I had my first drink, my first drunk, when I was 11. Maybe 12. My group of friends met with our female counterparts at one’s house less than a block from my own. I had never set a foot in the door nor known she lived there, being that it’s a small world/it’s a very large world, nearly all I’ll never see. We sat in the basement, shot the shit, unmolested by parents, each a different degree of latchkey kid.
Her high school aged sister had held a party two days prior. Tucked in the nook of a cluttered anteroom facing the backyard sat the pitiable remains of a keg. Warm, tapped, skunked and mostly foam. I won’t bore with the build up, but I volunteered – boastful, among the boys, in front of the girls, and ever stupid risk taking – to drink those dregs. It was enough for three of us to get lit and we tripped down to the volleyball game.
Despite my young start, I never embraced drink like many I knew. They carrying concealed flasks to first period, shorting their parents liquor supply; the such, but it’s been a part of my life now and again. 15, riding the bus with Berent to where the Mill Plain Wal-Mart now stands, paying Jim the Bum with change from my father’s dresser, drinking malt liquor in that rat wilderness of African Ivy, knee-high grass, bottles and strangled trees; known as Gizzard Boy for my willingness to mercy kill others’ wounded soldiers. Short of “Mr.” or “Captain”, that’s as close as I’ve ever come to a nickname.
It’s a fucked up childhood, but it’s my own. I never had a role model who drank. I didn’t drink to be cool or adult or for any reason more explainable or clear than any other hoodlum thing I did. It was there, I was there, it was something to do. But I’ve never driven while drunk or even buzzed.
Every other person I’ve ever known, excepting my wife, has. In high school and, well, post-high school it wasn’t just okay, it was a point of pride. Like an accomplishment or initiation. Like “man that was stupid, but…” or “a cop tailed me from the Blind Onion to Chkalov,” or “My parents would have killed me, so...” Like, we’ve all done it so don’t act so goddamn holier than thou. I’ve lost a few friends acting so goddamn holier than thou.
My life, my life to this point, has been wracked with faults and sin, but I will never hesitate to condemn the act of drinking and driving.
When it was reported that Lofa Tatupu was arrested for DUI, it was a gutshot. Embarrassing and hypocritical, sort of. I’ve done my damndest to stay aloof when it comes to the lives of professional athletes. Yeah, aloof, with all its negative connotations. I don’t know Tatupu, or Marvin Harrison, or Michael Vick and am careful not to confuse media savvy with character. Issuing a timely public apology tells me much about Tatupu’s, Tatupu’s agent’s and the Seahawks’ media savvy, but excuse me if I find it hard to find the man through the media.
Maybe one day I’ll meet Tatupu, we can share a beer, probably not of course, but a man can dream. Either way, I doubt I’ll ever know Lofa Tatupu. But when you’re a star, and kids idolize you, and in your bigness you have a disproportionate impact on our culture and our mores, you matter beyond the gridiron. In my life, I haven’t avoided drinking and driving because I’m a good man or I so respected DARE officer Bill, but because, brass tacks, drinking and driving has caused more suffering, injury and death than every serial killer who ever lived – times a thousand. No one cares when I say it, but maybe they will if you do.
Lofa Tatupu and the Seahawks organization can either distance themselves from this, take their lumps, whatever trifling lumps they be, or seize this moment to do something good. Spare me your contrition. Become a better man. Become a voice against drinking and driving. Talk to kids. You’re way cooler than you think. Bring the knowledge, the facts and sure it’ll be lost on most, but someone will listen, someone will care, and that person’s life or another’s may be saved. As is, Tatupu, you stand as just another example that it's not so bad to drink and drive, everyone does it, and if you're caught, no big deal. And that's deadly.