I have long associated a quick temper with alcoholism. Having abundant experience with drunks, I can usually tell if a person simply has had too much to drink on this occasion, or if this is a habitual problem for them, by looking for uncharacteristic and negative changes in their behavior. I believe that “in vino, veritas.” Being drunk doesn’t create new beliefs or personality traits, it simply gives freer reign to the ones already there. It disinhibits. A happy person under the influence may get silly, a sad person may get maudlin. Someone who likes you will make sure that you know it. Someone who desires you may get suggestive. These diversions from sober behavior are generally mild and easily dealt with.
Cousin Brucie never seemed angry at anyone.
But if a person who is ordinarily calm and courteous abruptly gets angry, insulting, aggressive or violent, and can’t readily be talked down from that precipice, this screams “alcoholic” in my ears. Alcoholics in my life always seemed to have an undercurrent of rage seeking an outlet, searching for a target.
My Mom did her drinking on Friday and Saturday nights, because she didn’t have to work on the days after. She’d sit at the kitchen table after supper and start in on her beers. Usually it was cans of Rheingold. Sometimes she would splurge and get a couple of quart-sized cardboard containers of Piels Draft from Ostrezko’s Tavern around the block. She had arranged with the bartenders to allow me or my brother to pick up her beer for her after she called in the order. I vividly recall the white cardboard cylindrical containers with the cartoons of Bert and Harry Piels printed on them, sitting on the brown polished wood of the bar, the big colorful and likely fake sailfish that decorated the back bar, and the dread I felt because I knew what the night would bring.
Other than at the frequent booze-fueled house parties that were tres chic in the 60s, Mom preferred to drink alone. Rather, she pretty much insisted on it. We’d all make ourselves as invisible as possible, in front of the TV, or in our bedrooms. But the only bathroom was off the kitchen. It was OK early in the evening, but as the supply of beer remaining in the containers fell, her temper rose, her trigger got touchier. A trip to the bathroom would risk her screaming about why did we always bother her, why did we insist on intruding on what she called “her soliloquy?” My brother and I usually used our grandmother’s bathroom in the apartment upstairs, but she detested my father, who returned the favor (another family schism; In Vino, Veritas). So he had to brave the tirades.
The worst was when my non-drinking father could not control his mouth and made some disapproving reference to Mom’s drinking. This usually tipped her over the edge into shrieking, spitting, profanity-rich rage. Throwing things was not out of the question. When I was younger, I would often sleep in my grandmother’s apartment on these weekend nights, but the disquieting sound of my Mom screaming curses at my Dad came right through the floor. Solace, or at least noise-cancellation, came in the form of MusicRadio WABC on my little transistor radio. Cousin Brucie never seemed angry at anyone. He never screamed his pain into the night.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.