UPDATE: The Mick’s memoir is published. See madouttamehead.expat-chronicles.com.
The Mick was one of my first friends in Bogota. He led a criminal career in Dublin and London before coming to Bogota in 1986 with the intent to smuggle three kilos of cocaine to Ireland. He was caught his first attempt and served four years in Bogota’s La Modelo penitentiary. He learned Spanish and made criminal friends. When he was released in 1989, he stayed in Colombia.
The Mick is an alcoholic worse than I’ve ever known. I’ve dabbled in AA, but The Mick is one of those cases that make me realize I don’t really have a problem.
Living in Colombia introduced The Mick to legal work. During most of the last twenty years, there were almost no gringos here so an English teacher could charge a premium price. He taught English to the upper class rolos by day, and drank with crooks and street tramps by night. In his own words, he got drunk “for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” every day for twenty years. He kept a box of aguardiente next to the bed if he woke up in the middle of the night in need of a sip.
Here are some of his highlights:
When I met The Mick, he wasn’t drinking. He had over a year without a drink and was attending AA. He fell off the wagon around my one year point in Colombia. I thought that, although a career criminal and drunk, he was intelligent, super-social, and charming.
In my second year I started to know The Mick drunk. He’s completely annoying. A pain in the ass. How?
1) The Mick gets over-emotional when drunk. One incident he attributes his life path to is a petty lie he told his mother as a kid, which she knew was a lie but let it go. So he learned to lie early. He’ll get on this subject and get tears in his eyes and raise his voice until I tell him to shut up, or my new line since his last bender, “RELAXED AND HAPPY, RELAXED AND HAPPY.” Or one night we were building a fire at my place and he started repeating, “THIS FIRE WILL NEVER GO OUT, THIS FIRE WILL NEVER GO OUT,” over and over. OK, shut up already! This is in sharp contrast to his normal personality, which is laidback.
2) The Mick gets personally vicious when drunk. He was drinking when I got The Rise of Tachuela story. We have a ritual for documenting his stories. I go over to his house, he cooks me lunch and tells me a story while I take notes and ask questions. Then I go home and write it up. It was difficult for him to focus on this particular day because he’d been drunk for a week or so (plus the story happened 25 years ago). But when he finally gained a clear vision, one of his neighbors came over. The neighbor interrupted a few times in Spanish, and The Mick kicked him out. “GET OUT!” “GO, GO, GO, GET OUT!” He slammed the door so fast he hit the guy’s shoe. The guy timidly knocked on the door again because he’d forgotten some drawings he’d brought over to show. The Mick closed the door on him while he fetched the drawings, opened the door again, and while giving them back he snapped, “POXY FUCKIN’ SHIT.”
3) The Mick gets physically aggressive when drunk. I saw him slap one of his friends at a party. Many of my St. Louis friends are scrappers, but they’re all about my size and strength so they can get away with it. The Mick, however, is in his upper 50s and weighs 160 lbs soaking wet with work boots on. He’ll get his ass whooped if he tries anyone worth his salt, as he did when my American friend Rico knocked him out. But the most dangerous is when he tries to fight police, which isn’t uncommon. This is the silliest thing for anybody to do, especially in Colombia, and especially for an old man.
4) The Mick has accidents when drunk. Bogota city is somewhat dangerous to walk because there are holes in the sidewalks. Some are deep and wide. It’s not rare to meet people who sprained their ankle, broke a bone, or tore something because they fell in an urban hole. The Mick does this all the time. One time he told me he couldn’t get out and it was raining. He believes he would’ve died if a neighbor hadn’t pulled him out. Every bender he gets one of these injuries. This last bender he fell off his bicycle and bruised his entire left leg from the ass cheek to the mid-hamstring.
5) The Mick loses clients when drunk. If your English teacher blew you off for weeks, not answering or returning phone calls, what would you do? I recently put one of his students with a gringo friend. The student told me The Mick called him after the bender, but the student wanted “to teach him a lesson.”
The Mick helped me get adjusted in Bogota. He introduced me to a lot of people, showed me a lot of areas to buy things, and taught me about Colombian culture. We saw each other a few times a week. Even today, we have lunch at least once a week. When he’s drinking, however, weeks will go by and I won’t hear from him. I’ll run into him in Lourdes or somewhere else in Chapinero, and I’ll tell him to please stop drinking and not be a stranger.
On this last bender, which lasted SIX WEEKS, I saw him at about the four week point and told him to stop. He seemed somewhat coherent and agreed he should, but he said he can’t quit outright or he’ll get DT’s. He already had the shakes. He says he has to ween off, which I knew wouldn’t work. He’ll ween off with a little whiskey and before he knows it he’s drunk again.
We have a tentative plan / hoop dream to write his life story. He’s led an amazing life, and what I’ve written thus far only scratches the surface. But when he’s on these benders, I sometimes worry he’ll die before the story can be told. Then again, he’s been surviving this way for 25 years…
His last bender lasted six weeks. SIX WEEKS. This time I told him he simply can’t drink. He’s intolerable. He can’t handle it. He has a real problem. I told him to his face, and now I’m publishing the fact on the world wide web.
After all the bad behavior, nothing really bothered me because I’m a tolerant guy. But the following story was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I’m doing some work for a Colombian businessman, Colpresario. He lived in the States for twenty years and speaks perfect English. One day he invited me to lunch. He’s usually estrato 6 all the way but this particular day we were in Chapinero near Plaza Lourdes. We’re walking through the gauntlet where the hippies sell drugs, and he’s explaining how Lourdes was ten years ago. He said it was really dangerous. I said I heard it was dangerous at night, lots of drugs, while in my mind I’m praying, “Please don’t let The Mick be here, please don’t let The Mick be here, please don’t let The Mick be here…”
Just as we’re clearing the gauntlet and into the open plaza, who do I see? The Mick on his bicycle. He saw me too and let out an indecipherable grunt. Then he spoke to Colpresario, while pointing at me, “He’s a nigger! He’s a white nigger! He looks white but he’s not, he’s a nigger!” I decided to get out of there, but Colpresario tried to go along with it in his perfect English.
“He’s a nigger?”
“He’s a white nigger,” The Mick confirmed. “HA HA!” Then he offered a sip of his paper bag-wrapped whiskey from his pocket. It was lunch time.
“Hey we gotta split,” I abruptly interrupted and whisked Colpresario out of there. I told him the story, the entire true story of The Mick, and he was fascinated. He said he understands how a foreigner would have to drink like that to live in Colombia given what was happening here the last twenty years.
UPDATE ON MY DRINKING
Knowing The Mick has probably reduced my consumption. I was in AA my first year in Bogota, and I wasn’t going out at all. Since then I’ve easily cut it to only Fridays and Saturdays, and for the first time since high school I’ve completely eliminated drinking alone. It may seem elementary to you, but I used to put hard liquor down all by my lonesome. No more.
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