Prayers

FeaturedPrayers

(excerpted from the November 2022 Grapevine, the International Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous)

My mother’s cousin, Father Long, asked to meet me on the wraparound porch of the1900s-era resort hotel in Spring Lake, New Jersey.

I had recently left my husband and was living at my mother’s house with my two-year-old boy. Assuming Father Long wanted to force feed me unwanted marriage counseling, I hung a defiant roach clip from an anti-establishment leather string around my 22-year-old neck to amplify my hippie ensemble.

He talked about my marijuana use. “Give it up, for your mother’s sake,” he said. I paused. “Are you talking to her about giving up drinking for my sake?”

Father Long started his career as a disciplinarian of an inner-city Catholic boys’ school. Realizing I was no match for him, I scrambled out of the painted wood rocking chair and made a fast exit. I heard him call to me as I walked away, “I’ll pray for you.” 

Father Long spent a few weeks every year near Sea Girt where I lived during adolescence and young adulthood. That summer his vacation on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean was interrupted by my mother’s cry for help. She wanted him to help me. My mother’s lips never parted to pray and I doubt her thoughts ever enter the spiritual realm. On the way home, I wondered how drunk she must have been to ask for help from her cousin, a soldier of God. Had Father Long been summoned to help other wayward children sprung from our very wayward relatives?

A few years later, I made it to Alcoholics Anonymous and, after six months sober, I was asked to speak at a large AA meeting in Montclair. In the meeting, I talked about my inability to stop drinking, stop smoking pot, stop consuming illicit drugs. I welled up speaking of gratitude for my father, who had brought me into the Fellowship.

My father had sobered up at Towns Hospital in Manhattan. He attended meetings on the Upper East Side and had been able to sustain abstinence during the time I was dying way out there in some other dimension of addiction. We hadn’t seen each other for five years. Then he showed up at the public mental institution where I had been sent after I overdosed at 24 years old. He suggested I go to the AA meeting on the grounds of the institution.

After I wrapped up my six-months sober talk at that meeting in Montclair, a petite, pearly lady stood out from a line of well-wishers. She approached and said, “I pray for you every day.” “What?” I asked. “Do I know you?”

“I go to meetings in New York with your father,” she said. “We helped him when he went to see you in the hospital. We told him what to say, to just share his story, what it was like, what happened and what it was like now. Like we do with any other alcoholic—and suggest you go to meetings. A lot of us have been praying for you for a long time.” 

 “And here you are.” 

That was the summer of 1971.

___________________________________________________

NOTE: Father Long was removed from the priesthood in 1995 for sexual abuse. He’s on the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington DC, lists of accused priests. He died in 2004.

Remembering Jim Cummins

Remembering Jim Cummins

“I got fired,” he said over the phone one spring afternoon in 1979.

“What? I’ll be right there!” I sprang from my desk yelling, “I have an emergency” and bolted out the front door of the Ontario Street hotel where we both worked—he at the front desk and me in the back office.

Jim Cummins and I were nascent members of Alcoholics Anonymous and I feared the worst—that he was drinking again. Lately he had been showing up too late for work, taking too many smoke breaks and wisecracking about too many hotel guests.

Jim’s furnished one-bedroom on Delaware had lower-floor gloom characteristic of downtown Chicago apartments. The coffee table, overstuffed brown couch and chair blended together into the beige carpeting. A glass ashtray loaded with butts sat atop newspapers strewn all over the coffee table. No beer cans. He hadn’t shaved. His shirt was wrinkled and hanging out of his trousers but otherwise he looked the same guy I’d seen two days earlier.

“Sit down and read this,” he said, handing over a Sun-Times opened to an article buried in the back of the paper. The blunt headline read, “Gold Coast Leather Bar Raided”. The article contained facts about the location, the owner, a description of the leather get-ups and the names of eleven men who were arrested. Jim was listed. I read, then read again, looking for an explanation. Abruptly I burst out laughing and fell headlong into uncontrolled hysterics as I slid off the brown overstuffed.

“What the hell were YOU doing there?” I said from the floor. 

“My dear, I’m a homosexual. I was participating.” 

“You are NOT! What? Were you looking for someone?”

Jim said he thought I would giggle at the news but he didn’t expect he’d have to convince me he was gay. We talked long into the night about the history of his secret. He had been expelled from the seminary for improper behavior, served in the Army, was married, had a child, divorced, worked in the newspaper business, was an actor, voted Republican—all the while hiding his true nature. Beer and gin helped wage the battle against his Irish-Catholic guilt until he hit bottom and sobered up. 

When our employer, the hotel manager, read the article he promptly called Jim and fired him. Jim joined others from the raid in a class action suit against the city, but he was gone before it came to trial. Mayor Jane Byrne ended police raids on gay bars after her 1979 election, the same month as Jim’s arrest.

Jim stayed sober but had a difficult time landing another job. He started dating, tried but failed to form a lasting relationship, lost his apartment and lived on my couch for a while. I lost track of him. He’d moved to Washington DC where he cooked meals for homebound HIV patients. In 1991 I visited him at the Veterans hospice in Washington, the day before he died of AIDS. He’s the only dead person I ever said good-bye to.

Atonement: Bird on the Wire

FeaturedAtonement: Bird on the Wire

In the late 1970’s I worked at a run-down residential hotel that had been sold and was about to be renovated. The legions of accountants, lawyers, contractors and financial schemers confounded even the notable. I managed to keep them all straight, pass information one to another and generally play the know-it-all role I like.

The lead accountant, Mel, asked if I had any friends who could be temporary helpers on some new events his firm was staffing—the Taste of Chicago, ChicagoFest and Art Chicago Expo.

“Sure,” I said, “How much will they get paid?”

“Free entry, all the food they can eat, a T-shirt and a poster.”

Having just accumulated a whole batch of new friends in Alcoholics Anonymous, I knew plenty of unemployed sober oddballs hungry for food and fun as ticket-takers and money-changers. Next thing I knew, Mel told me I had to meet “the guy” in charge.

“Come to Temple Beth Israel on Yom Kippur.” Mel said.

“What? What’s that?” I said, “Am I allowed? What do I wear?”

“Everyone’s allowed. Day of Atonement. It’s the best time to do business.”

I tried to sneak into a seat in the back and look around for Mel. After lengthy  prayers and singing, there was an intermission. Mel appeared at my side, grabbed me by the elbow and said, “Let’s go.”

All the congregants rose up, walked around, talked and laughed and “did business”. Mel introduced me to “the guy” who headed up one of Chicago’s Big Eight downtown accounting firms.

“How many people you got?” The guy asked me.

“Twenty or so,” I lied.

“Good.” Bring ‘em to Navy Pier on Saturday and get ‘em signed up. We’ll take it from there.”

In the years since, I’ve practiced atonement often — not just once a year, but almost everyday. At a recent book group studying The Jewish Annotated New Testament, I inched into a discussion of Ken Burns’ documentary, The US and the Holocaust.

“Someone told me the trouble with Jews is that they didn’t assimilate.” I said.

“The. trouble. with. Jews?”  One of the Jewish participants admonished.

“Do you hear what you’re saying?”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I then attempted to overcompensate the sin of victim-blaming by blabbering about assimilation, of which I know nothing.

I once asked a musician friend to sing Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire at my funeral.

“No.” He replied.

“Aw, c’mon. Just say yes. I won’t know. I’ll be dead.”

“Better to atone when you’re alive.” He said.

I bowed to my ignorance and he agreed to sing just these words.

Like a bird on the wire

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free

Like a worm on a hook

Like a knight from some old-fashioned book

I have saved all my ribbons for thee

If I, if I have been unkind

I hope that you can just let it go by

If I, if I have been untrue

I hope you know it was never to you

God bless Leonard Cohen 1934–2016.

Listen to Bird on the Wire here.

MLK: The Drum Major Instinct

MLK: The Drum Major Instinct

Fifty-four years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a prophetic sermon he called the The Drum Major Instinct. He riffed off a passage in the New Testament where Jesus’ disciples got mad at him because they wanted to be credentialed leaders, to be praised for their importance, the “drum major instinct”.  In the 1940s the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, wrote in the Twelve Steps that this desire for an important place in society, the “social” instinct, is necessary for community survival. Both men cautioned that this natural god-given instinct, unbridled, can turn on us, become an obsession for power and supremacy and eventually distort our personalities. 

I know a bit about the desire for attention. During these pandemic shutdown months, online Zoom meetings have become the stage and meeting room for events. Last year I was the featured speaker in one square among nearly three hundred muted souls on Zoom. At the end all I heard was thank you from the host. People wrote kindly in the Chat but I still wish I had heard that applause. My book, In That Number, was published in October 2020 and the enthusiasm I needed to promote it waned, due to—you got it—no applause.

Donald Trump heard a lot of applause throughout his entire presidency, even during the months most of us were silent following the stay-at-home orders of Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force leaders. Whew! Trump’s drum-major instinct rampaged so out of control that he still says the Democrats stole the election he lost to Joe Biden.

MLK:  “… the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up…by spreading evil, vicious, lying gossip on people…”

Trump spread evil, vicious lies to his duped white followers continually until they finally exploded into a blood-and-guts frenzy on January 6, 2021. They sacked the US Capitol in an effort to thwart the official declaration of the election results. People died. Martin Luther King, Jr. nailed this aberrant behavior in a prescient accusation: his drum-major instinct makes him think he is somebody big because he is white. 

MLK and Bill Wilson remind us we all have the drum-major instinct. We all want the admiration of others. They caution us to keep it in check, to watch out we don’t let our drum-major emotions go awry, that we don’t act superior to others. I confess I do feel and act superior to the insurrectionists, the white fundamentalists, the angry male mob who sieged the Capitol. I condemn them in conversation, even post condemnations on social media. Experience tells me if I don’t stop, I’ll soon be in a full blown mire of self-loathing, questioning how I got there. King and Wilson both offer an ancient solution to keep my own potential soul-sick personality at bay. Love and service. Be a drum major for love. Help others.

I’m open to it. That’s the best I can do today.

(originally published MLK Jr. Day 2021)

_________________________________________________________________________________________

The Drum Major Instinct,” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr., February 4, 1968, Atlanta, Ga. Listen Here: http://okra.stanford.edu/media/audio/DrumMajorInstinct.mp3

MLK: The Drum Major Instinct

MLK: The Drum Major Instinct

Fifty-three years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a prophetic sermon he called the The Drum Major Instinct. He riffed off a passage in the New Testament where Jesus’ disciples got mad at him because they wanted to be credentialed leaders, to be praised for their importance, the “drum major instinct”.  In the 1940s the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, wrote in the Twelve Steps that this desire for an important place in society, the “social” instinct, is necessary for community survival. Both men cautioned that this natural god-given instinct, unbridled, can turn on us, become an obsession for power and supremacy and eventually distort our personalities. 

I know a bit about the desire for attention. During these pandemic shutdown months, online Zoom meetings have become the stage and meeting room for events. Last month I was the featured speaker in one square among nearly five hundred muted souls on Zoom. At the end all I heard was thank you from the host. People wrote kindly in the Chat but I still wish I could hear that applause. My book was published in October 2020 and the enthusiasm I need to promote it has waned, due to—you got it—no applause.

Donald Trump heard a lot of applause throughout his entire presidency, even during the months most of us followed the stay-at-home orders of Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force leaders. Whew! Trump’s drum-major instinct has rampaged so out of control that he still says the Democrats stole the election he lost to Joe Biden.

MLK:  “… the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up…by spreading evil, vicious, lying gossip on people…”

Trump spread evil, vicious lies to his duped white followers continually until they finally exploded into a blood-and-guts frenzy on January 6. They sacked the US Capitol in an effort to thwart the official declaration of the election results. Five people died. King nailed this aberrant behavior in a prescient accusation: his drum-major instinct makes him think he is somebody big because he is white. 

MLK and Bill Wilson remind us we all have the drum-major instinct. We all want the admiration of others. They caution us to keep it in check, to watch out we don’t let our drum-major emotions go awry, that we don’t act superior to others. I confess I do feel and act superior to the insurrectionists, the white fundamentalists, the angry male mob who sieged the Capitol. I condemn them in conversation, even post condemnations on social media. Experience tells me if I don’t stop, I’ll soon be in a full blown mire of self-loathing, questioning how I got there. King and Wilson both offer an ancient solution to keep my own potential soul-sick personality at bay. Love and service. Be a drum major for love. Help others.

I’m open to it. That’s the best I can do today.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Drum Major Instinct,” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr., February 4, 1968, Atlanta, Ga. Listen Here: http://okra.stanford.edu/media/audio/DrumMajorInstinct.mp3

My book, “In That Number” is available at ReganBurke.com, Amazon.com or in your favorite independent bookstore.

Speaking of God…

Speaking of God…

I’m not sure what day or year or even decade I stopped being ruled by men. Feminist pop psychology (and real shrinks) used to tell me I “allowed” men to rule my life. Of course I was roped into that, having been raised in the patriarchal Catholic Church where women are still not allowed to be priests. God was always a man and because of that men were always in charge. Recovery from those old ideas was precipitated not by strong women helping me see the light, but by some very important men acting badly.

My Amazon Dot is tuned into the impeachment vote of President Trump. He’s the worst example of male dominance I’ve ever known, but he’s an extreme case. I’ve experienced Christian cultist men telling me God wanted me to submit to a physically abusive husband; a married lover who insisted I wait by the phone on Christmas for his call; a father who dragged me into fraudulent schemes; and, bosses (Gary Hart and Bill Clinton) who got caught with women-not-their-wives. To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, “I don’t hate them. I pray for them.”

It’s true. I’ve been taught by the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to pray for people I don’t like (or, more likely, who don’t like me). The words I use in prayer for God’s gender are still masculine though. To be modern, I could rant publicly against male-centric words like “Lord,” or mind my manners and quietly substitute the more gender-neutral (or is it gender-inclusive?) “God.” I want to do that because these days I think of God as non-binary, neither male nor female.

I pause to see She-He-It in the yellow leaves of the honey locust fluttering down in front of me when I walk Henry-the-Dog. I hear They-Them when the crows caw. I even smell Her/Him/Them in the spring (what are those fragrant shrubs called?). These delicate manifestations of God are indeed gender-neutral.

But my senses play tug-of-war. The Bible rarely shows these versions of God. Just as I see the streets of Edinburgh when reading Ian Rankin mysteriesOIP.oB0fL0JIYA1IHyc9P5Ik4AHaEK, I see God as a man when reading the Bible. I visualize men—Jehovah, David, the king on his throne, the Father, the Lord. God the man made a covenant with David the man. David’s seed, not his eggs will rule as kings, not queens, from generation to generation. 

The subtler Biblical images of God as a mother caring for her children undergird my faith that God will always be, always live and always love. That female-male God who loves me deeper than I can visualize, who enfolds me at the still point, who sees me as perfect and lets me be. That is the God whose help I seek, whose direction I want, whose words I hear. I sing to that God.

In another world, I will know God as intersex, non-binary, genderqueer, agender, gender fluid, androgynous, bigender, multigender or demigender. In this world, I await David’s seed to change the God-man language to align with my gender neutral spirit.

Taking The Blinders Off

After separating from my mother in the 1960s, my father grifted around Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with a string of girlfriends in swanky neighborhoods—Manhattan, Palm Springs, Brentwood and Palm Beach. A lawyer, he engaged in non-contractual legal work negotiating contracts for labor unions.

He eventually bought a coal field on a railroad spur south of Terre Haute, a semi-legitimate business with headquarters in Chicago. He registered the business as Great Lakes Coal Company. Loan guarantees from the State of Indiana paid for equipment to strip and haul the coal from the land. Once he had the equipment financed, he had leverage to obtain bank loans for mining operations.

The price of coal dropped in the 1980s, and when he could no longer make a profit, he shut down the company and walked away from his financial responsibility to the State of Indiana. With the help of a La Salle Street lawyer, he concocted a scheme to defraud the banks holding his loans, starting with hiding his assets in a trust.

I was named one of the beneficiaries as well as the trustee.

My father directed me, as the trustee, to stash $500,000 in a Canadian bank he’d found for this purpose and subsequently to invest $250,000 of the stash with his broker. I signed a lot of legal documents, blinding myself to what the consequences of my own actions might be. He bragged to me and his closest friends how he was getting away with cheating his creditors, the State of Indiana and the IRS. Breaking laws came easy to him, doubled down with the aid of a high-powered attorney. I trusted that he’d keep me from legal harm. I secretly feared he’d harm me in other ways, however, if I didn’t go along with his scheme—by cutting me off, not from his money, but from his approval. That fatherly approval seems to have been an ancestral deficiency, masked as love. It has caused permanent fissures in my entire family and led to my own fits and starts in psychotherapy.

He flew to Las Vegas, checked into Caesar’s Palace and pretended to gamble away his money to provide an alibi to bank investigators for why he was broke. Florida th-11homestead laws protected his property from creditors, so he moved from Chicago to a get-away home in Palm Beach where he could live with his new girlfriend and her little boy.

“I’m done with Chicago,” he told me, “I can’t stand living in a town where a ‘queer black man’ is the mayor.” He’d repeat that forcefully to friends over the phone adding, “There’s nothing here for me anymore.”

When Harold Washington was running for mayor I never heard my father express prejudice or bigotry of any kind about him. But he was obsessed with saving face, not from family and friends, but from future marks. So after Washington won the 1983 election, my father used sudden hatred for the Mayor to concoct a dramatic reason to get out of town before the creditors closed in and exposed him. He seemed to embrace his manufactured prejudice. He knew his wealthy friends would nod in solidarity. And they did.

Perhaps that is the genesis of  blustering bigotry—the need to hide from a completely unrelated truth.

Like cheating your creditors.

Anonymous Prayers

Father Long asks to meet on the wrap-around porch of the 19th century worn-out resort hotel in Spring Lake, NJ. I just left my husband and live at my mother’s house with my two-year-old boy. Assuming he wants to force feed me unwanted marriage counseling, I hang an emblematic roach clip on an anti-establishment leather string around my 22-year old neck to compound my defiant hippie ensemble. He talks about my marijuana use.

Give it up for your mother’s sake.

Are you talkin’ to her about givin’ up drinking for my sake?

He once had a job as the disciplinarian of an inner-city Catholic boys school. Realizing I’m no match for him, I make a fast exit scrambling out of the painted-wood rocking chair as I hear over my shoulder.

I’ll pray for you.

My mother’s cousin, Jesuit Arthur Long Jr. spends a few weeks every year near Sea Girt where I live during my spiritually-sick adolescence and young adulthood. This summer his vacation on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean is interrupted by my mother’s cry for help—help for me, her addict. Her lips never part for the word pray nor do her thoughts ever enter the prayer realm. How drunk must she have been to ask for help from her cousin, a soldier of God?

I wonder if Father gets dispatched to other wayward children sprung from his very wayward relatives. 

A few years later I make it to Alcoholics Anonymous and after six months sober I’m the speaker at a large meeting in Montclair, one of Manhattan’s bedroom communities. I talk about my inability to stop drinking, stop smoking pot, stop consuming illicit drugs, until I get to AA. I’m happy to be sober and tear up at gratitude for my father who brought me into the Fellowship. My father sobered up five years before me in Town’s Hospital Manhattan and started his sustained abstinence in meetings on the Upper East side during the time I was dying, way out there in some other dimension. We hadn’t seen each other for five years before he arrived at the public mental institution I overdosed into at 24 years old. He suggested I go to the AA meeting on the grounds.

After my six-months-sober talk at the Montclair meeting, a petite pearly lady stands back from a line of well-wishers before approaching me.

I pray for you everyday.

What? Do I know you?

I go to meetings in New York with your father. We helped him when he went to see you unknownin the hospital, told him what to say, to just share his story, what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now, and suggest you go to meetings—like we do with any
other alcoholic. A lot of us have been praying for you for a long time.

And here I am.

Thank You Alcoholic Writers

After my first few writing sessions in Beth Finke’s Memoir Writing Class, I asked her why there weren’t more stories about alcoholism. It seemed I was the only one reporting on this particular form of family madness in our weekly writing group. Beth assured me that alcoholism has been a common theme in several of her memoir writing classes over the years.

Ok, so that helped, to know that I’m not the only one. As an alcoholic myself who grew up with two alcoholic parents, I always start from a position of feeling like I don’t belong, like I’m too different to belong. The stigma of alcoholism and addiction doesn’t help. I’ve been sober for 42 years and I still feel like it’s a shameful condition, even after years of knowing it’s a medical condition, a mind-body disease.

Last week Beth sent me an essay by author Leslie Schwartz whose latest memoir is about her relapse and jail time. She writes, “In my case, addiction and the mental illness that 51MsewjwbIL._AC_US218_ 2
follows has been one source of my creativity for a long time. I was able to use my experience of relapse and its devastating outcomes – I nearly lost my life – as fodder for my memoir The Lost Chapters: Finding Recovery and Renewal One Book at a Time.”

Leslie spent her 37-day jail time immersed in reading the work of fellow writers who suffered from alcoholism/addiction (Raymond Carver, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolff). She studied the recent research about the link between mental illness and creativity by Nancy Andreasen and Kay Redfield Jamison. Plenty has been written about expressive writing as a form of release from mood disorders—James Pennebaker, Dr. Howard Schubiner and others. Indeed, the Fourth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps suggests writing a “searching and fearless moral inventory” as a way to shake the yoke of guilt and shame. It works. After writing a few Fourth Steps, I continue to write memoirs to be free from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia as prescribed by Chicago doctor John Stracks. It works for that too.

I love that Leslie Schwartz uses the words “addiction” and “mental illness” interchangeability in her essay.  “When I write, I feel sane,” she writes. “When I don’t write, I am lost.”

We desperately need addiction/alcoholism and mental illness to be thought of in new ways. Senator Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick (the one who very publicly slammed his car into the U. S. Capitol under the influence), founded the Kennedy Forum in an effort to wipe out the stigma of alcoholism and mental health. By promoting the medical evidence verifying that alcoholism/addiction/mental illness are brain disorders, the Kennedy Forum hopes to reduce the shame induced by the stigma that keeps alcoholics/addicts from getting help, keeps teens from telling their parents, keeps employees from using their medical insurance for rehab. I’ve been sober since 1976 and it seems to me that the stigma is worse than it was 40 years ago. How do we break this? One way is for people in recovery programs like AA to stop acting like they are in a secret society and to open their meetings to those who are simply searching for information on how it works. Another way is for writers like Leslie Schwartz, Anne Lamott, Mary Karr and Brene Brown to keep writing their stories so people like me feel free to write ours.

 

Prostitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

Prostitutes and Protein: My Father’s Anti-Social Diet

From Lake Point Tower’s third floor 3-acre resident-only garden, I peered through my binoculars out past Navy Pier to the Harbor Lighthouse by the locks at the mouth of the Chicago River. My father’s latest girlfriend pitter-pattered up beside me in her high-heeled sandals and gossamer brown bikini and said, “I fucked someone out there once.” My father, clad in Gucci swimming trunks, was striking a favorite yoga pose—standing th-4on his head within sight of all the bathers and sun worshipers around the pool. I sensed, in that instant, that this, my favorite spot in all Chicago, would be tainted for the rest of my life.

He prided himself on choosing a reformed prostitute matriculating at the University of Chicago to move in with him. We were both around 33 and I was celebrating the yearly anniversary of my last drink at AA meetings. She celebrated her reformation announcing milestones like,“It’s been 90 days since my last trick.” They had a few things in common including their food intake which they discussed constantly. Avid devotees of the Dr. Atkins Diet, they packed their 57th floor fridge with a lot of white protein—cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, chicken and tuna salad and sugar-free Vernor’s ginger ale. They disdained calorie counting (though she kept a chart) and instead tracked protein grams and carbohydrates.

In the early 1980’s Dr. Atkins’ high-protein low-carbohydrate diet bubbled up everywhere in Alcoholics Anonymous. My father cornered newcomers and hammered a Dr. Atkins wedge into their soggy brains as he handed over his phone number and said, “Call me anytime.” Whenever he saw someone at an AA meeting holding a donut he’d explain that a no-sugar low-carb diet keeps the blood sugar regulated and in turn, reduces the craving for alcohol. Beginners were known to eat all-protein tuna fish right out of the can to follow his dictates.

The grocery store on the second floor had a deli counter with a superior version of my favorite food, cole slaw. After the day on the terrace, I purchased a pint each of cole slaw and tuna fish salad, rode up to their apartment and faced the former prostitute in the kitchen.

“Don’t let your father see you eating that cole slaw. It’s loaded with carbs.”

I’m pretty sure I knew cole slaw was not loaded with carbs, but she scared me so much I hid the offensive food in the closet until I left for home.

The kitchen counter groaned with the makings for a maniacal high protein drink. The bartender-grade electric mixer stood over pricey containers from Sherwyn’s Health Foods. Powdered desiccated liver, brewer’s yeast, magnesium, Vitamin C and flax seed were carefully measured and poured into the glass jar with liquid amino acids,

th-1
Liquid Lecithin

sunflower oil and liquid lecithin, a brown substance that could lubricate a car. The concoction reached digestive jubilation when blended together with ice cubes and water.

She, like those before and after her, looted the towels when she split, but left the kitchen counter intact. He binged on coffee Haagen-Das for a few days before resuming his sociopathic eating habits.