Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 3: ‘I’m a Loser (And I’m Not What I Appear To Be)’

Don Fertman reaches bottom as the jelly donut hits the wall. The latest installment of the longtime Subway exec's memoir

Post by Don Fertman March 19, 2024
Depressed man sitting at wooden table

In 1983, after a difficult transition from rock life to office life, Don Fertman got sober. He’s sharing excerpts from his forthcoming memoir, “Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll: A Boomer’s Long and Winding Road From The Beatles to Subway Boss, Descent Into Addiction and Road to Recovery,” with All Sober. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Inevitably came the morning of June 6, 1983. Monday arrived and so did I, appearing at the Subway headquarters office. Our admin Gwyn had left a jelly donut on my desk to wish me a happy Monday! If she only knew.

I was filled with that car-crash-in-slow-motion dread. At this point, it felt like a red-hot ingot in my stomach, heating up and expanding. I had no idea what had gone down over the weekend while I had attended the 10-year anniversary of WNHU, a college radio station I had helped build during my time at the University of New Haven. I had gone into a blackout after downing numerous gin and tonics, snorting cocaine off the back of a men’s room toilet, throwing up and going back for more.

Don Fertman despairs
Don back then

For all I knew, everybody I’d once been friends with was aware that I was a total failure, a hopeless imbecile with a big drinking problem — a complete loser, as John Lennon once put it. Or as Beck added, “So why don’t you kill me?” I had been hoping someone would.

I sat down at the industrial-gray metal desk that was my home away from home five days a week, a queasy feeling coming over me. I stared at the jelly donut and the coffee cup with panda bears all over it and the phrase “It’s PANDA-monium around here!” that Gwyn had once given me. And, given what was about to occur, boy, could I relate.

My boss, Dick, walked in and loomed over me. According to the witnesses who were present at the time, all he did was ask me a question. I felt the bile rising in my throat and choked it down along with the despair and dismay the weekend had wrought. To this day, I hear it as him screaming at me, lighting into me for everything I didn’t do in my life, every failure I was feeling.

I looked down at the jelly donut, pushed back my chair, stood up and screamed at the top of my lungs, “YOU’RE RIGHT!! I’M A F@#K-UP!!!” I grabbed the jelly donut and threw it with all my might against the opposite wall.

The image of that donut hitting the wall, exploding, then slowly sliding down, oozing jelly and powder, has been seared in my mind to this day — forever a symbol of that slow-motion car crash inexorably moving to its bloody conclusion. I quickly pivoted and walked out of the office past incredulous faces, vaguely aware of the eyes following me. I remember going to my car and thinking, “It’s over. This is it …. I have nowhere to go. No one to talk to. I am all alone in the world,” just like the song in “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which I still watch every year.

I reached down for the Majorska bottle I always kept handy under my car seat, took a huge swig — my last drink for going on 41 years now — and just started driving.

It felt like my head was vibrating, my brain dissolving into miniscule shards of steel pouring down the back of my neck. I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know what to do. Somehow, I ended up back at my father’s apartment, which was the closest thing to a sanctuary for me despite the dysfunction of our relationship. I sat down at the kitchen table and started to think … now what?

author avatar
Don Fertman
Early in his recovery 40-plus years ago, Don was given a second chance by the founder of the small fast-food company where he worked, called Subway. He rose through the ranks to become its global chief development officer, retiring in 2021.

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