Chapter 1: Welcome to Teenytown
After Wilmington, the daily drinking stopped.
He'd go a week, sometimes two, without anything stronger than diet soda. He'd wake up without a hangover, which was good. He'd wake up thirsty and miserable wanting — which wasn't. Then there would come a night. Or a weekend. Sometimes it was a Budweiser ad on TV that set him off — fresh-faced young people with nary a beergut among them, having cold ones after a vigorous volleyball game. Sometimes it was seeing a couple of nice-looking women having after-work drinks outside some pleasant little café, the kind of place with a French name and lots of hanging plants. The drinks were almost always the kind that came with little umbrellas. Sometimes it was a song on the radio. Once it was Styx, singing "Mr. Roboto." When he was dry, he was completely dry. When he drank, he got drunk. If he woke up next to a woman, he thought of Deenie and the kid in the Braves t-shirt. He thought of the seventy dollars. He even thought of the stolen blanket, which he had left in the stormdrain. Maybe it was still there. If so, it would be moldy now.
Sometimes he got drunk and missed work. They'd keep him on for awhile — he was good at what he did — but then would come a day. When it did, he would say thank you very much and board a bus. Wilmington became Albany and Albany became Utica. Utica became New Paltz. New Paltz gave way to Sturbridge, where he got drunk at an outdoor folk concert and woke up the next day in jail with a broken wrist. Next up was Weston, after that came a nursing home on Martha's Vineyard, and boy, that gig didn't last long. On his third day the head nurse smelled booze on his breath and it was seeya, wouldn't want to beya. Once he crossed the path of the True Knot without realizing it. Not in the top part of his mind, anyway, although lower down — in the part that shone — there was something. A smell, fading and unpleasant, like the smell of burned rubber on a stretch of turnpike where there has been a bad accident not long before.
From Martha's Vineyard he took MassLines to Newburyport. There he found work in a don't-give-much-of-a-shit veterans' home, the kind of place where old soldiers were sometimes left in wheelchairs outside empty consulting rooms until their peebags overflowed onto the floor. A lousy place for patients, a better one for frequent fuckups like himself, although Dan and a few others did as well by the old soldiers as they could. He even helped a couple get over when their time came. That job lasted awhile, long enough for the Saxophone President to turn the White House keys over to the Cowboy President.
Dan had a few wet nights in Newburyport, but always with the next day off, so it was okay. After one of these mini-sprees, he woke up thinking at least I left the food stamps. That brought on the old psychotic gameshow duo.
Sorry, Deenie, you lose, but nobody leaves empty-handed. What have we got for her, Johnny?
Well, Bob, Deenie didn't win any money, but she's leaving with our new home game, several grams of cocaine, and a great big wad of FOOD STAMPS!
What Dan got was a whole month without booze. He did it, he guessed, as a weird kind of penance. It occurred to him more than once that if he'd had Deenie's address, he would have sent her that crappy seventy bucks long ago. He would have sent her twice that much if it could have ended the memories of the kid in the Braves t-shirt and the reaching starfish hand. But he didn't have the address, so he stayed sober instead. Scourging himself with whips. Dry ones.