Monday, October 3, 2011

Salvation Diary 54

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

September 13, 1991 Friday Day 367

Another donut run this morning. I was up at 4:30 and ready to go by 5:00. This time I was navigating for our newest duty driver, Vernon Gearring. As we traveled through the early morning inky blackness, Vernon told me how he'd gotten to the A.R.C. Another story of drug addiction crushing a promising career opportunity in sports. The Denver Broncos had been interested, but... shit happens.
I switched shifts with Robert today so I could have the night off. Tonight I would receive my cake for one year of sobriety.
The day shift went remarkably well. Not much for me to do, and no supervisors to deal with. With Major Johnson on vacation, Ed Reitz, Clarence Orion, and Ernie Sens were rather difficult to locate, even when there was reason to look for them.
So I wrote all morning, taking breaks anytime some problem came up or needed attending to.
After work I went to my lonely room and relaxed for an hour or so. I was a little tired from getting up early for the last four days, and staying up late at night. Things like that tend to tire me. When I got up and started moving around again I felt fine, like I'd slept for six hours. Bright, refreshed and sassy.
While taking a nice shower, I practiced the speech I would make later in the evening after I took my cake. I had known basically what it was I was going to say for about two weeks now, and I had been delicately refining and editing it for that period of time. Tonight was show time though, the real thing, opening night, and I didn't want to get nervous at the podium and fall flat on my face. Not with my mom there (she had driven in from Bullhead yesterday, and was staying at Jeanette's house in Van Nuys), not with Cathy there, and not with the guys from the residence there. So what I wound up doing was put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, because none of those people would mind or wouldn't understand if all I managed to get out was, "My name is Rick, and I'm an alcoholic," and walked back to my seat. But I had more to say than that and I wanted to say it right, so I ran through the short speech twice while in the shower, and once while dressing. By the time I got my clothes on I had it down pretty good. I realized it would be quite harder doing it in a room filled with real people rather than alone in my room, but I'd done all that I could to prepare, and left it at that.
I walked out front, onto the parking lot they have out there, and smoked a cigarette... I don't know why. I looked around, but no one was doing anything of interest. I felt a little awkward because it suddenly seemed that my new shirt was too big for me, but nobody else noticed and I soon forgot about it.
Close to 6:00 now, I went to the basement, to the video game area, and sat in an empty chair right behind Marvin Smith and Roger Collins, who were busy using the two television sets. Roger was playing "Starfinder," and Marvin was watching "Highway to Heaven." I didn't say anything to them, I just sat there, watching the backs of the two men, and smiled benignly whenever they looked back over their shoulders to see what I was up to. They were trying to figure out why I was sitting there, why I wasn't saying anything, and why I kept smiling at them every time they looked at me. Their degree of tension mounted steadily. I was playing a game with them though they did not know it. One thing that was in my favor was that all three of us knew that for as long as I sat there no unauthorized cigarettes could be smoked because the assistant manager was right behind them watching their every move. I knew that they had been smoking down here. The little six once styrofoam cup half filled with water that they had been using as an ash tray was in plain sight.
They knew that I knew.
I was slowly driving them insane.
My strategy soon paid off. Roger was the first to crack. Turning off his Nentendo game and clutching his walking stick, he meandered off toward the rear of the bowling alley. By the time he was ten feet away, I jumped into his vacant seat and smiled more broadly at Marvin, unnerving him. Marvin, correctly figuring I wasn't going anywhere soon, made his exit moments later.
I am now used to this insociable reaction to my presence, to this form of ostracism. It no longer bothers me. Smiles disappear as I walk down crowded hallways, and conversations dim until I have safely moved past. It's no big thing anymore. Besides, this influence I have over others has helped me, as it was now when I needed as little distraction as possible.
I took a few minutes to find the video chess cartridge. It was hidden away in a drawer and looked as if no one had used it for awhile. I popped it into the video game machine, turned on the T.V., and was set to do battle.
If this were a work of fiction I'd be tempted to write that I beat this infernal machine just to keep things up beat. I will honestly report, however, that I gave the device a good game, one move away from checkmating my opponent for half the duration, until at the end, it defeated me soundly.
The pox on it!
After cursing vigorously, I got out of my chair and walked to the atrium. I stood by Noah's empty cage for a minute or two, then returned upstairs.
I was hungry by now. I had a cheeseburger with an egg at the canteen. I was splurging. I sat next to Ron Collins (who was eating a burger of his own, although eggless) and Gilbert Salinas. Ron would be coming with me to tonight's meeting. He would freeload a ride with my mother, myself, and Jeanette. He would see Cathy there, whom he had been trying to avoid. Cathy would confront him and chastise him with much enthusiasm, due to his attempts to avoid her (it never pays to avoid women). They would part with a hug.
I was in the lobby at 7:20, when my mom and Jeanette came walking in the front door. I greeted them and gave each a hug. They had presents for me. I like presents. My mom gave me a video tape she had made from whatever old home movies she could come across. I assumed I was in there somewhere as a small child. I was an alcoholic even then, but didn't know it. It would be a big surprise for me.
My mom also gave me a present from my sister. A calendar for 1992. One of those little square jobs with a different sheet of paper for each day of the year. After the day was over, or just before you went to bed (which ever came first), you were supposed to tear off the top sheet and the next day's piece of paper would be all ready for the next day. On this particular calendar, each sheet of paper representing one of the 365 days of the year, had a word printed on it, with that words spelling, pronunciation, definition, and an example of use in a sentence. This type of calender was supposed to help one with their vocabulary, which is important for people interested in writing things... like me. How thoughtful of my sister, and the good folks at Webster, the dictionary people, who made the calender in the first place.
My sister also sent a letter letting me know how proud she was of me.
Jeanette gave me a book. "Even Eagles Need a Push," by David McNally. This is what was written on the inside jacket:

This book is about success, your happiness, your work, and your dreams.

It is about your power to create what you want for your life.

It is about discovering a true sense of purpose, the contribution that only you can bring to the world.

It is about integrity, dignity, and the value of being true to yourself.

It is about courage, determination, and commitment.

It is about love and appreciation.

Who wants to read about crap like that? No, no, no, just kidding.
It was a very appropriate gift to give to an alcoholic person celebrating staying sober for an entire year. I'm looking forward to reading it.
After putting my gifts in my room, we collected Ron Collins and proceeded to the St. James Church in South Pasadena in Jeanette's car.
We arrived about fifty five minutes early. Barbara Grothe and her husband were already there. We sat next to them. Whenever we decided to get up and move around we would use sobriety chips (30 day, 60 day, 90 day, 6 months, and beginners chip) to mark our seats.
The church was fairly empty when we first got there, but soon filled, and would eventually get to be a standing room only crowd of anywhere from 100 to 150 sober alcoholics. Except for my mom, Barbara and her husband, and Jeanette, who (as far as I know) are not of the alcoholic persuasion.
Besides Ron Collins, some other of my friends came as well. Ron Cooper, John Jimenez, Hugh Hogle, and Tom Rotsch. Even Joe Leberthon was there, the slug. Robert dropped off a van full of guys from the residence, although he himself did not stay. At 8:20 I walked out to the parking lot to see if anybody else I knew had shown up, and to smoke a cigarette. Cathy came out of nowhere, smiling at me, and looking beautiful in s sleek black pants outfit. We hugged each other and I would get a couple of kisses before the night was finished.
I took her inside and showed her where we were sitting, and introduced her to my mom and Jeanette. We then went out to talk to her before the meeting began. She had a gift for me too. A Hazelden meditation book, entitled, "Night Light," which offered a different thought or idea to meditate upon each day of the year. It was very nice.
She's still having problems with her cats, but her car seems to be fixed now. Tomorrow, her day off, she will wake at five and drive to San Pedro (the "Pearl of the Pacific") and run in a half marathon. I told her she was half crazy. She agreed.
All too soon it was time to go in. Cathy and I took our seats. Cathy to my left, my mother on my right. What a nice seat I had, right between my two favorite ladies.
The meeting was called to order. Steve, the meeting's secretary, greeted everyone there, and the show started. Robin read the opening prayer, Todd, a portion of chapter 5 from the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," and Gary the Twelve Traditions.
When they finished Steve returned to the microphone and said, "It is our custom to celebrate birthdays at this meeting, and for every three hundred and sixty five days of consecutive sobriety a birthday cake is given. If you wish to take a cake, please see me at the beginning of the meeting. We also give out medallions with your name and the date of you last drink engraved on them." He held up a plastic bag of unclaimed medallions to prove that this was true. "The medallions will be ready to pick up one week after you take your cake. We ask that those celebrating their birthday to please make their comments brief, due to the number of cakes being given out tonight."
I looked at Cathy and said, "There goes half of my speech."
"Our first birthday tonight," Steve continued, "is for one year. The date of this gentleman's last drink was September eleventh, nineteen ninety. It is for Ray D., and Ed will give him his cake."
At once the room was filled with applause. A bikerish looking young man, wearing black leather pants and vest came to the podium, followed by an older fellow (Ed presumably), conservatively dressed, with thin and graying hair. A lady seated the right of the podium lit the single candle atop a large formidable looking and colorfully decorated birthday cake, and handed it to the older man, who in turn presented it to Ray. Ed held it until Ray blew out the candle, and then set it down on the table in front of the cake lady, who would prepare it for the next cake taker.
This is what Ray had to say:
"My name is Ray, and I'm an alcoholic."
Everyone in the room said, "Hi Ray."
"It feels great to make one year. I'm here. I'm fine. He shrugged, "Thanks a lot."
Simple and to the point.
Then he sat down while everybody clapped.
Steve got back up. "Our next birthday is also for one year. The date of this gentleman's last drink was September twelfth, nineteen ninety...." I nudged my mom and said, "That's us." She was a little nervous too.
Steve continued, "It is for Rick J., and his cake will be given to him by his mom, Susie."
Everyone clapped as my mother and I threaded our way up to the podium. The cake lady lit the candle and passed the cake to my mom, who held it up to me. With some difficulty I managed to blow the damn thing out, and everyone applauded again. My mother set the cake down and moved to the side. I moved up to the microphone and bent forward to speak.
This is what I said:
"My name is Rick, and I'm an alcoholic." It was good that I had the presence of mind to remember to say this. Us alcoholics when addressing the audience at A.A. meetings are heckled mercilessly if we forget to.
I looked out at the crowd. "There's so many peeeoople here! There's not this many people here on Tuesday nights." the group responded to my meek tone with a good laugh, as I had hoped. I felt more at ease and continued.
"One year ago I was a homeless person, destitute, dirty, with nowhere to go and not knowing what to do. I then entered the Pasadena Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center. Like a typical alcoholic... I've now taken over the place..." another laugh, "and am employed by the Army as an assistant Residence Manager."
"I have a lot of friends here tonight. A lot of guys from the center. I didn't have any friends a year ago. Today I hope to have friends and to keep them because we can do that in recovery... have lasting friendships."
I looked at my mother. "And mom, this night is for you as much as it is for me, for this is the only kind of amends that I can make to you that has any real meaning, to help make up for all of the crap I've put you through. Thank you for being here."
"Thank all of you for being here," addressing the audience again. "And now that I've got my year... I'm going to Disneyland!" This got the biggest laugh (what a ham). My mother and I made our way back to our seats. Cathy gave me a big hug.
Two other people, a woman with seven years, and a man with seventeen (show offs), also took their cakes. I tried to listen to what they said, but I was too busy reveling in the afterglow of my achievement, and the relaxed feeling that came upon me now that my part in the proceedings were finished.
Most of those there told me they liked what I had to say. People I knew, and some I didn't, told me this on that evening, and for a couple of days to come.
The following is what I would have liked to have said, given the time. This is what I practiced in the shower:
"My name is Rick, and I'm an alcoholic..."

To be continued:

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