| print this
were only beginning when he hit Bellevue
for the thirty-fifth time. He still had the state hos-
pital ahead of him; and even after A.A., a heartbreak-
ing test of his new-found faith.
NEVER DRANK in high school or in college, because I
never went to high school or college. I've never been
to Knickerbocker Hospital, I've never been to Grasslands,
I've never been to Town's, that swanky place on Central
Park West. But I've been to Bellevue's alcoholic ward
thirty-five times. That should qualify me, because they
don't take you in the Bellevue alcoholic ward for sinus
I made a few jails,
maybe sixty-five or seventy-five times in my drinking.
I made my first trip to Bellevue at the age of seventeen.
I was called an alcoholic when I was eighteen or nineteen,
but I just couldn't believe it. I didn't know what an
alcoholic meant. I had trouble with alcohol, but at
that age I wasn't bothering anybody. I was single. I
just went on about my business, and made up my mind,
"Well, I'll lick this thing my way. Someday I'll
be able to stop."
I made up my mind
I was going to stop drinking when I got married. In
1926 I met the right girl, and we got married. I thought
it would be as easy as the snap of a finger to stop
drinking. Well, I didn't stop because I couldn't stop.
I couldn't leave it alone. I
went on, but now it went into tragedy drinking, because
I had brought three children into the world and it went
from bad to worse. It was a matter of hospitals, and
jails and that merry-go-round we all go through.
My wife stood for
this for about eleven years. Then she got a resentment—she
was going to leave me! She had tried to leave me before
many times, but it was only to try to get me to sober
up. But this time I got home one night in the early
evening, and everything was crated ready to go to storage.
She was going her way with the three children. I was
left to go my way with the bottle.
My sister heard
about this, and she came running over to the house and
says to my wife, "Now wait a minute, before you
do a tragic thing like this and leave my brother! Do
you realize he is a sick man?" Boy, I thought that
was out of this world—such kind words as "a sick
man"! You ought to hear what my family called me
before that! My sister says, "Let me stand the
expense of taking my brother to the Medical Center to
interview one of the best psychiatrists."
I thought I was
real ripe for a psychiatrist, because I was beginning
to do a lot of things I didn't want to do. I thought
I was really going out of my mind. I had gotten to the
stage where I'd get up in the morning, and I'd look
in the mirror, and then I'd start talking to myself,
and I'd say, "For cripe's sake, will you stand
still long enough till I shave?"
And then I got
to the stage where I'm walking the streets of New York,
and my eyes go up to an ad on a great big billboard.
The ad read, "Old Dutch Cleanser." Now that's
an everyday ad, but on this can
Old Dutch Cleanser there happened to be an old woman
with a club. Next thing you know, she got off the sign
and chased me into the 51st Street police station. I
ran in there for help. She was right behind me. I went
up to the lieutenant's desk and said, "Help me,
she's out there!" He said, "Who's out
there?" I start raving "There she is with
the club! She's followed me from 54th Street!"
He looked me over and says, "Oh, I see what you
mean, Mac." He hollers for Patrolman Murphy, and
Murphy comes out, and this lieutenant says, "Take
that bum to Bellevue!" So away I go.
So later on when
my sister mentioned the Medical Center and a psychiatrist
I thought I had no choice. Next day we walk into the
Medical Center and I'm perfectly sober, and we see a
certain doctor there. I had made my mind up I would
do anything in the world that this man says. So we get
appointed to Dr. So-and-so, office so-and-so. We walk
in, and there's a little psychiatrist sitting down at
his desk. He gets up, and he turns out to be a little
squirt about that high. Right away my mind changes!
I says to myself, "I'm bigger than this guy."
I kept staring at him. I didn't think he knew more than
I did. I was bigger than he was. I came to the conclusion
in the end, "One good drink would kill that guy!"
He started asking
me a lot of questions. He says, "Why do you drink?"
My sister is paying fifty dollars for that question!
"Why do you drink!" Well, I had interviewed
psychiatrists before, and I started asking him
a lot of questions. He couldn't get to first base with
me because I wasn't cooperating. Finally he threw me
out of the office and called my wife and
in and talked to them about an hour. The conclusion
was that he suggested that I go to Bellevue! What did
Bellevue have for me after being there over twenty-five
But I made up my
mind to do anything that man suggested. So the next
day we walk into Bellevue, and I shocked the doctor
that was sitting at the admittance office. He had seen
me come in on a stretcher; he had seen me come in on
crutches; he had seen me come in with a cop under each
arm; and when he saw me walk in with two ladies, he
He says, "I
don't get this. What is this?" He thought I was
really nuts, I guess. "Doctor," I says, "I
am having a little trouble with alcohol." I told
him about this bird up in the Medical Center that sent
me down here to commit myself to a State institution.
He says, "You really want to go through with this?"
I says, "Yes. I really want to get straight and
I think this is going to help me." He says, "Well,
all right, I'll draw out a voluntary commitment. You
sign it, and you're in!"
He didn't tell
me where I was in! Ten days later I get on the
bus and the first thing I know I'm up in the booby-hatch.
Well, I resented that because I thought I was going
to one of those drying-out places. I didn't know I was
going up there with a lot of nuts.
A few days later
another bus came up from Bellevue, and on this bus there
happened to be two boys that had made several trips
to Bellevue. One of those boys had been in here and
knew the ropes. He says, "Don't worry about this
place; this ain't the worst place in the world."
Well, he was right, because ten
later the three of us were drunk right up there in the
I left three children
and a wife on the outside, absolutely penniless. One
of the children, a boy ten years old, wrote me a letter
to try and encourage me. He thought I was up there getting
shots in the arm and different medicines and that when
I came out I would never take another drink. Well, he
wrote me a letter, and he says, "Don't worry dad.
Do anything the doctors tell you, no matter how long
they keep you there. I hope you come out a dad like
my friends have." He could bring boys, his friends,
up to the house now, and he couldn't do that while I
was drinking because I didn't want anybody around me.
I was one of those nasty drunks. He went on in this
letter, "Don't worry about the house, because I
went into business." His business was that he made
himself a shoe-shine box and went out and shined shoes—while
I'm up in this hospital drinking!
On one of her visits
my wife left me a dollar. I thought it was five dollars.
I stuck it in my pocket, and when she left I took it
out and saw it was a dollar, and I says, "Why,
that cheap so-and-so! What am I going to do here with
one dollar for the next two weeks?" Two days later
one of the head doctors called me into his office and
says, "Do you know your wife had to borrow money
to get back to New York, that she left you her last
dollar in the world?" He pointed out that my children
didn't have the price of a glass of milk the next morning.
That made me feel pretty cheap. I says to myself, "I'm
the cheap so-and-so." I told the doctor, "I'm
going to do something about this." He says, "Why
don't you sign yourself out—
able to do that—and go out and get yourself a job, and
cut out all this monkey business? Take care of your
family. You got a fine little family there. Go out and
take care of them." And I swore to God in front
of that man that day that I would do that. I swore,
"I'll never take another drink as long as I live!"
At the time, I
meant it. I did sign myself out, and I did get a job,
and for two weeks I did not take a drink. Two weeks
is a pretty long period with me. I happened to get paid
that first two weeks' pay with a check. I didn't know
where to go and cash that check except in a saloon.
Nobody knew me, nobody would trust me, only these bartenders.
But I knew I couldn't get away with going in there and
buying one drink. I says to myself, "So help me
God, I won't have any more than three drinks. I'll cash
this check and I'll bring this money home." I had
my three drinks, cashed the check, picked up the change,
and then the bartender says, "Will you have one
on the house?" So I did. Well, after that I don't
have to tell you what happened. I never got home with
a nickel of that money.
I lost my job,
but it was easy at the time and I got another one. Then
another. And then it was one job after another, until
I couldn't beg, borrow or steal any more. Then I think
I went as low as a man will ever go. When I couldn't
get a job any more, and that kid was still out shining
shoes, I used to go around to where he was shining shoes
and tell that kid that his mother had sent me over to
get the money that he'd made. That kid knew all the
time that I wasn't going to bring that money home, but
he never refused me.
always gave me all the change he had. And I went out
and drank it.
The day came when
I finally wound up in Bellevue again. I was in the alcoholic
ward and I was pretty sick going in there. One of the
doctors ordered a big dose of paraldehyde for me to
knock me out. An hour and a half later, three men were
trying to wake me up. One of them was the night attendant
of the hospital, one was a policeman in uniform, and
one was a plain clothes man. The law had been looking
for me for four or five days, but they finally caught
up with me in Bellevue. It was for something I had done
in the blackout that I didn't know anything about. They
took me out of the alcoholic ward and took me to the
Bellevue prison ward, where I spent quite a few months.
I was up against
a very serious charge. I was supposed to go to Sing
Sing for between seven and a half to fifteen years for
it. But somehow or other, I don't know how it happened—maybe
it was through the prayers of my wife, or maybe help
by my family, or somehow or other—when I was brought
up on trial I was sentenced to the State Hospital again
instead of Sing Sing. This was in late 1938 when I got
back up there. This time I wasn't on my own. I was there
with the sentence of three judges.
Early in 1939,
when the A.A. book was fresh off the press, I was called
into the doctor's office, the chief doctor of the State
Hospital. One of the founders of A.A. was there with
five other men from A.A., trying to get A.A. into the
hospital. The way A.A. was put to me, this doctor says
to me, "The medical profession has nothing for
you. The clergy has nothing for you.
nobody in God's world can help you. You're a chronic alcoholic,
period!" Then he says, "Maybe these men and
this book can help you."
I read the book.
In the meantime they had meetings in South Orange, New
Jersey. There used to be a group from South Orange that
would come up to the hospital and take some of the boys
down to a meeting and bring them back. I wanted to know
going on at these meetings. I got one of the boys that
was there and I says, "What are these meetings all
about?" He says, "It's a bunch of people that
get up there and swap stories. They talk to each other
and you talk to them. They're all a bunch of ex-drunks.
And they're all happy looking. They all have a lot of
fun, they're all dressed up, they have a collar and tie.
Some are working and some are not, but they're all happy."
He says, "Why don't you ask the doctor to let you
come down there sometime? You ought to see the spread
these people put out after the meeting—chicken sandwiches
and . . ." Oh, he laid out a beautiful picture for
me! "Home-made cakes" . . . something you weren't
getting at the hospital! I says, "Gee, that looks
I never been to a
meeting before in all my life where there was a bunch
of alcoholics where nobody didn't have a bottle! So I
asked the doctor, and he let me go down to the meeting.
I figured, "Well, I'll go down there, I'll get a
coupla drinks and I'll beat it, and phooey to A.A. and
everything else!" I went down there this first time,
and I was introduced to this happy looking bunch of people.
They put me in my class with real two-fisted drinkers.
They sat me in a corner talking to these guys. I couldn't
get away from them.
In the meantime, I'm looking for the live wires. Anybody
going down towards the water section, I look him over.
Well, out of a clear sky there's four rough looking
guys over there, and all at once they decide to go down
to the water section. Right away I says, "Oops,
well, excuse me—I gotta go." And I walked in there
figuring as soon as these guys get in there, one of
the four is going to pull out a bottle. But I was stunned—I
was surprised—no bottle! I says, "What is the matter
with these guys?"
I went to A.A.
meetings for about seven months and I lost the idea
of a drink. I didn't think of it any more. I was amazed
when I was called into the doctor's office and told
I was going out on parole. I got a year's parole, and
on my parole card was "In the custody of your wife
My wife used to
come to every A.A. meeting with me, but one particular
night we got company, and my wife says, "What are
we going to do?" I says, "Look, you tend to
the company. I wouldn't miss that meeting for the world.
It means too much to me."
I went to the meeting
that night, and it was a swell meeting until the last
speaker got up. This fella says, "As long as you
are an alcoholic, you'll never be able to take another
drink as long as you live!" Oooh, that was rough!
A little later on in the same talk, he says, "And
don't forget—not even a glass of beer!" and he
pointed his finger right at me sitting in the back.
That was it! I says, "Why that bunch of Bible-backed-bums,
where do they get that stuff?"
That's one meeting
I didn't stay for the Lord's Prayer. The speaker got
through and sat down and everybody applauded, and I
said, "Phooey!", and went
of the place. I got over to Lexington Avenue and found
a saloon. I went in there and I says, "Gimme a
glass of beer." I drank it and I walked right out
of the place. I stood under a lamp post on the corner
there at 59th and Lexington. I stood there maybe fifteen
or twenty minutes. I was waiting for something to happen
because I had a glass of beer. I thought maybe twenty
minutes after you have this beer you get some chemical
change in you. Maybe you explode. I didn't know what
Well, I didn't
explode. I didn't do anything. So I jump on the subway
up to the Bronx, and when I get off at the subway station
instead of going home I automatically walk into a saloon
and I have another beer and another beer and another.
When the man came up with that seventh beer, I says,
"Wait a minute, make that a double whiskey."
Well, he did. And to make a long story short, what do
you think happened to me? I landed back in the State
Don't get me wrong.
I didn't wind up in there that night or the next week
or the next month. It took me three months, but it was
that one glass of beer that started the merry-go-round
I asked myself,
"Now what am I doing up here again?" In my
heart and soul I knew that A.A. had something. I wanted
to see where I had made my mistake, and I asked the
doctor to please give me that book again to read. My
number one mistake was I wasn't honest with myself or
with anybody in the world. And I knew A.A. didn't fail
me. I failed A.A.
So how do I get
honest? I cleaned up. I saw a priest there at the hospital,
and I really came clean for
first time in my life. I really worked with A.A. up
there in the hospital.
Well, I got out
and tried to get a job, but I couldn't. They had opened
an A.A. clubhouse on 24th Street, so I used to go out
in the morning and look for a job. Then I went down
to the Club and helped scrub floors. I helped do everything.
I stayed nights for the meeting and I went home when
the place closed. That's the way I spent my time.
This went on for
about eleven months, and then my wife had got into the
family way again for her fourth childbirth. She was
told after her third child that she wouldn't be able
to have a fourth., But she saw that it meant the world
to the children. They were happy, I was happy, she was
happy, and I was in A.A. in full swing and getting along
fine. So she just ignored the doctor's orders and went
through with it. I took my wife to the hospital one
night, and the following afternoon I go to visit her.
And before I could see her I had to go see the doctor.
He says, "Joe, how do you feel?" I says, "I
feel pretty good, doctor." He says, "Sit down,"
and then he says, "How do you feel now?" I
says, "I still feel pretty good. What are
you driving at?" He was trying to tell me my wife
was almost ready for delivery, and that they had done
everything they could, but that she was in danger. "I'm
sure you're doing all you can. What can I do?"
I ask the doctor. He says, "Well, your record shows
you're a Catholic, so you know how to pray."
I went home, and
there was my mother and my mother-in-law, two old ladies
waiting for news from the hospital. I never let on what
they had told me at the hospital, but my mother-in-law
started digging, if
know what I mean. Well I blew my top. I said, "Nuts
to it." The next thing I know I'm down in the
corner saloon. I got a dollar bill on the bar and
I'm ready to order a drink. But A.A. stepped right
into this picture, and I says, "Now what am I
doing here at a time like this?" I heard in A.A.
when you're in trouble, try a little prayer. Well,
I was in a lot of trouble and I tried a prayer. When
the bartender got tired of waiting for me to order,
he hollered at me, "Hey, Mac!" he says,
"Didja make up your mind? What're you havin'?"
I ordered a ginger-ale and plenty of ice. That's how
my prayer was answered.
I went down to
the Clubhouse on 24th Street. Some of the boys there
talked me out of the idea of a drink. I stayed for
the meeting that night and went home and went to sleep.
About one o'clock
in the morning I got a telegram from the hospital.
I was afraid to open it. I thought it was the last
telegram I would ever get about my wife. I paced the
living room floor for about half an hour, like a prisoner
in his cell, with that telegram in my hand. I was
still afraid to open it. I finally got down on my
knees and asked God Almighty, I says, "Gimme
the courage to open this thing." Then I opened
the telegram. My wife had given birth to a girl and
everything was all right. Where would I have been,
or where would she have been, if I had blown my top
and taken a drink at a point like that? I thank God
Almighty that I didn't.
It took me seventeen
months before I got a job. I kept sober, using what
I learned in A.A. Then I got a job that I didn't like
very much, and it was keeping me away from A.A. I
made up my mind, "If nothing
within this week, nuts to A.A.!" I planned
it out—another drunk for myself. I gave myself a
week, see? I just didn't take that drink; I allowed
myself a week.
week was up, I go home one night and out of a clear
sky there's two old bosses of mine sitting down
on the sofa waiting for me. They were two brothers
I had worked for a long time before, fellas who
swore they'd never have anything to do with me any
more. I'm bringing this out because I want you to
know that good news travels in A.A. They heard I
was in A.A. and doing all right, back with my family
and everything, and they came and asked me to go
to work for them. Well, I did go to work for them,
and I'm on that job till this very day.
Now then, I'm
going back about six years. Something happened again.
That boy of mine that was shining shoes at the age
of ten, in the meantime he had grown up to be a
six-foot-one inch fella. And almost to the day of
his birthday, the sixteenth birthday, I lost that
boy in a trolley car accident only two blocks away
from my house. I was in Philadelpha when it happened,
and they called me up and drove me in from Philadelphia
to see my boy. He regained consciousness once in
the thirteen hours I was there. He looked up at
me and says, "Dad, what happened to me?"
I says, "Well, son, you just keep your chin
up. You'll be all right." The doctors had told
me the boy was going to pull through. He was strong
and he was fighting.
Well, the kid
didn't make it. He was trying to tell me in that
last handshake that he'd lost his battle. He was
trying to tell me, "I'm losing this battle,
let this throw you." That's what he was trying
to put across to me. I realize it now. But in spite
of all of that, when they took that kid away from
me, I made up my mind I was going on a suicide drunk.
I figured I would go home first and take care of
the funeral arrangements. Then I would lock myself
in some hotel and drink myself to death. If liquor
didn't kill me, I was going to jump out the window.
Before I could
do this I get a telephone call. It's an A.A. member
in Ohio. How that news travelled to Ohio in thirty-five
minutes I don't know till this day. This fella says,
"I just heard what happened to you. The reason
I'm calling you is I know what's running through
your mind. But I hope you don't. I hope you don't
take that drink. Nobody in the world or nobody in
A.A. can condemn you for it. But don't forget, there's
a couple hundred members here, and we all got our
fingers crossed; we're all praying for you."
When he got
off the wire, somebody else was calling me, somebody
from Connecticut. I was so busy answering calls
that I just couldn't get out. While I was still
answering calls, one of my A.A. friends walked in.
He stayed with me that night, so I didn't have a
chance to get out. This fella and I sat in the kitchen
all night, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
The next morning
the undertaker came up to take me to the hospital
morgue to identify my son. This A.A. fella came
with me. The undertaker was an A.A. too. Well, when
that slab was pulled out for me to identify my son's
body, If I didn't have A.A. on my right and A.A.
on my left I wouldn't be alive today. I'd be in
the same grave with that kid.
So you can
see that my length of sobriety wasn't
to me on a silver platter. If things are going to
happen, they're going to happen. But I'm in A.A.
and sober for over eleven years now. I had my last
drink of alcohol eleven years and seven months ago.
Thanks to the good people of A.A., and last but
not least by the Grace of God.
And if I can
do it, so can you!
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