I started hauling fish to New York. And of course I come rolling into New York at night and the fish auction was at 12:30 am. I’d go down 2nd Avenue, hit every gin mill in the place, you know, glug, glug, glug. When I unloaded at 2am, sometimes I got up, 6am, 7am under the West Side Highway after I unloaded, I’d have to get out and look in the back of the truck to see if I had unloaded the fish. Couldn’t remember. Blackout. It was just amazing I never hurt anybody. But everybody down the whole fish market was drinking. It was amazing; we were in there every night — one of my trucks was in there — and they all liked me. It’s all mafia. You’d go to the Savoy Lounge and that’s where you’d park on the West Side Highway —you’d go over to the Savoy Lounge and they’d know that you were there and they’d come get you to come unload your truck at the different little spots. And they’d have a drink at every one of those spots. After a while it was bothering me because I knew I was drinking too much.
I started going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Actually I started before that. At that time it was at Peter Pinney’s Sweet Water Farm. He was the retired head of the sugar exchange and he brought AA to Martha’s Vineyard. And so I got a real taste of it. I knew everybody there and I could see how it worked. Jeez, I’d sober up. I’d just put the jug down. I wouldn’t drink. I’d get the bills paid. Get my head cleared a little bit — buy another truck, hire some more people, go after some more business, and I’d start drinking again. I’d run it for a year, two years, then I’d quit because things were getting a little out of control. There were some things that I wanted to do and I knew if I didn’t stop, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I wanted to do.
I had been waiting all day to get off the Island with Horatio [Malonson] and we were supposed to be in Washington D.C. the next morning. And the guy at 2 o’clock said I’m going to put you on, I hate to tell you this, but it will probably be the last boat tonight. I said OK. I didn’t have fish. He said are you hauling fish? I said yes. In those days, most of the work I was doing was grey freight. I wasn’t a licensed furniture mover so often I used a refrigerated trailer — you know, looks like I’m hauling exempt products, fish, produce, stuff like that. Anyhow, they didn’t put me on the last boat. It was some guy who’d been sent down from Hyannis. I went and talked to him at 4 and 6 and I said, “You going to get me out of here?” And he said, “You’ll go on the last boat. If you keep giving me sh-t, I’m not going to put you on any boat.” I’ve been here all day and they told me the worst case scenario would be the last boat. I said, “I watched the standby line fill up.” He said: “You know they go before trucks.” Anyhow he didn’t get me on the last boat. And I had a few pops. I grabbed him and I threw him right through the f-ing window at the old [terminal] building. And Horatio goes, no, no, no, no, no. I used to have a lot more meat in my bones, but I was not a fighter. But this guy gave me a bag of sh-t, sort of an in your face kind of thing. I grabbed him by the nose and the balls. He was a hurting puppy. Anyhow, I went out and sat in the truck. The ferry was gone. The place was cleaned out. And this guy is in the freight office with a broken window. I don’t know who else was in there. Horatio and I were in the truck and I looked and the Katama is coming in, the freight boat. I get out. I said, “You guys going back?” He said, “Yeah, none of this backing sh-t, just drive right on.” He said they had to get back. Oh, no problem at all with that. So they unload four or five people. They had somebody on there who must have been important. It was an unscheduled run. It was God-sent. Vroom. I went roaring on the boat. because here came the police, sirens blazing. The word got out. We were on our way out of the harbor. I was upstairs with the captain. He said those police — because he could hear it on the radio — I guess they’re looking for you. I said I’d appreciate it if you just wouldn’t answer them if they called him. And he said, “Well jeez, I can’t really do that” but he said, Joe, this new guy, doesn’t know you, so he’ll take the call if the call comes in.” Anyhow, they didn’t call. When we came into Woods Hole, the cops weren’t there. And so I said thank God, and I got out of there. Going up the Woods Hole Road here came two cruisers going full blast right by me down to the boat. And so I kept on going up the road. And when I got up to Thomas Landers Road, I pulled off. I just parked there for a little while and the cruisers went by the other way. They would have passed me. They would have stopped me. The adventures of booze.
My relationship with AA started in 1962. I finally stopped for good in 1988. I was in and out, in and out, in and out. AA got bigger. They had three meetings a week, then all of a sudden they had them every day. Basically what happened, ‘87-’88, I couldn’t do my usual stop. I couldn’t stop. And this really bothered me. And I had a guy that worked for me named Mark from Dorchester — worked for me for a long time. Hell of a drinker. Everybody was. Anyhow Mark says I gotta quit. He says if I don’t, I’m gonna die. He says I drink too much. I’m doing too much coke. I haven’t saved any money. I’m going back to Boston. I’ve got to get away from here. He was a hell of a truck driver. Everybody on Martha’s Vineyard knew him. He was 6’9”. He weighed 500 pounds. He wasn’t fat. He wore size 18 shoes. He could pick up an upright piano, look at you, and put it in the back of a truck all by himself. He came from a family of 12 kids who lived on Hamilton Street in Dorchester. I met him through an ad in the Boston Globe. And he was a wild man. When he called up, he said “My name is Mark — and I want to come down to Martha’s Vineyard and start a new life.” “I’m bad. I’m a bad person,” he said. But he also said, “I’m a good truck driver.” I asked him what’s bad. He said well, “I just got out of jail because I hijacked. I’ll get right to the point,” he said, “I hijacked a Jordan Marsh trailer truck full of jewelry.” And he said, “Somebody dimed me out so I did my time and now I’m back and I don’t want to hang around Dorcehster and get back in trouble again.”
I was looking for people to run the fish down to New York, OK? And Cronig’s groceries. It was just very regular work where you had to be on the boat three days a week. You had to do the stops. You had to get back in time. Everybody liked Mark. He had kind of a baby face. He was very unthreatening looking. And he was very, very friendly. Anyhow, he quit drinking and this is where my life started to change. He would come down weekends and he’d stay — when he went back to Boston — he left me probably in ‘85. Well, he goes up to Boston and he doesn’t stop drinking and doing coke. And he’s in a bar in Dorchester and the cops come in at 12 o’clock and close it all up and he, Mark, said he was not ready to go home. Why don’t you just come back in an hour or some such thing. He wound up beating up the policemen, putting them in their own police cruiser, driving their police cruiser down to the station, walking in and saying: “Lock me up. I’ve been bad.” He said, “If you’re looking for your cruiser and the guys they’re out in the cruiser outside.” That’s the kind of sense of humor he had. And he did do his time. Cost him a lot of money. In those days you could pay this and pay that. I think he did about a year in the can and when he got out he worked in the halfway house of one of the hospitals. I forget which one. He ran that house and he’d come down weekends and he’d see me and he’d say, “You haven’t stopped yet have you? When are you going to stop?” I said — this is probably after a couple of months of him coming down weekends — I said, “Mark, I said if I can get in — I was divorced from Judy Cronig, I was living down at the office in Vineyard Haven — if I can get into Edgehill, I’m going to go down there.” That was the place to go. Edgehill was in Newport, Rhode Island, 30 day program, but it cost like $10,000 or $12,000. He said, “You’ve gotta be drunk to get in here if you want to try and get emergency treatment.” I said, “OK.” I told him that Stan Hart, who was from the Vineyard and very well known, was a drunk and he had written books on the different drying out spots. He did research on them. And he was working at Edgehill and I knew that. So Mark and I go off for some Chinese food and I’m drinking up a storm and of course he’s driving. He drove me out there, [said] goodbye, and the next day when I got up, I went and found Stan. I said, “Listen, it’s time to sober up. I’ve been doing it for years and I can’t do it anymore. I want to jump into this program head first.” But, I said if I can’t get Cronig’s insurance — they don’t know I’m divorced — and I was on a family policy with Cronig’s, “See if you could shove this down their throat or else get somebody to give me a ride to Gosnold [Treatment Center] because I’m not going back until I’ve been sober for 30 days.”
Anyhow, I lied, cheated, I stole my sobriety. Cronig’s paid for it. I wasn’t even a member of the family anymore. I always felt guilty about that. I think that had a little something to do with staying straight. But it took. And I haven’t had a drink since I came back to the Island [and] walked into a Thursday night meeting. Never had one since.
There’s some wonderful AA on the Island.
Interview by Rich Saltzberg.