Dry January…

Two days until the end of my Dry January…

On Friday night a friend asked me why I wasn’t drinking at our granddaughter’s birthday celebration. I deflected. The answer is complicated but it’s about gratitude… and grace. Here’s the story.

Marilynn and I have “cocktail hour” almost every night. We’ve set that time aside to be together without an agenda. It’s our little ritual. We continued it during Dry January. M still had her glass of wine but I went dry. I’m looking forward to the taste of my first Rangpur Tanqueray martini on Wednesday (recipe on request), but I chose to observe Dry January as a reminder that alcohol almost killed me once and how grateful I am that it didn’t. 

It happened one night as I was driving my motor scooter home after a law school keg party. I was gonzo and it was raining hard when I ran into a car backing up Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. I don’t know why she was backing up the street, but I went over my handlebars, over her car, and landed in the bed of a pickup truck parked on the side of the road. I woke up the next morning in the hospital. A week later I was in the Oakland jail. No serious injuries but the motor scooter was totaled and I was dealing with a DUI. The judge had never seen a motor scooter DUI so he downgraded it to “drunk in and about a vehicle.” I credit grace for my survival, but maybe it was just dumb luck.

Anyway, that’s the reason I am observing Dry January, but it’s only part of the reason for this post. The other part is that if I hadn’t survived I wouldn’t have the life I have today. I wouldn’t have two of my children or grandchildren. I wouldn’t have had Marilynn’s love and companionship, or the extraordinary friendships and adventures that have made my life what it is today. Yet, despite those positives, I’m acutely aware of my foreshortened future. It feels like every day I am reminded of mortality. It doesn’t diminish the gratitude I feel. It probably enhances it, but it’s double edged. There are red flags everywhere. 

  • It began two years ago when my friend, Hugh, a sailor, cyclist and world class marine scientist died of ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease less than a year after his diagnosis. We used to play guitars together.
  • Then last year my former wife, a successful artist/printmaker, was admitted to a memory care facility in Idaho. 
  • And, this past December my friend Suzy had a heart attack and died unexpectedly in the restroom of a hair salon. She ran the Illinois and Washington state film offices while raising quadruplets as a single mother. 
  • Also in December my friend, Michael, a musician, actor, painter, and potter was admitted to a memory care facility with Lewy Body Dementia, an Alzheimer’s-like disease that robbed him of his memory.
  • Then on January 6, I got word that Eric, a fellow Marine and friend from law school days, died of Parkinson’s/dementia in a Vermont Veterans’ Home.
  • And, again on January 6, a former Navy pilot buddy and distinguished botany professor, disclosed he’s terminal and considering a Death with Dignity option.

These reminders of age and mortality break my heart, but my pain is nothing compared to that felt by their families. Beyond my circle of friends, the world is a mess. War. Climate disasters. Unregulated guns. Racism. Greed. Famine. Boneheads and bad actors in positions of power. And yet, my life is good. I scream at the TV and feel powerless. Yet, I believe that if I treat people with respect and kindness my life and theirs will be better. At least it won’t make things worse.

My mother died the month her bank account went to zero. Timing is everything. M and I think about that. We’ll be OK, but you never know how long you will live or if some calamity might drain what’s left. It’s a small problem all things considered.

At this point, I miss skiing and our European bike trips but it comes with the territory. M and I argue about how to load the dishwasher and sometimes worry about falling at night on our way to the bathroom. These are the small problems we’re dealing with. On the other hand, she’s currently advising a senior healthcare client whose facility was acquired by a rapacious private equity firm, and I’m still writing this blog and working on the Great American Short Story. We’re reading, writing, streaming, cooking and going to the gym. We’re busy and engaged in the continuum of life, but truth to tell I can’t wait for the end of Dry January on Wednesday.

A Rangpur Tanqueray martini in a frosted glass, up, with two stuffed Spanish olives please!


  1. A most beautiful post, Jack! Thanks for sharing both your gratitude and feelings of loss. It’s our time of life! Enjoy your martini and today’s sunshine!

  2. Jack my friend, I know the place of you accident, the school you attended and of course the legal routine you experienced.
    Unfortunately, I have many friends and colleauges who are suffering the same issues as yours. Of course, you and I and “M” are all the same age. My wife is on 5 years behind.
    However, let’s stay positive, continue to count our blessings and appreciate our friendship!
    Best wishes as always, Gary

  3. Jack,
    Your fine article brought many thoughts to my 1937 mind:

    Is that martini glass Simon Pearce?
    Beefeaters gin is better than Tangueray.
    I used to give up drinking for Lent. When I gave it up in January it wold be called Jent.
    Hugh Cook, our mutual friend, is in poor health.

    I’ll be thinking of you Wednesday night. As you shake your Rangpur Tangueray martini I’ll be sipping my Beefeaters Over at the AT&T.

    Slainte! Mike

    • Mike: We’re of the same mind. I remember 1947 when you came to Ravenna and kicked our ass at softball. We took it hard. The glass is plain old Crate and Barrel but I looked at the Simon Pearce website. Very nice.

      I haven’t heard from Cookie in a while. Joanne posts lots of pictures on FB and he always looks good. I’ll check in.


  4. I favor a Tanqueray martini straight up myself, but I’m not familiar with the Rangpur. What makes it different? Life may be too short for me to do a “dry January”, but good for you.

  5. A always, enjoying your writing . We too have the evening ritual… maybe a break for me. Next year….🤔

  6. Thanks Jack. Gratitude is definitely the secret sauce for aging gracefully.

    I just read a quote in a Wallace Stegner novel: “Youth doesn’t have anything to do with chronological age. It’s times of hope and happiness.” I know you have plenty in your full life.

  7. Thank you for reminding me to be consciously grateful today and every day. Time to return to my journal that I started a few years ago when Gery was diagnosed with MCI. The support group we attended suggested taking a few minutes a day to reflect on positive thoughts.

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