Thursday, September 8, 2011

Up To His Neck In It

My fictional PI, Joe Kozmarski, has an addictive personality, but I sometimes wish that I’d given him a more interesting addiction than alcohol with an occasional side of cocaine. Stephen Jay Schwartz, for instance, gives his hero a sex addiction, which, I know, can be every bit as debilitating and destructive as any other addiction, though the language surrounding sex – “getting lucky,” “getting some” – appeals more than the language surrounding alcohol consumption – “getting wasted,” “getting blasted,” “getting bombed.” Dexter, for another instance, is addicted to killing people. The least I could have done is give my guy an addiction that would make him interesting at cocktail parties.

But Joe likes the taste of bourbon (with a side of cocaine). If he “gets lucky” while drinking, that’s all to the good, but bourbon’s the thing. True, he’s been dry lately, or mostly dry. But his drinking has greased most of the major turning points in his life. Except for his struggles with bourbon, he would still be married to the woman he loves. Except for the bourbon he would still be a cop instead of a PI. He left the department after crashing his cruiser into a newsstand, stoned silly, blood alcohol .34, high enough to kill some men.

Why did Joe drink? Why does he still ache for a bottle? Because it feels good to drink. He unscrews the cap and takes a drink, feels the burn and the release and the bright solution to every problem. Drinking feels really, really good . . . until it doesn’t and by then it’s too late: he’s done it, it’s done, and there’s no undoing it.

So, when things get bad – and in the life of this Chicago PI things often get bad – the bottle seems to call to him. Sometimes he answers, and he and the bottle spend some time together. If they’re still lonely, they get some cocaine. And only later – much later – does Joe wake in a sweat. He gets the baggie of cocaine and the bottle of bourbon. He turns on the hot and cold taps in the sink and pours out the whiskey. He opens the baggie and tips the white powder into the swirling water. Flushing it down the drain feels like burning money. It feels like pulling away in the middle of sex. He climbs into bed and stares at the ceiling. He's still staring when the sun rises.

9 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Wow! Short, sweet and powerful look at the "never again" of an addict. I felt like I was watching the coke go down the drain with him. Great post!

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Sue Ann. Joe faces a lot of challenges but the biggest ones are those that he creates himself and in spite of himself.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Powerful post, Michael! It gives such a strong sense of Joe and the demons that drive him.

Meredith Cole said...

We do so love to torture our main characters, don't we Michael? Poor Joe. And I agree with Sue Ann--most excellent writing (makes me very glad I'm not addicted to anything more potent than coffee and chocolate).

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Rebecca and Meredith. I've been wondering what would happen if a hero had no demons at all -- Othello without jealousy, Hamlet without . . . well, he had trunk loads of demons. Demons make characters human, I suppose -- unless they have too many of them: then, they become demonic.

Reece said...

Great post, Michael! I suppose a protagonist without any demons could hold my attention as a reader, but I'm hard-pressed to think of an example. Troubled characters like Joe just always seem to be more compelling.

Michael Wiley said...

"Compelling" seems the right word, Reece. Not more "likable."

lil Gluckstern said...

Wonderful, compelling writing. I'm off to check out your book. I think sweet, sunny characters are fun, but eventually they make my blood sugar rise. I enjoy troubled protagonists who struggle with their demons, or at least question what they are about. The sweetest, nicest people are often the meanest; they just hide it so well.

Michael Wiley said...

Thank you, Lil. Those are good words. The reverse also is true in my experience. Authors who write about demon-trouble heroes (etc.) -- i.e. especially crime writers -- are some of the kindest people I know.

I hope you enjoy reading about Joe K.