Some lessons go down easier than others


My God, when will this pain end? I can’t take it anymore. Please, just take it away. Or let me die.

This is the worse day of my life. That will include pain I’ll suffer as bombs explode and persons around me later die in Vietnam. At least that will be quick and done with . . . This agony is so prolonged. And the worst of it is, I brought it all on myself.

I drank too much. But how was I to know beer and mixed drinks don’t really “mix?” Pop told my older brother not to mix drinks at a party, but I thought he meant pouring beer, wine and hard liquor into a glass to create a “Zombie-like” drink. What does it actually mean? “Don’t mix your drinks? Don’t drink beer and switch to other alcoholic beverages later? Or don’t mix anything with Whiskey, Scotch or a Bourbon? Pop drank his “straight” or with only a few ice cubes, calling it “on the rocks.”

I feel like I’m “on the rocks.” Crashed and burning on ’em. Why didn’t I listen? Christ, I’m almost 18. Finished high school, been working full-time four months now. Drank beer with the guys lots of times. Even got served at the Big Moose Bar, 30th and Stiles streets (in Brewerytown), when African-American bartenders couldn’t tell my age, me, their a cross-racial White patron.

And I’ve been drunk before. Well, a little high, and needed to sleep it off. But never like this. And, here I am. It’s not quite 9:30 in the morning. Having to come to work at Johnson & Prince, a printing firm at 12th and Sansom streets, in Center City Philadelphia. I’m a printer, a lithographer who develops negatives via a camera and developing solutions, before “stripping” goldenrod sheets. I use an X-Acto knife to cut away paper to expose a negative to high intensity lights. These lights or “lamps” will “burn an image” onto a metal plate to help produce the printed word — all during this golden age of advertising. (the late 1960s)

I sit on a tall wooden stool, leaning over a table covered by glass. A light shines up from beneath the glass to allow me to see tiny pinholes in the black negative. My job is to cover all those pin hole lights with a black liquid substance.

The light shines through me. And into me. Over and below me, reminding me how I had just struggled with the piercing brightness while getting out of bed a half-hour earlier, making it to work 10 minutes late on little more than three hours of sleep.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner. Don’t know what hurts more. The pulsating head or the acid-volcano eruptions in my stomach and esophagus. I wish I was dead. Didn’t I just say that? But, wait! Can’t die until after collecting the time-and-a-half pay for coming in on a Saturday. I work the second shift. From noon until 9 pm, giving me all the time in the world to party after work. What more could a healthy God-fearing teenager want than to drink long and hearty knowing he could sleep in the next day.

Except for mornings when I’m needed for over-time work. And have to drag myself through a haze of pre-mediated hell. The devil’s pre-meditation, knowing he better get me while I’m young and foolish, instead in my middle age when a spiritual awakening will help moderate my drinking habits.

I’ll survive this. Like to say it taught me a lesson. But I’ll suffer through it a half-dozen more times before realizing that insanity occurs when you expect a different outcome while doing the same thing over and over.

Now, if I could have just treated the stock market and my 401 (k) the same way, seeing the insanity of it all, I’d be in better shape, sharing a toast with you now.

4 comments on “Some lessons go down easier than others

  1. Sounds all to familiar to me.



  2. weight says:

    yeah my dad will like this


    • contoveros says:

      Not sure what a gymnast enthusiast sees in a story like this, but I’m going to allow it in memory of my first real crush, Geraldine McFadden, the gymnast who stole my heart at age 12.

      michael j


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