Here’s to sobriety. I never thought I’d say that before, but there’s something to be said for having a clear head. I probably would start drinking again–maybe not heavily, but enough to keep my hand in–if I were still single. Maybe I should thank my wife for being such a drill sergeant in all matters alcoholic (she’s also trying to get me to stop drinking coffee, but if she does she’s going to find she’s married to a somnambulist, if not an outright zombie). She’s as vigilant about it as the spinster portrayed by Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, who pours all of hungover Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut’s booze in the Congo to get him off the bottle.
Not that I even drink that much when I try to sneak in a few now and then. Jina has a bloodhound’s nose, so whenever I do, I usually get busted. It’s just not worth the hassle. Besides, alcohol is a depressant, and I’m depressed enough without it. Maybe if I muster the gumption to finally follow through and get divorced, I’ll be so happy I’ll never want to drink again anyway. Sounds good. When can we get started?
I may have already told you about the time a friend of mine came over when we were in middle school and we drank a shot from each of the bottles in my parents’ liquor cabinet. It was a methodical project in self-destruction, and we managed to put away thirteen shots before alcohol poisoning’s red light blocked any further progress in that direction. My friend, who’d been planning to spend the night in case his parents noted he was slightly shitfaced, said he had to go home and left. I puked into a waste basket that had a hole in the bottom of it, rinsed it out in the sink, and veered off to wet the bed. Yes, I was that drunk. For two days, my head felt like an overgrown golf ball being sledgehammered by Arnold Palmer (it wouldn’t make sense to say Tiger Woods, as he probably hadn’t even been born yet). My friend had lost his glasses on his way home. I retraced his path and found them for him in a puddle of congealed vomit.
Later, in high school, I had difficulty getting girls to like me, as I was shy, and also the new kid, not to mention being a total dork. Drinking was the one thing I was able to do well, and it provided me with the illusion of cool, at least to me, although I’m sure to other people I just looked like a drunk dork. I also had a bad attitude about girls and always went for the ones considered popular or pretty by the status quo, overlooking the ones I might have had a chance with. This obviously sprang from low self-esteem, fear of commitment, a craving to fit in, and other adolescent factors.
In fact, I once went on a date with a girl who did like me–at least at first–unless I’m flattering myself–which is entirely possible–named Yvonne Thompson, along with two other couples, the male members of whom were buddies of mine. We all went to a Mexican restaurant, and I made Yvonne laugh and she was gracious and charming, as so many women and girls effortlessly are (the problem with most of us men and boys is we waste half of our lives trying too hard; that’s how we become so good at failing). She was also popular, so I wanted to make a good impression and put a lot of pressure on myself to have an impact on her and not be just an overnight sensation on her busy social calendar.
Even though I was already fifteen, I’d never had sex before (pathetic, I know). In retrospect, I have a feeling Yvonne had. Not that I was gauche enough to ask her. After we went to the restaurant, we somehow managed to buy some alcohol, and then we went to a party. I was so nervous I drank three bottles of cheap champagne. The rest of the night is a blur, except for a few surreal snatches of people looking at me as if I’d lost my mind and asking if I was all right.
Needless to say, I didn’t get laid that night, and permanently blew my chances of any success in that department Yvonne-wise. Not that I killed her or anything, thank goodness. That would have been awful. When I called her the following morning to ask her for a recap, she said I’d fallen all the way down a staircase, William Holden style (that’s how the poor man died a few years later–life imitates life). At one point I tried to run down the street and stopped abruptly, hollering that I’d lost a contact lens.
But the worst thing that happened was I asked Yvonne for a kiss while we were sitting at someone’s kitchen table. When she refused, she said I punched her in the stomach. Not hard, luckily, but still. Yikes! Good thing she didn’t have one of her football player boyfriends rearrange my face and limbs and turn me into a Picasso sculpture.
Jeez, I wonder how she could have turned me down?
I groveled apologetically over the phone, but she was understanding enough to remain friends with me for several years afterwards.
That’s how she got her revenge.
The first girl who was brave enough to be my girlfriend was someone I’d never even seen before. She apparently had thought I was cute and sent me an anonymous Valentine’s Day card that read “Happy V-D” (oxymoron?), along with a green rose, which apparently meant “I’d like to get to know you better.”
That Friday night there was a dance at the high school gym. My friends and I went there in one of my friend’s car. I got out and rushed in front of the car to get out of the cold, slipping and falling spread-eagled on the snow-encrusted asphalt. In the process of doing so, I managed to get run over. My friend who was driving on his way to the parking lot drove over my hand. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt, as I found when I maneuvered my fingers. He warned me not to move them in case any of them were broken.
I said, “They’re fine.”
We went inside and I met Carmen, who was surprisingly beautiful. She was also really nice and sweet. I was in heaven. We talked for awhile and agreed to get together for a date soon.
Our love affair lasted about a month. We didn’t go all the way. Our relationship revolved mainly around drinking. For some reason, she liked blackberry brandy. If I tried the stuff now, I’d probably barf. Sticky, sweet, cloying yuckiness. But she was, as I said, sweet for real, and I was happy to have her in my life, at least for a while.
She said one of the things that had attracted to me was my eccentricity. This was, admittedly, not the wellspring of originality or genius but a symptom of the above-mentioned impulse of trying too hard to get attention, the classic weakness of the feeble-minded adolescent male–as was, of course, the pathological relationship with alcohol. I’ll tell you about some of the dumb things my friends and I did together in order to stand out some other time. Right now, it’s too tedious to catalogue them all, and unrelated to the story at hand.
One night we bought some blackberry brandy and drove to a hockey game together. One our way we stopped in an empty parking lot in order to have some refreshments. I can’t recall whether we’d started drinking the brandy or not, but a cop car pulled into the lot and a big oaf got out and lumbered toward the car. I scrambled to hide the bottle under the seat, then said to Carmen, “Kiss me.”
We started making out, and when the cop shined his light in our faces, we stopped to look at him.
“What are you kids doing here?”
“We’re just trying to get to know each other a little better,” I said.
“You smell like you’ve been drinking. Get out of the car.”
We got out and he quickly searched the car with his flashlight. He didn’t find the bottle.
“Okay, I’m going to let you go with a warning.”
Good thing for us we weren’t black, so he didn’t shoot us.
After he left, we proceeded to drink the brandy and make out like good American teenagers. I had some trouble driving straight, bumping off curbs here and there. At one point, after we’d left the hockey game, Carmen relieved me at the wheel while we were at an intersection, stopped at a red light. I think she was slightly less than I was. (Although I’d later tell myself that the main reason she’d go on to dump me was that I grew to drink her under the table.)
When she did break up with me, she said it was because I was too different. I thought everybody was different. Shows how much I know.
Another time a friend of mine and I were drinking beers in the car on our way back to school after lunch (we’d gone to his house to shoot some pool), when we saw a cop car parked in a church parking lot. (Cops like to hang out with God a lot–it’s an S & M thing.) We panicked and threw the half-full beer cans out the window, which was probably the dumbest thing we could have possibly done.
My drinking habits became less pronounced over the years, although I still had my moments. I never repeated such ungentlemanly behavior with a lady as I’d shown Yvonne, and neither committed murder, rape, nor arson. Just wasted a lot of time and money slurping down the beers like an imbecile.
It was fun.