My Mom's Best Friend was a Boisterous, Chain-Smoking Alcoholic. And He Taught Me So Much.
Life-lessons don't always come from saints.
When I was kid, my mom’s best male friend was this big, boisterous guy named Lowell who never met a vice he didn’t indulge in.
No, seriously. He chain-smoked, and he was always flying off to Vegas to gamble, often winning massive jackpots — which, of course, had me wondering how much money he’d spent to win those jackpots. Whenever we went out to eat, he always ordered steak, as big and as rare as possible.
And man, could this guy drink. Yeah, looking back, he was clearly an alcoholic — high-functioning, but an alcoholic nonetheless. Of course, he was an entertaining drunk — the life of the party. He always had everyone in stitches.
In retrospect, I can also now see that Lowell was almost certainly a closeted gay man, but those were very different times, and that issue never came up with my mom and me.
Lowell was a terrible influence on kids.
Except, of course, he wasn’t.
Once when I was in my early 20s, he told me I was looking very handsome, and I — being my typically self-conscious self — said, “No, I’m not.”
And he said, “Don’t do that, Hartinger. You’re young, and you’re only gonna be young once! Enjoy it.”
One weekend, my parents threw a big party with a hundred guests, and they asked me to be tend bar. I was eighteen — too young even to legally drink myself — and I’d never made drinks before.
But, of course, I had Lowell to teach me.
I don’t remember a single drink Lowell taught me to make, but I remember the feeling of confidence he gave me. A dorky, self-conscious kid like me — a bartender!
Incidentally, was it a crime, letting an eighteen-year-old mix and serve drinks? I dunno. Things were different back in the 80s.
Even at the time, I thought it was pretty interesting that my parents had friends like Lowell. Sure, my mom and dad were straight-laced and socially conservative — and I’ve already written how my mom was really, really high-strung.
But I knew my parents were different from most of the ones at my Catholic high school or in our suburban neighborhood. A surprising number of their friends were intellectuals, sophisticates, or downright odd-balls.
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