| print this
THERE'S NOTHING THE MATTER WITH ME!
what the man said as he hocked his shoes for
the price of two bottles of Sneaky Pete. He drank
bayzo, canned heat, and shoe polish. He did a
phoney routine in A.A. for a while. And then he got
hold of the real thing.
NEVER DRANK because I liked the flavor, but I did like
the effect it produced. And one or two little drinks
on a Saturday night soon blossomed into three or four.
A little bit at a time, I discovered that I enjoyed
the stuff. It did things for me that nothing else could
I happen to be
in the furniture business, and a more miserable business
was never invented. In the furniture business you must
have a little drink to celebrate an excellent sale.
Also you must have a little drink to drown your sorrows
when there are not sales. Hah!
First I drank in
celebration and in depression, and then I drank all
the time. The little three-quarters of an ounce developed
into a big fifth. That was during Prohibition, and we
had flasks that were about that long, and I didn't carry
a little bit at a time, I carried it all at once, and
it hit me right in the shoulder blades. You could always
tell who had the flask by the way he walked around.
I liked that! I liked it because they had to come to
me to get a drink.
From the little bit of drinking that we'd do on Saturday
and on week-ends, it went into a long, steady grind
of drinking all the time. And little by little I developed
a persecution complex. It seemed that everyone was after
me. My business associates said I drank too much. I
was married to a very charming girl, and she expected
me to bring home money on pay-day. All that silly stuff.
I belonged to a golf club over in Jersey in those days,
and I didn't play much golf, but I spent a lot of time
drinking the liquor. It got so bad that whenever I went
into the nineteenth hole for a drink, everybody would
move down the other way. Finally they asked me to resign.
It seemed I didn't pay my tabs on the first of the month.
A miserable bunch of people!
So, a little bit
at a time, it began to filter through that I was no
longer wanted. I felt very sorry for myself. I knew
I was a wonderful fellow. While shaving in the morning,
I would look in the mirror and say, "Aaaah, Bill,
you're a doll!" Now that's a poor way to go through
life, whether you're an alcoholic or not!
So then I decided
that I would try will power. All you have to do to stop
drinking is precisely that—stop! Well, I didn't drink
Tuesday, and I didn't drink Wednesday, and I didn't
drink Thursday, and I said to myself, "There's
nothing to this!" So I went out Friday and got
About this time
a bartender friend of mine told me about that little
drink in the morning. He was a lovely fellow! He gave
me this prescription: You take a jigger of gin, the
white of an egg, and a dash of orange bitters. Can you
picture this trembling drunk pouring out the white of
an egg? For a few mornings I would go
NOTHING THE MATTER . . .
to the bar and he'd make this concoction for me and
it was wonderful. But pretty soon I dispensed with the
egg, I didn't have the bitters handy and there were
no small glasses, so I drank the gin right out of the
My years of flight
started from that point. I sold my business, loaded
my car with whiskey, and away I went. I didn't stop
at five hundred miles. I went out to Seattle. I couldn't
go any further because that's the end of the line. I
went into business out there, and in twenty months I
was bankrupt. I felt awful sorry for myself, because
now I'd entered into the "sick" stage. I would
get so sick that when I had to get a room in a hotel
I'd always get twin beds, one to sleep in and one to
be sick in.
It took me nine
months to get from Seattle back to New Jersey. I went
the long way, by way of San Diego. When I got back I
had fifty dollars, a beat-up Oldsmobile, and no whiskey.
I felt very sorry for myself. I'd been robbed, lied
to and cheated. And, I told myself, it was all their
I wake up one morning
and the Oldsmobile is gone and so is the fifty dollars,
and I'm standing in the middle of my wardrobe. I have
a pair of dungarees with the fanny out of them, a blue
shirt, a pair of shoes and no socks. I'm sitting on
the end of this bench down in Lincoln Park, and another
bum comes along and he says, "Hello, Slim! Hey,
that's a fine pair of shoes you have there!" Well,
right away I could tell that this fellow knew class
when he saw it. I liked this boy. And I started to tell
him of my former exploits. Well, he seemed to want to
concentrate on the shoes. At that time, shoes were bringing
cents in pawn. So we went down and pawned the shoes
and we got two bottles of Sneaky Pete and a pair of
canvas relievers. This was November. There's nothing
the matter with me! I'm all right!
I'd gone down to
the bottom of the barrel. Not all at once; it took twenty-five
years, a lot of money and a lot of heartaches. There
we sat on this bench, this bum and I, telling each other
of the wondrous things we'd done, and he loved me and
I loved him. There's no love like one drunken bum for
another. As I looked off into the sky, and the snow
started to fall, I said, "You know, it's getting
cold on this bench . . ." and I turned around,
and the bum was gone. The dirty dog took the other bottle
Pretty soon another
guy comes along, and he says, "If you don't get
off that bench you'll freeze to it, and you'll get pneumonia,
and you'll die." I always hated to think about
dying, because I was such a lovely fellow I knew they'd
miss me on earth. He says, "What do you say we
go down to Sally?" Well, I didn't know who Sally
was, but I knew in my condition she wouldn't care for
me. "No," he says, "we'll go down to
the Salvation Army." I hope none of you have to
resort to the Salvation Army as a means of food and
shelter, but they're wonderful people, understanding
people. They have a deep love of God that many of us
who walk around in our daily business world never will
understand. They give just for the glory of giving.
They took us in and gave us a bed, and next morning
they put us out in the baling room. For that labor we
received ninety-five cents a week and our room and board,
a magnificent sum for one as dirty as I was. But like
all drunks, when they start to sober up for real,
NOTHING THE MATTER . . .
looked around me and saw all these other bums, and gee!
I knew I was head and shoulders over those other guys.
I worked hard for two weeks, and finally I got promoted
to be the helper on the truck at three dollars a week.
A little bit at a time I progressed, until I became
a driver. Utopia! I didn't have to sleep in a dormitory
where there were two hundred any more. I slept in a
room with absolute privacy—there were only six! And
now I was getting five dollars a week.
Well, I don't have
to tell you what happened. No drunk can stand prosperity.
So, I ended up back out in the street, only this time
I had a pair of shoes, and a fellow had given me a size
forty-six gabardine suit. I have since developed into
a forty-long, but a forty- six had always been just
a little roomy for me. I wondered what to do then. I
didn't believe in God because I knew God was something
that had been cooked up for public consumption, mass
appeal; you got to have something to keep the dummies
I was going places,
and I did. I went from store to store, and from door
to door, and I slept under the bridge. I drank bayzo,
canned heat, Sneaky Pete, shoe polish, anything that
had an alcoholic content. Why I didn't die, God only
knows. I didn't wash for weeks on end. I was just a
dirty, filthy, slimy thing that came out from under
a flat rock. How God in His wisdom let such a thing
live only He knows. I don't. No sense of responsibility,
no moral code, no sense of ethics—nothing.
One day, on Broad
and Market Streets, I ran into my wife. She said, "Well,
what happened to you?" I said, "Why—uh—hello,
Ma—I—I don't feel well. I been a bad boy!"
My wife was raised very tenderly and gently in a parochial
school. She never had to work as a young woman. She
ended up slinging hash in a dime hash-house to support
my daughter and herself.
She took me to
a hospital. The doctor said, "Let him try A.A."
I stayed in the hospital ten days. I promised her I'd
go to an A.A. meeting. She took me home, bought me a
fifteen dollar suit, and I went out and got a job working
for a guy that used to work for me. And every Wednesday
night I'd go down to the A.A. meeting. I'd look in—some
guys talking about the grace of God. I'd go home. On
the way home I'd stop and have one, two, three, four.
When I got home, my wife would ask, "How was the
meeting?" and I'd say, "Oh, the meeting's
all right; it's just not for women. You know, they have
a lot of old bums there. And next to the speakers' table
they have another little table, and they got a bowl
of cracked ice on the table, and a bottle of rye and
a bottle of scotch." She said, "What is all
that stuff for?" "Well," I said, "they
just put that there to test you." So when I'd come
home and she'd smell liquor on my breath, I'd tell her
I'd just been testing. And I did test, a little bit
at a time, until I came home one night about two o'clock
in the morning, drunk as a goat and twice as stinking.
I'm pounding on on the door, demanding an entrance.
My wife opened the door and I fell in. She said, "What
happened to you?" And I drew myself up to my full
height and I looked down at her—my wife is only about
five foot two—and I said, "Madam, they put me to
the test, and I have failed!"
So ends the sordid
part of my story. It's not a pretty thing. But I don't
want to ever forget, because three
NOTHING THE MATTER . . .
of an ounce of whiskey can put me right back there.
Now for the story of how I finally got the A.A. program.
It seems that this
particular Sunday I'm lying flat on our parlor rung.
I know I'm dying. I know this is it. "Oh, God,
if I could only try that A.A. again!" So we call
up the Alanon Club. A guy answers the phone and says,
"Alanon Club, Louie speaking." Right away
I knew it was a phony deal. He told me who he was! "Hi!"
I said. "This is Mr. G." "Oh, is that
so?" "Yes," I said, "This is B.G."
"Well," he said, "would you like to come
up to the Club?" "Yeh!" "You got
a car?" "No." "Well, get on the
bus and come on up." And up we go.
The Alanon Club,
in 1945, was a big mausoleum with thirteen steps leading
up into it and bare as a barn. We walked up, and here
was this great big guy about six foot two, broad as
a house, smoking a pipe. "Hiya, boy! My name is
Charlie!" This guy I don't want to talk to. I want
to see Louie. "Well, that's all right. Meet Joe."
Joe's a boy about so broad, bronzed from the sun to
the color of a mahogany table. Seems he was a keeper
of the greens at a golf club somewhere. "How are
you?" he says, "What is your name?" "I'm
not gonna tell you!" "Well," he says,
"my name's Joe, this is Charlie, and this is Frank."
"All right, mine is Bill. But fellows, you don't
know how sick I am. . . ." Everybody laughed.
In to see Louie,
and then we go into the coffee bar. "Give him some
coffee." A meeting upstairs. Joe's on one side,
Charlie's on the other. The girls have swept up my wife
and taken her off into another room to tell her the
facts of life. Their version, not mine. I
over at my wife and waved, and she looked over at me and
waved back. They'd been talking to her, you see. And the
The first speaker
got up and he started way back at the Boer War and brought
us all the way up to the White Cliffs of Dover. Then he
took us back into the African campaign, and I said to
Charlie, "What does this have to do with being .
. ." and he says, "Shadd-up!" The second
speaker told a most poignant story. He had a lovely wife
and three beautiful children. It seemed that he just purchased
a new electric stove a week before Thanksgiving. She had
Thanksgiving dinner cooking on the new electric stove.
He had one of his cronies ring the front doorbell, and
when she went to answer the bell, he and two other fellows
took stove, dinner, and all right out the back door. Oh,
did that make me feel good! I looked over at my wife and
grinned. I never did that!
Finally the meeting
is over, and we go home. My wife says, "Sit in the
chair and read that A.A. book." "I can't see,
Ma!" "You sit there and read it!" "What
are you gonna do?" "I'm gonna make a nice pot
of coffee!" So the night passes. I read a little,
drink a little coffee. Very sad.
Somehow ten days
pass in rapid succession. I recognize food for what it
is. I begin to feel alive again. I was sober for the first
time in my life because I had a desire for sobriety greater
than any other desire. Meetings and more meetings. Three
months went by, and they said, "Bill, get up and
say a few words." We had about eight people in the
group then, and I looked at these eight people and I stuttered
NOTHING THE MATTER . . .
finally I said, "I'm glad to be here!" And
I sat down. The applause was tremendous.
At six months I
had begun to speak at different meetings. Pretty soon
my halo was killing me. My ermine cloak was smothering
me. I used to look down and wonder what the other little
people did for a living. I didn't walk in, I swept in.
All that I'd accomplished in six months was sobriety.
I was as dry as dust, and just about as useless. One
night we went into the Club and Jack said, "Bill,
we're short a speaker, will you say a few words tonight?"
"Of course!" The meeting started, and I didn't
see Jack any more. They called on the first speaker—and
it wasn't me, and they called on the second speaker,
and the third speaker—and the meeting was over! I had
brought my harp to the party, but I didn't get to play!
That taught me
the most important lesson I have ever learned in my
entire life. That is that A.A. doesn't need me, but
I need A.A. Very desperately, very sincerely, very humbly.
Not all at once, because you can't get it all at once,
just a little bit at a time. They told me, "You've
got to get out and work a little; you've got to give."
They told me that giving was living, and that living
was loving, and loving was God. And you don't have to
worry about God, because He's sitting right in front
of your eyes.
You get just a
little sobriety, and you get just a little humility.
Not much, just a little. Not the humility of sackcloth
and ashes, but the humility of a man who's glad he's
alive and can serve. You get just a little tolerance,
not too much, but just enough to sit and listen to the
the line, if you've forgotten how
pray, you learn a little about that too. I divorced
myself from the Church when I was twenty-two. I got
to thinking about that, and I spoke to Father McNulty
about it. "Don't worry, Bill," he said, "you'll
develop an awareness of God."
We had a basement
apartment, and it faced right on the sidewalk, and outside
our bedroom window there was a little bush about so
high. One morning I awoke, and there was a little city
sparrow taking a bath on this little bush. The weight
of this tiny creature's body caused the branch to rise
and fall. Isn't that a wonderful thing to see? An awareness
of God, yes! You're aware of the sunset, you're aware
of the blades of grass, you're aware of food cooking
on the stove.
You delight in
walking down the street, and you see someone you know,
and the first thing that enters your mind is, "What
is there good about that guy that I know?" You
find that big people discuss ideals, average people
discuss things, and little people—they just talk about
other people. And you realize that if you put this all
together, you get a little humility, a little tolerance,
a little honesty, a little sincerity, a little prayer—and
a lot of A.A.
Nothing The Matter With Me!" Bill
for more resources on Bill G.