Sober Stick Figure
A Memoir
Amber Tozer
(Running Press)
Amber Tozer hails from Pueblo, Colorado, does stand-up comedy, writes on occasion for television, delivers mattresses in her (or atop of her) Mitsubishi Galant, and can drink you under the table, then out the door and into the street. Or used to be able to drink you under the table, out the door and into the street until she went on the wagon.

It took her a hell of a long time to arrive in this state of sobriety, and this book is a testament to her toughness, the toughness of one who can drink two bottles of wine at a sitting, then go out to a bar and down some exotic drink (or even, if she is forced to, drink several snifters of whiskey . . . which she claims to hate), then during a black-out, drive home across town, in the midnight traffic, and when she wakes up in the morning, not even remember the drive, much less getting in and out of the car, up the stairs, and, after having a few more drinks as a nightcap, falling into bed. Sometimes with people she scarcely knows.

We might perhaps be able explain this special kind of toughness by the fact that she comes from Colorado, and had a father, and several uncles, and various other relatives who were self-murdering alcoholics.

Sober Stick Figure is an encyclopedia of what it takes to be a full time drunkard, doing it with such élan that often people who knew her, and knew her well, don't know how much booze she was getting, daily, hourly, into her gullet.

Sober is also a hell of a funny book, not only because of the writing, but because of her stick figures. You may try to figure out, as I did, how come the whole thing works at all, much less so well. For you and I have met full-time boozers at the It'll Do Tavern, who after a few minutes, make you want to fly out of there asap. How does Tozer convince us to stick around for over 200 pages of getting endlessly stewed?

I suspect it has something to do with her drawings . . . one to a page, a veritable Greek chorus that runs there right alongside the main story.

    One night, during one of my benders, I drank until six in the morning. The next afternoon, I woke up and had flashbacks of being at a bar with some comedy friends and being the only person dancing. I remember flailing my arms around and people laughing at me, and I remember a friend telling me I had lost so much weight, and I remember being so drunk and drinking more. I remember ordering another drink while a friend helped me stand up at the bar. I couldn't stop. It's like the only choice I had was to have another drink.
"It's like the only choice I had was to have another drink," she says: which maybe should have been tattooed on her shoulder so that no one would ever offer her another cocktail. And, on the next page, scrawled with kid's colored pencils, we find:

What should you do after you drink 9 alcoholic beverages?
A. Have another one
B. Have two more
C. Have seven more
D. All of the above

It reminds us a little of the New Yorker. Here you are reading an engrossing article about some grotesque pillage in a village in the Congo, or a scary story about a new crack in the ice sheet of the Antarctic, filled with scary facts and figures - - - and down at the bottom of the page there's a cartoon by Roz Chast, with the headline, Recipes from the Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook including "Free Will Soup," "Angsty Tuna Salad," and "Any Cake at All."

What are you supposed to do? Laugh? Cry? Both at the same time?

Another worry has to do with Amber herself.

As we are reading this collection of boozery, we might well be thinking about what it would be like to hang out with someone like Amber when she was on the usual bender, especially, as we learn on pages 1 - 200, she is always on a bender . . . yet continuing to function as a human being? In rather conflicted language, she tries to tell us how it feels, for instance, to have one of her male buddies trying to come on to her.

It was only a day after 9/11 there in New York City. She recalls that hours later, after the first strikes, people were still not sure that these were the only ones coming.

    It'd be sort of beautiful to have sex knowing you were gonna die in a few hours. But as much as I drank, I didn't sleep with guys who I didn't love. Sure, I'd make out with them (I'd make out with anyone). I'd blue-ball them, and let them touch my tiny boobs, but sex was too intense for me. Most guys disgusted me, even if they were cute. The only men that I was attracted to were the types that could ruin my life, the unavailable fucked-up guys. I liked having sex with guys who had a lot of problems because it was exciting. It was a challenge to try to change them, and I liked focusing on other people's problems rather than my own.

Besides being a little uneasy with this "I'd make out with anyone" business (and wondering what the hell is this thing so casually tossed off as "blue-balling") - - - her ambivalence is mixed with an I-would-never-say-no stance, along with convincing stories, further on in the book, of wanting to be a lesbian . . . but not being able to pull it off (so to speak).

All this makes Amber Tozer as mysterious and puzzling as any character, fiction or non-fiction, that we've run into in our many reads. For instance, after one of her many wine and coke nights, the next day,

    When I woke up, I didn't know if it was God or the cocaine, but I had an out-of-body experience that was so intense I became fully aware that I had to stop drinking. It was a moment in time where the only thing that existed was the clearest thought that I had ever had in my life, which was, "You have to stop drinking. If you don't, your life is going to to be awful."

Under this, we find a drawing of her on an air mattress (with the words "Holy Shit" on the bed board and the words "air leaking out psssss" at the bottom) plus words in script, "I understood with all my heart that I could not control my drinking and I needed to ask for help."

This is a sudden end to all the drama that's taken place before, followed on the next page by the sudden declaration: "It's been over seven years since that moment on the air mattress, and I haven't had a drink since."

That's it for the follow-up to this almost non-stop tale of self-destruct. Amber didn't self-destruct, and we are left puzzling over the how and why and how come . . . and why not?

She may be on to the big secret of the big changes that sometimes come into our lives. They come WHAM! and blow us up, and out, and away . . . and then, if someone asks, "Wow! No stuff! How'd it happen?"

And we find that there are only two possible responses:

[1] I can't really figure it out myself; and

[2] I really don't want to talk about it.

This last is because we find, most of us, that when something so mind-blowing comes about happens, there's a certain air of mystery, along with a heavy dose of magic that turns up too.

And we just don't want to tamper with it.

At all.

--- C. A. Amantea
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