Monday, June 26, 2006

I like the booze but the booze don’t like me

Once it hits your lips, it's so good!

In many ways, my relationship with alcohol hasn’t changed much since my first drinking experience 20 years ago. I stood in a San Diego parking lot at age 15, one hand on the waist of my white Bugle Boy cargo pants, the other holding a Corona to my lips, while a group of thirty people stood around me chanting, “chug, chug, CHUG!”

I have gotten slightly wiser/less ridiculous about consuming alcohol since then, but generally speaking, I am still a social drinker who tends to drink too much when socializing with other drinkers. I rarely drink by myself, because to me drinking is almost as much about who I’m with as what I’m drinking. Put me in a dim pub with friends, drinking good beer or Scotch while talking about the conservative twats ruining our country, and I am about as happy as Tom Delay opening a briefcase of money.

The problem is, like Delay, I have trouble knowing when to say when. This issue is hardly limited to drinking. I don’t know when to say when to Butterburgers, Coldstone, dropping f-bombs, dropping the conversational daisy cutter “c***sucker,” gambling, or rambling. The big reason I only inhaled pot once in my life is because I knew a second trip would start my transformation into Floyd from True Romance.

To avoid full blown alcoholism, booze and I worked out the Fermentation-Productivity Truce of 1986, shortly after my second bought of drunkenness and first trip to Barf County. I would not drink all the time, but when I did, I wouldn’t worry about going overboard. As long as drinking didn’t have any adverse affects beyond eating carne asada burritos at 3 a.m., we would follow a no-harm-no-foul policy.

The Truce held for nearly two decades. There were minor scuffles—freshman year in the dorms, my first year in New York City—but cooler heads of foam prevailed. Even in my New York publishing days, when I partied like it was 1999 but had to work like it was 9 a.m., I always dusted myself off and wore my 9 to 5 hangover like a badge of honor. Sure, we killed the bottle of Jäger, but a little coffee and some aspirin and I’ll be ready to number and photocopy that manuscript.

However, the truce came under attack during the Prom Blitzed-Krieg of ’02. The Lovely Becky and I, caught up in the undergraduate spirit of living in a college town again, went to the Writer’s Workshop Prom. It’s an annual event where America’s future Faulkners dress up and act like they’re in high school. I acted like I was back in the San Diego parking lot. The next day, I awoke feeling like I’d been shaken, not stirred, and hit in the head by Odd Job’s hat to boot. I left with TLB at 11:00 a.m., drove the 10 miles back to our apartment, and went back to sleep until 4 in the afternoon. Even Sunday, I still felt the buzzing, painful fog of excess.

Age had finally caught up to me. I refused, as most do, to acknowledge it at first. But with each hangover, the rubber band of sobriety seemed to get less and less elastic. And, like the Bush presidency, the hangovers kept getting worse over time.

Things came to a head (literally) a few weeks ago. I went out with some people from work. They like to have a good time, I like to have a good time, and yadda yadda yadda I’m drinking Bacardi Orange and Red Bull on a school night.

On the stumble home, I suspected I’d be a bit foggy the next day. Instead, a full Category 5 hangover landed. Jackhammer headache, upside down stomach, and icy cold sweats.

I tried sleeping in a little, thinking maybe an extra 60 minutes would get me in cubicle shape. No dice. I felt even worse. I finally had to accept the inevitable—I would be taking my first hangover sick day ever.

The Truce was broken. I felt guilty and kind of ashamed. That may sound silly, but for the first time, drinking had directly caused me to shirk a responsibility. On top of that, my body was telling me that playtime was over. I felt old.

“That’s it,” I told TLB with Bushian steely resolve. “I’m not drinking like that any more.”

My resolution lasted two whole weeks. TLB was gone, as were the spouses of my friends Grendel and HGF. We three headed out on a Friday night and proceeded to down more pitchers than Tommy John surgery. I spent most of the next morning and early afternoon in bed, moaning.

My loving, gentle, sweet wife, calling home the next evening, was her usual understanding self. “How long did that last?” she asked, giving the question an exaggerated, Chandler Bing delivery.

“Agh! Not so loud.” Her guffaws reverberated off my remaining brain cells. “I’m serious, no more death drunk.”

“Yeah, right!” she said. “Look, I’ve gotta go, the pool boy’s here.” (Note: I may have imagined this last sentence.)

Again, I resolved to beat the demon rum, or at least make it into a minor, more manageable devil. To do so, I would have to face an even stronger challenge: the El Gordo de Amore Goodbye Pub Crawl.

El Gordo de Amore—who in many ways is Will Ferrell from Old School, but Harvard educated—was moving from the IC back to the East Coast. We had a serious pub crawl planned, complete with T-shirts commemorating our bar stops. It would take some serious will to keep this genie in the bottle.

We started off on the familiar wrong foot at the pre-crawl BBQ. “Is that Jäger?” I asked Grendel. Grendel smiled a smile of both mischief and sad acknowledgement, the kind of smiles Butch and Sundance had on their faces right before the charged the Mexican army and got riddled with bullets. I saddled up and downed my medicine.

For once, I was glad to be Catholic. Catholics have extraordinarily strong senses of guilt. If you had a Catholic X-Men superhero, he would be called Guiltarias, with the power to bend people to his will by making them feel like shit if they didn’t. I could feel Guiltarias working on my psyche. Three strikes and you’re out, boyo (Guiltarias is from just outside of Dublin). Keep drinking and I’ll show up every time liquor hits your lips, friend, from now until Jesus comes riding back on a giant can o’ Guinness.

I commenced pub crawling and felt the needle moving up the Drunkometer: Sober, Legal limit, Half in the Bag, And let me tell you something else..., and Death drunk. I was hitting H, and I knew that the needle tended to pick up momentum on the way down to D. So I did what I almost never do: I slowed down. I started drinking at a normal pace. Maybe one pint per pub instead of two or three. Spacing my sips. Keeping my pleasant drunk going without getting unpleasant. I felt so, so...mature.

Ironically, TLB was the one square dancing with Bacchus. She put the Vodka pedal to the metal and left me in her dust. I was jealous, but I stayed firm. Besides, when her head was pounding like a Keith Moon bass drum, I’d have the last laugh.

We reached the 1:30 a.m. mark. I was getting tired. I’d either need to call it a night or push the needle to the red and wind up passing out pantsless next to Grendel’s dogs, probably with El Gordo’s arms around me. El Gordo was still in fine form, Greco-Roman wrestling ol’ John Barleycorn. I consulted with TLB. “I think we should go,” I said.

“Really?” she asked. It was asked in a way no man wants to hear, when your wife is being more of a “guy” than you are. But TLB didn’t let me twist too long. She finished her drink and we got up to leave. I felt like I was eating vegetables, doing the right, healthy thing, but pining for that bacon burger. Despite the admonitions to keep going, we said our goodbyes and walked home.

The next morning, something was missing: the shovel to the head and wringing of my guts. My stomach was stable, my head only slightly achy, and I was probably an omelet away from feeling completely normal. Sure, I was sad to close a fun chapter on my drinking life. But I still had fun the night before without treating my liver with Shock and Awe.

An hour after I was up, TLB rose. Here it comes, I thought. Surely if I, a man, was struggling with the Hangover Quotient, my wife would be in trouble after a night of heavy pounding.

“So how do you feel?” I asked.

“Not too bad,” she said, as normal as if she had been drinking diet pop all night. “A little groggy, but not bad at all.”

And with that my testicles crawled just a little bit closer to my stomach. So much for crossing a milestone. Instead, I found out I’m just a bigger hangover wimp than my wife.

That’s enough to drive me to drink.


Adorable Girlfriend said...

Thankfully for me, drinking and hangovers haven't yet met in my world.

I will always know when to say when to overpriced and mediocre ice cream at Coldstone.

Don't let Pinko see the Culver's thing. He'll make you write for D and D, especially since Geenie Cola has mentioned this place in the past.

almostinfamous said...

Nembutol numbs it all, but I prefer alcohol!!

i've only been sick twice, and never on the same day as the drinking binge.

i always take one of these and drink about one glass of water for every 3 drinks.

Brando said...

AG, Coldstone's Birthday Cake Batter ice cream had me at "Hello, welcome to Coldstone!"

Out of curiosity, do you have a favorite ice cream? I always need something to cool me down after a furious Pork Snorkel.

AI, that may very well work, but I think my issue is with my biological clock more than my metabolism.

scruffylooking said...

For me a hangover can be a curse and blessing. Sure, it sucks when I have one, but the threat of a hangover is the only thing that's kept me from becoming an alcoholic.

Grendel said...

I'm proud of you. You didn't miss much. Will Ferrell ended up Very Quiet on our porch sofa. The only word he could muster was "pizza." By then, I couldn't get a pizza joint on the phone, so I ordered Pita Pit, which he scarfed and resumed, uh, meditating until he stood suddenly and lunged toward the guest room.

SER said...

I was freeloadingly throwing several deceased chairs into the Dumpster in front of the Amore household the next afternoon (approx. 3:30pm) when I saw El Gordo finally return home. To say that he looked fresh in his pub-crawl t-shirt of the night before would be the equivalent of calling a tree-cutting carte blanche the "Healthy Forests Initiative."