By Dan Hust
BUFFALO September 15, 2006 Alcohol may have nearly wrecked Bill Tangens life, but it certainly never took his memory.
The Port Jervis native and one-time Sullivan County Democrat sports editor spent much of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s visiting every bar in the area and dousing down one liquid lunch after another, till it caught up with him in 2000.
That July, after suffering nightmarish hallucinations and in deteriorating health, the Air Force veteran was admitted to the Bronx VA hospital with severe and life-threatening alcohol poisoning. His liver and kidneys were shutting down, and some doubted hed make it out alive.
But he did recover and subsequently committed not to ever take a drink again.
In the six years since, hes lived up to that personal promise.
But thats not all the 59-year-old has done.
Even while lying on that Bronx hospital bed, Tangen realized he needed to make good on a longtime desire to chronicle his life.
And since he had long been a journalist for area papers, he asked the nurse for a pen to put his thoughts on paper.
Five years later, his Choices: Memoirs of a Sportswriter was published by Infinity Publishing, a Pennsylvania-based Internet book printer.
And in this 446-page tome is virtually Tangens entire life history, with details so sharp that Port Jervis and its surrounding environs can seem familiar to even outsiders.
But the book doesnt just discuss Orange and Sullivan counties Tangen served during the Vietnam War in Guam and Thailand, and trips to see friends in Plattsburgh and a honeymoon to the Virgin Islands figure prominently in its pages.
The main thing is I wanted my grandkids to know who they are and where they came from, said Tangen, who moved from Matamoras, Pa. to Buffalo last year after his wife of 35 years, Christine, left him and after the cost of living in the area exceeded his comfort level.
Since Choices was published in April of last year, Tangens two kids and seven grandchildren arent the only ones whove become familiar with his life story.
Hundreds of other people have also picked up a book that talks about everything from Woodstock (he and his wife tried to go, but chose Plattsburgh instead when faced with the insurmountable traffic) to Tangens many jobs in addition to being a sportswriter for the Democrat and several Orange and Pike, Pa. county newspapers, he delivered laundry, manned an auto parts store, served a harrowing stint as a repo man and even spent about a half-day in an ill-fated attempt to work the sports departments floor at the old Sullivans Department Store in Liberty.
The book is unapologetically about Tangen, discussing idols like Muhammad Ali and Willis Reed (both of whom he interviewed, the latter while working for the Democrat) and his various jobs from a viewpoint all his own. Indeed, at one point, Tangen ranks himself as one of the top five sportswriters hes ever known without a trace of conceit, he writes.
But from close military friend Willie Lehman (who tragically drowned at the age of 27 in 1970) to his family to coworkers like Gene Casey and John Kinney (his first bosses at the Port Jervis Union Gazette), Tangen has many a warm, revealing thought to share and sometimes a remorseful one, too, about missed opportunities, early deaths and falling out of touch.
Choices also led Tangen to pen another book, published just two months after his first. Dedicated to Bruce Springsteen, Twenty Nights to Rock: Touring With the Boss is all about Tangens experiences at 20 of Springsteens always-sold-out concerts.
Although long familiar with the quintessential American performer, Tangen really didnt become a fan until he saw Springsteen on a special Today Show broadcast from Asbury Park in New Jersey in 2002.
I watched and listened to him and said, Holy God, hes still got it! recalled Tangen.
Then it was off to North Carolina and Florida to see The Boss live in concert, and from there an idea was born.
I realized there was a book here, he said.
A few years and 152 pages later, the self-published Twenty Nights to Rock debuted, and sales are going great, said Tangen.
Though hes done book-signings for both works, Tangen said the Springsteen book is understandably more popular, and it will be featured prominently at a book expo this fall in Michigan.
Meanwhile, Springsteen continues to be a major influence in his life, as Tangen has become well-known for his karaoke versions of The Boss famous songs.
So is another book in Tangens future?
Im one of those guys who never says never, he related.
But, he added, it could be fiction or non-fiction, depending on what he gets up the gumption to do.
Regardless, hes getting back into writing, with a sportswriting job already lined up at a Buffalo paper.
At the same time, he wont ever forget his experiences in the tri-state area including at the Democrat, where he served as sports editor in early 1978.
Fred [Stabbert Jr., publisher at the time,] was a really good guy to work for, he recalled fondly. I enjoyed my time there. . . . It was a teamwork kind of thing.
For more info on Tangens books and ordering information, head to www.billtangenbooks.com or www .amazon.com, or call 1-800-247-6553 (for the Springsteen book only).