Courtesy Boy: Significant, Vivid and Honest
Updated: Jan 14, 2022
This book review was published in the January 2022 edition of Active Age.
Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction by Mike Matson. Flint Hills Publishing, 2021. 350 pages.
Available at Watermark Books in Wichita, Flint Hills Books in Council Grove, The Dusty Bookshelf in Manhattan, Claflin Books in Manhattan, Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Rainy Day Books in Fairway, and Round Table Books in Topeka.
Review by Ted Ayres
It is no surprise that Mike Matson has written an entertaining and engaging book in “Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction.”
With more than 30 years of professional communication experience (DJ, radio and TV news, press secretary to a governor, newspaper columnist), Matson possesses a rich vocabulary, a gift for phrasing and description, and a remarkable memory – particularly in view of the years of alcohol addiction that he so candidly and openly writes about.
The book title stems from his late 1970s job at Mr. D’s IGA supermarket in Wichita, “Mr. D’s homespun euphemism for polite young men hired to sack and carry out groceries.”
Matson describes negative traits and behaviors, with him since childhood that led down a path that ended in addiction. He vividly paints a picture of addiction’s progressive nature. As his sister writes in the Foreword: “This is a story of ruin and redemption, of falling down hard and fumbling one’s way to the life one desperately wants.”
The book is divided into five chronological parts, beginning in 1975, as the author prepares for his graduation ceremony from Wichita Heights High and departure, at age 17, from the family home to share an apartment with a pair of high school classmates.
The book ends on the day of his last drink, August 3, 1991, with Matson noting: “He was 33 years old. He had been drinking every day since he was 16 years old. More than half of his entire life. He had been trying to stop for three years. Three rehabs in three years. Divorced, DUI. He had quit paying his bills and maxed out a pair of credit cards.”
Along the way, Matson follows a girl to Minnesota, back to Wichita after getting dumped, then on to Hays, Wichita again and Topeka as he pursues a career and the success he so desperately wants and needs, perhaps to send a message to his stern and demanding father.
Matson also takes us for a literal and symbolic ride as he changes his automobiles, from a 1970 Ford Falcon to a 1989 fire engine red Camaro Rally Sport, the vehicle he was driving in the summer of 1989, when he was arrested in Topeka for driving under the influence.
I really enjoyed this book, perhaps because Matson and I have so much in common. I shared his youthful appreciation for “cars, girls and beer.” I also worked at a grocery store while in high school and college (we were just “sackers” in northwest Missouri) and I appreciate his love of baseball.
I also thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of Wichita, its people and institutions over the years:
“The Wichita Club was lodged in the top two floors of the Vickers/Kansas State Bank & Trust Building on Market Street, a sky blue and beige-paneled structure with a massive time and temperature lighted display perched on the roof…”
“Pogo’s was a dark, cavernous, warehouse-sized space, which sort of swallowed them up, but the bars were brightly illuminated… And then there was the music—continuous, uninterrupted music. The songs changed, but the beat was constant, deafening, throbbing.”
The book is most significant because of Matson’s stated purpose in writing it: “My motivation is to help those suffering and their loved ones connect the dots between the destructive traits and behaviors and the potential for addiction.”
Over the years, I knew and worked with Mike on a professional basis in a number of different capacities and I always respected his abilities and enjoyed knowing him. I would have never guessed his history of addiction (particularly considering his notable accomplishments). He is to be commended for seeking to help others by sharing his personal experiences so vividly and honestly.
Ted Ayres is Vice President and General Counsel Emeritus at Wichita State University (“dub-yes-you” to Courtesy Boy enthusiasts). He lives in Wichita.