Winning the Struggle Against Alcoholism

September 14, 1999

“Hi, Barb. It’s me, Chuck. I just got in.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you called. Where are you?”

“I got into Orlando this afternoon, just like I’d hoped.”

“How was the flight?”

“Crowded. So was the terminal in Atlanta, but things on this end made the hassle almost worthwhile. You should see the palm trees and flowers at the airport, even inside. It’s more like a greenhouse than a place for planes.”

“Are you there now?”

“No. I’m in the motel already.” He sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Checked in not long ago, about three forty-five. How was your day?”

“Fine. I just got home from school when the phone rang. Glad it’s you.”

“So things are okay?”

“Yup. My classes were good. The kids were a little unruly, but then they’re teenagers and it’s early in the term. Still, I’d give anything to be there in Florida with you right now.”

“I know, Barb. Me too. Sure is good to hear your voice."

“Same here. I just wish you weren’t so far away.”

“Well, if things go right I should be home late Friday evening and we’ll have the whole weekend together. These trips aren’t much fun for either of us but at least it’s a living, or has been so far.”

“How are things on that score? Any sales since you left?”

Chuck pulled his shoes off and loosened his tie. “A few. I’m still behind this month’s goal, but I’ve got three days left in this week and lots of contacts to make, so we’ll see.”

“Heard anything more about the company’s plans?”

“Nope. All I know is that John Reynolds got laid off yesterday. Fritz told me when I phoned in this morning. That’s two people gone from sales in the past month.”

“Chuck, what will we do if they cut you? We couldn’t survive on my income for very long.”

“Let’s deal with that if and when I’m out of work. In the meantime I’ll make some new contacts and I still have about twenty of my regulars to phone. I’ll do everything I can to meet my quota.”

“I know, hon. I didn’t mean to worry you. No one works harder than you do. It’s just that the way businesses are these days nothing seems safe, even for people with a good record.”

“You’re right. With faxes and e-mails and on-line sales, traveling reps like me may be tomorrow’s dinosaurs. Let’s just see what happens.”

“What’s the place like where you’re staying?”

“It’s really nice. You’d like it. The room is different shades of green, with vines and leaves on the wallpaper and the usual furniture, but there’s a big TV and an even bigger bed. It’s huge.”

“Makes me wish even more that I were there.”

“I know, babe. Don’t get me started.”

“Since I’m a thousand miles or more away I guess you’ll just have to go it alone, for now.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about me. Remember the old saying about wine, women and song? I haven’t had a drink in six years and the only woman I want to fool around with is you, so that just leaves singing and I’m not very good at that. It’s going to be a dull three days. All work and no play.”

“Chuck, I promise we’ll make up for it once you get back. When did you say you’d be home?”

“Late Friday evening, unless I can wrap things up and catch an earlier flight. I’ll see.”

“Chuck, . . . I love you.”

“I love you too, Barb. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Listen, be good. And hurry home.”

“I will. Don’t worry. Now, I’m at the Royal Palm Motel, Room 219. The area code is . . .

“Wait till I get a pen and some paper . . . Okay, go ahead.”

“It’s area code 407. The main number is 634-7676 and the room number again is 219. Got that?”

“Yup. 407, and 634-7676. Room 219.”

“I’ll be on my cell phone a lot for business but you can try it anyway, or just leave messages with the motel office if I don’t answer the room phone. I’ll check in with you a couple more times before Friday.”

“Promise?

“Absolutely. Hearing your voice is the next best thing to being there.”

“Thanks. Bye, hon. See you soon.”

Chuck put the receiver down, plumped up a few pillows on the bed and stretched out to unwind. Barb’s features came to him – long blonde hair, azure eyes, an engaging smile, and a hug that made you never want to let go. All of a sudden tears came. He tried to sniff them away but failed, then went into the bathroom and washed his face with warm water. Back in the room and seated at the small desk, he took out his appointment book and dialed the first number on his new customer list. The phone rang twice before a southern voice at the other end said, “Good afternoon. Superior Products. May I help you?”

“This is Chuck Neal with O’Brien Manufacturing. I’d like to speak with someone in purchasing, please.”

“Products or Parts?”

“Parts. I want to talk with someone about being a supplier for your firm.”

“One moment please.” The line was silent a few seconds and then some local radio station cut in playing Country & Western music. A minute later another voice came on the line.

“Dave Ferguson here. What can I do for you?”

“Hi. My name is Chuck Neal. I’m with O’Brien Manufacturing and I’d like to talk with you about supplying small parts for your firm.”

“Well, we already have several companies providing most of the parts we need.”

“Fair enough, but I can guarantee the quality of our parts is as least as good as any of our competitors, and on some items our prices will be even less than what you’re paying now. We supply just about everything – brackets, flanges, gears, fittings, locknuts, washers . . . you name it.”

“I’m sure your stuff is first rate, but we’re satisfied with the suppliers we already have.“

“I’d at least like the chance to meet you. Is there some time tomorrow when I could show you our catalog and price list?“

“Nope. Tomorrow won’t work, division meetings all morning long. Then, in the afternoon I have to visit two of our plants in the Tampa area.”

“Well then, how about this Thursday or Friday? I’ll be in town till late afternoon the end of this week.”

“Like I said, I really can’t promise you any business.“

“I don’t want a sure thing, just a chance. That’s all I’m asking.”

“All right then. If you can come by around two o’clock on Thursday I might be able to spare a few minutes.”

“Great. I’ll be there at two on Thursday. Thanks, Dave, for agreeing to take my call. Again, my name is Chuck, Chuck Neal.” He hung up the phone and jotted down the words “slim chance” next to the man’s name, then got a drink of water from the sink before going back to the desk and dialing a number from another page.

“Dawson Enterprises. May I help you?”

“Yes. I’d like to talk with Steve in purchasing.”

“Steve?”

“Right. Steve Reynolds, the purchasing director.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have that name listed in that department. Could he be in another division?”

“No. Steve has been with Dawson for a dozen years now, always in purchasing. I see him whenever I’m in town. I’m with O’Brien and Steve’s one of my best clients.”

“Very well, sir. I’ll see what I can do.”

Chuck waited, holding the receiver away from his ear to escape a barrage of rock & roll oldies. Minutes later the receptionist was back on the line.

“I’m sorry, sir. You are . . . that is you were correct. Steve Reynolds was in purchasing, but I’m told he no longer works here. Could I put you in touch with someone else?”

“Who took his place?”

“One moment please . . . here it is. Brad Johnson. Would you like his extension?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“All right. It’s 3-4-7. I’ll connect you.” The phone rang five times before a woman answered.

“Purchasing. This is Sue.”

“Sue. This is Chuck Neal, from O’Brien Manufacturing. I’d like to speak with Mr. Johnson, please.”

“I’m sorry. He isn’t in right now. May I take a message?”

“I was calling to check about ordering some parts. I used to deal with Steve.”

“Yes, well, this whole department has been restructured. I’m not sure who has those old accounts now. I could leave a message and have Mr. Johnson call you back.”

“Fine, but I need to hear from him by tomorrow afternoon. I’m only in town till Friday."

“I’m afraid he won’t be available. Brad’s attending a training event up in Charlotte. I don’t expect him back until Monday.”

“Well then, I’ll give you my office phone back in Chicago. It’s an 800 number.” He dictated each digit slowly, adding, “Again, my name is Neal, Chuck Neal, with O’Brien Manufacturing. Please ask Mr. Johnson to call me first chance he gets.”

“I’ll give him the message.”

When the line went dead Chuck wrote “forget it” next to the Dawson company entry, but jotted down Brad Johnson’s name and his extension number anyway, just in case. The next five calls were equally useless. Advance Products was shut down for inventory and the entire staff was off the rest of the week. Tilden Industries wasn’t placing new orders with anyone, and the person who answered the phone at Currie & Curtis said they’d have to return the call later, since no one from purchasing would be available the rest of the day.

Chuck checked the time and decided to give up making any more calls. He turned on the television, rejecting the Jerry Springer show in favor of a local news channel. At six thirty he caught part of a newscast. Nothing of any consequence had happened, just more speculation and growing concern over Y2K, dimming peace prospects in the Mid East and guesses on how long the current economic stability would last. Several experts tried to be encouraging, pointing out that prices were decent and the Fed was holding inflation in check with rate increases.

'Then why is it so tough to make sales?' Chuck asked himself. 'Where’s the stability everyone’s talking about?' Unable to answer his own questions, he decided for a change of pace.

Putting on a pair of running shoes, shorts and jersey, he headed out for a jog. Forty minutes later he was back, sweat cascading off him. After a shower he donned some casual clothes and passed more time by scanning each section of the USA Today he’d brought up with him from the lobby. When he finished the paper, Chuck turned the TV on again. High Plains Drifter was showing on an old movie channel, but it didn’t interest him just then, even if it did star Clint Eastwood. The Discovery channel’s program on plant life in Madagascar wasn’t any more appealing, and E’s profile of the life of Liberace seemed goofy. He opted for a game show, followed by a few situation comedies. By then it was a quarter past eight and he was hungry, so he headed out to get something to eat.

Returning to the room well after ten o’clock, Chuck settled in for the night. He changed into a pair of short pajama bottoms and curled up with Tom Clancy’s newest book. The initial attack scene on the plane sounded true-to-life, but when the Rainbow Team set out to protect a private estate against more terrorists the book began to repeat itself, so he laid it aside. Switching the television back on, he surfed all the stations but nothing hooked him so he flipped to the movie rental channel and, against his better judgment, scanned descriptions of the adult films.

'Don’t’ think Babes In Boyland or Kitchen Sexpots would look good on my expense voucher,' he thought. By then it was time for David Letterman, but he watched only a little of the silliness and decided to turn the set off once the first guest was introduced.

“Now, at last, the ones you’ve been dying to see . . . “ A young starlet with a bustline bigger than her IQ pranced on stage and Chuck fought the temptation to watch longer. With the TV off, thoughts about his own life flooded in, a life full of recurring troubles that included divorce, damaged relations with a son and daughter and the near loss of his job as well. Each memory brought with it a fresh hurt.

“Damn it!” Chuck slammed his fist onto the mattress. “Damn it all! Why can’t I get past this?”

Tears started up again and his hands shook when he tried to wipe them away. Licking his lips, he felt the need for something, anything that would help him calm down. His mind struggled to keep control, but his body was already off the bed and headed toward the dresser. Yanking open the bottom drawer, he hauled out the brown paper bag he’d brought back with him after supper. A few shaky strides and he was at the counter in the bathroom, cursing the small size of the plastic cups. He took a bottle of whiskey from the bag and started to open it, then realized he had no ice.

The machine was just down the hall, but this time his legs wouldn’t move. Trembling, he took the cap off the bottle and got ready to pour. His hands were shaking so much that he spilled the first few ounces so Chuck held the glass over the sink and tried again. Even so, most of the liquor splashed outside the cup. He watched the amber liquid twist its way down the drain and thought, ‘Just like my life.’

For a brief second he considered calling his AA buddy, but couldn’t remember his phone number. There’d be a local chapter but probably no night person on duty, even if they did had a building of their own. He took a look in the mirror, a good look, and saw a person on the edge. The words “one day at a time” came to him and in that instant Chuck knew what he had to do. Tipping the bottle over, he poured out the entire fifth and then tossed the bottle into the wastebasket. A minute later he was on the phone. A sleepy voice answered.

“Hello.”

“Barb, it’s me.”

“Chuck, it’s after one in the morning. Is something wrong?”

“Yes . . . no. I mean, I’m okay, but . . . actually, I’m not doing so well. I made business calls but no luck, so I killed some time here in my room and then went for a run. After that I got some supper, and then . . . “ Tears started once more and he began to sob.

“Chuck, have you been drinking?”

“No,” he whispered. “No. I wanted to. I even bought a bottle and brought it back with me, but I couldn’t take that first drink. I poured it out instead.”

“Good.”

“I’m just alone, and I’m so scared and I couldn’t think of what to do, but I knew I wanted to hear your voice.”

“Then I’m glad you called. You can count on me, no matter what time it is.”

“Listen, I know it’s late. I should have called earlier. I even thought about it, but wanted to try getting through this on my own, . . . and I almost did.”

“You did get through it. I’m proud of you, and you’ll keep on doing well. I know you will.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I am. It’s only three more days and you’ll be back home.”

"You’re right, once I’m there it will be a whole lot easier.”

“I can’t wait. By the way, that reminds me. Your kids called tonight and asked about you. Sissy’s started in a new school and wanted to invite you to parents’ night on the twenty-eighth and Bud said he made the freshman football team, even got two tackles in their first game last Friday against Elgin.”

“Must not take after me,” Chuck said, remembering his days on the bench. “That was nice of them to call. What did you tell them?”

“That you were out of town on business but that you’d be back before the weekend. Bud said their next game is this coming Friday and he wanted to know if you’d be back in time to go.”

“Tell you what. I’ll switch my ticket first thing in the morning and be on the earliest Friday flight I can get.”

“Bud will be pleased, and I will too.”

“That’s settled, then. It’s late, so I’d better let you get back to sleep. Tomorrow, do me a favor, will you?”

“Name it.”

“Call Bud and Sissy for me. Tell them I’m thinking about them and that I’ll arrange to be there for his game and for the parents’ night.”

“Sure will.”

“Wait. On second thought I’ll call them myself tomorrow afternoon. Then it’s only one more business day and I’ll be home. Good night, sugar, and thanks.”

“Night, hon. Sleep well.”

“I will, now, for sure.”

[Excerpted from Room 219, a published novella on CreateSpace / Amazon.com / Barnes & Noble.com]

© 2008 Bear Tales

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