Sunday, August 2, 2009

Demon Alcohol

I came to college not a drinking man.

We were handed cups of beer at college events starting at Orientation. The legal age in New York was 18 then, so we all qualified. I don't remember any checking of ID, and although there's a lot I don't remember, I think there was a tacit understanding that if you were in college you were 18. I was really 18 anyway.

Beer! I just didn't like the taste of it, but I'd take a cup and try to act my age, so to speak, and then not go for more.

To this day I don't like the kind of bland mass market American beer they were serving. I'd rather an ale or bitter, or stout. I didn't know there was better stuff. Maybe at that time I would not have liked any kind of beer.

Back then I didn't like anything bitter, which is what I like now in an ale. I see this in my college-student daughter now. She won't even try broccoli rabe, something I was turned on to just a couple of years ago by my friend George. Ooh is that bitter. But it's great.

When I wonder about things I could have done differently in college, one of them is to have friends who went to bars. Think of the trouble I could have got into. Think of the trouble I could have avoided, too. Imagine if we'd been able to have a few pints and talk about our hopes and dreams, and how crazy life is. My life was like one of those sitcom plots where if the characters had just been straight with each other, the story would be resolved in a minute and a half. But who says what they're really thinking?

I just tried to write an alternate college story but it's awful. I couldn't just let it go at having a couple of beers with friends and feeling nice together, like I would do now.

No, I got dramatic, and wrote an outline for a Lifetime movie instead. You might as well see it.

When we got off work at eleven I'd say to Mary, no more studying tonight: let us go to the bar. Or I'd say it to Lisa. Or I'd call Rachel. Or I'd talk to that cute girl over there in the reading room who I caught looking at me a couple of times. Nah. It's got to be Mary. She's the most fun to write.

Mary and I would go to the Marlin and down an infinite series of ales and shots, and nuzzle each other's necks, and stagger back to one of our places to do things you can hardly do at all when you're that drunk. We'd act obnoxiously to everybody around us. After a few times people would sigh when they see us coming.

Then we'd start going off to bars earlier on days neither of us worked late. Eventually we'd lose our library jobs for not showing up, and struggle to keep a C average, and then break up a year later arguing over our impossible differences. Differences like whether it's a shot and an ale, or an ale and a shot. The only dream we'd fulfill would be getting to bars in time for happy hour.

Mary would go back to her home state, and spend her days sewing blimp skins at the Goodyear works in Akron and her nights having drinks with the girls from work. I would never see her again. I would never have met Helen and we'd never have had our daughter. Feeling somehow the unbearable loss of something that never was, one day I'd jump off a steel truss bridge in the darkness on the edge of town but be pulled to shore by Clarence, who would start reviewing this version of my life with me and then go jump off himself.

I would never write a blog.

Don't steal this idea. I will write a Treatment and send it to Hollywood.

Where did that come from? Demon alcohol? I don't know.

It's always from childhood, right, doctor? My parents used to have relatives and friends over and have mixed drinks, with no bad craziness happening. My dad finished the basement of our house and built in a bar. The room had knotty pine panelling. It was a Mad Men set. This was all off-stage though. We could play down there during the day, but if people were coming over, we kids were tucked in our bedrooms while the mysterious adult world went on below. My parents did not have wine with dinner, or sit around drinking beer in front of the television. I don't know what kind of Irish American this was. Ambulances did not call at our house. So I'm really not seeing any origin there.

I ended the last college story, Dinosaur, as I was about to enter senior year. I'll continue that sometime. But I'll say one thing about it now. Where I lived then, we had a much more congenial dorm environment than before, and I enjoyed the group of friends we formed. Sometimes one of the regulars would have a jug of cheap burgundy. I didn't like the sour taste of that much either, but I certainly drank my plastic glass of it along with everyone else. I think most of us were making faces at the taste, and rightfully so. For just a few dollars more we could have had much nicer wine, but who knew? As far as we knew, this is what people drank. It must be an acquired taste. Yeah, that's it. Well, no. Cheap wine is... feh.

So I left college thinking that I just didn't like alcoholic drinks. I rarely had any for quite a while. I would only drink at some kind of event where people were having some.

For years afterwards, Helen and I would have beer or wine once in a while. And one bottle of rum around Christmas, to mix with egg nog over the course of a couple of weeks. Alcohol was an extra expense at a time when we didn't have much money. Well, also, we'd have a beer or a glass of wine at dinner with Helen's parents, and sometimes my dad and I would have rum and cokes when we visited my parents in their retirement house in the eighties. Nothing interesting here.

I can think of two times where I got really drunk. That's what you want to hear about, right? I knew it. Maybe you think that's sad, that there's only two times, both of them long ago, and that I can remember them. Maybe you can outdo me with stories where you woke up not remembering what the hell happened the night before, maybe with some surprising person sleeping next to you. I'm afraid these aren't that exciting. You don't want me making things up, do you? Why I would never. Put it this way, maybe there were more, and I don't even remember the next day, so I can't write about them. Can you prove it didn't happen?

The first one was a going-away party for somebody I worked with. I don't remember who. This was just a few years out of college. About a dozen of us went to a place on Broadway called Forlini's, down to the basement room. We had beer after beer after beer, talking away to each other the whole time. The event had a good feeling to it. We were sitting there pouring beers from the pitcher, and who was counting? Eventually I needed to visit the bathroom, and I remember practically feeling my way, touching walls and tables for balance. I was very dizzy. I had to carefully think through the familiar routine of urinating in order to perform the steps correctly. I think I did all right.

Back at the table, one of the girls next to me recommended having some protein in order to continue. This was a new idea to me that I have kept in mind ever since. It was good to have someone there who knew what she was doing. When the waitress came by most of us ordered hamburgers or something. Much later when we called it a night, I was able to find my way home three blocks away to where Helen was waiting patiently for her nut of a husband to get back. Some others had to go much farther. I don't remember the next morning but I know who I woke up with.

The second one was with Helen. When she was in graduate school one of her friends held a tequila party. Her friend's apartment was just down the block from where we lived.

This might have been the same party where some of them brought homemade food. Whenever that was, I want to mention that a grad student from northern Italy made a dish of pasta with cream sauce and peas, which was very good. She explained the Italian plan of putting just a small amount of sauce over pasta, in contrast to the American style of drowning it in tomato sauce. I have remembered that, and I like it better the Italian way. Now back to the party story.

Tequila! It is probably significant that in all the years since, I have never felt like purchasing the product. It's so bad. We compared the taste to kerosene, although I think none of us had ever tried kerosene. It's not like when I say something tastes like chalk, and I flash to a childhood memory of actually tasting chalk. And pencils, and erasers. Remember those yellowish gummy erasers that were a little crumbly? They tasted kind of good in a weird way. I wonder what they were made of. The texture was almost like a block of Parmesan cheese, which really does taste much better than eraser. Oops. Focus.

We all drank so much tequila that night. I mean we just kept filling glasses. I cannot possibly tell you how much we consumed. Maybe someone should have died. Tequila is typically around 80 proof, 40 per cent alcohol. I think we were drinking it straight up. We made some attempt to put salt on the glass, but that made it taste even worse. It did not stop us. We dozen or so finished the generous number of bottles that had been provided, and someone went out and got more. One of us was tossing lime slices out the window to 113th Street, but it wasn't me.

Our hostess eventually announced that the party was over and we should all go home. She had no memory of this later and was horrified that she had told us this. But my recollection is that we were waiting like sheep for some signal to stop, and that when she let us know it was time, we all just stood up together, thanked her for her party, and left. No problem. I think she did us a kindness.

Helen and I went home thinking that we would pay dearly the next morning. But no. We woke up bright and early and felt great. That is a bad lesson for the young folks. I have no idea how our bodies managed to bounce back so easily. We were young folks then. We could repeat the experiment and see how we fare now, but no, you know what, not all possible facts need to be known. I'm good.

That's about it. No lives were wrecked in the creation of this story.

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.

— Catherine Aird (via Joey Comeau, A Softer World)

Next time: Botanical Garden.

No comments:

Post a Comment