April 09, 2006

My heritage: Workoholism and Alcoholism

(or "Workers, drinkers, robbers and nutjobs" or "Why I am the way I am")

PART 1: My mother

When my mother retired from her career as a buyer and trainer at the headquarters of a very large department store, she did exactly what no one with any sense does: went immediately back to work.

She "retired" almost 15 years ago and is now probably doing more than she was when she was working full time AND raising children AND keeping the house AND taking care of a small farm, etc. In fact, I know she is. She runs half a company, substitutes at a high school, sells high-end golf carts, volunteers for the fire district (or something like that -- I don't know, it's related to firemen. I can't even remember what I do half the time).

She also has a book club and a Bunco group (if you don't know, just think a bunch of women gossiping and escaping their husbands once a month under the guise of winning some cutesy prizes at the end of a 3-hour long dice game). Plus, she hand-makes and sends probably 20 greeting cards a week, writes letters daily, manages the household finances, works out and volunteers for the county's voter registration office. She is just a total busybody. She works hard, and doesn't know how not to.

PART 2: My father

My father, in sharp contrast, retired last year after a very successful career in human resources as "upper management" or "the man" at a major utility company in Seattle. In essence, think "the Bobs" from Office Space. Yep, that's him. An white man in a suit telling people they're not doing their jobs, firing them, and making sure they're more efficient, which everyone obviously hates.

When my dad retired from this job, he did something that baffled my mother and I:

He retired.

Yes, he literally took off his suit and tie for the last time, put on hammer pants and a sweatshirt, made himself a gin and tonic, went straight to his favorite recliner and went directly to sleep (with a newspaper across his lap and a spoon and a jar of peanut butter handy).

His days now involve mostly reading, working out, puttering about, surfing the Internet (purportedly reading the news, and not looking at pornography; I'm just not asking any questions), sometimes fishing, or golfing. But where his DNA and mine are clearly shared becomes apparent the moment you spend a day with him. One of his favorite passtimes is the same as my own: having a good, stiff drink.

On particularly big days (family gatherings, for example) this might begin as early as 3 or 4 pm and last until about dark, when he finally is guaranteed to fall asleep in his recliner. During these days, primary activity is mostly limited to the worn path from said recliner to the liquor cabinet and/or fridge and then back to the recliner.

Now, my father is not an alcoholic. I think he just figures he's retired, and he enjoys a martini now and then, and what the hell. It strikes me as the mentality of a college student, really. The "eh, fuck it, how about a drink" mentality. Which I totally get.

It IS worth mentioning, however, that alcoholism has reared its head elsewhere in my family, the same way being Type A has...

PART 3: The Crazies

I have a great-uncle who we call "Squinty-Eyed Claude". Squinty-Eye is a drinker. One popular Claude story has to do with a family reunion for which he showed up thoroughly sauced and slurring and during which he followed around two little girls who he was trying to befriend but instead repeatedly reduced to tears, and raised their mothers' suspicious eyebrows. Claude has one eye that's always smushed up like he's got something in it, and his cheek sorta squishes up towards his eyebrow, almost making his whole eye dissapear. He looks like he's been around the block because, well, he has been around the block -- with a flask.

Somehow ol' Claude managed to produce a son, "Crazy Lenny", who looks like he's been around the cell block a few times because, well, he has. Crazy Lenny took to drinking like his father (which is to say that he does it like it's his job, only he's never quit it, been late to it, or lost it). Anyway, Crazy Lenny has a problem with judgement. He has a grossly inflated sense of self which more often than not, drunk on both Pabst and some crazy, powerful idea, has inspired him in the past to do completely insane things.

Once, while running from the police after robbing a store, for example, Crazy Lenny ran to the rooftop of a nearby building. This whole "escape to the roof" thing turned out not to be such a good idea, because once the cops followed him up there, of course, he was stuck without an escape route. At this point, most normal people would probably just give up the goat, surrender, and do a little jail time.

Well, Crazy Lenny wasn't too keen on that option. So, sized up the building he was standing on, and, determining that he was both brilliant and related to Spiderman, he decided he'd just jump from the rooftop to that of the building next to it. [Please remember, these are regular mid-sized city buildings, with a good hunk of thin air between each.] So he ran, and jumped.

I like to think that somewhere in the middle of the jump he decided maybe he shouldn't have done that, right before he fell, like Wyle E. Coyote in some Roadrunner cartoon, three stories to the street below.

A few hours later, he was lying in jail with a broken leg and a slightly more reasonable perspective on how to be "on the lam", so to speak. But apparently this didn't do much for his sense of his own physical ability, because a few years later, after getting out of jail, he would attempt to jump into an open boxcar of a train for a ride, only to misjudge the speed and distance of the train, jump too late, and bounce off the boxcar, sliding down to the train tracks. This is not a good place to hang out, which is also something Lenny learned when, split seconds later, it severed his arm, but leave his alcoholism and bad judgment intact.

So I think it's pretty clear that par for the course in my family is to have either Workaholic or Alcoholic tendencies. These two things may or may not also lead to At Least Slightly (or, in the case of Lenny and Squinty, Very Dangerously) Crazy tendencies.


I think we had a breakthrough in "group" today, folks.


Mister Underhill said...

We have kind of similar families. On my dad's side, both great grandfathers are basically unknown people...I come from a long line of drifters!

I wonder if crazy lenny is the one armed man from The Fugitive?

My family doesn't have any alcoholics, though; alcoholics go to meetings and talk about alcohol being bad and stuff. Quite a few drunks, on the other hand....

Also, some overachievers but thankfully that bug never bit me, and doubly thankfully I am smart enough to succeed without having to actually put forth effort.

Pat McLellan said...

I killed my family in order to join this cult. I didn't know Oprah's Book Club was so hard to get into!

rdl said...

Great post! I got tired out just reading about yr. mother - sounded like me but to the max. Tho I relate to you and yr. Dad in the imbibing dept.

auntiegrav said...

My name is Dan and I'm a Realiholic. I got drunk on the stupidity of others one day and haven't been able to stop imbibing.
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse are here NOW!
Will the Easter bunny die when the housing bubble collapses on top of the porch he lives under?

NIck said...

Now Liz, I object. Dad does not have the mentality of a college student. I have the mentality of a college student (only because I am one), maybe you still do too, but he has the mentality of a college frat boy at Wazzu. One of those ones that graduated already but comes back to "visit." Everyone knows that he graduated already, and they all know that he doesn't have anywhere to go, or anything to do, so he just "drops by" and drinks, and drinks, and drinks.... you get the idea.

I had never really thought of Dad as the "Bob's," I always thought he was more like Bill Lumbergh

Oh, by the way, you nailed mom's personality. Perfect. She is one of those people that when God made them he gave them a Type A personality, and a Type A+ personality. She's THE driver, not A passenger.

Well I hope that all is well, back to my studying, here at Wazzu (and for any of the faithful readers, no I am not in a frat).


Anonymous said...