Journalist Pete Hamill was born this day in 1935 to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. The oldest of a large brood of children, Hamill grew up playing stickball in a blue collar neighborhood but was fascinated with comic books and novels. With the neighborhood tavern the center of his community’s social life, Hamill started drinking at an early age. Although his love for books had won him admittance to an elite high school in Manhattan, he felt out of place and dropped out.
Motivated by his love of comic books and art, Hamill went to art school and became a graphic artist after a period of drifting and living in Mexico. He eventually landed a job at the New York Post, which turned into a writing job and a regular, widely read column. A heavy drinker, Hamill finally quit on New Year’s Eve in 1972. His memoir, A Drinking Life (1995) describes his lifelong relationship with alcohol and draws a colorful picture of life in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s. In addition to nonfiction works and journalism collections, Hamill has penned ten novels and two books of short stories.
Pete Hamill’s story is that of 12 million Americans – the number of alcoholics in the United States. Three-fourths of all Americans drink, and six percent of them are alcoholics. Americans spend $197 million on alcohol every day. A person is killed in an alcohol-related car accident every 30 minutes.
I don’t drink. There are several reasons for that. I’ll cite just two. First, I choose to not support an industry that is responsible for 17,520 highway deaths per year. And second, while it’s true that most drinkers never become alcohlics, it’s also true that of the billions who have ever walked the earth who did not ever drink alcohol, not a single one of them every became an alcoholic.
If you are reading this, I don’t pretend to be God and tell you that you can’t drink. And I’m sure you have no plans to become addicted to alcohol. Neither do I want to become an alcoholic. So your plan is to drink but not become an alcoholic. The math says there is a 16 out of 17 chance you won’t become an alcoholic. But I like my odds better.
I am grateful for the story of Pete Hamill. He overcame his demons. I’m not sure I could do that. The good news is that I’ll never have to find out.