There was a terrible accident not far from here Monday, up in Macomb County. A gutter-level alcoholic with a BAC at nearly three times the legal limit drove her van into a car full of teenagers waiting to make a left turn. All the kids — four of them, ages 15 to 19 — died, and the drunk received only minor injuries. They charged her with four counts of second-degree murder, a wise choice under the circumstances.
Every day, the story seems to get worse. We’ve known for a while now that the driver, a woman named Frances Dingle, had been drinking “at a party” earlier in the evening, and had been warned not to drive, but did so anyway. Today we learn that the “party” consisted of a confrontation with a man whose fiancee was drinking with Dingle, and he took her keys, and she tore the mailbox off his house, and, and, and.
The picture was of a stratum of society where alcohol use more closely resembles what goes on in a drug house. When I was pregnant I did a little reading about fetal alcohol syndrome, after reading a truly mind-blowing — and utterly irresponsible — passage in Newsweek magazine that said, “even a ‘hooray, we’re pregnant’ glass of champagne” can have a negative effect on a fetus. I’d read “The Broken Cord” a few years earlier, Michael Dorris’ heartbreaking memoir of trying to get help for his FAS-afflicted son, born on an Indian reservation. I was puzzled, then and now, why it took so long to diagnose the boy. Alcohol has been a part of human culture for so long, surely someone had noticed the link between women who drank heavily during pregnancy and the mentally retarded babies they gave birth to. Which led to me the “gin babies” of Victorian England, and gin in general during that era, which was a substance we’d recognize more readily as crack cocaine.
I’ve been around drinkers and drunks all my life, but few like the ones described in recent stories about the accident, or the father in “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” whose model was to come home with a bottle of Kessler’s and a six-pack, and sit at the kitchen table taking it like medicine, growing meaner by the minute. No tipsy cheer or social lubrication for these folks, just pound pound pound, and then oblivion.
The first thing they teach you about alcoholism is that booze is booze, and that even if you drink high-dollar stuff, or just beer, or just wine, or always among others and never alone, or never before 5, or whatever, you’re exactly the same as the guy who drinks hair spray. Maybe you’re better-dressed, or better-employed, but at the end, your poison is his poison. It just tastes a little better.
I keep imagining Frances Dingle’s life, the bouts of homelessness, the shattered relationships, the push-me-pull-you of cycling through rehab to drunk tank and back, the final decision to get into her huge van and push it to freeway speeds down a crowded thoroughfare. She hit the median strip at around 60, the cops estimate, which launched it airborne and into the little Chevy Cobalt full of kids. They didn’t have a chance. Doesn’t sound like anyone did.
[Pause. Claps hands together.] OK! Happy time now!
Via the Boston Globe’s excellent Big Picture blog, Scenes from a Recession.
A while ago Ruth Marcus was rooting for Caroline Kennedy to be a U.S. senator…just because. Because it would be sooo cool. Today? Leave AIG alone!
Gawker says the former leader of the free world got dissed with his book advance. What about the people who have to read it, eh? What about them?
My new standard of excellence is Five Lester Freamons. Thanks, NYMag!
Oop, almost time for Flex Appeal at the gym. Later, all.