A Gentleman Drunk is a story about recovery from alcoholism. Although I drank for 40 years I never outwardly showed any signs of alcoholic behavior. Then all of a sudden, at 2:00 a.m. on 3rd Avenue in New York City, the police found me in a gutter clinging onto life. This is my story on how I survived, despite often seemingly insurmountable obstacles and challenges, in order to conquer the debilitating effects of alcoholism.
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A Gentleman Drunk
Chapter 1 (1951-1969)
Growing Up in New Jersey
Where do I begin? It’s hard to remember. I know I’ve blocked out a lot. My therapist tells me that I do not want to remember because it hurts too much.
I was born in 1951, and my sister was born in 1953. We grew up in a New Jersey suburb made up mostly of Jewish families. I remember Dad telling me that he changed our family name because he thought people discriminated against Jews.
In order to prove himself, Dad raised money from his Wall Street friends and built one of our town’s first temples to accommodate the Jews moving out of Newark. As they escaped “urban” flight, they would find a brand new temple and be introduced to my father. He made a lot of new friends who would eventually become his clients.
I remember having to attend Hebrew school after regular school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 and on Sunday mornings from 9-11. I felt isolated from the rest of the public school children and could not understand why I needed to learn Jewish history, culture, and language. The building was always cold during the winter and hot during the summer. I had to walk about ¾ of a mile to and from school. I hated myself and gorged on chocolate cookies, cakes, and pies.
I had to go to temple on the two holiest days—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—and had to fast for an entire day. I saw a lot of people in temple who never were there at any other time of the year. I used to call them “2-day Jews.”
When I was 9 years old, I went to a Jewish summer camp in Pennsylvania. I remember having to write to my parents and then wait anxiously for a postcard from a new and distant city. My parents went to Europe on vacation, show up on Visiting Day, and shower me with presents from all over the world.
When I was 11 years old, Dad asked me to go on a trip with him. I remember sitting with my face glued to the left window as the pilot turned on the twin propellers. We flew to Detroit to pack up Grandma’s household goods and ship them back East. I remember meeting Grandma a few times but not really getting to know her. Later that year, Grandma died. I remember Dad telling me to wear sunglasses at her funeral. He told me that “gentlemen” do not cry, especially in front of family and business people.
In order to get closer to Grandma, I started to play her piano. I remember practicing the piano during television commercials (I used to watch a lot of TV and get fat). I would then fake out my piano teacher by telling him that I had practiced for hours. I had enough talent to fake out everyone, including my parents, who were never home. And when they were home, they always yelled at each other.
I won my first piano recital with my own compositions. I beat out other students who were older than me and still remember the applause. I fantasized about being famous, bowing many times like TV performers. Yet I never smiled or looked up at anyone.
I started drinking in 1963, at the age of 12, one year before my Bar Mitzvah. I do not know why. As part of my alcoholic recovery, I have tried to remember first events that have impacted me my entire life. I am now 52 years old, and if I do not figure them out soon, I will probably die a drunk..
Chapter 2 (1969-1975)
Wild Campus Days
From 1969 to 1973, I went to school in St. Louis, except for junior year when I studied music in France. I had applied to many undergraduate schools and got accepted to most of them.
Dad wanted me to go to Harvard, but I refused to apply.
In the spring of 1969, Dad and I flew to St. Louis to my school of choice. I was excited and motivated because the university wanted more students from the Northeast – something to give them more nationwide recognition.
When Dad and I visited the campus, cherry blossoms and girls dominated the quadrangle. Having attended an all-boys school for 5 years, I needed to get a life, or I would literally explode. I knew nothing about dating, let alone social etiquette, and I wanted to sample as many girls as possible.
I remember Mom and Dad sending me off in September 1969. I do not remember either of them crying. I remember just wanting to leave New Jersey and get on my second-ever flight to my new home.
The school picked up the freshmen at the airport for the short ride to campus. I was assigned a roommate in an all-boys dorm. My roommate wanted to pledge a fraternity and encouraged me to join him. My father told me that I should pledge his fraternity, and that they would have to take the son of a “legacy.”
Pledging was difficult. I remember sitting on a large block of ice for hours. I remember having to strip down, tie a string to my penis, tie the other end of the string to a napkin holder, and hand the napkin holder to another pledge standing next to me, who was drunk.
The fraternity brothers drank up a storm and threw empty beer bottles around the room.
I could hear the crashing sound but could not see anything since all pledges were blindfolded.
The pledge master told us that in order to get into the fraternity we would have to show our trust in our pledge brothers. I felt my pledge brother, who was holding my string, swaying to and fro.
Suddenly, the pledge master told us to throw the napkin holders. I couldn’t do it, and I knew that I would fail the initiation. Of course, my drunken pledge brother threw the napkin holder and broke a window. I fell to the floor thinking I was going to lose my dick. God must have intervened since the weight of the napkin holder broke the string.
Everyone laughed while I cried. Nonetheless, I became a fraternity man who wore his fraternity pin and sweater all the time. I was now powerful and wanted people to know it..
Chapter 3 (1975-1984)
Party Time In New York City and San Francisco
I am now 24 years old with a freshly minted MBA from a top business school. I start working as a systems officer making $18,000 a year, complete with 4 weeks of vacation. I find a 1-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City. I have arrived.
But I have no real social life. I work 70 hours a week and practically live at the bank’s Data Center on Wall Street.
At the end of every day, I head over to Rosie O’Gradys, the local bar, and hang out with fellow bank officers. I learn about scotch, and I fall in love with it. The wonderful liquid goes down so smoothly, and it is so sophisticated. On weekends, I hang around Caliente Cab Company down in the village where they serve a mean margarita.
Two years pass, and I am on the road to financial success. My boss loves me, and his boss loves my boss, so we all get along. While my MBA friends struggle to get ahead uptown in the corporate finance or M&A areas, I quickly get promoted for designing systems to eliminate blue collar workers.
Over time, loneliness scares me and I start to drink more heavily. Although I meet women at bars, I do not like the scene. My friends try to fix me up on dates but nothing seems to work. I sleep around with strangers and never worry about the consequences.
One day, I go out with Honora who works for my father.After several dates, I ask her to marry me. Unfortunately, I confuse sex/lust with love, and our engagement fails miserably. I remember my parents’ rage and embarrassment because the wedding invitations had already gone out.
To drown my sorrows, I throw a party and provide all the dope and liquor. To ensure its success, and get a fresh batch of dates, I ask every woman to bring another woman.
Approximately 150 people show up to my 1-bedroom apartment. So, we move the party to the hallway and party till dawn.
That evening, I talk to Lizzann, who I learn works at the same bank. We date several times and stay at my place on the East side or at her place on the West Side. Often, we would go to work together in yesterday’s clothes.
At work, I discover that my employer is parking foreign exchange trading profits in Nassau to minimize U.S. taxes. Although not illegal, I feel uncomfortable. I share my discovery with my boss who, surprisingly, offers me an all expense-paid relocation to San Francisco...
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Recent Books Reviews
Great book! From the minute I started reading it I was engrossed and couldn’t put it down. You were frank, open and honest. I appreciate you sharing it with me. I’ll gladly recommend it to friends and family.
Jeffrey is not only the webmaster of Alcohol411.info, and an internet radio show host (Cocktails at 5 on wsradio.com), but has written an autobiographical story about how his life has changed since he faced the issues of sobriety. The book reads like an inside diary: frank, truthful, and "tell all" from his days in leasing. I could not put the book down as it explains how Jeffrey achieved sobriety. In fact, I had to re-read many parts as it was a very emotional read.
In a few pages, Jeffrey shows that alcoholism transcends social, financial and racial differences. Though we have vastly different backgrounds, I was riveted by our similarities after alcohol took control…even to our difficulty accepting the only true source of help. Jeffrey’s frank and honest discussions of his own (and my own) shortcomings is refreshing compared to today’s ‘psychobabble’ approach to everything. If you’re looking for truth about alcoholism, I recommend A Gentleman Drunk.
Rev. Glen Williams
It was a good read. I really respect the "action" part of your program. No one can accuse you of all "talk and no walk".
I just finished reading A Gentleman Drunk. It is very good and once I started I didn’t want to stop. Your book kept my undivided attention!
Jeff, I’ve read the whole thing twice. My wife has read it, as well as my sister in law who is managing editor of an influential current affairs magazine here in Canada. All we can say is thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am proud that you let me glimpse at this gem of self description and journal of healing.
Hi Jeffrey, great story. I can relate a lot. I’m a Georgia country boy and I understand your suffering. You told your story, illustrated well with words. Thanks for the opportunity to be part of your sobriety.
You’re telling every alcoholic’s story. Our stories aren’t so much about the details as they are about the hopeless state of mind and body at which we all seem to eventually arrive. I have no idea what’s it’s like to be rich, Jewish or live in New York, but I have been where you have been mentally, emotionally and spiritually with the disease of alcoholism.
Your book is wonderful.
Chapter 1 (1951-1969)
Growing up in New Jersey
Chapter 2 (1969-1975)
Drinking and sex on campus
Chapter 3 (1975-1984)
Party Time in New York City and San Francisco
Chapter 4 (1984-1987)
Jordana, Moira and Divorce
Chapter 5 (1987-1993)
Chapter 6 (1993-2002)
International Road Warrior
Chapter 7 (2002-2003)
Almost Die In New York City
Chapter 8 (April 2003 – Days 0-30)
Welcome to AA
Chapter 9 (May 2003 – Days 30-60)
Dealing with anger
Chapter 10 (June 2003 – Days 60-90)
Have you met Don my sponsor?
Chapter 11 – (July 2003 – October 2003 – Months 3-6)
Whatever it takes
Chapter 12 – (October 2003 – January 2004 – Months 6-9)
I could not do it alone
Chapter 13 – (January 2004 – April 2004 - Months 9-12)
Thank you, God.