The Evening the World Ended
A couple of years ago, a California preacher predicted that the world would end on a specific date in May. On that very evening, my homegroup of Alcoholics Anonymous prepared for the imminent end of everything at our regular, weekly meeting. As a group, we thought ourselves well equipped to face the end of the world, but perhaps we weren't.

The founders of our AA chapter included Earl, a hippie ceramic artist, and his partner Cindy, a downright, no-nonsense Englishwoman, who together comprised the soul of our group. Another of the founders is my friend Fred, who is a practising attorney and also a practising psychic. I once accompanied Fred on a mission to exorcise the ghost of a long-dead Indian chief who was haunting the apartment of two young women. We performed complex rituals with bells, candles, and other paraphernalia and, sure enough, the ghost chief departed along with us, and now sometimes attends the meetings with us. Another occasional visitor is my Down Syndrome son Alan, who generally comes along with me to the meeting when he stays at my place for the weekend.

Then there is my sponsée George, who has years and years of sobriety, but they are not all in a row: for decades, his pattern has been strict abstinence for periods of several months invariably capped by a homeric bender, after which he spends a few days in detox, and then returns to AA again. It is amazing that George's health holds up for year after year of this abuse, and I have convinced him to will his body to the Medical School for scientific study. Marilyn, another regular and my sometimes concert or movie date, is a world-traveller and compulsive talker who would easily exhaust the four horsemen of the apocalypse, should they ride in, with her blather.

Ranjit, a mild-mannered immigrant from Mother India, lives in the slow lane, but still periodically enjoys a nervous breakdown, during which he repairs to the Psych Ward of the nearest hospital for a few days' renewal. Matt is another world-traveller and the graduate of various Psych Wards all over the world. Both Ranjit and Matt would perhaps do well to emulate Jane, who regularly gives herself home-made electroshock therapy by sticking her finger in a lamp socket; she claims it is very rejuvenating. Heinrich, an immigrant from Germany, is our horticulturist, having once worked as a nightwatchman at a Botanical Conservatory. He, like several of our other ex-hippie members, was as much a pot-head as an alcoholic. Our senior statesman, Olaf, is a retired merchant marine sailor from Norway; his monologues always sounded terribly wise, because his thick Norwegian accent makes them impossible to understand.

On that evening in May a few years ago, the meeting was more than half over when a skeletally thin young man entered. He had the intense, goggle-eyed stare made popular by Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and like her he claimed to be a Messenger from God. Unfortunately, he departed badly from AA protocol by continually interrupting whoever was speaking with intense, rambling, nonsensical comments. My son Alan apparently enjoyed his comments, though, and kept punctuating them with a duckcall he sounded with a device hidden in his pocket.

After a few of these interruptions, Vince, an African-American communicant who takes his AA very seriously, told the young Messenger from God to get the hell out. Tom, an ex-hippie longshoreman, then sprang to the Messenger's defence for some reason; in no time, Vince and Tom went at it verbally and they almost came to blows.

In the meantime, the Messenger picked up my walking stick and waved it around like a scepter, offering to become our leader. Several other members entered the dispute, while Marilyn and I started edging toward the door. Everyone was talking at once, and Alan, adding a few more duckcalls to the melee, was grinning from ear to ear, as if the chaos was a theatrical production mounted just for his entertainment. Maybe it was. After a few more minutes of this confusion, the meeting just disintegrated.

After we disbanded, we discovered that the Messenger had broken up another meeting downstairs before coming upstairs to us. The members of the first meeting were still milling about in the hall, and they refused to go back into their room while the young man was merely still in the building. So the Messenger, who evidently did indeed come from some kind of Higher Power, had managed to bring about the end of two different meetings that night. He hadn't managed the end of the world, but maybe that was just because none of us understood a word he said.

§   §   §

Over the years, I have learned many valuable, practical lessons at AA meetings. Hans, one of our occasional congregants, had been the manager of a big, imported luxury car dealership in his years as a functional alcoholic. His routine in those days, he told us, began each morning when he put a new outgoing message on his office phone. In it, he would outline his entire schedule for the day: at 10:00 he would be in office X talking to individual A, at 11:00 in room Y with B, at 12:00 lunch with C, D, and E, and so on. Then, as the events and the drinking of the day wore on, he could always call his own telephone to find out where he was, and with whom. This could be a useful technique for those of us in whom senior citizen status is beginning to have the same effect that alcohol consumption used to have on Hans, and on our younger selves.

In his drinking days, the artist Earl had somehow acquired a witchy, beautiful, Croatian wife during a boozy sojourn in Europe; eventually, they broke up after Earl got sober. Their divorce was exceedingly bitter, and reduced Earl to penury, so he told us. However, he followed the precepts of the AA program, and handled the conflict by praying for his ex-wife. Sure enough, the AA program's power was vindicated when his ex-wife suddenly died. Years later, Earl himself was killed in an automobile accident, which perhaps means that somebody was praying for him. In any case, he is no longer with us, although Fred and I sometimes perform a little ritual that brings back his shade for just an hour, to attend our meeting.

--- The Shadow
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