Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 13, 1975 · Page 69
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 69

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 13, 1975
Page 69
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church, had been baptized--was even a church deacon--but it didn't prevent me from getting deeper and deeper into alcoholism. But, because 1 was in prison at the time with nothing better to do, I went back to other meetings. 1 told myself it would at least improve my chances for parole. Then, one night a speaker shattered my isolation. He pulled no punches as he described what alcoholism had done to him. As he talked, it was as if I was standing up there. (He even looked like me.) Concluding his remarks, he looked at me and said: "You are sitting right now where I sat for seven years-laughing under your hat at clowns who come in here and tell funny stories. If you are alcoholic and you came here to laugh, then I predict that seven years from now, you will be either here or in another prison." I remember thinking I should be angry. But I wasn't. From that point on, 1 began to involve myself in Alcoholics Anonymous as obsessively as I had been in drinking. I read the big book, and I met the man who singled me out that night. As we talked, he painted no rosy picture of life after I quit drinking. He emphasized that I must go further, help others, make amends to those I'd wronged, and progress through the steps of AA. When I objected to the rigidity of achieving 12 steps in a certain order, he explained that AA doesn't work in the same way for .everyone. AA is only a buffer to that attractive world of drinking, parties, and "the mellow glow." With this support, we find our own way, he said. That made sense. I began to look at the steps in a serious;way. Step one was to admit I was alcoholic and had lost control of my life. ···: Sounds easy enough, but how could an intelligent, determined individual like me admit that something made from a few grains of corn, malt, barley, or grapes could take over my life? Step two was difficult for me, a rebel who blamed imposed religion for part of my troubles. By the time most of us get to AA, we are convinced there couldn't be a God who would let us live after the terrible things we have done. I approached it in a different, manner. The step two belief in a power greater could be substituted * ^ . . . . _ ^ » m « « « f k A » f i «1t ment when someone who has apparently made it--turns to drink again. The hurt is largely fear: getting back on the wagon is more difficult with each tumble. Step three? Wow! Turn my life over to the care of God? I considered these sober AA's powerful, but could I make them God-like? Realizing that these steps couldn't be mastered in a day, I stumbled on to the next one. Step Four: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. This was a beautiful step once I got past the word "Moral." I had always associated "moral" with my bad habits and had seldom found anything good about myself. My AA sponsor told me to search for both the good and the bad. Through his insistence, I was surprised to discover some good qualities in me. Analyzing the truth about myself was bitter sweet as I combined it with step five and confessed in an open meeting the nature of my wrongs as I saw them. Amazingly, I helped a new member feel at ease, an old member renew his sobriety, and caused myself to feel a : part of this fellowship. Before that, the only other tiling I ever felt I belonged to was the state penal system. SPEAK^G OF BOOKS I would be dishonest if I said I have ever tried to work steps six and seven: Be ready to have God remove my defects of character; and humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings. AA members say I have achieved them in my own way, but I never felt ready for the God mentioned in those steps to remove my defects of character. If a righteous God existed, he would not have given me such defects. : Therefore, I never asked Him to remove my shortcomings. I resolved to remove them myself. Number eight is a biggie. Whether you are alcoholic or not, make a list of everyone you have harmed and decide to make amends to them. =·· Scary isn't it? I strongly believe any serenity we seek comes mostly after we become willing to make amends. This willingness becomes important in step nine that says to make direct amends wherever possible except when to do so would injure someone. Step ten urged me to continue to take self-inventory and, when A too-readable history? "MEETING AT POTSDAM," by Ckarles L. Mee Jr., M. Evans Co., IK. $11.15. I guess Charles L. Mee Jr.'s "meeting at Potsdam" has everything you could possibly want in a work of history. It is intensely dramatic: for it brings to stage center the monumental figures of Truman, Churchill: and Stalin (with their respective advisers -- and of course Clement Attlee. who replaced Churchill as British Prime Minister midway through the conference - standing just to the right and left of them), and depicts them forging the post-World War II world in dialogue so vivid that it seems almost to have been lifted from a work of the imagination. It develops a thesis that "stuns demonstrating, as it tries to do, that first, Truman and Stalin cynically divided the postwar world into Soviet and American spheres of influence, while professing to do just the opposite; second. Churchill egged them on at every opportunity, reasoning that the greater the conflict between American and Soviet interests, the greater the op- Cheesebox's Story than mine--they were sober. yVWcl clcdici vuuiu wv- ouw^v»»'« i ^-« ·,**·**» ~~»- --- ,, with the fellowship of AA. After all, wrong, to say so promptly. Resent- AA represented a power greater ment and the device of escapism - · sends most of us alcoholics to the bottom-with wine, bourbon, beer, or moonshine. Resentment makes alcoholism the cunning, baffling, powerful forces that it is. Step eleven suggested constant prayer and meditation. Personally, this suggested to me the ritualism And, there were the "birthday parties." AA "birthday parties" are not for years of life, but for days and ,,,,.- -_ DO years of sobriety. I can't forget of great, ornate churches as op- meeting an 84-year-old man my posed to simple devotion I go to first night out of prison/He had AA meetings instead. There, I been jailed off and on for years as meet persons who are sober and king of the winos, and once stayed dedicated. From them I gam drunk for two years. The night I strength, inspiration and direction saw him, he was presented with a for my own life cake for 15 years of sobriety. Tears Step twelve said take time to con- came into his eyes as he stood up sider giving instead of taking. AA people give m a strange manner. Anonymous alcoholics tell you, for example, that whether you benefit from their efforts or not, they do. Unusual. But it works. We stay sober. aoesn i urn* 11* ui ».« -«,,»^.. So, as my part of the process I any longer. He needs someone to carry the message of AA to other lean on during a difficult time. It alcoholics, also means .» terrible-disappoint- '-Like 1 this. · .· l ·· - - ·'·--· · and said: "When you find someone who thinks he's done it all, had it all- and is all gone--tell him about this." AA fellowship means late-night calls from a new member who doesn't think he or she can make it "CHEESEBOX," by Paul S. Meskil with Gerard M. Callahan, Prentice-Hall, $7.95. Gerald "Cheesebox" Callahan was a notorious underworld electronics expert. The cheesebox (named after its container) which he invented was a device that allowed bookmakers to take messages on telephones at locations some distance from the phone the customer was calling. This kept the police from tracking down the person taking the bets. Callahan also had his hand in rigging election machines, past-posting bookies (making bets after the race had already been run), and bugging telephones. Like all notorious criminals, he was a failure, otherwise he would be unknown, but he has some strange stories to tell. Some of his tales seem too good to be true, so they probably aren't: Others are almost certainly mostly true, and still others may be completely factual. However, whatever their degree of fact or fiction, Callahan's adventures make fascinating reading. "Cheesebox" doesn't contain blueprints or schematics for Callahan's inventions. He has been careful not to make this a how-to book. Instead, this account is sprinkled with the names of criminals even more notorious (read "greater failures") than he was, and there is enough humor and excitement for a couple of books. Albert F. Nussbaum portunity to forge an Anglo-American alliance;.and third, that Truman not only dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the cynical purpose of intimidating Stalin, but also that he actually prolonged the war wih Japan to do so. A shocking thesis and a dramatic demonstration of its development all rolled into one: how can one possibly complain about this account of the Potsdam conference written by former editor of Horizon magazine? And yet I can't help having misgivings, and it is precisely this combination of drama and thesis that bothers me. For what gives Mee's narrative its extraordinary impact is the highly artificial way he has arranged his material -- the way he has set up the various characters in his account (for instance, Truman and his closest advisers are introduced as if they were a crew of poker-playing wheeler- dealers who viewed Stalin as another Tom Pendergast, while our first glimpses of Churchill make him appear absolutely dotty), or the way he has picked and chosen from various eyewitness accounts of the conference, or the way he has edit? ed the actual transcripts of the discussions. And what gives his thesis a good deal of its plausibility is the dramatic way it is presented (for instance, the personal characters of the various principals are highlighted by the way their words are edited). In short, Mee has used the techr niques of popular history to develop a thesis of utmost importance from the point of view of serious scholarship. And he has used conclusions that ought to have been reached by means of serious scholarship to heighten his drama's.popular appeal. And there's something fundamentally brothersome about this. Of course it might be argued that it's silly to fault the book on such grounds. It might be maintained that the distinction between popular narrative history and the theses on which it is based is an artificial one -- a distinction we've been conditioned to draw by historians who can't write dramatically and^rrit- ers who can't think historically. It might be said that Mee is correct in his analysis of the Potsdam conference regardless of how he presents it (so why not present it dramatically?): that he should be credited for doing what no one else has done, not the ideologues who have used the Potsdam conference for propaganda, nor the eyewitnesses who have given us such limited view of it -- namely, pulled all points of view together and woven them into a highly coherent account. Besides, it might furthe? be argued, that highly coherent account is a useful, realistic one. dam was not the sellout in which Truman rubber-stamped what Roosevelt had already given away at Yalta, as some conservatives have said; nor was it where Truman started the cold war by backing down on the Yalta agreements, as some revisionist historians have argued. As Mee concludes, "It is absurd to apportion 'blame' for the beginning of the cold war, to try to say whether Truman or Stalin was the first to be distrustful or aggressive or trustworthy or provocative." When all was said and done, they had agreed to disagree?* Yet still, I worried as I read "Meeting at Potsdam." At times it seemed to me too simple. At other times, it seemed too narrow in its historical perspective, too willing to view all history as a poker game. And always I worried about Mee's dramatic elisions: It would have been duller to have filled them in, I know, but would it have altered the view of history? By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt Mr. Lehmann-Haupt is a staff writer for the New York Times. Portrait of a starlet Mr. Nussbaum, currently serving a sentence in Federal prison for multiple bank robberies, is the author of a number of magazine short storiesJand articles.^ ·; · ; · - "THE TRUE LIFE STORY OF JODY McKEEGAN," by Don Carpenter, E. P. Button, $7.95. This is a big, big novel which Carpenter, through some magic all his own. has managed to compress to a mere 238 pages. The ground he covers in any one chapter would provide many other writers with enough material for a book. Some of it already has. There has been no shortage of books about women who were trying to be movie stars. The main difference is that Carpenter's novel is superior to most. "The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan" has been divided into two parts. The first section give Jody's background and life up to age 15. Then there is a 20-year gap and part two picks up her life again when she is 35, living with a has-been actor, and aspiring to- be a movie 'star- despite r never having earned a major acting credit. Then she" meets an honest-to- God film producer and everything becomes fairly predictable. Don Carpenter, wrote and co- produced a poorly received movie called "Payday." He has the authority most other writers tackling this subject have had to fake.^lso, he manages to walk the tight rope between the ridiculous glamor and tawdry shallowness that other writers presented. Carpenter's background rings true. Unfortunately, his ending doesn't. It's not consistent with the action and character development that precedes it. Perhaps Carpen- terfelt he needed an upbeat ending to make a film sale. Whatever the reason, his novel is badly flawed. It might have been great-insteadit is very good. Albert F. Nussbaum .. CHARLESTON.W:'

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