My maternal grandfather was a taciturn man, and such a lifeless ringer for James Joyce in his later years that individuals used to cease him on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and ask for his autograph.
He was not a person naturally susceptible to pleasure: he didn’t know his father effectively, had a brother with psychological sickness that made him a hazard to his household and group, married a lady who was a lesbian, had a longtime romantic entanglement with the Mom Superior of a neighborhood parish that he supported financially till the day he died, saved a flock of homing pigeons on his roof, and suffered from body-quaking Parkinson’s— the household sickness— a lot of the final days of his life. He died once I was very younger, however I keep in mind him distinctly and particularly for his kindness to me; he got here house from Brooklyn to Queens solely on Friday nights, and I waited for him with my mom and grandmother in a bit park throughout the road from our condo, and never removed from our subway cease. And earlier than he had to return to Brooklyn on Saturday to reopen the furnishings retailer he owned on Grand Road, I’d make him snort— head-tossing-howling-until-tears-rolled-down-his-face laughing— by singing this ingesting tune for him, the primary tune I ever realized, taught to me by my former Naval aviator father:
Drunk final evening, drunk the evening earlier than; I’m gonna get drunk tonight like I by no means received drunk earlier than, trigger once I’m drunk I’m as pleased as may be, trigger I’m a member of the Souse Household ….
Nothing, my father would inform me years later, made your Grandpa Phil snort more durable than listening to you sing The Souse Household.
I used to be three years outdated.
Proper across the identical time, I found— I don’t understand how this occurred, or when, or why— that I preferred the style of beer. It wasn’t the top consequence that I needed; it was the truth that I simply didn’t like sweet-tasting juices, or milk, or water: I preferred (and nonetheless like) the flavour of bitter, which might be odd for a younger baby. And when my mother and father and I have been driving house to Queens from New Jersey one Sunday afternoon, I apparently kvetched and screamed and cried from the backseat of my father’s Barracuda till he stopped, purchased a six-pack of Schlitz, popped one for me, I drank possibly three gulps of it, and he threw the remainder of it away on the Vince Lombardi Relaxation Cease. I’ve the vaguest reminiscence of him carrying me into our condo constructing, thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. After I advised a therapist this story a couple of years in the past, she stated, In order that was your first blackout, and I stated, Oh for God’s sake no it wasn’t, and I nonetheless consider I used to be proper. As a result of we have been Jews, and we have been taught that Jews don’t drink.
However once I sang the tune for my grandfather, it elicited a response that delighted me: I had the ability to make my grandfather snort. This man— he had had a really arduous life and nonetheless managed to commit it to retaining his household secure, and to philanthropy (through the warfare, he paid for the parochial faculty schooling of two younger Italian boys who had been orphaned by the warfare and dropped at the USA by the St. Vincent Society, to which the aforementioned Mom Superior was related)— by no means laughed, however he loved listening to his solely grandchild sing a totally ridiculous Navy ingesting tune, and it gave him pleasure. And someplace within the core of my being, a tiny nugget of fact began to beat by itself like a coronary heart: having inherited my father’s humorousness— he was a really hilarious man who additionally lived with scientific melancholy, as do I (humor and sorrow share the identical DNA)— I found the truth that alcohol, in any permutation, be it precise or within the traces of a ingesting tune, made me humorous, and my humorous had the ability to make different individuals snort.
My father taught this outdated Navy ingesting tune far and vast: a couple of years in the past, having discovered a buddy of my stepmother’s who I hadn’t seen in additional than 20 years, she advised me that one in all her final reminiscences of my dad earlier than his accident was educating her two-year-old daughter sing The Souse Household. She— the girl who advised me this— is a therapist, as was my stepmother, and nonetheless, it was humorous, principally as a result of it’s utterly ridiculous; it’s surreal and nonsensical and even a bit Lynchian, and simply as bizarre as giving a screaming child a Schlitz as a result of they love the style of bitter. It’s just like the video of that little child whose mom asks them to say the phrases DUMP TRUCK and it comes out DUMB FUCK time and again. It’s humorous exactly as a result of no baby that age is aware of what DUMB FUCK means in the way in which that no toddler is aware of why singing a ingesting tune will make her grandfather snort till he cries.
There’s a very long time in me between realizing and telling, wrote Grace Paley.
I learn this quote to my college students on a regular basis; I need them to grasp that a part of the writing course of entails rumination and the realizing that precedes the telling. The actual fact is that we’ve got to grok the reality about one thing on the most visceral of ranges earlier than we’re in a position to make sense of it on the web page, even when the method of creation itself is an unfolding and a revealing that occurs just like the unfurling of a lotus. I’ve been spending a variety of time— 5 years? ten years?— serious about the roots of alcohol in my life, and have been warned in opposition to writing about it till I’m safely on the opposite aspect of the knotted relationship, with some contiguous time beneath my belt. Final week, I spent 4 days in a recording studio in Manhattan, taping the audio e book for my second memoir, Treyf, which got here out in 2015. There’s a good quantity of intercourse in it (for me; I usually don’t write about intercourse as a result of I consider that it’s for essentially the most half ineffable, requiring unfavorable area and narrative restraint which in flip ends in no small quantity of warmth; much less is sort of at all times extra) and there’s a variety of alcohol in it. I hadn’t learn Treyf since its publication, and I used to be shocked to see booze in every single place, simply because it was in Motherland; the e book is about rising up in an assimilated household within the ’60s and ’70s in New York, and there was, actually, booze completely in every single place virtually on a regular basis. It made one cultured and erudite, accepted and regular, and, in some circumstances, gutted by disgrace. And, in my case, it additionally made me humorous from the earliest doable days, lengthy earlier than I knew what it was, or was even ingesting it.
Just a few years in the past, I came across a 1981 photograph of myself with some highschool associates on our technique to a commencement social gathering in Fishkill, New York. I keep in mind the day effectively; I may even inform you that the long-sleeved orange tee shirt I used to be sporting got here from a surf store in Vero Seashore, Florida, the place my father and I had been a couple of months earlier throughout spring break. I used to be sporting Adidas white and red-striped soccer shorts and leather-based Nikes. There’s evident aid within the photograph: all of us knew the place we have been going to varsity. Commencement was a couple of days away. All of us sit collectively on this photograph, our futures forward of us, plastic cups held aloft; I’m sure that what’s in my cup just isn’t Fresca. We have been all principally good children, Arista members and theater geeks and tennis gamers— none of us had gotten into a lot bother in highschool— however in no different photograph of me taken at the moment am I as pleased, clearly laughing, and becoming proper in, which is one thing I hardly ever did until there was not-Fresca concerned.
Not too long ago, my mom advised me that her father, the person to whom I sang The Souse Household, by no means drank, besides medicinally. He suffered from horrible thyroid illness and was very skinny for many of his life, and was at all times freezing; within the mornings earlier than he left for work and my mom went to highschool, my grandmother poured him a shot of whiskey, which he drank together with his espresso. My grandmother was a teetotaler, however she was a lady of her time, born in 1901, and he or she actually believed this might stimulate my grandfather’s urge for food, and in addition preserve him heat; it did neither, and when he died within the late 1960’s, he was pores and skin and bones, an orange-sized adenocarcinoma lodged in his left lung from 70 years of smoking something he may mild up: Camel Unfiltereds, Fortunate Strikes, low cost cigars, a pipe. However drink? Past the thimble-full of whiskey, by no means.
The final time I noticed him, my father advised me to sing him The Souse Household, and I did, and Grandpa Phil threw his head again and laughed arduous, his eyes closed, tears streaming down his face. I used to be a child, and the tune meant nothing to me apart from its potential to make my beloved grandfather snort till his sides ached and he reached into his again pocket for his handkerchief. It might be years earlier than I’d perceive the reality, and that it truly wasn’t humorous in any respect. Not even a bit.
This submit was initially printed on Elissa Altman’s weblog Poor Man’s Feast, The Beard Award-winning journal concerning the intersection of meals, spirit, and the households that drive you loopy.
Header photograph of Philip Elice circa 1934, courtesy of the creator.