Author Jeff Pohn is a longtime Hollywood veteran, a director, screenwriter, and, for the past 33 years of his life, a recovering alcoholic. In his memoir Blotto: Adventures in Alcoholism, he describes his personal journey in raw, unfiltered detail.
HOVER OVER ME!
How does the dirty, drunken hippie in this photo…
HOVER OVER ME!
…become the clean and sober man you see here?
Exclusive Blotto Readings
by Jeff Pohn
My days are devoted to the killing of cockroaches, who share my scuzzy, single apartment in Hollywood. I’m drinking around the clock, but to diminishing returns. I have to drink more and more to achieve the desired affect – Blotto. I buy my booze at different liquor stores, so that the guys behind the counter don’t recognize me as a drunk. My body wakes me up in the middle of night, demanding alcohol. I sleep with a cheap bottle of vodka under my bed, and I am gifted tiny vials of cocaine from a sweetheart of a dealer, who knows I can no longer afford to pay.
A growing paranoia darkens my shrinking world; I sleep with a carrot peeler on the bedside table. Suspecting my phone is bugged, I take it completely apart, forgetting that it was disconnected months ago. Other than liquor runs, I hardly ever leave the apartment, but when I do, I suspect I’m being followed. I don’t want anyone to witness what I’ve become. My only human contact is with the mailman, through the slot. For years, I drank exclusively hi-end booze, like the brands I was weened on, from my parents’ liquor cabinets. Now, I’ll guzzle anything at all, including, in desperate moments, Paco Rabanne cologne.
I’m not a bad guy – I’m well educated. I love my mother. I floss semi-regularly. So, how did I wind up like this, at thirty-years-old? Allow me take you back to where it all began, as I remember it…
Pohn with the legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune
Pohn was born and raised in Chicago with a “culture freak” mother and an alcoholic father who died at age 43. As a kid growing up in the wake of the hippie movement, he was exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age. After a tumultuous end to his high school years, he escaped to California to study film and dance. His lack of dancing ability, coupled with his natural interest in arthouse and New Hollywood cinema, steered him towards a career in film. After a promising start to his professional career that included adapting well-known novels into feature films and directing network TV shows, Pohn’s personal demons caught up with him. He burned bridges and trashed relationships until he realized he had become his father. He took the first step to recovery and attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Shaken Not Stirred
Dad gets moody when he drinks. He veers between belting out songs from the musical, Camelot to ranting about the things he hates, like the outrageous harassment of Lenny Bruce at the hands of the police, or his mother-in-law’s ugly feet. One of dad’s passions is James Bond. He reads all the Bond books to me, and takes me to Bond movies. He purchases the same gun Bond uses, and shoots out of his apartment window, into the city below. Then, one day, he hands me the gun. It’s pretty heavy. I just look at it.
“Shoot!.” dad commands.
I shake my head “no”, feeling smaller than I usually do.
“Are you saying ‘no’ to me?”
“I’m your father.”
“I’m your son.”
“You don’t have to hit anything, Duffy. Just shoot, see what it feels like.”
“Can’t we just paint?”
“Not until we do this, first.”
“Why do I have to do it?”
“Because I want you to know what it means to be a man.”
“I’m not a man.”
“Alright, I’m taking you home to your mommy’s.”
“Fine with me.”
“That does it. You shoot or you get shot.”
I’m pretty sure my dad doesn’t really mean it, but with him, I never know. I take the gun, and with my eyes closed tight, I shoot out of the window. It shakes me up pretty bad. Dad takes the gun from my hand.
“Nice shooting, Deadeye. I think you hit a guy crossing the street.”
“What?!”, I say with alarm.
“Easy, pardner. Just yankin’ your lariat.”
Dad pulls me close to him, makes me look into his face.
“Duffy, what we just did is our secret. You can’t tell anyone, especially your mom.”
For years afterward, I wonder if I did kill anyone.
Such a Deal
Using my dad, Bernie, as a negative role model, Laura (as I now call mom) has always tried to impress upon me the importance of being a good businessman. Taking her advice to heart, I start to deal marijuana. The profits from this endeavor, along with the money I swipe from Laura’s purse, allow me to afford all the new gym shoes I want. I become known and envied at school for my gym shoe collection.
I am fashioning a new identity – sort of a very poor man’s Hugh Hefner. In addition to my ever-growing mane and groovy new threads, my bedroom features a waterbed, exotic-looking textiles adorning the walls, a high-end sound system, and my old posters of Chicago sports luminaries replaced by rock stars and pin-ups. Laura doesn’t seem to wonder how I’m financing all of this. Socially, I’m moving and shaking, dumping my old friends, and making new ones – older guys, bad apple seniors who are drawn to me because I’m such a cool dude, and because of my cheap – and often free – pot.
During my first couple years of high school, my illegal substance activities expand along with my mind. In addition to daily drinking and pot smoking, I experiment freely with LSD, mescaline, cocaine, speed, hashish, Quaaludes, etc. Quaaludes are my favorite, as they get me closest to unconsciousness while still remaining conscious. My least favorite drug is LSD. On my last and worst acid trip, hanging out with a bunch of friends at the home of one of their parents, I sit on the floor with my weight back on my hands. When the others leave to party elsewhere, I become convinced that my hands are glued to the floor. I simply cannot move. I remain stuck there for hours until my friend’s parents return home, and find me alone, still hopelessly attached to the floor.
“What are you doing here?”, the surprised mom demands.
I try to speak, but words won’t come out. The best I can do is to nod or shake my head. The dad glares accusingly at me, snaps at his wife.
“Look at his eyes, Doris. He’s all hopped up.” He trains his disgust on me.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“We’d like you to leave”, the mom insists.
“Can’t,” is the best I can manage to say.
I wriggle around on the floor. Finally, the parents get down on their hands and knees, pry me off floor, and send me on my way.
A perfect example of Pohn in his youth: passed out drunk on a bench in Paris.
Upon my admittance to the loony bin, I’m briefly examined, then heavily medicated. When I come to, in my hospital room, I find, inches away from my face, another face; sweaty and fleshy, a thoroughly chewed cigar stub sticking out of his mouth. This is my roommate, Eugene, who, without introduction, asks me to be his vice-presidential running mate in the upcoming election. I shrug. Eugene takes that as a commitment.
On election night, all twenty-eight patients on the unit gather to watch the returns. At some point, it hits Eugene that he’s not going to win, he will be soundly beaten by Richard Nixon. Eugene lifts his bloated body off the couch, and shuffles silently from the TV room. Moments later, a huge crash is heard. Eugene is found sitting in his (and my) bathroom sink, which crashed to the floor when he sat in it. Eugene is weeping, and threatens to eat anyone who comes near him.
I am given a private room, a real perk in a place like this, but not enough to prevent an act of desperation. One night, I step up onto a spindly chair, then I tie my belt, dangling from the ceiling, around my neck. The chair teeters. The belt tightens. I prepare to kick the chair away, when a vivid image enters my mind – my mother’s face, and how beside herself she would be if I was found with poop in my pants. The thought is simply unbearable. I give myself a raincheck, and come down from the precarious perch.
I continue a life of semi-nonexistence; eighteen hours a day of sleep, some mandatory arts and crafts, and hospital food. Finally, after weeks of monitoring, the institution’s head shrink comes up with a diagnosis for me: ”Temporary Loss of Self”. Not exactly actionable intelligence.
I don’t find myself again until four months later, when I wake up one morning in the bin, in a totally manic state. It’s better than the best cocaine. I can’t stop talking, thinking, moving, doing. Working at a furious pace, I create artwork; I paint, make prints, and try to sketch the feet of women on the unit. It’s hard to find an attractive foot to draw, but at least all are definitely captive. Unable to control my impulses, I steal a wheelchair from an old psychotic patient, and I rampage on wheels through the unit, threatening everyone with a broken plastic soda bottle. My libido returns in full force, I hit on patients, nurses and social workers. I manage to have sex with a woman on the unit, an older (25) schizophrenic who can tie a shoe with her toes.
I wind up missing my senior year in high school, but I do have to attend daily classes in the loony bin, where I am the star pupil, mostly because my fellow “students” are drugged and drooling adolescents. Amazingly, I graduate, and am given a diploma, from “Spaulding School for the Handicapped”. I am also given a lithium prescription for manic depression, which I don’t take consistently, as it makes me feel too stable. And after almost eight months in captivity, I am released back into the world.
For Pohn, this state issued ID card symbolizes rock bottom.
Welcome to the Jungle
I’ve been consumed by fears all my life; sharks in pools, public speaking, the future, being a fraud, being found out, being a failure, death, and maybe my worst fear of all… that I would grow up to be like my father. I remember, when I was a little boy, seeing my dad passed out on the floor, in a puddle of puke, and vowing I would never be like him. Now, I am him.
Utterly lost and hopeless, and convinced my life is over at thirty, I toss back my final drink(s), and I drive up to Mulholland, a road overlooking the city, with the serious intention of driving off a cliff. Hurtling up the dark, canyon road, I hear a familiar sound – a siren. A cop pulls me over, and makes me do a sobriety test, which I fail miserably. The cop arrests me for drunk driving, I’m put into a cell, and the next day, a judge sentences me to six AA meetings.
I skulk into my first meeting, in a church basement, and am descended upon by sober maniacs with teeth too white, and eyes too bright. Somehow, they know I’m a newcomer; perhaps it’s my sweating, or shaking, or difficulty keeping the coffee in my cup, or my struggle to not fall off my chair. Everybody seems to knows everybody else. It’s a mix of people I’ve never seen in the same place – from skid row denizens to major celebrities, all interacting. And there’s something a little crazy about the ambiance… it almost feels like a New Years Eve party.
The author with his twin sisters.
After 33 years of struggle and personal growth, Pohn changed the course of his life. In addition to his continued work as a writer in the movie business, he currently teaches screenwriting and film production at ArtCenter College of Design.