‘Courtesy Boy’ dives deep into author Mike Matson’s road to sobriety
Updated: Jan 11
This book review was published November 6, 2021, in the Manhattan Mercury.
Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction by Mike Matson. Flint Hills Publishing, 2021. 350 pages. Available here: https://amzn.to/3jQK7vq
Review by Robin Farrell Edmunds
In mid-August 1989, after the author was arrested for DUI, and later was back in his red Camaro, he contemplated the journey that had brought him to this point. A news story came on mentioning it was the 12th anniversary of Elvis’ death and Matson recalled where he was on that exact night: sitting outside the house of a girl he was dating, wondering where she was.
“Twelve years, three cars, one blackout, a launched career, a failed marriage, a four-year-old son and one arrest later, fresh from his own jailhouse rock experience, he sat in his ‘look at me’ car, cold air blowing over him, and obsessed anew.”
In this just-released book, the Kansas author, who writes a twice-monthly column for The Mercury, traces his steps from his high school graduation to eventually becoming press secretary for a governor, the majority of the time spent dodging the ever creeping and insidious belief that he might have a drinking problem, an issue he first broached in his early 20s to a friend.
The book’s clever title comes from the nearly three years spent working at a family-owned grocery store chain in Wichita. It was the owner’s “homespun euphemism for polite young men hired to sack and carry out groceries.” It also coincided with Matson’s move out of his parental home to a shared apartment – with the four main topics of discussion being cars, beer, girls, and music – after he graduated in the Class of ’75.
The tenuous relationship with his father was touched on in his first book, 2016’s Spifflicated: A Family Memoir, another creative non-fiction work that explored Matson’s father’s erratic upbringing and recognition of familial alcoholic tendencies.
Matson’s descriptions of the life of a young adult living on his own in the mid-to-late 1970s—a time of discovery and discos—will reverberate with others of a similar age. He recalls lining up—and sizing others up – to get into Pogo’s, the “the city’s destination nightspot for the trailing end of the baby boom generation.”
He captures the ambience of the era exquisitely, from the fashion to the music to the movies, and makes it his own, usually with a twist of humor for embellishment. For example, he writes of giving up the trumpet in school because instead of practicing like he probably should have been, he was watching Star Trek reruns. Matson channels his inner engineer Scotty to verbalize the ensuing dilemma: “I cannae change the laws of physics.”
The book is comprised of five sections, each depicting a physical location or area the author lived and/or worked in during this time. The second section is entitled “The Cities.” It’s where in Minnesota he moved to attend school in January 1978 after choosing a new life plan—that of launching a professional radio career.
As the story unfolds in third person, the author comments in real time in italicized fragments to events just mentioned, resulting in a humorous take on any given situation. For instance, as he interviews for a part-time job at a grocery store in Minnesota, he’s asked if he knows how to use a Garvey, the name given to the supermarket price stamper pictured on the book’s cover.
Do I know how to use a Garvey? I didn’t just roll into the cities on the unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk wagon.
In the book and real life, he simply responds, “Sure do.”
The book is further divided by chronological dates, starting with May 27, 1975 as 17-year-old Mike ruminates on what life has in store for him while practicing the high school graduation march, and concludes with August 3, 1991 as he sits in his darkened Topeka apartment, reflecting on his very successful radio and TV career and his very unsuccessful three attempts at rehab.
“He was 33 years old. He had been drinking every day of his life since he was 16 years old. More than half his entire life. He had been trying to stop for three years.”
A story of addiction, it’s also the story of a specific time and place – the colorfully boisterous era reflective of the Me Generation at its apex. But even more than that, it’s a story of redemption, since this book marks the 30th anniversary of the author’s own sobriety.
Robin Farrell Edmunds is a freelance writer and a resident of Manhattan.