182 Clinton St. Brooklyn New York
Bill Talks to the Manhattan Group
At Clinton Street, I did most of the talking, but Lois did most of the work, and the cooking, and the loving of those early folks.
Oh my! The episodes that there were! I was away once on a business trip. (I’d briefly got back to business.) One of the drunks was sleeping on the lounge in the parlor. Lois woke up in the middle of the night, hearing a great commotion. He’d got a bottle; he’d also got into the kitchen and had drunk a bottle of maple syrup. And he had fallen naked into the coal hod. When Lois opened the door, he asked for a towel to cover up his nakedness. She once led this same gentleman through the streets late at night looking for a doctor, and not finding a doctor, then looking for a drink, because, as he said, he could not fly on one wing!
On one occasion, a pair of them were drunk. We had five, and on another occasion, they were all drunk at the same time!
There was the time that two of them began to belabor each other with two-by-fours down in the basement.
And then, poor Ebby, after repeated trials and failures, was finally locked out one night. But low and behold, he appeared anyway. He had come through the coal chute and up the stairs, very much begrimed.
So you see, Clinton Street was a kind of blacksmith shop, in which we were hammering away at these principles. For Lois and me, all roads lead back to Clinton Street.
In 1937, while we were still there, we got an idea that to spread AA we would have to have some sort of literature, guide rails for it to run on so it couldn’t get garbled. We were still toying with the idea that we had to have paid workers who would be sent to other communities. We thought we’d have to go into the hospital business. Out in Akron, where we had started the first group, they had a meeting and nominated me to come to New York and do all these things.
In 1938, Clinton Street saw the beginning of the preparation of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The early chapters were written—oh, I should think—about May 1938. Then, we tried to raise money to get the thing published, and we actually sold stock to the local drunks in this book, not yet written. An all-time high for promotions!
Clinton Street also saw, on its second floor, in the bedroom, the writing of the Twelve Steps. We had got to Chapter Five in the book, and it looked like we would have to say at some point what the book was all about. So I remember lying there on the bed one night, and I was in one of my typical depressive snits, and I had an imaginary ulcer attack. The drunks who were supposed to be contributing, so that we could eat while the book was being written, were slow on the contributions, and I was in a damn bad frame of mind.
I lay there with a pad and pencil, and I began to think over these six steps that I’ve just recited to you, and said I to myself, “Well, if we put down these six steps, the chunks are too big. They’ll have to digest too much all at once. Besides, they can wiggle out from in between, and if we’re going to do a book, we ought to break those up into smaller pieces.”
So I began to write, and in about a half an hour, I think, I had busted them up into smaller pieces. I was rather pleasantly surprised that, when numbered, they added up to twelve—that’s significant. Very nice.
1955 New York