyal friend. And I question that, Frank. I really do.”
“You’re busting my chops, Joe. You’re really surprising me. I thought …”
“You thought we would be here for you no matter what you ever said or did. And maybe we are or maybe we will be. But you’ve spent fifteen years popping up and partying with us and when you’re not around you don’t do anything to extend our friendship. You never drop a line, or call or even send a card to my kids on their birthday. It’s like you don’t give a damn.”
“And then, of course, I speak bluntly and directly.” Frank was trying to regain momentum somehow, with any method.
“You’re damn right. You’re so quick to point out what our situations are right now, but where were you when we were going through this dung, Frank? You cannot imagine the kind of pain I went through, and you don’t seem to care about what Doug went through. Yet, you make that smart-ass comment last night. Who are you to be saying that kind of balderdash to me, your friend of friends?”
“What kind of balderdash? That you and Doug are in the same boat? That Doug is as pitiful as he is worthless? I thought that’s what friends do. It helps to get a friend’s perspective, man. I thought it was okay to tell you how things are.”
“According to the Gospel of Frank. But your writers are pretty damn vulnerable when it comes to applying your standards to your own life, aren’t they? You don’t seem so damn clairvoyant when someone points out your inadequacies, do you?”
“I’m sorry. I thought you could handle it. Like I say, I thought that’s what friends do for each other.”
“Friends also know when to hold their tongue, Frank. You bust Doug’s chops, but do you have any idea what he was like right afterwards? Do you know what kind of pain he was in? We had a suicide watch for him!”
“No, I don’t.”
“That’s because you didn’t call.”
“We didn’t call each other, Joe. You remember? I don’t remember you picking up the phone too often either!”
“Touche’. You’re right, Frank. But … that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be so frigging callous. He was hurting, man, and he’s supposed to be your friend. I didn’t hear much of a friend in you last night.”
“You also didn’t like to hear me say that you and he were in the same boat, did you? You didn’t want to be lumped in the same misery category as ole Doug, huh?”
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t like it a damn bit.”
“And you said it made you think. So it has had some positive come out of it, right?”
“Yes it has, Frank; but that was not your intention. You just got lucky. This all came about because sometimes you don’t give a damn about me or anybody else, unless we happen to fall under your safety pleasure net. And it pisses me off that after all these years that you haven’t changed.”
That was the second time that Joe had made that point. He wasn’t even sure what point he was trying to fully make, but he knew he didn’t want to simply beat Frank up emotionally. He was angry about what was said last night, but he was also frustrated about the situation that “The Comment” called to consciousness.
Frank, digging in deep in an effort to defend his position, saw no reason to try to respond to all the allegations. The two long time friends had never had a fight like this one and Frank was not quite sure how it could be resolved.
Their hesitancy to wind down was brought to closure. In walked Doug in his boxer shorts, hair disheveled, yet somewhat awake.
Both Frank and Joe looked at him, each one wondering how much Doug had heard. If he had heard the disparaging remarks about him, he wasn’t saying.
“Did you make it home last night, Frank?” inquired Doug, scratching himself.
“Yes, yes I did.”
“Then why is it you’re in the same clothes as last night?”
Joe knew he didn’t have to say anything and he could still enjoy this moment. Frank was going to be stuck here either way.
“Well, I said I did come home. I just didn’t say what time.”
A sleepy wave of the hand and a yawn and Doug shuffled off to the bathroom, presumably to take a shower.
Joe and Frank were now again alone in the room and alone within the conversation.
“Look, Joe. I am sorry I hurt you with my comments, and you’re right … I do have my head up my ass many times with what I say. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Joe drank in the moment for a minute. He said nothing, but stared deeply into Frank’s eyes, who would not or could not meet his. Joe wanted to respond in several ways.
He wanted to hug him. He wanted to punch him in the arm and give him a noogie on the top of his head. He also wanted to take the easy way out and say nothing, or act as if it meant little or nothing to him, really. He wanted to say something philosophical. He wanted to put into words something that they’d both remember for a long time.
But he didn’t know what that would sound like.
He considered using the tried and true method of guy humor to make things sound not-quite-so-bad, but he knew that’d sound cheap.
He tried something.
“It just seems like our adult lives are a lot more chaotic than when we were kids. In those days, our decisions had shorter consequences. We did things for NOW, we did things for fun. We don’t have that much fun anymore, Frankie.
“And when you come back here, everything is supposed to fit back inside our neat little packages. We’re supposed to have those good ole days resurrected and we’re supposed to bust each other’s stones and we’re supposed to laugh our asses off.”
Frank muttered a weak “Yeah”.
“But the fact is, things aren’t that much fun anymore. We put on a big front for you, and all that, but we aren’t making it too damn good here. Living in this gawd-forsaken town all of our lives is a bit depressing. Seeing you again is supposed to make us happy, just like doing all the same old things is too.
“But when you’re gone, we’re still here. Like it or not.”
“Karen leaving me hurt, man. Seeing Doug go through his demise has been tough, Frank. Hell, even watching Brian care little or nothing about anything real is depressing. My job sucks. My future doesn’t look any better than today. And I have no real positive changes up ahead.
“So where ever I was coming from last night, or this morning, it’s … more about … coming from a position of confusion and frustration, Frank.”
Frank, sensing his exoneration on the horizon, simply nodded without comment. He looked into Joe’s unfocused gaze.
“Things were supposed to be different than this. We were supposed to make something out of our lives by now, man. We were supposed to be successful and we were supposed to be damned happy”, said Joe, missing the irony of his words.
“Aw hell. I don’t know.” Joe’s soliloquy had ended without conclusion or summary.
And before Frank could add one, in walked Brian.
“Anyone wanna get high?
“Wake and Bake for you, my dear Frankie?”
The living room door opened and closed without an entrance hello or a “welcome home” greeting. Bev Causey put her keys on the foyer table and listened for the sound of life within her suburban tri-level house. She removed her coat, but only lay it across the chair in the foyer. Perhaps she’d need it again soon, she thought, rationalizing why she wasn’t hanging it in the hall closet.
The sound of the T.V. from the family room caught Bev’s attention. She didn’t bother to stroll towards its sound. “Family room” she grumbled. It should be called the Isolation Room or the TV room, for it sure doesn’t host any family activities in this house. It had been years since this family had acted as one.
Inside this room slept Bud, his protruding gut the highest point in the Lazy Boy recliner. On the tube was a basketball game, names and teams unknown. Bud’s snoring was not loud, but it was anything but cute. The extra 85 pounds on his 5’7” frame closed up his airways somewhat, creating the distracting log-sawing sound. This image was definitely not a photo opportunity for a physical education poster.
Bev continued on up to her bedroom, where she changed into more leisurely clothes and turned on her computer. She had attended a charity fundraiser for over three hours, and the tight stockings, white gloves and fake smiles had worn her down, especially over the last hour. Her warm-up sweats and thick woolly socks were a welcome relief.
She clicked the icon that would launch her online and while she waited, she sorted through her postal mail. Bills, bills, junk mail and credit card invites. She’d already opened up three new ones this year, unbeknownst to Bud. Perhaps now was not the time to go for number four. Bud didn’t pay much attention to her, or her finances, but sooner or later he’d discover that she had extended herself a little bit.
Having checked her electronic mail and finding little of importance, Bev moved on to her list of chat rooms and decided on “Married and Flirting”. Two clicks and she was among twenty one other cyberfolks, six of whom she knew well enough to post private messages or e-mail to.
Her screen name was simply BlueBlood. While that may be a fantastical wish, even somewhat unattainable in Bev’s “real world”, online she could represent any type of persona she’d like. She had convinced dozens of folks that she was living in a different city, and in a far different social climate. For those who believed her, Bev represented the poor little rich girl whose husband didn’t understand her, so she used her power, money and fame to adjust the world to her wishes.
In real life, only the “husband didn’t understand her” rang true.
Within fifteen minutes, Bev was deeply absorbed in the type of keyboard conversation only a cybernaut could understand.
Bud was awakened when daughter Missy came noisily into the house. Flipping the remote to the local sports broadcast, Bud’s eldest child watched with keen interest to discern if she—as a cheerleader at Riverton High School—had in fact, positioned herself strategically enough to appear on camera again tonight.
Despite her stellar record for last season, Missy had been shut out tonight, and so far this basketball season, she’d only made the news twice. Higher skirts or more jumps might get that cameraman’s interest next time.
Oddly enough for most families, Bud feigned sleep the entire time Missy flipped the remote between the three local channels. Conversation came hard for these two, and after several years of Bud hollering and Missy ignoring his tirades, they had come to an understanding of sorts. He did not attempt to structure her behavior to fit his perception of an “average adolescent”, and she did not openly flaunt her disruptive side.
Their agreement, authorized by each other’s silence and/or indifference, seemed to keep the peace. Actually, it just minimized the conflicts, which had it’s advantages.
Controlling Missy’s brother, Judd, was another adventure altogether.
The Causeys, Bud and Bev, had been married for almost 19 years.
The Causeys, Bud, Bev, Missy and Judd had been living in this same house for almost a dozen years. The tri-level couldn’t be more suburban stereo-type, what with its blacktop driveway, obligatory decaying basketball hoop, unused treehouse and two-car garage filled with junk. No car had seen the inside of that garage in a decade.
To classify the Causeys as Family was a stretch.
If they were an automobile, each tire would rotate in a different direction.
If they were a battle unit, the enemy would not fear an organized, cohesive attack.
If they were a band, each would play lead improvisation, while expecting the other to remain in the background.
They were—in short—dysfunctional.
This “curse” began and ended with Bud and Bev. Their marriage was in name only. What was surprising is that the disdain each felt for the other had never been expressed either directly nor indirectly. Out and out contempt for each other may prove more mentally healthy that their current strategy for dealing with their relationship.
They simply never talked about anything of any importance.
They rarely ate together, so Bev had long ago retired as chef.
Having little in common with either of his two children, Bud had long ago stopped offering emotional advice to his offspring. The kids were rarely asked any questions about their school events or their friends.
Their children had their friends indeed, and always seemed to be able to find rides to events, so the parent’s chauffeur role was diminished.
Judd played no sports, was in no bands or school clubs, and took part in no drama or chorus. So parental attendance was no longer on daily calendars.
Missy preferred that her parents not inquire too deeply in her life. While she was overwhelmed with cheerleading antics, neither she nor her parents felt the need to support her supporting athletic teams at Riverton High School.
Missy also had an active dating life, giving her another reason to stress parental non-intervention. Many of the situations Missy put herself in would not make the yearbook or a mother’s photo album.
So without this central purpose of child focus, Bev and Bud were free to focus on their own lives. And instead of providing support for one another, each had developed their own world of intrigue and support. They cared little for the other’s world.
Bev spent her days with her Women’s Club activities.
She spent her nights online.
This was fine with Bud. His activities included work, coaching youth sports and eating. He was an inept manager at work, despised for his inept talent and lack of understanding. There was also the dynamics of subconscious discrimination, given Bud’s somewhat disgusting physical shape and image. He was a marginal coach, preferring baseball to basketball, and basketball to football. Between practices, scouting and coaching in games, Bud was out of the house five evenings and weekends a week.
Josh was a schleprock. He hung around with the same circle of friends since grade school. He was a sixteen-year-old sophomore, with below-average grades. He was rarely home, rarely active and rarely straight. He got high on a daily basis. He saw no reason to change.
Four schedules. Four separate agendas. Four hearts in rhythm with something or someone other than each other.
It had been years since the family shared anything resembling a vacation together.
It had also been years since anyone in the family wondered what it would take to bring them closer, again.
The only thing better than a pretty day on the golf course is one where you’re supposed to be working and your boss will never find out. Hopefully.
"How you gonna be sure you get away with this?", inquired Frank after they’d finished up the first green. There had been little personal conversation since they had left the apartment this morning. Whether it was the early A.M. heart-to-heart or the leftovers from last night was hard to tell.
Judging from the tone of the few words that were spoken, as well as the history of these two friends, feelings between the two seemed on track. Like most guys, these men waited little time to vent any resentments they may need to air. Fist fights before grudges would not be their motto.
Joe had gotten dressed and gone into the office first thing, but met Frank before the dew dried on the fairways.
"Remember Chris Scott?"
Frank climbed out of the cart upon its being parked. He reached in his bag for a tee. "High school?"
"Yup. Good memory. Couple of years behind us. He buys for Interstate Electronics. He said he’d vouch for me if Troy checked up on me. I’ll be fine. Let’s enjoy ourselves."
"Good. Good. Let’s do that."
They teed off. Joe outdrove Frank by at least 35 yards, as was the norm. Frank’s pitching game was better; their competition usually hinged on the putting.
"What kind of boss is Troy?"
"He’s alright. Not too bad. Kind of hard to judge him because I short-sheet him so much. I’d be pissed at me if I were him, so I guess all in all he’s been pretty fair to me."
"He yells a lot, right?"
They arrived at Frank’s ball. Joe continued to chat, right up through Frank’s warm-up.
"He yells at most of the office a lot. He doesn’t yell but so often at me, but mostly it’s just letting off steam. I just don’t listen. It doesn’t bother me."
Frank hit. His second shot was almost pin high, but wide of a trap, leaving him with a tough approach. They moved on to Joe’s tee shot.
"Do you ever think about working for yourself, getting away from yelling bosses and somebody else’s schedule?"
Joe nailed the green, ten feet from the pin. Birdie time.
"This isn’t a sales pitch, I know. You know what …"
Frank waved his hand while blushing. "No, no, no, no … NO! I know how you feel about that. You aren’t into what I do and I know that. I understand.
"No, this is about you taking control. Getting out of someone else’s shadow. There’s a lot of things you can do."
Joe chuckled. "Like what?"
"Lots of things. What I do is not for everybody. Multi-level marketing makes a lot of people uncomfortable. You would do well as a manufacturer’s rep, or maybe something out of sales."
The cart was stopped and the crunch of the parking break shattered the calm of the woods. Not too many on the course this Friday morn, with it being slightly brisk. They retrieved their putters and Frank added his wedge.
"I like sales. I like the interaction. You know me … people … people … people," shared Joe.
"Yeah, but Joe, you can be a people person and NOT be in sales. You’d do well in public relations, or marketing administration and some other stuff."
"Yeah, maybe." Joe sank the birdie and left that aspect of the conversation altogether. He saw no hope in career discussions. Don’t let him get started in that pyramid crap, Joe thought.
They played several holes without any heavy talk. Frank made up a stroke on a par five. They agreed that, in a way, it was kind of good that neither Brian nor Doug could make it today. Joe and Frank were the two who’s history go back to "short pants days" and they were the two who spent the most amount of time together in high school. Although their post-high school days didn’t always find them keeping close tabs, the two were usually able to touch base pretty quickly, even if they hadn’t seen each other in awhile.
Today’s discussion built on last night’s and this morning’s words, left no scars, at least any permanent. They’d had rough words in the past. These, however, came at a time when both of them were a little more vulnerable.
The twosome played out the front nine without event, and stopped in for a few more beers in their cooler and a couple of sandwiches. Because of some noontime back-nine start-ups, they couldn’t start number 10 right away. They sat on the tee bench, eating their roast beef subs.
"Joe, let me ask you a personal question, a serious one, okay?"
"Oh gawd . . ."
"No, really. I mean this. This isn’t left over from this morning or anything. I’ve never asked you. I want to know.
"What happened to you and Karen?"
Joe had—at some point—expected the question some day and Frank was right; they hadn’t talked about it.
"It wasn’t any one thing. It wasn’t any single issue. It was a deterioration of things."
"Well thanks for that discovery, Mr. Columbus. I could’ve guessed that. But, I’m wondering—no bunk, this is your buddy here—where did you guys break down?"
You son of a bitch. Why should I tell you? I’m not confidently sure I know myself.
"I knew things were deteriorating—and deteriorated—for a couple of years. We started arguing after Angie was born, and it seemed there were always a couple of topics that we’d never have peace over. And then …"
Frank interrupted abruptly. "Like what?"
"What did we argue about? Hell, sometimes everything." Frank stared off down the fairway, secretly wishing the two groups in front of him would hurry up through their first shots.
"I don’t know, time … money … her family. For everything that we were good together with, it seems there’d be two things we didn’t see eye-to-eye on. You know, just man and woman stuff."
"Like what, man?"
"Frank, you’ve been divorced once. Why are you asking me this stuff? You thinking about going for number two?"
There was a pause that meant more than tough thinking. Frank didn’t respond, but not because Joe’s question made him think. He’d obviously done quite a bit of thinking, and given the morning’s exchange, Frank seemed to be sensing that moment when he could lay bare his confusion to his oldest friend.
"Anything’s possible. But I never really understood all the emotions Marcia had, and I didn’t see it coming, so I thought I’d have a better chance with Julie."
"Who knows. It’s like she’s a different person than when we were dating."
"She is, Frank. She’s not dating a married man, anymore." Joe hung that one out there with pleasure. "Is she?" That Joe Moment was for humorous pain.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. But as you can imagine, I thought things we said together then would carry over into the marriage and it hasn’t. So I ask you as much for ME as I do to understand YOU. We’ve never really talked about it, and you did make plenty of mention this morning about our communicating. So break it down for me, pal ."
"Alright, alright. That’s fair. I guess. What happened?" Joe paused with a spot of pensive hesitancy.
"Before I get into that, you need to know I never saw her . . . asking for a divorce coming. Never. I knew we had problems. I knew I was a knucklehead sometimes and I know I coulda been in the house more working on Angie’s homework more, but I had no idea she was ready to split.
"What happened? Damn … I guess I never grew up. You know? When we were dating, hell … I was living weekend to weekend. I’d make just enough money for us to go out partying on the weekend. I never cared too much about a great car or super nice clothes, so I saved nothing and had nothing to show for it. You were still here then, man. You remember that."
"Yeah, that was a lot of fun. We just went out all the time." Frank spoke only to give Joe a breath.
"Exactly. But she and I started sleeping together and I don’t know if she got careless or stupid, but one spring day, it’s like BOOM!
"We’re gonna have a baby. Your move. What’s your play?"
"You think she trapped you?" Mr. Tact plunges ahead.
"Trapped me? Nah. She put up with way too much from her family for her to have made that calculated a choice. I DO think she had every intention of marrying me and never looked beyond that option. So she wasn’t too upset about our getting to the altar that way, because we got to the altar. You know? She got what she wanted, I guess."
"And you too, right?"
"Yeah. Me too. I wanted to marry her and I loved her. I’m an old softie and an ole romantic and all that stuff, but Man! We were having fun and so much of it. Then all of a sudden … ‘Grow up Boy! Time to get serious’.
"I don’t know if I was ready for that! I was only 24. I wanted to play some more. Make it to a Super Bowl. See the Kentucky Derby. Go to a couple of Major League games. You know? Get it outta my system."
"Is that all you wanted to get outta your system, Joe?"
"You mean other women? Nah, Frank. I leave all that beaver hunting for you, sport."
"You never cheated on Karen?" Frank’s heart was now beating faster.
"Never hit on anybody? Never cast a curious eye? Never, on some sales call somewhere … never had a racy conversation with some waitress or somebody?"
"Never, Frank. I told you. I don’t do that. Never would."
"Why?" Frank sniffed heavily with his first two fingers well up and into his nostrils.
"Why wouldn’t I cheat on Karen? Because, man! I could never face her after I did that."
The foursome pulled away to hit their number two shots, giving Frank and Joe time to let that comment sink in as they threw away sandwich dregs and located tee and ball. Joe never stopped thinking about the topic.
"I could never even cheat on Karen when we were dating. She was my woman then, not really that different from when I was married. It’s about what’s right, I guess. And besides …"
Frank interrupted before that last sentence. "What’s right?". Then, after he heard Joe, he inquired "Besides what?"
"Besides, I couldn’t live with myself if I did. And I couldn’t be comfortable with any woman I’d cheated with, and I couldn't be comfortable with me."
Frank’s expertise in this area needed to be shared. "You know, Joe, the passion is unbelievable, because you’re both heated up by doing something you’re not supposed to."
"Exactly right. It’s fantastic! It’s like being on fire. It’s animalistic."
"Exactly. Good word choice."
"Hey, don’t knock it."
Here’s where I can switch the afternoon around, Joe thought. I bring up the slut concept again and we’ve got a cold afternoon. I make a joke or play this off a little bit and we enjoy the back nine and the rest of his visit. Joe turned his shoulders to square up with his friend.
"I can’t knock it because I can’t do it. "I couldn’t handle the dismount-factor." Joe shifted the gears.
"The dismount factor?"
"The Dismount Factor. Don’t sell it short." Joe turned back away.
"What—pray tell—is the dismount factor?" Frank was able to ask that even as he drew back his backswing. His 220-yard drive suffered little because of it.
"The dismount factor … that period of time when you’ve done your business and maybe she has, maybe she hasn’t . . . but either way, you guys have stopped moving.
"You’re exhausted, breathing hard, maybe even sweating. There are bodily fluids to be dealt with. But before that …"
"This is where the dismount factor comes in, isn’t it?"
Joe drives his golf ball, pulling it a little too far to the left, into the rough.
"Exactly. This is where you have to remove body parts and roll off of her. It’s an awkward moment. A realization of what just happened. That pregnant pause—bad word choice—where you two actually have to talk."
"No you don’t!"
"I’m sure you don’t. But gentlemen do."
"So you say something nice … ‘you’re beautiful’, or ‘you’re amazing’, or you try some humor ‘you’ve done this before?’. But you don’t get all wrapped up tight as a drum, you dumb ass!?"
"I’m the dumb ass? You wanna try to guess what I come back with there, old buddy?"
"No, I can guess. That’s alright." Frank smiled and held his hands up in show of surrender. "The dismount factor? You’ve put a lot of thought into this, eh?"
"Not a lot of thought. Just some projected feelings. I could never be comfortable with it, and I’m not interested in getting so used to it that I don’t worry about it, no offense. Not when I was married.
"That whole act is not that damned important to be making those kind of conflicts real." Joe seemed to be embarrassed to take the stand of the straight-and-narrow.
"That whole act? You don’t like sex?"
"I LOVE sex. Just not willing to pay ANY price for it. Not for that."
"It’s not that high a price. Not for that marvelous a reward!"
"Sez you". That was exactly right, but it was also the last on the matter, at least at that level.
And so they finished out the hole, and then the next and two more. They traded stories about sex and a few about fantasies. Joe related some of his marital concerns, even speaking to how their sex life dwindled and twisted in the wind. Frank spoke proudly about some of his conquests. By hole 14, they still hadn’t shared specifics on the breakdown of the Joe and Karen story.
"I pictured you guys rocking in chairs in a nursing home somewhere, Joe. I was floored when I heard about you two."
"Hit me pretty hard too, old man. Pretty damn hard."
"What would you do differently?"
"I don’t try to dwell on that, Frank. It was hard enough getting to this point. If I start second guessing all those fights, I’m gonna get depressed."
And Frank, as if possessed by a demon spirit, responds "You already are."
Yet he continues? Joe again paused to leave his stewing process for later.
"What were the fights about, Joe?"
Pushing through his initial responses, Joe decides to continue, if for nothing else, his own piece of mind.
"Money. Time. Money and time. How I spent both."
"Yeah, time might have been the worst focal point of fights. She wanted to do this, I wanted to that, I did that … she claims she did nothing. She did something: she stayed home pissed off.
"But I’d want to go to a game, or play golf or visit some friends, and she’d have a problem with that. She said we didn’t do anything together, but we could never agree on something we both wanted to do. Not after we got married." Joe was staring at his golf club grip.
"I was working long hours and wanted my time to relax. She suggested I could relax at home. She seems to forget that both of the girls were colicky until 18 months. No one could relax at home."
"And you had NO inkling that the divorce was coming. She never threatened or warned you?"
"Nope. The first time I heard that word was when she asked for one. A few years earlier she mentioned we ought to go to counseling together, but I didn’t want to pay some guy $75 an hour to tell me I need to get in touch with my feminine side. And I guess I never saw the severity of her plea.
"Our sex life headed south, and I guess that was some indication. It didn’t help when I pointed that out, but you know … a guy knows what he … you know."
"Yep". Frank held his tongue, without re-quoting the tenth tee dialogue.
"But, no. I had no idea that a woman whom I’d known for 15 years would make a no-turn-around-this-is-it decision like that."
"What’d you do?"
"For awhile I lived in complete shock. I thought THIS was the warning. I thought THIS was the threat. But moving furniture out of my house and into an apartment was my eye opener. Seeing my kids only on weekends and Thursdays woke me up a bit, too.
"I am fortunate that she was pretty good about that, and that we’ve not fought too much since we broke up. That’s been good. As good as it gets, I guess.
"But, the papers to sign came and we hadn’t talked. I guess I thought she was gonna say something, and all of a sudden—it seemed—the day was here, and the divorce final.
"It was only then that I realized she wasn’t putzing around. I was divorced."
They hadn’t swung a club or pursued their next shot during all of this soliloquy. Frank watched Joe with both hands on the top of his club. Joe stared at the ground as he spoke. It might have been the first time he’d faced the gut wrenching fact that perhaps things would have been different if he’d approached Karen during the trial period and asked her for one more chance.
But either way, it was gone. And here was Joe—living out the life he was tossed out of the house for. Last night: wildness and a great band. Today: skip work and play golf with a high school chum.
What a life.
And Frank . . . well Frank checked his pocket to confirm that his 1/2 gram of methamphetamine and a lesser amount of cocaine were still in place.
And he wondered if his plan to distract Joe mentally would pay off for their golf bet . . .
It was Wednesday Lunch Special at a downtown eatery, and that could only mean discounted Italian Food, or was that Tuesdays? Either way, Helen and Dorothy were only looking for a place to have a salad and a conversation. They’d eaten here several times before, coming away with no ardent culinary memories.
Dorothy knew that work was troubling Helen. And she knew that Helen can very easily turn bad things worse when she spends too much time inside of her own head. And so, Dorothy set about prying open her dear friend’s psyche.
“Talk to me woman. You’re lower than I’ve seen you in months.”
Helen faked a smile as she opened her menu and pretended to read. She knew Dorothy to be straight to the point.
“Oh, that twit McQuade is fiddling with the place again, only this time, it seems he’s on a whole new destructive binge.”
“How so?” Dorothy’s role here was little more than asking the right questions.
“He claims to be restructuring our entire Comp Plans. And that can’t be good.”
“Because he’s got this idea that he’s gonna set up these teams.” Helen paused here, because the very idea stung. Choosing teams when she was a little girl usually meant being left on the sidelines.
“Yeah, teams, like for kick ball or something.
“He wants teams to work together on projects and he claims he’s gonna give them greater authority, greater autonomy and greater control. I’d like to believe him, but I always thought Newark was a great place to honeymoon, so what do I know?”
“You know plenty, girlfriend. Now go on. Tell me. Why does this look bad for you? Does it look bad for you?”
Helen sighed. She knew not how to answer.
“I don’t know. Probably. It’s just so damned wacky . . .
“Tell me about it,” urged Dorothy.
“Well, for one thing, it’s unheard of. It’s untested. It’s brand new. Now that’s not altogether bad, but remember, this is Junior McQuade. He’s got Daddy’s blessing to trash this idea next week and try something else.
“So he says he’s gonna put together teams … made up of Project Managers. And these Project Managers choose their team members. And these team managers supposedly have more time, more authority, more decision-making power. And, we are being told that it will mean more money.”
“That can’t be all bad,” Dorothy pointed out.
“If it comes true,” said a hesitant Helen.
“NO projecting now. That just gets you in trouble.”
“I know. And I’m trying to stay in the present with this, but it’s so much like elementary school. It’s so much like choosing teams to play hide-and-seek, or kickball. And I just know I’m gonna be left behind to work on the dullest, the driest, the most boring accounts.”
“Probably because you’re a worthless sack of feces, completely incapable of being anyone’s friend or effective in any way career-wise?”
Dorothy delivered the line with a hardened face and smiling eyes. She knew that Helen simply needed to get this matter off her chest so she could hear herself realize it’s not quite as bad as it seems. Having been through a dozen or so “crises” like this, Dorothy was prepared to prod, cajole and humor Helen through to a clear perspective.
She did, and Helen listened and shared more, and the clearer perspective emerged. Within the time they had for the rest of the lunch, Helen was willing to see that she had the skill and— given the right attitude—the right level of confidence to work on those glamour accounts she had set her sights on.
And Helen knew, that when she had her recovery program firmly in place, she was successful in solving any challenge that came her way.
As things changed at McQuade Concepts, Helen could change with them. A few years ago, a shaken confidence like she had endured this week would have pulled her down. And with that she would have self-medicated with a couple of shots or a beer or three. And with that, the world would have looked better for a few hours.
But when she awoke and sobered up, the problem would have remained, with her lack of confidence even more glaring.
So hammering it out with her sponsor was by far a more successful plan of attack.
As they parted, Dorothy inquired about Helen’s preparation for her upcoming Speaker engagement. One more good reason why the two can justify the successes of one marvelous recovery program.
The smell of dried beer and stale lunchtime odors hits one nose upon entering the DewDrop Inn just after five o’clock on this Saturday afternoon. The crowd who “drinks lunch” had returned to work hours ago, but the cleaning staff in the afternoon is not as efficient as the late night crew. By the time the seven o’clock patrons open the entrance door, the smell of cigarette smoke—as well as the din of loud, boisterous conversation—tends to erase any olfactory influence.
Joe knew the smell as home, where his heart lay. It was here that so many evening hours waddled away beneath the servings of boasting, exaggerations and poetic license. The scent puts a smile on his face that a day in sales had managed to erase.
Joe Sullivan nodded at Steve the barkeep to confirm his need request. The beer was ready and waiting for him as he bellied up to the bar. He stood within a crowd of about 15 regulars, men and women who knew alarmingly little about each other, despite the inordinate number of hours spent together in this room.
Joe arrived by himself, which was not unusual for him, except that last night he had three house guests. Frank was off on his own, claiming to be meeting with the parents of a classmate. Joe speculated that Frank was going back for a double dose of last night’s loving. He suggested to Joe that he’d meet him at the DewDrop by 7pm.
Doug and Brian were both working the B-shift at their plant. They expected to catch up with the Posse’ by midnight. It could be another long night for these aging partiers.
The crowd was focused on the TV for the 5:30 Lottery drawing. This was one of the state’s daily drawings, with winning numbers fetching somewhere between $40,000 and $150,000. The jackpot for the regional multi-state lottery—known as the PowerDrop Lottery—had been driven up to a healthy sum just above $100 million; given the level of reality that many of these nightly drinkers lived in, one could be certain that plenty of tickets had been purchased in anticipation of that drawing.
An inebriated old man announces to no one in particular that “winning it would never change him”. Most ignored him.
Steve the bartender rolled his eyes as his opinion is reinforced of the man’s wasted state o’mind.
Comments begin. If one closed their eyes, one might be able to hear ANY Group, anywhere discussing this topic, whether the group was sharing a beer, an elevator, or a grocery store line.
“Can you imagine winning $100 million?”
“You wouldn’t see all that money, you know?”
“Oh really? you dumb-ass, what do you take me for?”
“That’s a leading question .. . “
“How much would you get after taxes?”
“$3 and a half million per year, after initial taxes. Then you’d still have State and Federal and local tax.”
“3 point 5 million per year, divided by 365 days, equals $10,000 per day. Not bad!”
“$10 grand a day! for twenty years! Oh man … what I could do with that!”
“Ten grand a day!? Can you imagine?”
“What would you do with it?”
“What? At first, or long term?”
“Quit my job …”
“Quit my boyfriend, quick as can be!”
“Quit my job AFTER punching out my boss.”
“Then you’d lose half of it in a civil suit!”
A newcomer at the end of the bar spoke slowly and drew the attention of most watching the T.V. “Have you ever heard some of the nightmares associated with winning that damn thing?”.
As drinks were imbibed, heads nodded but comments were few.
“There was a huge lottery somewhere, and one group of workers met in a bar after work. The grunts decide to play a trick on their boss and they get the waitress in on the con.
“The patrons gave her the lottery numbers their boss always played, having heard him share their significance an endless number of times at work. The waitress came into the room, where all were gathered and calmly asked if anyone wanted to know the numbers.
“She reads the “fixed” numbers; the boss waits three minutes, jumps up and screams at the top of his lungs. Then, he hollers out that “he doesn’t like any of them, and he’d fire more than half of ‘em ‘if he could, asserts that he does not like Negroes or Jews … AND … he’s been sleeping with his secretary for almost three years.
“Then, they let him leave the restaurant.
“He learned later.
“He never returned to that job.”
The crowd exploded with frenzy, complimenting the stranger for his wonderful contribution. A female bank examiner chirped in with one.
“Then, there was the guy who played the same numbers for over a decade—the exact same numbers every week— and once, when he buried a relative, he didn’t play. The numbers hit. He killed himself.”
“Wow’s” and “OhMyGod’s” filled the circle.
She continued, amidst the circle growing with the entry of three new Happy Hour Attendees.
“Dozens upon dozens have declared bankruptcy within years of winning millions.”
“I’ve heard it to be as high as 30% . . . “.
“How about the North Carolina man, who played his and his three (other) friends numbers every week; had to drive into Virginia to do so. One day, he played a fifth number, of a fourth friend who had died. He had asked the friends and they had declared they had no interest in playing the deceased man’s numbers.
“He bought the four tickets for he and his friends.
“He returned to his truck. Waited ten minutes. He buys one separately, the one that the group had declined to invest in. The time on the ticket validates this.
“As you would have guessed, the fifth ticket hits. Man doesn’t want to share —he’d known these men for over forty years each. They sue him.
“He not only SAW NO MONEY because of litigation (he fired several attorneys, who overcharged him) he went in debt about 30% of the winnings and his family disowned him.
“Lottery did him a lot of good.”
For the remainder of the early evening—at least until the chicken wings and rabbit food was put out for some semblance of nutritional intake—the group discussed the dreams and the fantasies of being a lottery winner. Although the odds were as poor as over seven million to one, the majority opinion settled in somewhere between “hard-working stiffs deserve it” and “it’s only a matter of time before it’s won by one of them.”
Joe remained quiet, joining in only occasionally. He drank one beer more than usual, without even trying to rationalize it as thirst. Frank was a half-hour late, and their plan to attend a new action movie was scrapped. They stayed in the Drop until almost two a.m on this Friday night/Saturday morning. Brian and Doug cut out early from work and arrived before 11.
Frank visited the men’s room twice to inhale granular bits of his pocketed recreation candy.
The evening was meant to be low key and very Guy-like. Basketball games on the tube, a dance marathon masquerading as a boxing match and a surfer movie took most of the men’s attention. Even bringing up memories of the “good ole days” did little to generate enthusiasm.
Six pool games later, the boys returned to the respective homes, with Frank and Joe having spent no time at all discussing the morning’s analysis of their friendship. Frank left alone to spend the night at his retired parent’s home.
And, Frank let out a somewhat relieving bombshell when he announced to Joe that he was cutting his homecoming weekend short by a day and a half. Frank informed Joe that something had come up back at home, and he wasn’t going to be able to spend the rest of the weekend in Ashby Heights. He seemed to sound as if it was work related, but he left open the possibility it was of Julie origin. He even made it sound like he might have already told Joe he had to leave for home early.
Joe was neither upset nor relieved. He knew that Frank changed plans often. He took in this information with a noncommittal nod, and they hugged it out. Frank swore to Joe that he would work harder to stay in touch more frequently, and to “keep the pulse” of Joe, Doug and Brian better.
He was not to see the boys again until one of them visited the other in the not-so-distant future.
by David P. Hillgrove
copyright©1997 All Rights Reserved
For apparent reasons, most colleagues in attendance at the Thursday 10:00 am advertising meeting were attentive and alert. This was the inaugural "green light session" since Monsieur McQuade announced his "radical new improvement" system. This was a kick-off session and it was a Prospective Client Meeting. That meant that all who attended would be required to develop ideas, strategies, concepts and outlines for the new potential client. The topic: The PowerDrop lottery account. So … according to the new McQuade Plan, all ye who entered the business meeting would be "competing" for a spot on the team which would compete against the other regional ad agencies for the multi-state account. In theory, it could reap many financial benefits. Of course, no one knew how much money it could mean for a particular team member, but one could always hope. And fortunately for everyone present, Sonny McQuade was not to be present today, although the video tape camera was a-whirring. The upside is that the video tape recorder cannot prate dull and boring anecdotes like Mr. Aforementioned. The introduction was succinct. The PowerDrop Lottery Board was made up of a five-state Authority, and it was interested in generating more revenue from the public gambling. Their perspective/perception concluded that if they had snappier, sexier ads, they’d sell more tickets. Since they get paid to run the operation, their decisions count for the public good, and so … they were in the market for a new ad agency. New bids would be sent in the next three months. Litigation from the present ad agency would certainly commence shortly thereafter. That was not for McQuade Concepts to worry about. They wanted to generate some capital of their own. And here was a room full of reasonably creative folks looking to cash in on a new incentive comp plan. The meeting lasted for over four hours. Lunch was provided, in the form of cold cuts, cheeses and a variety of breads. Helen missed a noon time A.A. meeting at a nearby community building; that wasn’t near as critical as it would have been earlier in her recovery. She’d simply make a Commuter’s meeting at 5:30pm or one of the usual 8:00pm meetings. She made it a priority to stay in the McQuade meeting, if for nothing else, she wanted to see how this new process might shake out. But they were given a forty minute break at one point, and Helen picked up two napkins full of sandwich goodies and left the room. She entered the elevator with the smokers, all gasping for a nictoine fix. However, she turned to the right when she got down to the lobby. She stepped outside into the sunshine and found her mark without any effort whatsoever. "Miss Sunshine! How is my Littlest Angel?" bellowed a fifty-two year old man in day-old clothes, who looked every bit of sixty five years of age. "What’s Going On, Dearie?" "You are", replied Helen, with a hug. She handed her goodie-filled-napkins to Al Hunter, who politely put them down while he sat down with his friend. It had been over a week since Helen and he had talked; as hungry as he might be, he had time to eat after they talked. "I’m sorry I’ve only got a few minutes, Al. Career calling and all that," bemoaned Helen, almost apologetically. They reviewed their week as they sat on the marble-faced wall in front of McQuade Concepts. It was here that Al Hunter sat many of his daily hours away. He was homeless, and had been so for over three years. He and Helen had met in a soup kitchen that Helen was serving regularly in. Early on they found it easy to chat and found a few things in common so they became fast, if not unusual friends. Fifty-two year old men do not usually attract thirty-two year old women, especially when one of the parties is homeless and the other alcoholic. But alcohol and drugs had never been Al’s problem and his heartfelt insights were warmly welcomed in Helen’s life. He was one friend that she had to neither weigh words nor measure thoughts when in his company. They had little else in common, but he felt comfortable with her as well. It was an unlikely friendship. She spent most of her twenty minute break with him, hugged him and returned to "show time". --------------- Green Light sessions can be rather enjoyable if one is in a room of creative people who take their job reasonably seriously. If the topic is right, and the deadlines aren’t too tight, a healthy "anything goes" idea session can be as humorous as it is interesting. The only "rule" for McQuade Green Light Sessions was that Anything Goes. No idea was too fruitless, too stupid, or too off base. That led to some rather heartless attempts at hard work in previous sessions, including those run by "Junior", himself. But today’s session was run by Mary Jane Heady, a sharp, intelligent "team player". She was a master at keeping folks on task, she was wonderful to work with and inspiring to work for. Ergo, another good reason why Helen seemed motivated to remain in the long, taxing session. After a lengthy overview of various forms of media and strategies, Mary H. concluded that more discussion needed to be focused on the lottery. She surmised that more folks needed to share their own thoughts and feelings concerning the public game itself. The banter began almost immediately, between HIM from Pennsylvania and HER from the Mid-west. Him: "I don’t believe in The Lottery." Her: "Well you’d better start." Him: Why? I’ve got to USE the products that we write for? That puts me off of the tampon account … dang." Her: "Not that … you idiot. It’s just that you’d better have some faith in the system." Him: "Some people have way too much faith in "the system." "Whatdoya mean by that?" inquired Ms. Heady, keeping the focus—and trust—intact. Him: "I mean, that some people sink way too many resources into lottery tickets. Haven’t you ever stood behind some toothless woman, with hair in curlers at a convenience store … while she reads out ten sets of numbers?? The look in her eye says it all!" Her: "So you would deny her that right?" Him: "Deny her the right to spend child support or public dole monies on a game of chance in which she has virtually zero chance of winning?" Her: "No! Deny her the right to spend her money on anything of her choosing." Another young, twenty-something male joined the fray. "You believe it’s her right to spend her welfare check on the lottery?" He asked it direct and emotionless. She responded more out of a defensive posture than from a logical one. "I don’t believe that we have any right to tell her how to spend HER money." Before the debate deteriorated into a discussion of societal values and the political spectrum, Mary Jane took the meeting back to regenerate some corporate focus. She thanked her participants and asked if anyone can share some movie titles and plots which address the concept and mindset of any lottery. For five minutes the discussion turned to the movie of a married cop who, when embarrassed that he had no money for a waitress tip, promises her that if his lottery ticket hits, he’d split it with the attractive employee. It does, he does and his wife gets a little upset when half of her dream money is given away to the stranger. McQuade’s amateur movie critics sounded off on the quality of the directing, acting and writing of the reasonably-popular movie. The conversation turned to the financially sound empire that has cropped up surrounding the lottery industry. Lottery magazines, lottery play strategies, lottery reporting businesses and lottery psychics are turning over millions of dollars. One of Heady’s assistant’s reported some real-life news reports concerning lottery winners: "When a New Jersey Police Officer correctly matched six Lotto Texas numbers in a 1994 Lotto drawing, he thought he had won $10.4 million. The Texas Lottery thought otherwise. "They refused to turn the jackpot over to the Police Officer, claiming the officer had violated the law by purchasing his winning ticket from a multi-state ticket agent in Pennsylvania. He would have been on duty at the time of the purchase, and therefore had no business being out of state. The Officer sued. "Finally, after more than three years, he prevailed and will receive a settlement of about $3 million. Lottery officials say The Police Officer bought his winning ticket from the now defunct Pic-A-State in Croyden, Pa., near his home in Riverside, NJ. Originally, a federal judge in Houston sided with the Lottery and refused to pay the Officer. But the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision." There was talk about the history of lotteries, where the fact that most colonial states generated money through lotteries emerged. Mary Jane’s crack assistant also had a statistic that most, if not all of these lotteries were proven to be crooked. This generated a heated discussion on the role of government within the lottery industry, and of course, the role of advertising in the mix. In an attempt to bring about a little more laughter into the room, Heady finished by asking for open comments on plans should one ever win the bulging jackpot. Immediately the mood lifted. "What would you do with money?" "Travel everywhere!" "Get the hell out of this town" "Buy my parents a house" "Buy everyone here a car" A chorus of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s brought a smile to everyone’s face. "Leave my husband so fast, he’d get frostbite" "He’d get half, you know?" "I’d hide it from him. Some judge somewhere would understand." "Elvis bought everyone Cadillacs" Elvis discussion: did money or drugs ruin him? (chicken or egg). Soon they were back "on task". "Would you let the money ruin you?" "Of course not" "I know how to keep it from ruining me" "How?" "I would lend money to everyone" "I would lend money to no one" "I would set up a charitable foundation" "I wouldn’t quit my job." "I wouldn’t let them put my name in the paper, and i wouldn’t tell no one" "You’d have to; it’s public money. Once you pay your two dollars, you have no choice because it becomes public information. Besides it’s HOT NEWS. People want to know all about the folks who won it. It’s their only ‘reward’ for having NOT won it." The meeting carried on until just after two in the afternoon, where plans were made for an early week follow-up to today’s meeting. Research assignments were given to a few of the newcomers; given that team selection hinged on individual participation, many associates jotted notes as to their contributions next week. Helen packed up her notebook and returned to her cubicle, where she had a deadline for a retail ad she’d signed on for. The phone rang shortly after four. It was Dorothy "Are you ready for tonight?" "As ready as I’ll ever be. I feel good about it. Thanks for our talk. It helped." "You bet, friend. I just wish I can be there for you tonight. My schedule is still nuts. I want to be there." "You will be, Dorothy. You will be."
Chapter Ten (10)
She was more than a little bit nervous, and it showed as she put on eyeliner and lipstick. She said a silent prayer that she could and would be open to heaven’s will. She also prayed to keep her ego out of the mix tonight.
One could never tell which was more powerful when one spoke at an AA meeting: the impact one has on listeners, or the impact one has on self. Helen knew that whenever she spoke, she heard some of her comments for the first time herself. Despite beginning her talk by believing she knew what she was going to say, Helen was always surprised (usually pleasantly so) at words that came out of her mouth, which seemingly had never been thought heretofore. She attributed this to her Higher Power, and she has always heard that this was how it was supposed to be. In the perfect recovery speaking engagement, one was supposed to be open, and willing to speak God’s will. The Speaker is sometimes merely the vehicle for the message.
It is written in the official writings that “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism”. In an attempt to bring recovery opportunities to those questioning their drinking habits, there are meetings scheduled in public and private rooms all across America and the world. Some have specific themes, some encourage attendance of a certain group and some are open to the curious and the court-appointed attendees. Most are general discussion meetings, where members share openly. Other meetings are known as Speaker meetings. Members are asked to speak to an attentive group by the chairmen of that specific meeting, a honor given for something as simple as signing up to chair.
The speaker is also supposed to stick to a strict time schedule. Helen never had the problem of having too much to say. And it was embarrassing to come up a little short in the “fill-in” department. So she had to be on her toes with pacing.Before long, she was settled in the room at the auditorium of a hospital on the outskirts of town. In her hand, Helen had a coffee mug that was given to her on her second day of sobriety. This would bring her serenity through memory cues.She listened as Jennifer put pressure on her with a warm introduction. She stood amidst applause and hugged her friend, who was chairing this meeting as she celebrated her third year in the program.Helen looked down at her shaking hands.
“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.“Thank you for that wonderful intro Jennifer. I’m limited by my humility steps to add anything to that, but you sure said some nice things about me. I appreciate it.
“My name is Helen Wade, and I am definitely an alcoholic.(“Hi Helen!”)
“I am an alcoholic, and I am very fortunate to be sober.
“I am, quite frankly, fortunate to be alive.“Five to eight years ago, I didn’t care if I was. I certainly never thought I would be alive AND this happy, some five years later. I had my toe tag for the morgue already filled out.
“I am empowered to speak with you tonight about how it was, what happened and what’s it like now. And I cannot do this without telling you a little Helen History.
“I was born in the later-70’s into the original dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic, and worse … he was a drunk.“And, as a drunk, he sought relief from inside of a bottle for every bit of pain he came in contact with. The apple didn’t fall too damn far from the tree in terms of that coping mechanism.
“We moved a lot when I was real young, because my old man didn’t keep jobs. It seems that showing up drunk, and/or punching your boss is a deterrent to career maintenance. Who knew?
Scattered murmurs of laughter put Helen at ease a little bit.
“I was, quite naturally, the middle child. Neither the strong, empowered oldest, nor the cute, last-o’the-bunch baby child … I learned early on how to stay out of the way, because my opinion didn’t matter much.
“I also learned to stay out of the way because when drunk, my old man liked to slap around Mama and us kids a little bit. So, it was always best not to upset him and to definitely hide when you heard him launch into a fit. He was a non-discriminating abuser. He didn’t care if you were the cause or the effect of his anger; he’d wallop you anyway.”
Eyes glistened and heads nodded as compassion was shared in the audience of fifty-plus attendees.
“You would think that this kind of environment would make for a close bond between siblings, or a close bond between us and our other parent.
“It does on TV. Such was NOT the case in my family.
“My eldest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident one week after he turned 17. The hope was that he would become everything my father wasn’t. He didn’t have time. While I have fond memories of John, I cannot recall him ever treating me like that wonderfully protective Big Brother that the movies love to romanticize. I think he was running for cover pretty often, as well.
“My younger brother and I get along well, but we ain’t no Hallmark card, let me tell you. (laughter) We’ve never had huge fights, nor have we had a lot of jealousy between us. But we were not in each other’s weddings and outside of some holiday visits, our lives and our paths don’t cross that often.
“Between my father’s ridiculous sense of reality, and my mother’s use of pills —I knew all about Mama’s Little Helpers long before my classmates did—I was left pretty much on my own to grow up.
“I did my homework and studies alright. I was neither a great student, nor a particularly bad one. I caused little or no trouble in school. Are you kidding me? Give that father of mine one more excuse to whip my butt with his belt? I don’t think so.”
Helen was gathering momentum and pulling the crowd in with comments that most could relate to as children.
“My mother and I never formed that strong bond that one dreams about as a little girl. I cannot remember her ever hugging me for absolutely NO reason, nor do I remember her ever coming to my defense when the old man was on a rampage. I guess she feared for her hide as much as I did, so she wasn’t about to interfere. I learned early on, that it was far better to be neither seen nor heard around my household. The path of least resistance—that was me.
“In terms of those special Mom-to-daughter “Call Home moments”, to give you an example … I can remember the day I began menstruating. My apologies to those in the audience who are offended by this level of candidness. I realize this is not Femininity Anonymous … anyway … this horrific, incredibly shocking change is going on within my body. Do you think anyone bothered to tell me? Do you think I was prepared for this kind of upsetting moment?
“Not that I’m bitter or anything …”
The room ripped with laughter as the crowd sensed a need for release from the tension from this foreboding self-disclosure. The usually-shy and withdrawn Helen was now beginning to feel the power she normally generates when she shares her story with fellow drunks.
“So anyway … I put some toilet tissue in my underwear, not knowing what else to do. And I approached dear old mom to inquire as to the possibility that I might be bleeding to death, or at least, was a very, very sick child. And she laughed.
She laughed.You could’ve heard a pin drop in the room.
“She must’ve just had a mickey in her drink or something; this was before my brother had died, but she was already into numbing pain, even then. And she laughed.
“I didn’t see a damn thing funny about any of it. I was scared.
“She said she’d find some time to sit down with me and explain everything. I’m still waiting for that special moment to hear about it; it’s been over 20 years. She died when I was still drinking pretty heavy, so I don’t think I’m gonna get “The Talk”.
“However, I have a pretty good idea what’s going on now, so you guys can stop volunteering to explain everything to me about that … take me on tours, share with me your special stories … whatever”.
The guffaws returned and that tension built with the mention of the speaker’s mom’s death had now subsided.
“Well, life trudged on, and I went to high school, and I met the social phenomenon known as Mr. Cold Six-Pack.”
Similar to a Revival’s call to Hallelujah in a tent in rural America, several “Oh Yeahs” could be heard throughout the room.
“Now, Mr. Cold Six-pack was an immediate hit with me, because it was introduced to me by people who seemed rather neat, rather cool, and I so wanted to be liked.
“I don’t know why I wanted to be liked; I’m confused as to why. I’ve never been to Vladovostik and I have NO burning desire to go there. I was in unexplored territory, with this wanting to be accepted. I’d been okay without worrying about that for years.
“I don’t think … I’d ever been liked up to that point, but I did have some general idea that being liked was a better alternative than existing the way I was, so it seemed like a good direction to go into.
“And these potential friends offered me some beer one afternoon in the summer. If I say yes, maybe they like me. If I say no, maybe they don’t.
“It was a beautiful, sunny day, and there was really no reason to take a drink. The sunshine felt good on my face, we were near a nice pond and I could have easily enjoyed the smell of the fresh air.
“But they seemed so happy and seemed as if they were having so much fun. They were laughing and frolicking gaily and I wanted to be like them. It was kind of a fluke that I had spent the day with them anyway, so I didn’t want anyone to DISlike me . . . so, I said 'sure'.
“And my life changed that day.”
Helen paused, to take a drink of water from the special coffee mug she brought with her to the podium. Either she was getting a dry throat while talking, or she was entering some particularly emotional material.
“Because there was something in that beer, in that alcohol, that made me a different person. It made me feel warm on the inside, for the first time. It made me feel accepted, for ONE of the first times in my life.
“I liked the new me. It must be the beer.“I liked beer.”Helen smiled a broad one.
“Most women you know, perhaps, cannot drink as much as men. I was the exception to that rule. I made friends … because I could “hang with” the boys. They’d never seen anyone in a skirt drink as much as I could. And so I had newfound respect: I could DRINK.
“I could do something right. That alone was a good feeling.
“And it wasn’t long before they wanted to see what this drinker looked like out of that skirt. I wasn’t quite so open to that, but hey . . . I was willing to listen to anything.”
The laughter started early in her punchline and continued while Helen took another swig from her mug. She smiled and winked at Jennifer.
“That was after my sophomore year of high school. While I didn’t go out and knock off a liquor store that or any other week, I did manage to find a way to somehow always have alcohol.
“It wasn’t very hard stealing it from my dad; he couldn’t keep up with all his use and when he got into a bottle, or a six-pack that I’d pinched from…?
“Well, he just wrote it off to bad memory or faulty reality or something. He must’ve never suspected me, because I was never caught by my parents. That would have been something: being lectured by my parents against the evils of substance abuse.
Laughter.“I’d pay to hear that one.Real laughter, belly laughs and deep bellowing laughter.
“I had few problems with the law, either. While I was funny and humorous as a drunk, I was no smart ass. I had NO desire to spend my life appearing in court, so I watched my P’s and Q’s. I stayed out of trouble.
“And when my 17-year-old friends offered me a joint one day, I took about half as long —as I did with the beer— to say yes. I REALLY enjoyed pot and noticed that I could smoke that every day and not have blackouts or the runs. I liked that. I smoked it a lot.
“And, as you can imagine, my grades began to deteriorate. Not that anyone at home noticed. I’m pretty sure they knew what school I went to, but as far as knowing my teacher’s names, forget it. I signed my own notes, so I could skip whenever I wanted to. I had a liberal policy about school attendance. I went to school whenever it was cold or rainy. Otherwise, I might be out partying.“You know the story.”
Heads nodded in approval across the room.
“My parents couldn’t afford to put me through college, and given that I had found a new social agenda, as well as the fact that my parent’s didn’t give a rat’s ass about either of us kids after my brother died, I moved out.
“I now had the opportunity to drink every day, if I wanted to. And who was I to turn away from opportunity? I cashed in on every chance I had. I hit Happy Hours. I visited friends, merely to party. I drove drunk (was there any other way?).
“And then love came to town.
“I met David at a pig roast. I had begun to look somewhat attractive, largely because I had stopped worrying about how I looked. “Go figure.
“He was big and strong and six years older. He walked right up to me. He looked deep into my eyes. He talked a real good game. And he had a bag of cocaine that was seemingly endless.
“I was 19 years old. I have no idea why he even gave me the time of day, but we talked for hours that night. I guess the coke kept us up.
“Within a month I was in love.
“Within two, I’d moved in with him. My parents made this big stink about my moving too fast and doing things the wrong way, but remember who this was advising me.
I had gained enough alcoholic cockiness to nod at them and go on. No one was going to deny me this man. I’d do anything for him.
“And I did. “Anything. “Lie to his boss about his whereabouts. Keep a job and keep him in groceries when he was out of work. Look the other way when he came in late smelling of the ladies. The only place I drew the line was him hitting me, but he wasn’t that kind of guy.
“I should have drawn the line on his drug use. He was a waste case.
“Here was this drop-dead gorgeous guy, sleeping in my bed, giving me attention sometimes, and I was living in denial that his drug use and abuse was as bad as it was.
“And by then, I was not so interested in drugs as I was with alcohol. I was a daily drinker, I passed out three or four nights a week. I was dwindled down to nothing, weight-wise. I had managed to hang onto a job at a law firm for some time. They liked me and I did good work. Remember: I was the master at staying out of trouble’s way.
“We existed together as ‘singles’ for two years. I don’t know why, but he asked me to marry him.
“I do know why I screamed ‘YES’. I’d never find another guy like this one. The sun rose and set on him. We eloped, telling very few people. I think we sent my folks a card from the honeymoon. “Honeymoon … hah!
“It was an excuse for driving a long distance to pick up large quantities of coke. This was the ’90’s ladies and gentlemen, and white collar coke habits were on the rise.
“Suffice it to say we lived a hectic married life. We were on the go, largely because Dave had made some pretty big connections and was always trying to keep his suppliers happy and his clients satisfied. He aimed to please.
“And even with all the drugs, I can now honestly say that I have been loved by another human being. And this man who loved me often took the time to tell me or show me. There were some times for me when life was really good.
“Makes you wonder why I drank my face off during those times.
“I managed to keep my job and even managed to sign on with an advertising firm as a creative assistant. On the outside, things looked pretty good. On the inside, I was a wreck. Completely aware that I was NO LONGER a normal drinker, I began to hide my drinking.
“Hide it from a coke addict, no less.”The laughter now was more in terms of the kindred-ship the group felt for the speaker, rather than for the hilarity intended.
“And there were very few attempts to try to cut back or quit. He was living such a fast paced life, always sweating getting busted when he wasn’t staying up three nights in a row, that it started to wear on me.
“And here I was … trying to live the role of Ms. Polly Pure Bred at work.“I was 23 years old and I was having an identity crisis and I don’t know where to turn.
“And then Dave did get busted.”Silence. Coughs. Helen sips.
“Ever wake up to a nine millimeter aimed at your head? It’s better than coffee for the alertness factor. It will definitely get you going . .. in more ways than one!
“And in case any of you were a-wondering . . . neighborhood cops and DEA agents are not necessarily the most polite wake-up call artists one earth. I think it has something to do with donut breath.”
Cheap shot. Old Joke. Roaring laughter.
“Fortunately, for some odd reason, there was no coke in the apartment when they raided us, so I wasn’t hauled down to lock up. But Dave was, for items found in a previous “search-and-rescue” and they set his bond at $175,000.
“Now I knew we were in deep stuff. They don’t set those kind of bonds without having a pretty strong case against a pretty big time dealer. And I realized only then how Big Time a dealer my lovely little bed partner/husband was.
“So we started making plans (Dave’s father put up some property to cover the bond), and we were a-scrambling. There were basically two choices: tell everything we know and hope for leniency, or … hope that some bigger fish were caught ahead of us and thus post a vigorous defense.
“If we take the first option, Dave is dead within the year. He’d be the victim of the addage ‘Honor Among Thieves’. There are very exceptions to that rule in the drug world. Squealers die.
“If we take the second, no doubt he’s in the Big House for upwards of ten-to-twenty.“He didn’t wait around to find out.
“I came home to him.“.357 Magnums blow a pretty good size hole in the back of one’s head if you place it in your mouth. In addition, you have a pretty good chance of not missing.
“He did, and he didn’t … miss that is.“Half his head was splattered across the kitchen wall when I stumbled upon him.
“Needless to say, I was devastated.“And within three months, the heat was off with the police, my mother was dead, and I was hanging on by a thread. I didn’t like or trust any of the friends I had made with my five years in Dave’s circles.
“I had lost whatever friends I’d had before I met him. They have a tendency to forget who you are when you don’t stay in contact with them for long periods of time.
“I had me, and I was broken into pieces.“And I had liquor. “What a combination!
“I did not know where to turn. I felt very much as if I had no choices. I redeveloped an old skill: I stayed out of people’s way. I think in many ways, all of this crap that had settled down and around me was viewed by me in much the same way as my father’s intrusions into my safety net.
"I knew that stealth existence was my best plan. If no one saw me, no one suspected me of doing anything wrong. “So, I did what I had to do.
“I had no family to speak of. “Dave had no will and there was nothing left from his “estate” that the law didn’t claim as public property.
His father and his family rarely had anything to do with me. They offered nothing in the way of support, financial, emotional or otherwise. I had no one whom I could fall back on for financial assistance. So I HAD to keep my job.“So I did.
“But I hurt so badly on the inside. I was a 24-year-old widow who had seen so many of the fast lanes that I didn’t need a car anymore. I didn’t want to revisit the Happy Hours or the pick-up bars. So I stayed in a lot.
“I watched cable TV and I drank.
“For almost three years.
“Did I mention I was depressed?
“My soul’s conversion came one day when I was riding and walking downtown around at 9:30 in the morning, drinking some Southern Comfort (I kept a bottle at work, as stupid as that was). I don’t know, I was delivering something for work, and it suddenly dawned on me that what David did actually took more courage than cowardice. He took action. He controlled his own destiny. It was a way out.
“It was my way out.
“I decided it was a good idea. I completely rationalized it and I completely understood it. I was so firmly entrenched into alcoholic thinking that I saw no ill logic in it. It sounded like a plan.
“I bought a gun. I didn’t want to do pills, and I didn’t want to use the automobile as a means. I had no offspring or other real family to worry about, so I figured the gun was quick and painless.
“And then my Higher Power had something to say.
“I was raised Catholic—that might say something about my drinking!—and I found myself inside a church that one day. I had been walking by it downtown, and I decided I wanted to check in with that ole God and let him know about my plans. It had been about three days since I’d made The Decision. It seemed to be a very rational decision.
“I can honestly say I had an open mind. I was an alcoholic deep into self-pity, thinking like a drunk and suffering from a hundred forms of fear. But like most alcoholics, it was my spirit that was sick. And I truly believed that a church was one place where I could get some rest for my soul. And I wanted to get some answers before there were no questions to ask. So I was okay with being open to God.
“Father Bill must’ve seen me coming. He gave me a few moments to myself and then he approached me and asked me if everything was all right.
“I think it was the uncontrollable sobbing that I was engaged in that caught his ear. We were alone in the church at noontime.
“We started talking. We retired to his study. I told him everything. We set a record for longest counseling session. I think it went four hours. I did not return to work.
“I knew that if I left that man, I was going to have to make a decision about killing myself. By this time in the afternoon, I did not want to make that decision and I did not want to pull that damn trigger. So by accepting his suggestion that I enter a treatment program that night, I didn’t have to make that decision.
“It was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.
“He called work for me.
“He kept up my apartment.
"He legally dispatched my gun at a gun show; we donated the money to his youth group.
“He wrote me in the nut house.
“And there were no strings attached here, for the first time in my life since that summer day when I first drank beer. NO sex requested, no drugs, no alcohol needed. Just one human reaching out to another human’s soul and spirit.
“He was a true friend. My first one!”
Helen now smiled the smile that must have attracted Dave. The eyes came alive with this smile and sparkled. The lines on the side of her face spoke to a much better place to be than some of the reckless lives the room’s drunks might have.
“And in 40 days, I was out on the street again. I had to take care of ME, without drinking, and I had to begin to assemble a life. I had a job, still, but I had nothing else. And without drinking, someone had taken away my playground. So I needed something else.
“Father Bill Butler suggested his church. Any port in a storm, I guess. I began volunteering a little bit here and there. Started to realize I had some positive assets and some messages to share with confused teens.
“So I went to work. ‘Never miss a day’ I always say. It’s obsessive, or compulsive or something. Pretty weird if you ask me. Another sideways impact of my dad—he couldn’t keep a job, and I couldn’t bear losing one.
“Someone at an A.A. meeting said something about One Day At A Time. Now I knew all about living One Day At A Time in terms of living as a drunk; I simply didn’t give a rat’s butt from one day to the next and I simply took care of ME, TODAY and I didn’t care about tomorrow.
“But, I met a great sponsor early on. Dorothy is still my sponsor and I love her.”
Helen took a long stare at Dorothy, seated in the second row, her having come in late. The pride in her eyes took the form of moisture.
“And she assured me that if I felt like having a drink today . . . it was okay to agree to have one tomorrow. Because … and you may have already guessed this … by the time tomorrow gets here, it’ll be today, and you’ll have to wait till tomorrow again.
“I could live with that.
“I had a huge hole in my life, but I was MUCH better off than some.
“I had a job.
“I wasn’t in prison. I’d never been to jail.
“I didn’t even have any DUI’s.
“I was a widow in my twenties, but that was something I learned to accept. And I learned to accept the fact that I was not going to be able to ever drink safely again.
“I couldn’t handle that for next week, next month or when I turned 35, but I could handle it for today.
“And I did.
“And before long, I had six months. Then I picked up my nine-month chip. And when I picked up my first year chip, I noticed an amazing set of promises had come true.
For the first time in my sobriety, I believed I could make it.”
Helen looked at the clock in the back of the room. She’d been speaking for 27 minutes. She had nine to go.
She hit the main points of recovery. Go to meetings. Find a sponsor. In due time, great things will be revealed to you. This is a disease of the mind and of the spirit, but it takes its effect on the body. There isn’t one thing good that can happen to you by putting alcohol inside of your body. It answers no questions. It settles no problems.
And even with her five years of sobriety, Helen made a strong point that she knows that if she were to “go back out”, her drinking would pick up right where it left off.
She cracked a few jokes. She shared a warm sobriety story or two.
She left to a standing ovation.
She literally had very little idea what she had said. After she got started, she rolled as much from her heart as she did from her head. At the appropriate time, she picked up her fifth-year anniversary medallion and she walked back to her seat with a tear in her eye. She accepted the congratulations from friends and strangers as all shared coffee after the meeting.
Her “celebration” continued afterwards with Dorothy and Jim, her husband. They went to an ice cream restaurant for huge hot fudge sundaes and laughter with another three couples. It was just before 11pm when she made it home.
And the next morning, she had the pleasure of Waking Up, instead of Coming To.
And it was good.
by David P. Hillgrove
Joe Sullivan stood outside of the twelve-story Lottery building, with his collar turned up against the brisk wind. His previous phone calls to the Lottery staff could never have prepared him for what he was about to endure. The fact that he made the entire trip alone spoke volumes; it lay contradictory to his nature and his lifestyle, on the surface. He was the Life of the DewDrop—loud and boisterous in practically everything he did.
Yet, many of the more important things in Joe’s life he experienced alone and this life-changing visit should be no different. He’d have plenty of time for friends after this day.
As one would imagine, many folks volunteered to accompany Joe on this infamous trip, but from the beginning, Joe elected to invite no one. To that end, he gave no indication as to when he would make the journey. This bothered some, but not Joe. He liked the idea of being in control. It had been two weeks since his ticket won, yet he’d taken his own sweet time to come down and claim it. Alone.
As he opened the door, he felt very good about starting out this “new life” in the comfort of his own company.
He got clearance with the security guard and before he could get to the elevator he began to feel the strangest butterflies. By the end of today, he was going to be a different person. Enveloped in money, “blessed” with the ability to buy anything he wished, Joe knew that many lucky winners had entered bankruptcy court within three years of hitting it big. That kind of pressure might have been the genesis of the butterflies, he thought, but the answer remained mysterious.
While at home, he was entertained with the thought he’d breeze through this without a touch of anxiety, and yet now he knew that this was going to be quite the opposite. His hands were beginning to feel a bit shaky.
Joe had made a decision to outflank the Commission; without calling or warning the day or time, he’d show up and announce he had the winner. Eleven times he checked that he had brought the right ticket. Eleven times his heart pumped extra adrenalin out of fear he’d rip it, or it’d be blown away … down a sewer somewhere. There, some Art-Carney-like character would significantly enhance his sewer maintenance workers’ salary with an influx of public monies. Joe winced each time he envisioned that nightmare.
But now he was sure he was in the right place, with the right ticket. Three efficient looking administrators were approaching him, walking abreast and in-step.
The middle man extended his hand and warmed Joe slightly with a wide smile.
“Good morning Sir! I am Phil Douglas, Director of Security for PowerDrop Lottery. I am to understand from the guard downstairs that you are in possession of a winning ticket to the a recent PowerDrop Jackpot?”
Joe paused for a moment, uneasy with humor and unsure of how to be deadpan serious. He nodded as he shook Douglas’s hand and simply said “Yes Sir”.
“May I ask you your name, sir? While we are prepared for exactly this moment, it isn’t often that someone drops by without the fanfare and jubilation of phoning ahead.”
“Joe Sullivan, sir. Call me Joe. I just decided to come on down here without all that fanfare and what not. I don’t really want to make a big deal about this.”
“Mr. Sullivan … it IS a big deal, sir. Congratulations! I am Michelle Thorp and I am Director of Public Relations. I’d like you to meet our Director of Customer Relations, Mr. Chuck McGee. Between the three of us, we’d like to make you feel very comfortable and relaxed.”
As he finished shaking McGee’s hand, Joe said nothing. Perhaps this newfound humility is part of the new me, he thought. Within moments, he realized it was merely an extension of the butterflies.
“Mr. Sullivan, we’ll need to ask you to follow us to our office, where we can work with you on several major topics of interest. And, of course, there is the issue of validating your ticket, as you can imagine. May we get you anything to drink?”
And so the three-hour ordeal began with the introductions and ended with a press conference which included two reporters, two TV cameras and three photographers from the regional press corps. Prior to that excitement, Joe was hosted by the lottery agency to soft drinks, a tidy but tasty buffet lunch, a seminar on cost & expense management, a video on the excitement and the downside of the surprise of winning a lottery, and a serious number of magazine and newspaper articles depicting both the heaven and the hell of lottery winner’s lives.
It was a crash course in “DUCK!”, or “TIMBER!”, or “HOLD ON!”, and it was obvious that they were quite good at this. Everyone was friendly and professionally courteous. It seemed as if they were as happy for him as any of his friends. It also seemed that even though he approached the office without pre-warning, they obviously had a plan in place for exactly this situation. The summoned and mustered the troops with efficient adroitness. Their expertise was only outmatched by their personal touch they added to all of Joe’s presentations.
By 4pm, Joe was on the street again, having left behind the gawky cardboard “fake” check, figuring that was an invitation to being followed by a less-than-ethical citizen. None of the reporters followed him out, and the team of Douglas, Thorp and McGee bid him goodbye at the building’s lobby. No one was outside to greet him because Joe’s mug wouldn’t show up on the newscasts until 5pm. He was alive and alone.
A new frontier awaited.
Karen called his mobile phone while he was in the middle of the tour; this made Joe curious as he’d not even told her when he was delivering the winning ticket. He decided he wasn’t going to call her back until he was snuggled into his normal spot at the Dew Drop. He thought better there anyway.
Joe again tried Frank’s home number, and again got voicemail. He did not leave a message.
So Joe took his time returning to his watering hole. He drove through a somewhat seedy part of town, neighborhoods with unemployed folks standing in front of the occasional burned-out building. He looked into many of these citizens eyes. He wondered about the differences between them and himself, before he’d won the lottery. He wondered if it was a matter of fate that he didn’t end up in neighborhoods such as these when he was born. He wondered if he had the character or the resolve to battle his way out of here. He wondered how many had done so from here.
And as he emerged from the projects, he began to wonder if it was or wasn’t fate which landed him this winning lottery ticket, which was now officially his.
He entered the DewDrop Inn and was greeted with a loud “JOE!” as he bound over to his favorite bar stool. He shook hands with half-a-dozen folks who were still in disbelief that THEY knew a lottery winner. He told many that he had just come from downtown, where he officially cashed in his ticket. He held court with more than a dozen folks (some of whom wondered why he went alone) on the process, procedure and operation of big time lottery organizations.
A cheer went up when the news came on and there was Joe: sitting on a bar stool in the DewDrop Inn AND on the TV amidst photographers and reporters. When asked what he was going to do with his money, Joe’s response was vague and inexplicit. Despite the commentator pressing on, Joe would only say he was going to think about it, and try to take care of his loved ones who’ve always been there for him.
After he watched himself on TV—and wished he had dressed differently—Joe went out to the back alley and dialed Karen’s home number. She started right in talking to Joe without feigning that she didn’t know whose number came up on her caller I.D.
“So . . . I believed you after a while, but now there is no question: You are Ashby Heights’ newest millionaire. I don’t know how big a club that is. Who else besides Mrs. Lange down on the river can join you in this elite league?”
“Yeah, well. I don’t know.
“I guess you saw the bit on TV?”
“I did; you should have let me pick out your clothes.”
Joe sighed, reaffirming his regret. “Yeah, I noticed that too. I guess I can afford some new ones now, eh?”
Joe paused for courage.
“Karen, I’d like to sit down with you over dinner and speak with you about this windfall. I’d like for a lot of it to be yours. I’d like you to be comfortable. I’d like for you to enjoy some changes in your life . . .”. Joe’s voice trailed off.
“It wouldn’t take much to make us more comfortable,” and Karen voice welled up with a bit of emotion. “I don’t know what to say”.
“Say you’ll have dinner with me?”
“Okay Joe, okay. Do you want to come here?”
Enthusiastically Joe responded “Nah. Let’s go out to some place fancy? My treat”.
“You bet it is,” Karen sarcastically added jokingly.
“Good!” he said like a little boy who was just invited to a theme park. “I’ll call back when I know when?”.
“Okay Joe. We’ll talk soon”. Karen purposefully did not say thank you, out of a fear that it would appear she’s only being nice because of the money, and because she wasn’t sinking her hopes into Joe Sullivan again, just yet.
Joe hung up his end of the phone and smiled.
Things are going to be different this time.
What would you do if you won the Lottery?
How would you respond to the media attention, requests from friends, or changes in your life, going forward.
Learn how three lottery winners have their lives changed in so many dramatic ways.
As the video camera whirred and the stenographer took official notes, Al sat at the end of a long conference table in the offices of Sinnott and Esposito. Here, two of Madison Grove’s better attorneys were sitting with Helen Wade and Mr. Al Hunter for the purposes of completing a contract and agreement which would change the lives of almost all in the room . . . certainly Helen and Al. No detail was too small for attention; loopholes and mistakes could not be tolerated.
In general, the terms set up a free-standing corporation which stood legally as a foundation: “Matthew Sixx”. The name came from Helen, and she explained it represented the Gospel chapter which addresses how she’d like to disburse of her money. She didn’t want others to know what she’d done; she didn’t want thank you’s. She didn’t want a big deal to be made by anyone. She didn’t want her reward for philanthropy to end with the earthly reward of others’ approval.
She wanted the gifts she provided to appear heaven-sent.
The extra “X” in the title was to represent Christ in the mix.
Al was in a brand new suit and seemed quite uncomfortable in it. He and Helen went shopping yesterday; it was an off-the-rack suit, but it was new and it looked good and it was his. He’d deal with the comfort or lack thereof.
Papers were arranged, pens were brought out and Ray Esposito spoke first:
“Mr. Hunter, we need to be certain you understand every part of this contract.”
“Call me Al.”
“Yessir, Al. Let’s review.” He looked at Sinnott. Mark Sinnott turned on a Powerpoint and all eyes were focused at the end of the room.
“Helen is the rightful owner of the winning PowerDrop lottery ticket, Al. She purchased it, she won it. She does not want to have the public attention which will inevitably come with turning in this very public ticket.
“Therefore, she is hiring you—so to speak—to become the bearer instrument of the winning ticket . . .”
Al interjected: “The bare instrument?” Mr. Sinnott corrected him and told him in a sentence where the phrase came from.
“Ms. Wade is hiring you to become the publicity antenna. She is providing you with the job of appearing to be the winner. She is paying you handsomely so that she doesn’t have to have her picture in the paper and answer public questions.”
“Plus, “ said Helen, “I want to be able to secretly help other people, where I can. I won’t likely be able to do that if everyone knows that I won the lottery.”
Mr. Esposito picked up the point. “So, it behooves us, or it is very important to us that we all understand that not telling others about Helen is the main job you have. Your keeping her anonymity is solely while you are ‘employed’ for her. That’s all you have to do.”
“Do you understand this?” asked Mr. Sinnott as he sat on a portion of the conference table.
“Yessir I do. I turn in the ticket, Ms. Wade pays me $80,000 per year, for the rest of my life, and all I’ve got to do is get my picture in the paper and answer a lot of questions.”
“That’s right, Al. And the $80,000 is yours after taxes and other deductions. Technically she’s paying you a little less than $110,000. Just for the record.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do first,” smiled Al.
“We can help you with some financial planning as well, but that would be your call,” and the attorneys went back to shuffling papers.
“So Mr. Hunter—er, Al—we are video recording this transaction, and we are having it taken down by Ms. Noel as a means of official record. That means that we are all in agreement that you will become a rich man, Ms. Wade will become a rich woman, and that no one will ever know that this took place.”
“You should enjoy the spotlight while you can,” chirped in Mr. Esposito.
“We’ll see,” prophesized Al Hunter.
And so papers were signed, and an unnecessary oath was taken, and a check stub for $80,000 was disbursed to Al, which the accountant of the firm of Sinnott & Esposito took the liberty of opening up a bank account with direct deposit for Al. To that end, the annual check would come to the law firm, where they would disburse the monies to the parties. The $80,000 that Al received was a one-day loan for which they charged $250.
Helen would wait for hers.
She could count on $349,000 per year, with an average of $6700 per week and a budget of $960 per day. Al’s cut would be a little over $200 per day and $1500 per week.
And so the day carried on as if it was a fairy tale, with Al Hunter gently surprising the PowerDrop people without fanfare or advance notice. He met the same three executives which Joe Sullivan and Bud Causey met. He was taken to some of the same rooms.
However, Al Hunter’s situation was quite different.
His was the first ticket in the history of the PowerDrop lottery which was won by a man who made less than $15,000 per year. Given that Al hardly made $2400 per year, he cleared that benchmark with ease.
So Misters Douglas and McGee and Missus Thorp asked Mr. Hunter if he would cooperate on one change in schedule. Rather than taking him through the process today, would he be interested in coming back tomorrow, when they could take advantage of more time to alert the media? They offered to put him up in the closest hotel that Madison Grove had to offer as a five-star hotel and they assured him that his meals would be on the house. Room service too.
He politely agreed.
What they did not tell him was that having a homeless, somewhat-penniless man shown on front pages across the land as having won the lottery would bode well for the lottery. Then sales for the PowerDrop will grow like a wild fire. Hope would be eternal for those indigent, those poor, those on food stamps on welfare, and those living on minimum funds as members of our armed forces. They did not admit that using Al Hunter as the spokesman for miss lady luck will change the dynamics of how people will view PowerDrop. They did not tell him that between now and tomorrow’s press conference, they would be contacting media outlets up to 100 miles away, as well as national wire services and USA Today.
They did not tell Mr. Al Hunter that he now had to deal with any issues he may not have had before he walked in the PowerDrop door, plus the fact that he was to be a media star and media darling. At least for a couple of weeks.
Al Hunter took their direction and went over to the hotel across and down three blocks. He had already been checked in by the Lottery folks. He was invited to go out and get his overnight bag and return, but he didn’t think a paper or plastic bag filled with his things would be fitting of a recent lottery winner.
He knew no one to call. He knew not what to do. He did not know Helen’s phone number, so he walked over to her office building. Being that he was in a suit today, he felt comfortable walking up to the security guard and asking permission to see her. They called up, and she was downstairs soon and they chatted about the experience of turning in the lottery ticket. She was surprised that they postponed the press conference until tomorrow.
“And you’re still okay if I don’t go? Or maybe I will, since there’s a day’s notice. People know that we are friends; it would make sense that a friend would go down and support another friend for something this important, right? Oh, I don’t know . . .” bemoaned Helen.
“You do whatever you need to do Miss Helen. They seemed to be real nice people and I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Al looked funny in his new suit; funny odd, not funny hilarious. Helen looked him up and down.
“You sure do clean up well, Al! You look fantastic in that suit!”
“Thank you. I feel like a penguin dressed up in overalls, but the opposite. But I’ll do okay. I just feel bad that I’ve only got this to wear tomorrow too.”
“You don’t have to Al. We’ve got time to go down and do a lot of shopping for you, today. What are you doing the rest of the day?”
“Sounds like I’m going shopping?” Al smiled broadly.
“Give me ten minutes, fifteen tops. Is that alright?”
And so Helen went upstairs to a scheduled meeting with Mr. Hank McQuade and Mr. Henry McQuade, the leader emeritus. It is there that she asked to work only part-time for a little while, and that she work some of that remotely from home. She asserted that she would take all requisite pay cuts. She assured them that everything was all right, she just had some personal things she had to take care of. She hoped that they were guessing that she needed to take care of her possbily ill father, or that maybe she was ill herself.
Interestingly enough, Hank immediately asked if she had slipped in her recovery and asked if she’d be willing to take a drug test. Conversely Henry came over to her chair, asked her to stand and hugged her. He assured her that she could take as much time as she needed, that she was a valuable employee, and that she’ll be missed.
Helen was not surprised by either man’s reaction.
Without trying to sound like this was the last time they’d see each other, she thanked them for all that they had done for her at McQuade. She assured them that she would be available for a minimum of twenty hours per week, and she suggested that she be treated as a contract employee. IRS form 1099 and all. She made sure that they understood that she was not entertaining offers from other firms.
She knew that she needed the job as a cover, but she also needed time off so that she could work with Father Bill and her new-found ministry. “Money Mystery Ministry” . . . catchy name, she thought.
Soon, she was back downstairs, where she and Al got into her car and drove to a Wal-Mart, where they spent the amazing sum of $323.87 on clothes and other items.
Only then was Al beginning to understand how far $80,000 would gohis is a long form text area designed for your content that you can fill up with as many words as your heart desires. You can write articles, long mission statements, company policies, executive profiles, company awards/distinctions, office locations, shareholder reports, whitepapers, media mentions and other pieces of content that don’t fit into a shorter, more succinct space.