He’s shorter in person, handsome in that learned, distinguished fashion. Gray hair and glasses, oxford shirts, slacks, a gleaming Mercedes parked out front. His voice is deep and familiar, one you’ve probably heard before. He gives us the prime time news. In promo spots he grills the governor, the president, Yasser Arafat. You get the idea.

I’m asked to talk about the twelfth step; a humbling affair since it suggests I know something about the other eleven. I talk about my two-year anniversary, about the two men who asked me last week to be their sponsor, about my father and truth, about my weekend in Palm Springs. That night on that stage in that ballroom, the five hundred men, the shell around my heart breaking open; that night, Bearbait said, when people started calling him.

“You should see your sponsee,” they said.

And what he told me, what I couldn’t believe: that my night, my experience in the desert, gave others something resembling hope.

“Someone was going to drink, and they saw you and decided to stick around a little longer.”

So I talk about that, about the people who watch us when we never realize we’re being watched.

He approaches me afterwards, doesn’t hug me like the others but he says in that deep, television voice, “I want what you have. I want that honesty.”

I look at him, look for the joke, but there is none. He means it.

“It takes practice,” I say. “It’s like diving off a cliff. If you think about it too long, you’ll never do it. You have to just jump.” I don’t tell him what else I know: people like you when you tell the truth, more or less. Unless you’re talking about them.

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