A guy I know called me early the other morning. It was 8 a.m. where he was, and he was drunk already. This is an essentially good guy who happens to be boisterous and enormously insecure—quite a combination. He went to Minnesota to dry out in ‘91 and stayed.

This guy seems to get bigger when he’s juiced, tipsy, in his cups, and he was full of bravado. He’d gotten laid the night before, and he talked bad about the woman who had had him in her body. Some people do that.

I used to drink a lot. As a teenager, from 16 or so on, I drank mostly cheap wine and beer. I don’t mean a house chardonnay and Heinekens, either. I mean Richard’s Wild Irish Rose and Budweiser. We loved flavored vodka and anything that tasted as much like pop as possible—Orange Rock was a favorite. Later I substituted brandy for beer.

I was once too drunk to drive, or stand up for that matter, and Booker Trotter drove me in my parents’ car to within a couple of blocks of where I lived, when the snow drifts stopped him. I walked from there, and so did he. Thanks, again, Booker. I’ve driven drunk many, many times.

In most of my 20s, I drank everywhere I went, at business lunches and dinners, and in fancy snifters and flutes at home. I even read books about brandy.

At one point it seemed like every time I went out at night I drank enough to vomit. That was tiresome. Eventually I stopped drinking so much. Oblivion had lost its charm. I don’t think I ever stopped entirely for more than a few months, and for years I’ve been at the fifth-of-brandy-a-year level, just about right.

My mother’s brothers and their wives used to travel with fifths of whiskey when they came to visit, because liquor cost so much in Chicago, they said. By midday or so, they’d have a highball in their hand, and the bourbon would flow until they turned in at night. I’ve never seen anything like it. They all worked steady jobs, and from visits to their homes, I don’t think they drank all day during the week, just when they were on vacation, which was when we’d see them. A drink or three after work and weekend bingeing seems to have worked nicely for them, and the youngest died at 92.

Alcohol is usually a tougher drug, and drinkers don’t usually last that long. Long-term use wears on a person and shows. Most adults can spot a hard drinker because drinkers look like drinkers. Coke heads are hard to spot, and caffeine addicts even harder. Television addicts run to fat, in case you’re interested.

My father drank gin out of my mother’s sight. He had a reputation as a drunk with my mother, although I saw him stumble only once. When I’d find dead soldiers in the basement, I threw them away. Back then alcoholics were only on Skid Row, where they belonged.