Oct. 18 2006 12:00 AM

A notorious lush prepares for the long, bleak odyssey of abstinence

Earlier this year I made the decision to cut “Sordid Tales” down to a biweekly column. The reason? I had some goals I wanted to achieve and needed the extra time. One of those goals was to start writing books; another was to lose weight.

I'm happy to report that I've made advances toward both ends. I just finished writing a book of poetry called Barzilla and Other Psalms. It will be available in November. (A book of short stories will follow.) The weight loss is still a work in progress.

I'm not obese, but I've got the kind of weight problem that takes commitment to resolve: commitment to the gym; commitment to deconstructing old, bad eating habits; commitment to relearning new, good ones; commitment to researching the best diet program; and a commitment to committing myself to all my new annoying commitments.

After researching several diets, I chose a low-carbohydrate plan. The first three months on Atkins went well. After six months, progress slowed. After eight it stopped entirely. I tried various modifications to the diet-you know, eating smaller portions, not eating late, giving up avocados and whatnot-but in my heart of hearts, I knew the cause of the stall: It was alcohol, my perfect nemesis.

I certainly enjoy many different types of intoxicants, but alcohol will always be my drug of choice. Unlike most others, alcohol can be many things: It can be a romantic bottle of wine between lovers. It can be a twelver among chums on a patio overlooking a lake. It can be cognac and chess with your brother. It can be beer and football, martinis and wingtips, port wines and cheesecake or rotgut tequila and mariachis. It can be that inner fuzzy feeling that you hug like a pillow when you drift off to sleep or a hardcore narcotic that puts out all your lights when all your lights need putting out.

God, I love this stuff.

The problem is, consuming alcohol is a mortal enemy to any diet. So I made the decision, unbelievably, against all my impulses, I made the decision to-yes, oh yes, oh Holy Mother of freaking Jesus Christ, yes, it's true-I made the decision to go on the wagon.

O' why must the weary suffer, Lord?

According to the Encyclopedia of Words and Phrases by Robert Hendrickson, the term “on the wagon” comes from the 19th-century phrase “on the water cart.” The water cart was a horse-drawn carriage that sprayed water on unpaved streets to control the dust. When a man quit drinking spirits, he drank water instead and was therefore said to be “on the water cart,” which evolved to “on the water wagon,” which became “on the wagon.”

Sounds like a reasonable story. Although my wagon is more like one of those go-west-young-man rickety covered wagons-rolling across the desert with the unforgiving Arizona sun burning through the tattered cover. No, this is certainly no city wagon, drawn through city streets by healthy city mares, sprinkling sparkling city water here, there and everywhere. No way. My wagon is yoked to two nearly dead desert nags, dragging me slowly through the desert of my abstinence, every rock the same as the other, every mountain utterly barren, every tumbleweed a garnish in the evaporated cocktail of my despair.

This is what life without alcohol feels like to me.

I know because I've been on the wagon before, about 15 years ago, when I was trying to quit smoking. I was having a helluva time with cigarettes. I quit hundreds of times. But whenever I boozed, my willpower melted like butter. So I quit drinking for six months. And it worked! But I'll never forget that odyssey across the long and lonely desert of not drinking or smoking.

And here I go again. Notice a pattern? It seems that I don't quit drinking for quitting drinking's sake; rather, I quit drinking to accomplish some other goal. I shall take this to mean there is hope for me yet-that one day I may partake again.

The plan is to abstain for as long as it takes to reach my weight goal. When that happens, probably in about eight months, I will reintroduce moderate amounts of alcohol into my diet. If I can do that and keep the weight off, I will stop there and claim Moderate Drinker as my official lifestyle and live accordingly. If that doesn't work, I'll just go back to enjoying the piss out of my old reliable Heavy Drinker self and die 10 years sooner.

Everything comes with a cost.

One more thing: During the first three months of sobriety, there will be two times I will need to step off the wagon. I hesitate to say “fall off” because it will be on purpose. Then again, nobody falls off the wagon intentionally. Whatever. I'm only telling you this so that if you see me out drinking on either of those two particular nights, you won't go, “Hey, loser-boy, what happened? I thought you were on the wagon?”

Consider this a disclaimer:

The first time I will need to drink will be at the Barzilla book-release party (Nov. 15 at Winston's with Superunloader, Sweet Tooth, Jose Sinatra and Ted Washington). Reason? You simply cannot not drink during the release party of a book you wrote called Barzilla. It would just be wrong. The other time I will need to ingurgitate myself will be on New Year's Eve. It is a tradition between me and some pals on that night to swill through the wee morning hours, until the bars open again at 6 a.m., then go morning-bar hopping on New Year's Day until the sun dries out my vampiric life-fluids and my body crumbles into desiccated earthcrumbs.

I'm just not ready to give all that up yet.

After that, it's back on the wagon, rolling through the desert-with the rocks, and the tumbleweeds, and the unforgiving swelter-looking for the gold that's hidden somewhere in them thar hills.

E-mail Ed@edwindecker.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.


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