Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Years and years ago I worked for a Midtown company that had its record storage center in Long Island City, an industrial, warehouse area of Queens, just across the East River from Manhattan that seems lit at night only by the moon and Amtrak locomotives, usually running behind schedule.

In my early days with this company the storage center was managed by a man named Gus. On occasion, I had some need to visit the place to retrieve some documents. This is well before this kind of thing was outsourced to companies like Iron Mountain, or documents were scanned and digitized for computer retrieval. The only computer in that era was something as big as a building itself.

Gus was always helpful, but not always there. He was at work, but he spent a good part of his day away from work at whatever local gin mill was playing whatever it was he wanted to watch on television. This was well known about Gus, and well before the enlightenment of Employee Assistance Programs. It was tolerated. Gus didn't handle heavy machinery, didn't meet the public, and was basically out of sight and out of mind--except when someone needed something.

There were no such things as cell phones then. That would have been a prisoner with special privileges. The story went that one day Gus's boss, or some boss, was tired of not being able to reach Gus on the phone. He was heard to be yelling on the phone, "Where IS that half-dead sonofabitch?" (People aren't always nice.)

I was reminded of this when I read a recent book review in the WSJ about Robert Sellers's book Hellraisers, a story about four of the most famous British actors who have consumed, or still consume, way more distilled spirits than most people. Even how they functioned and performed successfully while under the influence. Three of the subjects have passed on: Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed.

The reviewer, John Heilpern, fills us in on the status of the fourth when he tells us, that happily, "at 77, Peter O'Toole is still half with us."

At least he didn't curse.


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