A few years ago, when I was going to Sonoma State, I had a friend who drank too much.
In the two years which I knew him, Danny Smith, whose name I’ve changed here, was arrested three times for public intoxication.
Once, we were walking back from a party miles from our dorms, stumbling down the poorly lit roads of wine country.
It began to rain lightly. Some of our group decided to run to avoid the wet.
When we arrived, Danny was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe he didn’t want to run— it does look suspicious at three in the morning,” I offered. Nobody had any strong opinions.
Somebody said, “He’s a grown man. He can take care of himself.”
The next day Danny knocked on the door; his face was cut above the eye and his chin was filled with bits of gravel.
“What happened?,” I asked, looking up from a game of “Super Smash Brothers.”
“Got arrested. Got beat up by the cops. Spent the night in jail. I don’t really remember most of it. They want me for felony charges.”
Several weeks later the police report arrived in Danny’s mailbox.
He read the highlights aloud, “Mr. Smith started howling like a dog and singing ‘God Bless America.’ He loosened the maximum restraints and began kicking at the window.”
Pausing, Danny added, “This is when he pulled over all of a sudden. I was cussing him pretty good, trying to say anything I could to set him off. I guess I struck a nerve. He pulled me out of the back seat, threw me on the ground and kicked me in the face. Then he hog-tied me— hands to my ankles— and threw me back inside.”
“What are the felony charges?” I asked.
“Assault on an officer. He cut his knee when he tackled me,” he said, handing me a picture of a dime sized abrasion on a fat leg.
Danny seemed to be unable to connect his blackout drinking with the out-of-control episode of brutality that followed.
He seemed resentful of me as a friend, that I hadn’t helped him get back home safe.
The thing is, I was in survival mode too. All of us were crazy. That was how it was back then.
If we had been in Chico, it may not have happened.
This town has a culture of tolerance for drunken behavior and there aren’t as many winding country roads.
But I’m glad to have been a friend to Danny Smith. He was the essence of overindulgence, the fool of the party, and everybody loved him.
Knowing his story meant that his mistakes didn’t have to become my own. Not everybody has to bottom out to come up on top.Kevin Crittenden can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kevlodius.