TIME TO PLAY SPOT THE ALCOHOLIC!

Edit: I’d like to preface this post by saying that I AM A RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC. I’m not just some random person making fun of drunks. That being said…

Lately, I’ve been playing a really morbid game with myself when out in public places. Initially I felt ever so slightly guilty about this game but after consulting with numerous recovering drunks, I’ve come to understand that it’s a fairly normal thing to do once you’ve emerged from your inebriated stupor and start seeing the world and its occupants for what they actually are. And before anyone gets all high and mighty on me and tells me to “keep my side of the street clean” or “keep my eyes on my own paper”, let me just make it clear that I don’t DO anything when I spot the alcoholic. I don’t make fun of them. I don’t try to get them to go to a meeting. I just think OH THERE’S ONE, PROBABLY. THERE’S AN ALCOHOLIC.

SPOT THE ALCOHOLIC is a pretty self-explanatory activity. It’s very much akin to Where’s Waldo if Waldo was an alcoholic out in public. I’m hoping if I play this game long enough, I’ll eventually spot an alcoholic who is also dressed like Waldo. It’s also like playing SLUGBUG but instead of spotting a VW Beetle and yelling out SLUGBUG ORANGE and punching your Grandma in the arm, you just yell THERE’S AN ALCOHOLIC in your head and don’t punch anything at all. You just look around until your eyes settle on someone and you think OOOHHH. GIRL. And most of the time this game is played in passive mode. It’s not like I’m putting on my shoes and running around the neighborhood with the sole intent of spotting alcoholics. It’s played in the background as I go through my day. And you find them EVERYWHERE. Dry cleaner. Drug store. That little shop on Broadway and 27th Street that sells hair extensions and fake eyelashes. Don’t ask why I was in there. I just was. Accept it.

A lot of times you can deduce that they probably have a problem based on things they are actually doing. Other times, it’s more of a feeling you get when you observe them. Sort of like how gay people can kind of tell when someone is gay even if they aren’t displaying any stereotypical signs of gayness. There is just this energy and you are aware that there is a key part of you that is the same.

Every night when I leave work, I have the pleasure of walking through Madison Square Park on my way to the train. I could choose to walk all the way around the park but it’s obviously much more serene and lovely to walk under the large trees where pigeons occasionally make you gag by flapping their disease soaked wings in your face and squirrels chase you because they are no longer afraid of humans in the city and just want to steal your nuts. Come to think of it, it’s really not all that serene but when you’re surrounded by concrete, you tend to embrace any semblance of nature you can find.

So I was walking through the park and during the day while I was chained to my desk inside, they had set up a large stage and hundreds of people were standing in front of it as a Spanish music band played a free concert. A lot of people were dancing and having a good time so I stopped for a few minutes and watched along with them. I noticed the woman next to me had a plastic glass with wine in it. First of all, I found it very weird that she hadn’t already emptied the glass and that she had gone at least 3 minutes without even taking a sip. NOT AN ALCOHOLIC. Then I noticed that DOZENS AND DOZENS of people had glasses of wine, too! And then I started noticing them. My people. There was one woman with a totally empty glass in her hand and she was dancing in that drunk way. Do you know what I mean? She looked like she was maybe trying to do some Latin style dance but the steps kept being interrupted by her stumbling to one side and then she’d swing her hair around and head bang for a bit like she was at a death metal concert even though the band was singing La Bamba. Then she wandered over to her blanket and sat down and opened her ice chest and poured more wine. I watched like a hawk to see how she’d drink it. She chugged like it was ice water. ALCOHOLIC! I screamed in my head. And then I walked to the train and went home.

Last night I was at a friend’s CD release party at a local music venue. I was sipping my Diet Coke and eating my fish sandwich as she played. She reached a point in a song where her saxophone player took a solo and then out of the corner of my eye I saw a flurry of movement. I looked over toward it and saw a woman of a certain age (60?) holding a nearly empty martini glass and she was PLAYING THE AIR SAXOPHONE! Yes, she was standing up at the bar pretending she had a saxophone and she was swinging her head around imagining that she had the solo and that she was on stage. The man she was with was also jamming out with her and making that constipated pooping face that people make when someone is playing an instrument really good? That squinted tight eyes closed face that says DAMN. THEY ARE PLAYING THAT INSTRUMENT SOOO GOOD RIGHT NOW. It’s the same face that electric guitar players make when they play solo and think they are fucking amazing. He was making that face. She was playing a fake saxophone. ALCOHOLICS!

Sometimes it’s more blatantly obvious and sad. Almost every single day when I exit the train and walk towards my home, I pass a little strip of benches where the neighborhood homeless people congregate. There is one man who is always in various states of intoxication. Usually when he is extremely angry and belligerent, I find it fairly easy to just to pay him no attention and go on my way. But every now and then, he sits calmly on the bench with a brown paper bag containing a beer and rocks back and forth staring off into space. Alcoholic.

All joking aside, I know how serious this all is and I know that just because I might make the assumption that someone has a problem, they might not. Conversely, I am absolutely certain that I am in contact with people every single day that are perhaps alcoholics and I simply have no fucking clue. I think my fascination with strangers and their drinking can be attributed to a number of different things. First, the intrigue and attention I pay to the drinking of others is direct evidence of my clearly morbid and dysfunctional relationship with all things related to alcohol. Second, I think it’s perfectly natural to want to observe, contemplate, compare, and intellectualize external examples of something that I AM. I am THAT. I am that woman head banging to La Bamba. I am the woman playing the air sax at the bar. I am the homeless man rocking back and forth on the bench. And even though our circumstances are entirely different, we are the same.

Maybe the game should be called SPOT ME.

Ooooh, girl. There I am.

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25 comments

  1. I’m a self admitted alcoholic. I’ve known it for 7 or 8 years now. But I have to say that even this is a bit of satire that it’s a bit insulting, presumptuous and unwarranted. What if you saw me, a straight man who has no problem with homosexuals, getting manicures and buying color coordinated outfits and listening to Barbara Streisand? Would I be subject to, “SPOT THE GAY GUY”? I’m sorry, I do enjoy your blog but this doesn’t make sense to me. Could this be signs of unhealthy drinking? Sure. But this is a bit much.

    Ya know, not to mention depression, anxiety, bipolar and so on and so forth.

      1. Don’t be sorry! I thought about what would happen if someone didn’t get all the way through to the end. I think the moral of the story is that I see ME more and more in OTHERS. My empathy levels are on the rise.

  2. When I first got sober I used to play “who’s hung-over” while people watching at the traing station. It made me feel better that I wasn’t! Love your blog! Keep up the good work!

  3. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, well then… something, something…etc., etcetera…harumph!

    Still elling-oh-ell at “DAMN. THEY ARE PLAYING THAT INSTRUMENT SOOO GOOD RIGHT NOW.”

    Thanx for sharing.

  4. I play spot the alcoholic 24/7. And I have an empathetic PANIC when I see an alcoholic looking for more booze at a party/event/BBQ. I feel we should all drop everything and get that person’s glass filled. I think it’s just Wolfie springing out and saying if you won’t feed me here- let me make sure I’m fed Somewhere.

    1. That’s one situation I haven’t been in yet, Iris. Being at a party or event where the primary activity is drinking. I know I will at some point and I’m sure it will be very interesting to observe who is drinking what and how much and are they getting enough and will they be okay?

  5. I do this too John, but I choose to do it in the mornings as people are going about their business. I spot those with blotchy dehydrated skin, depressed eyes, dark circles and who clearly have that ‘morning after’ stench that you just cannot wash away. I use it to remind myself of what I don’t miss. It takes one to know one after all….

  6. I still do this!! Last night at a gas station 2 guys had 2 cases of beer each eyes red swollen & slurring their speech dropped one of the cases(glass bottles) beer goes everywhere!! I actually felt sorry for them & the cashier because she was all alone!! I helped her clean it up a bit but theses two were obviously blotto!! She told me she shouldn’t have sold it to them but she’d already rang it up before the fiasco….it just reaffirms my sober life and the decision to stay that way! How many times was I like that?!? Plenty my friend, too numerous to mention 🙂

    1. Wow. That situation at the gas station just sounds so chaotic and messy and difficult and depressing. So glad we don’t have to wonder if maybe something similar (or worse) will happen to us.

  7. I love this. We absolutely have to laugh at ourselves and the world would be no damn fun if we were always being polite. It’s hilarious and bold that you blogged about it. It’s also a really great way to draw attention to the qualities that we no longer want in our lives as sober people. That’s not a bad habit of mind to have. Thanks for writing!

    1. Right. I think it’s totally normal to look for examples of something we are and to want to recognize images of what we used to behave like, you know? Thanks for reading!

  8. I play this too. Look for the stagger, listen for the slurring, the repeating. I can’t count the number of times I embarrassed myself. What kills me is how often I thought no one could tell…

  9. you are witty and fun and sassy! your edginess is tempered by humility and i totes get you. you are my favorite alcoholic!

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