Monday, February 7, 2011

Callahan, Soberly

It’s a sign, of sorts, when someone gives you a book about someone who overcomes a drinking problem. There was a time in my life when I was very rarely sober, and didn’t see that as a problem, and the book was written by John Callahan, who also went through life rarely sober. Callahan was a cartoonist with a penchant towards the profane, and he liked to insult people. Oh, and he was a quadriplegic. When he was 21 he was in a car wreck and it left him nearly totally paralyzed.
Callahan began his life over again, this time with nearly no hope for any sort of future at all, which was how he saw life to begin with. He still drank heavily, but this time there was very little else he could do. After years of sitting in a wheel chair or lying in a bed and drinking, Callahan began to draw.
            I didn’t know he had died last August, and I was really surprised no one told me about his death. I’ve been promoting his books to anyone who would listen for years, and now I wish I had written him. Hi, my name is Mike and I don’t drink nearly as much as I once did.
            Callahan made fun of handicapped as often as not, and when a college printed some of his cartoons there were a lot of angry people, because they didn’t realize the man behind the pen was Callahan. He enjoyed that sort of thing, the “got’cha” moment during a telephone interview with someone angry at his work when he revealed he was in a wheelchair. The first book I read of his was entitled, “Don’t worry boys he won’t get far on foot.” It shows a posse in front of an overturned wheelchair in the desert. The one that got him into his first bout of trouble with the Politically Correct was one that showed a bartender speaking to a man with two hooks instead of hands and it reads, “Sorry Mike, you can’t hold your liquor.”
            Life was hard for Callahan. He had someone who was paid to let Callahan live with him but the two did not get along well at all, so John opted for a state hospital where other patients would wander in and steal things from him, and there was nothing he could do but watch. He went back to the person he was living with, in a very depressing home in an industrial slum, and tried to draw cartoons for a living. The odd thing was the government threatened to sue him for any money he made drawing because he was supported by the state. Instead of allowing the man to work his way up from the bottom they were more interested in keeping him there.
            John had girlfriends, yet the drinking and his pessimistic attitude ruined most relationships as they bloomed. It was difficult for someone who drank, drew, was paralyzed, and was threatened by the government to live a normal life. John Callahan did make the most of what life had given him, and died at the age of 59 due to complications of surgery.
            The Super Bowl is on, and I usually drink during the game but I’ve lost a lot of my affection for the game because of Mike Vick, and the NFL’s attitude of anyone who can win can play no matter who they hurt. But I decided to write tonight instead, about John Callahan, and his life, and I thought it would be nice not to drink. I have known people who damaged their lives with alcohol and as soon as they died people would throw a party and say things like, “He would have wanted it this way.” I think John would have wanted someone at some point to be sober, and do something in his name when they were sober, and maybe it might stop me from getting hurt. I’m not prone to driving drunk or riding drunk, but you can never tell what is going to happen next.
            The one thing Callahan hated was people who parked in handicap spaces or used the handicap bathroom when there was someone in a wheelchair waiting. We able bodied people don’t see life the same way was people who can’t get around, and we don’t see the places they will never go simply because there is no access there at all. Worse, if John’s van malfunctioned or his chair broke down, he was screwed. Where ever he was where he would be unless someone rescued him. If his colostomy bag broke in public everyone knew it. If his chair threw a wheel then down he would go until someone picked him up again.
            Life has changed. I’m not drinking tonight because of the life John Callahan lived, and I’m not watching the Super Bowl, either. I’m writing tonight, and I wonder if Callahan ever got to the point he would rather draw than drink, and I really hope he did. I didn’t keep up with him very much after the first two books, and now I regret it. I hope his life got better. I hope he faced down the demons that haunted him young and often. I hope he found some sort of peace in this world, and I hope he realized there were, and are, a lot of people out here who found his life an inspiration.  I hope those people bound to chairs, and those bound to bottles, can see what John Callahan did, and the way he lived, and realize that none of us are perfect, some of us are flawed, but each of us in some way contains enough life to make something happen, even if it is a small thing. Somewhere out there in the night, a man is sober, and writing, because another drew, and was drunk. Life is a weird thing, but you have to stop watching, stop drinking, and start living.
Take Care,
Mike

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