Sunday, April 29, 2007

BUS STORY # 30 (Too Old To Chase The Dragon)

I was waiting for the Yale bus back to the office after a morning meeting downtown. The sun was still low enough that I chose to stand in the parking lot behind the bus stop bench to catch the shade of the tree next to the bench.

A woman was sitting on the bench. Before long, a guy approached the bench. She seemed to recognize him and called out, “Hey, how are you? How you been? Wanna buy me a beer?” They talked for a bit, then he moved back to where I was standing in the shade.

Pretty soon, a second guy approached the bench. “Hey, how are you? How you been? Wanna buy me a beer?” He sat down next to her and they talked. The guy sharing the shade with me chuckled. “There she goes, pretending she knows everybody and hitting them up for a beer.” He wouldn’t buy her a beer, he wouldn’t buy anybody a beer, he wouldn’t go anywhere near a beer because it was alcohol, and alcohol had just about killed him. He was in the VA and he was bleeding and he had horrible stomach pains, and the doc told him if he really wanted to die, then the first thing he should do when he got out was buy a pint and drink it because he would start bleeding again and the doc wouldn’t be able to stop it the next time. So when he got out, he bought a half pint, and when he was ok after the half pint, he bought another. “I just about died,” he said. That was it for him and alcohol. He quit, cold turkey. No more drinking for him.

“How long have you been on the wagon?” I asked him.
“About a week now.” That’s how long he’d been out of the VA, and he was never gonna go back to drinking. “It’ll kill me. I know that now.”

Had he ever tried AA?
He was gonna try it, but he knew it was God who was really gonna help him. God had never let him down. And besides the fear of dying and the memory of the pain during those hospitalizations, there were all the other bad things drinking had caused. He’d lost his girl friend, and he’d lost his car, a ’99 Buick “in mint condition,” after a DUI. The case on his DUI got lost for a while, he hoped forever, but they finally called him into court. They told him because of the time they were gonna cut his sentence from a year of house arrest and having to wear “the bracelet” to three months and just calling in every week. But first he had to get a phone. He lost his phone when he spent the phone money on alcohol.

I asked him where he worked. He laughed and said, “I don’t work. I’m retired. I’m 70.” That was a surprise. He didn’t look 70. He surely didn’t look like a 70-year-old alcoholic. His hair was still black, combed straight back. His face could have passed for somewhere in the 50s. A discreet black stone was centered in his left ear lobe. He sported a trim, off the lip moustache. His clothes were clean: khaki pants, an untucked yellow tattersall sportshirt.

He’d been injured when a scaffold fell. He’d “messed up” three bones in his spine. He was good for nothing after that – “I couldn’t even sweep leaves.” He went on disability. He was doing all right once Social Security kicked in, but when he moved from California to New Mexico, he lost $400 a month in disability payments.

Why the move?
Because he was from here. He’d been in California for 42 years, East LA, bad place, too much trouble. He was always in trouble with the police down there.

For drinking?
No, for robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, stuff like that. He was on heroin then, he explained. He did hard time, 16 years. He’s done with drugs.

How long had he been off heroin?
10 years. Never again. “I’m too old to chase the dragon.”

He laughed when we heard the woman’s “How are you? How you been?” “There’s not even a place around here where she can get a beer. Nearest place is” – he jerked a thumb westward – “three blocks that way, or two that way,” he said, moving the thumb eastward. “No sir,” he continued, that’s it for him. No more alcohol. He was drinking vodka when he almost died. That did it for him. “Basta. Enough.”

The bus came and we climbed aboard, along with the woman and the two other men who’d joined her at the bench. The two of us sat across from one another, but the flow of conversation had stopped. We ended up getting off at the same place. He turned north, I south. “Good luck,” I called to him. I’d wondered if somewhere during this story telling, he was going to try hitting me up for money. I understood now that wasn’t what was going on here. He just needed to tell his story. I could relate to that. It wasn’t until later that I realized he wasn’t smoking.


Blogger R2K said...

: )

7:39 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...


2:37 PM  

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