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It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yes. But what does it do to my mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly, I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent, supremely competent. I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh, painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers - all three of 'em. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer: it's the Nile, Nat, the Nile - and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.
If we let you guys go home alone, a lot of you don't go home. You just hit the nearest bar and bounce right back again. What we call the quick ricochet... This department is sort of a halfway hospital, halfway jail... Listen, I can pick an alkie with one eye shut. You're an alkie. You'll come back. They all do. [gesturing toward other patients] Him, for instance. He shows up every month - just like the gas bill. And the one there with the glasses - another repeater. This is his forty-fifth trip. A big executive in the advertising business. A lovely fellow. Been coming here since 1927 - good ol' Prohibition days. Say, you should have seen the joint then. This is nothing. Back then, we really had a turn-over. Standing-room only. Prohibition. That's what started most of these guys off. Whoopee!
There'll happen to be a little floor show later on around here. It might get on your nerves... Ever have the DT's?... You will, brother... After all, you're just a freshman. Wait'll you're a sophomore. That's when you start seeing the little animals. You know that stuff about pink elephants? That's the bunk. It's little animals! Little tiny turkeys in straw hats. Midget monkeys coming through the keyholes. See that guy over there? With him it's beetles. Come the night, he sees beetles crawling all over him. Has to be dark though. It's like the doctor was just telling me: delirium is a disease of the night. Good night.
If he's left alone, anything can happen. And I'm tied up at the office every minute, all Saturday, all Sunday. I can't look out for him. You know how he gets. He'll be run over by a car. He'll be arrested. He doesn't know what he's doing. A cigarette might fall from his mouth and he'll burn in bed.
If it happens, it happens, and I hope it does. I've had six years of this. I've had my bellyfull... Who are we fooling? We've tried everything, haven't we? We've reasoned with him. We've baited him. We've watched him like a hawk. We've tried trusting him. How often have you cried? How often have I beaten him up? Scrape him out of a gutter and pump some kind of self-respect into him and back he falls, back in every time.
He's a sick person. It's as though there was something wrong with his heart or his lungs. You wouldn't walk out on him if he had an attack. He needs our help.
He won't accept our help. Not Don. He hates us. He wants to be alone with that bottle of his. It's all he gives a hang about. Why kid ourselves? He's a hopeless alcoholic. Let go of him, Helen. Give yourself a chance.
Why don't you cut it short?
I can't cut it short. I'm on that merry-go-round. You gotta ride it all the way. Round and round until that blasted music wears itself out and the thing dies down and comes to a stop... At night, the stuff's a drink. In the morning, it's medicine... It's a terrifying problem, Nat, because if it's dawn, you're dead. The bars are closed and the liquor stores don't open until nine o'clock and you can't last until nine o'clock. Or maybe Sunday, that's the worst. No liquor stores at all, and you guys wouldn't open a bar, not until one o'clock. Why? WHY, Nat?
I'm a writer. I just started a novel. As a matter of fact, I've started several but I never seem to finish one.
Well, in that case, why don't you write short stories?
Oh, I have some of those - first paragraphs. And there's one half of the opening scene of a play which takes place in the leaning tower of Pisa that attempts to explain why it leans and why all sensible buildings should lean.
They'll love that in Toledo.
What is it you want to be so much that you're not?
A writer. It's silly, isn't it? You know, in college, I passed for a genius. They couldn't get out the college magazine without one of my stories. Boy, was I hot! Hemingway stuff. I reached my peak when I was nineteen. Sold a piece to The Atlantic Monthly. Reprinted in the Reader's Digest... My mother bought me a brand-new typewriter and I moved right in on New York. Well, the first thing I wrote, that didn't quite come off. And the second I dropped - the public wasn't ready for that. I started a third and a fourth. Only by then, somebody began to look over my shoulder and whisper in a thin, clear voice like the E string on a violin. "Don Birnam," he whispered, "It's not good enough, not that way. How about a couple of drinks just to set it on its feet, huh?" So I had a couple. Oh, what a great idea that was! That made all the difference. Suddenly I could see the whole thing. The tragic sweep of the great novel beautifully proportioned. But before I could really grab it and throw it down on paper, the drinks would wear off and everything would be gone like a mirage. Then there was despair, and a drink to counter-balance despair, and then one to counter-balance the counter-balance. I'd sit in front of that typewriter trying to squeeze out one page that was halfway decent and that guy would pop up again... the other Don Birnam. There are two of us, you know. Don the drunk and Don the writer. And the drunk would say to the writer, "Come on, you idiot. Let's get some good out of that portable. Let's hock it. Let's take it to that pawn shop over on Third Avenue. It's always good for ten dollars." Another drink, another binge, another bender, another spree. Such humorous words. I've tried to break away from that guy a lot of times, but no good. You know, once I even got myself a gun and some bullets. I was gonna do it on my thirtieth birthday. Here are the bullets. The gun went for three quarts of whiskey. That other Don wanted us to have a drink first. He always wants us to have a drink first. The flop suicide of a flop writer.
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