Some are sicker than others and Crazy Paul’s first name was a heads-up for the newcomers in the rooms. No other warnings were necessary—as soon as they listened to him babble for a couple of minutes, they knew his tip didn’t go to the top.
Crazy attended meetings in our neck of the woods while he sweated out another court date, the by-product of the latest of a handful of DUI’s he collected around the Midwest.
The prior cases he picked up forced him into a few geographics, but they produced the same results. Accordingly, wherever he went, there he was—geography wasn’t the problem. He swore it was a conspiracy, of course. They were all after him. Hence, his travelling drunk-driving show had swerved into our town, seeking refuge.
To nobody’s surprise, he infracted again and spent a grueling night in our county jail, or the “Hooterville Hotel” as he dubbed it. It flunked his litmus test, which didn’t faze us. No matter how much he pumped up the volume, his griping wouldn’t go far, despite his widespread expertise with similar digs, we knew he’d never host an episode on the Travel Channel. So now he was slurping coffee with us nightly at the meetings, and eating our donuts. Some wondered when this, too, would pass.
He considered himself a lone wolf, as if it were a badge of honor; the rest of us thought he was just plain unfriendly. The dry sense of humor he cultivated was drenched with sarcasm, allowing him to tell jokes backwards, change punch lines at will and make you feel like a dimwit if you didn’t laugh.
Aside from being miserable, his favorite pastime was cleverly resenting those who were doing better than he was, and it was a long list—you name ‘em, he resented ‘em. It sounded like a personal problem to me.
Even though November’s calendar page had just flipped to December, it baffled me how he stayed sober all the way through Gratitude Month, with the constant “I’m so grateful for this’s and that’s” at every meeting, coming at him in waves from all directions. I suffered through it early on when my life was in a shambles too, but for him it was Chinese water torture—every gratitude ‘drip, drip, drip’ became more unbearable.
Needless to say, Paul was a kooky guy—a dead-ringer for a nut house patient in a Stephen King novel—even when he was sober. Actually, even more so.
His icy blue eyes elicited memories of the marbles I used to lose to the kids in my neighborhood every summer. What’s more, his eyebrows were tailor-made for any of the hairier Muppets; they invaded his scrunched-up forehead when he was irritated, twitching like caterpillars on a hot tin roof. They were his trademark, along with the unruly toothbrush moustache he sported.
Crazy P. hunted for a job that paid the big bucks, but always came up empty-handed. When he finally got a gig, it was a drive-thru window position at a BurgerWorld-type restaurant. It certainly wasn’t a career move, but we tried to explain, “At least it turns green at the bank”. However, our words of wisdom were ignored. He wasn’t in the mood for rational therapy “from a bunch of wet-brain rocket scientists’
“Despite his good fortune, he grumbled about the red-and-white checkered hat and apron he was required to wear to work. Consequently, a hair trigger on his sneer reflex was the X-factor in every encounter, unnerving the customers. Crazy was that loud-mouthed jerk in a dunking booth from Hell you’ll never forget. Before long, they discovered he wasn’t good for business, and he soon gathered up another resentment, just before he let the checkered hat fly on his way out the door.
Paul kept showing up at meetings, dangling between working the steps and taking the next first drink. He wanted me to sponsor him, but I balked; I was only sober a couple of years and thought Crazy’s brand of insanity would be tough to crack. But I told him, “Keep coming back.”
After the meeting one night, he was especially perturbed with some so-called ‘hypocrite’, and had a burning desire to take his inventory. I forgot to ask whose he’d be taking.
“Hey,” he muttered, “something’s been buggin’ me and I gotta get it off my chest. Got a few minutes?”
Reluctantly, I thought I’d better oblige because he might drink again. I agreed to a brief talk. Maybe it would help.
We left the clubhouse and ventured across the street, where he lived. I’d never been there before, so it was a bottom of the barrel revelation. His tacky quarters rested on the top floor of a seedy three-story flophouse, occupied by derelicts and ne’er-do-wells. He wore both of those uniforms well.
After trudging up to the third floor, we hurried past community bathroom #3. Its door was partially open, probably to improve air quality. I noticed a yellowed light bulb when I peered in, flickering in a loose fixture, moments from winking out. It exposed a grimy bathtub and an outdated commode. Inked profanity, smoke stains and generations of mildew streaked the walls of the john, creating an ugly, gutter-graffiti rainbow. I tried not to stare—his room was just up ahead…
It was poorly lit, but dirt didn’t interest me anyway. Secondhand clothing and knickknack treasures from nearby dumpsters cluttered the cubbyhole he called home. There was a bed that sagged, and a ratty, hand-me-down chair that was passed like a hot potato between tenants. Crazy salvaged it just before it reached the curb, sparing it from the scorn of the garbage men.
Old paperback books he used to shim furniture, swat flies and stun other critters teetered in haphazard stacks on a pair of rickety end tables. I doubt if their pages were ever turned.
A closer scan of the room revealed several empty quarts of cheap beer strewn about, poorly concealed and professionally drained. The place reeked of old ale and cigarette stubs, and the thick odor of musty clothes blended seamlessly into the sordid bouquet. A sad excuse for a bottle of red wine rested over a purple stain at the foot of his bed. One thing I didn’t see was his Big Book.
‘Well,’ I concluded, ‘he must have modified his sobriety date.’ It hardly budged the needle on the epiphany scale, but nothing was getting by me. I mulled over how this escapade was going to turn out, but only got a quarter of a mull, when… BAM!!
Paul abruptly swatted the door shut and began to spout venom about someone at the meetings whose life was “getting too goddamned good for that two-faced little SOB.” When he came unglued, his eyebrows jitterbugged across the dance floor of his forehead, but his timing was off—his rant couldn’t keep up with the zany caterpillar show.
“All I EVER get is lousy Karma and bad breaks—well, maybe a little drunk now and then, too, but if you had my life!” Crazy bellowed at high decibels. “Gratitude–Schmatitude!”
Then came a subtle dig, ‘Sponsor–Schmonsor,’ quickly followed by a robust ‘Fellowship—Schmellowship!’ He grinned for a moment at how clever he was; I would have bet he stashed that one for a special occasion. He then returned to more bellicose noisemaking.
The poor-me tirade rambled angrily on, with his usual finger-pointing and spot-check inventories of anyone not named Crazy. His emotional control took a leap backward. Apparently, this was a classic case of a Grrr-attitude problem, the likes of which I’d never seen.
I wanted to abort his meltdown before he flipped his lid, but should have known better—months had passed since my last good idea. I intuitively knew ‘This Too Shall Pass’ wouldn’t fly, and suspected ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ might get me injured. Any bit of wisdom plucked from a meeting could be risky.
However, something came to mind and I blurted it out. I suspected it wasn’t an ‘aha’ moment, but bombs-away anyhow. Maybe he’d lighten-up…
“Did you happen to say the Serenity Pra…”
“I don’t give a shit!” he snarled. It deserved more than one exclamation point.
“Now, now” I grumbled to myself, “that’s not very open-minded.”
Instead of reflective inspiration, my thought for the day triggered small-scale bedlam. A heavy glass ashtray he snatched up from a pile of otherwise garbage was hurled against the wall, along with a flurry of obscenities. I recoiled as if from a hot flame. Plaster and glass shrapnel splintered from a gaping dent in the wall after the thunderous clunk.
I inched toward the door, thinking about where on earth I was supposed to be. At that point, any excuse would do. Even though he didn’t throw it at me—it missed by a wall and a half—I added it to horseshoes and hand grenades. Close enough—exit, stage right.
I signed off with a meaningful “See ya at the meeting, Bro” and skedaddled down three flights of stairs like they do in madcap cartoons for five year olds—head bobbing, eyes bugging and knees and elbows pumping—everything but the organ grinder music. I didn’t look back. Enough with the brainstorms and Do-Gooding for the evening. I was still intact, sober and resentment-free.
I made a nervous beeline for my car when I burst outside. As I ducked in, I suffered a self-inflicted car-door wound that made me curse everything but corn flakes. After catching my breath, I threw my head back and allowed myself a little “Wheeewww!” after the Ow! Then, following the throb, I checked for blood and noticed I merely ripped the bark off my leg. This was not the kind of twelfth step work I was accustomed to. If I tried it now, though, I’d surely pull a geezer muscle trying to make my escape.
My old AMC Concord squawked and sped off until it was a few blocks away, where I had time to think and count my blessings.
When my heart rate sputtered back down to normal, I thought, “Hmmm—Next time, I’ll take someone with me—and a goalie mask. And maybe I’ll suggest a little decaf—caffeine makes some people a little edgy…” I paused, even a bit more enlightened.
“Then again, maybe I shouldn’t work with people whose first names are Crazy. Or at least make sure they’re sober… This working with others stuff is a little tricky.”
After I whimsically shared my latest misadventure at the midnight meeting that night, an old-timer garbed in ancient bib overalls suggested, “Just ask God to remove the fear.” Everyone nodded and laughed—probably geeked on caffeine and keeping it real simple.
Having trudged the Road to Happy Destiny for a while, I understood that works if you work it, but if he knew Crazy like I knew Crazy, he’d know I was getting a second opinion.