Posted on November 9, 2018
by Steve Janowick

When I was just a wee lad in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I was a huge fan of The Incredible Hulk television show.  

For any of you who’ve never seen this particular version, it’s about the lonely plight of David Banner as he aimlessly roams the earth trying to find a place to fit in and a cure for the darkness that lives inside him; all the while being tracked down by a pesky reporter who’s looking to out his secret.  The show’s dated, campy stylings and melodramatic storylines really played to my pre-pubescent sensibilities. I was really sucked into the ‘wayward drifter making his own way’ premise. It helped fuel my own melancholic, loner tendencies at the time.

But it was when David transformed into The Hulk that the show really hooked me.  That was some pretty intense stuff for a 10-year old. I guess it was the juxtaposition of the two characters within him that made it so real and dramatic for me.  To see timid, sweet, mild-mannered David turn into this raging, beast of a man was heart-pounding, and always a little scary. Seeing a man-any man-so mean and out of control was always scary to my child self.  And as the years passed and I grew up, I began to see a lot of men turn into beasts before my eyes.

These men, however, were never exposed to an overdose of gamma rays.  But their mutation from man to monster still came from a sinister place.  Liquid courage, mind eraser, sorrow killer: the bottom of a whiskey bottle has seen many a man shed his lifeblood on its blade.  Turned family men into philanderers. Made virtuous men into sinners. Changed prosperous men to paupers. And acquainted the world to man’s dark, vicious side.  

Literal physical metamorphosis?  I’ve witnessed it, as I’m sure all of you have.  It happens the moment after his head snaps back and that initial slug goes down his gullet.  The warmth splashes into his stomach and quickly heats up his whole body. Within minutes, a switch goes off and his eyes go from lucid and bright to half-mast slits of foreboding.  It’s like I’m witnessing a possession taking place. Movements and reflexes slow down. Speech slurs. A reserved, jovial, friendly man two minutes ago is now loud, agitated and looking for a fight.  All this because a benign, aged, oak-barreled, liquid touched his lips.

My immigrant grandfather, who died when I was only three, was a casualty of a very sad, impoverished, difficult existence and he relied on the bottle to soften life’s blows.  He was David Banner when sober but after a couple shots of Seagrams 7, he suddenly became The Hulk. And by doing so made life a living hell for my grandmother and young father.  My dad was severely scarred and carried those wounds into an adulthood that saw him become obsessive/compulsive, very controlling and basically an emotionally closed-off, very jaded husband and father.  But that was the only way his psyche could cope with being on the receiving end of another man’s constant drunken attacks.

Fast forward to today and I’m now the one feeling the pain and other bullshit that my grandfather’s drinking caused.  Because I was robbed of a healthy, loving relationship with my father.  And my story is certainly not exclusive.  This ugly saga has played out in many incarnations to millions of families.  But the common denominator in all of them is the bottle.

Now, I’m a father and husband.  Thankfully, I can enjoy a drink now and again and not let it affect me like it did my grandfather.  The casual sip of a quality bourbon is, and should be, one of man’s greatest, simple pleasures. But every single day I go to war with that devil that sits on my shoulder.  The one who wants me to turn that casual sip into a nice sized shot, and that shot into a glass or two-everyday. He knows I’m genetically pre-disposed to do it. He knows it’s in my DNA.  He even tells me that all the problems and worries I’m feeling will magically go away with a nice big slug. But I fight him. I fight him hard.

And I’ll keep fighting him, so my kids and wife never have to see a real-life David Banner turn into The Hulk.

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