Bar Mitzvah by Necessity–Becoming a Real Live Man

Journal Entry, September 3, 2017


As a boy, I watched my parents drink.  Every day when they got home from work, they would each have a martini with an olive—when I was allowed to eat those olives, I only felt the gin (and the whisper of vermouth) spoiled their flavor.  After dinner, they’d each have a whiskey and water, topping off their drinks for the rest of the evening with water.  Every Saturday at noon, they’d have a glass of sherry while watching candlepin bowling on TV.  They drank every day, yet never got drunk.

I embarked on my drinking and drugging career in eighth grade, passing out in my own vomit on the front lawn of Jack Edwards house after a cast party for a high-school production of “Oliver,” then being fired from a camp counselor job for leading a party of other boys into Alton Bay, literally, after getting drunk and jumping off a pier where the Mount Washington cruise ship docked, then, the first time I took acid, ending up needing thorazine in an emergency room after running through my neighborhood naked believing the world had ended and that Leigh, the college EMT who lived in an apartment over our garage, and I were, Adam-and-Eve-like, to begin repopulating the planet.  Despite this colorful beginning, I knew my drinking and drugging would taper off over time, and that I’d end up using alcohol the same way my parents did—responsibly.  At the age of 48, drinking stolen mouthwash for the alcohol (and the minty-fresh vomit that occasionally followed), I was suicidal and no closer to responsible, adult drinking than I’d been on that long-ago suburban lawn.  While there’s much more to the story, I knew action was needed, although I didn’t know what that action would look like.

As a boy, I watched my dad build our house, or at least finish everything once the contractor had but up the frame and shell.  From the age of seven, I saw him cutting and painting and hammering and doing!  I assumed knowledge of how to get things done would be passed to me through some mystical process.  Without any knowledge of how this would happen, I think I pictured something like the bar mitzvahs my Jewish friends had—at the age of 13, they became men.  At some undetermined age, I would know how to measure and cut wood and put it together into a structure.  I can’t speak for members of the Tribe, but I can say that moment never came for me.

Today, with 60 in sight, I can do little with my hands that can be seen as constructive.  Typing, dealing cards, holding cigarettes and certain private matters aside, my hands have had little to do with my life.  My decision to live in the Tiny White Box for a year requires I take actions to learn to be a self-sufficient man.  While my accomplishments so far are few—and for a real man would have taken little time and less thought or effort, I am overflowing with pride that in the past few days, I’ve done the following things:

–Diagnosed why my Jeep wouldn’t start—a dead battery—identified a solution—jump-starting it from a charger I’d need to plug in—and driven the Jeep away to recharge the battery.  Just like a real live man!

–Moved the Tiny White Box forward six feet to make room behind it.  This sounds like so little, yet it took so much!  The Jeep wouldn’t easily fit in to the spot, and anyway there was no ball on the Jeep’s trailer hitch and I couldn’t get the ball I did have off the other hitch, where it appears to have been welded on by Thor himself.  I had to improvise (a word I’d only used in connection with theater before now) a solution using a four-wheeler and ingenuity.  I moved the Tiny White Box with no fatalities or damage of any kind.  Just like a real live man!

–Built a “shed-in-a-box” for storage of food, equipment and supplies.  This eight-by-eight-by-eight structure now stands magnificently behind the Tiny White Box, a monument to my ability to follow instructions, use simple tools and persevere in the face of that voice inside me calling out that this was all folly.  It is a marvel in its ability to keep rain out, and I built it all by myself.  Just like a real live man!

Ten years ago, I took actions to address my drinking.  Today, I take actions to address my manual insufficiencies.  Tomorrow, I may take actions to address my inability to dance.

If not tomorrow, then in 10 years.

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