Friday, May 10, 2024

Parkinson's book excerpt:: "Me drunk in public"

I'm struggling to write the book, "The Art of Living Suddenly: How to Deal with a Parkinson's Diagnosis (and other things that suck)."The problem is my insistence on writing only books that have happy endings. With PD that's a challenge. But I think this one strikes a balance between the complex emotions I need to convey a story that compels without depressing. At least that's how I feel today. This is about me and last Saturday night when I got drunk in all three of the Tin Lizzy bars. Nothing depressing about that!

There are a number of places in the small town where I reside where it’s not unusual for me to be introduced as the “world famous writer.” I refute these glorious inaccuracies by pointing out you can’t be world famous if you need any introduction in a town so small the last mayoral election was decided by the relative landslide tally of something like 12 to 6.

We’re so small town we have the stereotypical hallmark of true small town USA.

Yes,  Youngstown, Pennsylvania, pop. 247, has just one stop light intersection.

But what distinguishes it from many other no-pulse civic realms is that while we have just one stop light, we can brag we have six liquor licenses. Six distinct whistle wetters!

And I’m famous in two of ‘em.

Latrobe Country Club is not one of them. They’re already filled to the brim there with leftover fame from being the parcel of land inseparably linked to Arnold Palmer —a truly world famous man who’d needs no introduction.

Nor am I famous in the Rainbow Inn, a popular family restaurant where we often took the kids on $5 spaghetti dinner night. But it’s not my corner tavern so, nope, not famous there.

Not famous at the Youngstown Social Club either.

But I am small town famous in two of the three bars in a building deserving of fame. That’d be, of course, the Tin Lizzy.

The Rathskeller may, in fact, be the most interesting bar in the building, but I warrant no fame there. It gets a later arriving crowd there and skews younger so it’s really not for me. So, no, I’m not famous in there.

I’m famous in Flappers, the second floor martini bar. My friends and I gather up there, particularly on Fridays. Even when I’m alone I can usually count on the bartenders to say who I am, what I’ve done and that, hey, that’s him napping at the end of the bar.

I remember one Friday night I was in there alone. It was for me later — maybe 9 p.m. — and I was all by myself amidst a bustling crowd of convivials. I have to tell you, I remember that night feeling a bit like a loser. There were little bouquets of happy friends flowering all over the bar.

And there I was all by my lonesome. I thought I should finish my drink, tip the bartender, and head home

That’s when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The tapper introduced himself as Tim and asked if I was Chris Rodell. I told him I was.

“I want to buy 30 copies of your Arnold Palmer book.”

I slammed my palm so hard on the bar several patrons spilled their fancy drinks.

“I’m never leaving this bar again!”

The Main Bar is the Tin’s beating heart. It’s where the locals drink, where people meet to make plans, and where John “Buck” Pawlosky, bar owner since 1980 holds court. He’s so disdainful of current pop culture, he admits the last movie he’s ever seen was “Apollo 13” from 1995.

I tell people he thought it was a sequel.

He doesn’t think much of music the rest of us found agreeable.

Did he like ’70’s music? Elton John? The Bee Gees?

“Nahhhh …”

How about the ’60’s? Beatles? Stones? Creedence?

“It was all crap.”

Hmmm … What about the ’50’s? Elvis? Bobby Vinton?

“Bunch of punks.”

Fair enough. Let’s go back to the 40’s. What did you think of Sinatra? The Andrews Sister?

“Made me sick to my stomach.”

Man, we’re running out decades with any enduring recorded music. The ’30’s with, I dunno, Bing Crosby. Maybe Burl Ives?

“Look, I like real music. Music that really gets you going. I’m talking music from the ’20’s”

I remind him this IS the ’20’s. He doesn’t care. I guess I don’t either. He’s since 2015 let me keep an office in the coolest building, I say, in all western Pennsylvania. So I don’t give a crap what he thinks about pop culture as long as he keeps tolerating me.

I think he’s proud to have me as a building fixture and, yes, refers to me as “the world famous writer.”

I love it here, especially on nights like Saturday when I put time in at all three bars. It was Kentucky Derby Day. I love that day. Plus, I’d been to a golf exhibition and sold a dozen books. So I had folding money.

I started at Flappers drinking straight Wild Turkey and asking the bartender Kristen how much different the race would be if the rules stated the jockeys each had to weigh 300 pounds.

She said that would be animal abuse.

“What do you call you pouring shots of  straight Wild Turkey 101 down my throat for hours at a time and not even offering me so much as a Slim Jim for sustenance?”

She said she’d call that dumb animal abuse.

Now, I’d never want to be accused of discouraging wit, but I will confess when time came for her tip, I pushed a quarter across the bar and said, “Change, please.”

Then it was down, down, down  to the beguiling Rathskellar where Dawn was working. She poured me a double Wild Turkey on the rocks and pretended to be listening when I asked her how different the derby would be if the horses had no jockies.

(Trivial Aside: The bartenders on the basement and 2nd floors know to pour me Wild Turkey and have memorized my reasoning, which is: I drink the bourbon I most resemble; I’m not a Jack or a Daniel, a Jim nor a Beam. I’m a Turkey that sometimes gets Wild”).

I sipped on that for about an hour before saying goodnight. It was 8 o’clock and the younger crowd was beginning to arrive. Plus, Jimmy had started at 7 and Jimmy has the nimble brain of a free range chicken so I enjoy our banter.

He poured me a Yeungling draft while I asked him if he thought horse breeders would try and genetically engineer horses with really, really long noses to up the odds that winning by a nose became a sure thing for horses they’d inevitably name things like “Sir Schnoz Alot” and “Picks A Winner.”

We had a splendid time, but — speaking of sure bets — I’d reached my limit. Likely passed it in the basement.

But who, er, knows? I’m a seasoned drinker.

A seasoned drinker with Parkinson’s.

It’s becoming increasingly common for me to need physical assistance in getting off my bar stool. I don’t know whether it’s the height, the angle of bend at the knees  or the growing clumsiness but it happens about once a month. I’ll be sitting there and after maybe two beers and my lower body becomes immobilized. My friends are aware of my predicament and begin silently cheering me to achieve lift-off. I asked John what he’s thinking as he observes me struggle.

“First thing is ‘I hope he knows there’s nothing we wouldn’t do to help you.’ We love you and seeing you struggle kills us. Then we start to silently cheer with each sign of progress. Then, finally, relief, when you arise from your stool and take that first tentative step off and head toward the door.”

That’s me. Reliably entertaining bar company since 1981!

When it drags on too long, I surrender to my embarrassing fate and say, “Boys, I’m ready to be launched.” And “… 3… 2 … 1 … Blast off!” these burly, big-hearted men put their arms around me and heave me out of my stool. It’s joyous. Wonderfully invigorating.

Of course, I didn’t have my A-team cheering section with me in the Main Bar on Saturday night.

It was just me, my surgically healing left foot, my Parkinson’s and my still-escalating blood-alcohol content. I finally escape the stool, but now must navigate the path between me and the distant front door.

I sense every eye turn to me and every mouth close. I’m twice the age of everyone in the bar. I’ve become one of those pay-per-view live spectacles where half the audience is rooting for you to miraculously survive and half are hoping for gruesome splatter landing.

What I’m about to type is pure conjecture and based on what would have gone through my own head back 30 years ago had I witnessed an old coot like me, head down and immobile. Please don’t judge me.

“Wouldja look at that guy. He’s 60 if he’s a day. And look at him. He’s shitfaced. A guy that old should be home with his grandkids. He can’t even walk. I’ll bet he’s gonna stumble head first straight into the juke box.”

The son of a bitch is right on all counts. It’s all true. I should be home, sober and watching “Frozen” for the 248th time, but it was Derby Day and it’d been a while since I’d howled.

I’d been a spectacle. I’d embarrassed myself.

Jesse;d seen it all. She’d worked the day shift and had stuck around to socialize. I apologized for my sloppiness.

“Plus, I’m sure at least some of those people recognize me and now will always say they saw me stumbling drunk at the Tin Lizzy,” I say. After all, I’m a world famous author.”

She came back with the two syllable words of advice I always long to hear in any fretful situation.

“Fuck ‘em. You were fine.”

I thought about it and realized my mistake was selling my neighbors short. I should have announced:

“What you’re about to witness is not going to be pretty. I’ve had a lot to drink. And on top of that I’m awaiting my third foot surgery in 3 years. Oh, and I have Parkinson’s. But the good news is I’m not driving. Hell, I’m so broke, I don’t even own a car. My wife’s coming to get me.”

Then Jesse came up with a great idea. She said, “Tell them all that but at the end say instead, ‘I’m hoping someone can give me a ride up the hill.’ You’ll see a dozen hands shoot up. You can do it every night. They’ll argue about whose turn it is to drive you home.”

She’s absolutely correct. 

See, there are perks to being a world famous author.

It’s just none of them surpass the perks of living in a small town where the people all have big hearts

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