Monday, February 07, 2005

The Booze Whisperer (or, A Quiet Drink is Hard to Find)

Every once in a while there comes a night that is unforgettable, mostly because you can't remember anything. That is the degree to which you enjoyed the night. It seduces you, slow at first, a nice simmering burn that keeps a smile on your faces, and then it shows its cards and it sure as hell isn't a polite, nice little girl that you take home to momma, it is a violent, uncontrollable goddess that takes you and beats you down, wrestles you to the floor, dominates you in every way and then makes you dance and sing and laugh, and even though you're not controlling it, even though IT is controlling YOU, you still enjoy it, and it's still fun as hell. It uses you up and spits you out and you can't help but tip your hat to it on the way out. That is a wild night is in its total essence, and I had one.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was gin.

It takes time and strategy to tame a type of booze. It is a matter of quantity, pacing, and thoughtfulness, knowing your limits with certain concotions and knowing when to push them and when to slow down. And then, if you do things right long enough, you learn how to walk along the edge of the knife, and then you know how to dance on it, and then jump up and down on it, and then, essentially you have it tamed. Eventually the booze becomes a friend who is old and familiar to you, and you know all his characteristics and he knows all of yours and that's just fine.

So Jameson and I were talking last week and we decided we needed to have a gin night.

My encounters with gin had been few before. I don't think I ever had more than four drinks of it in a run. I never considered it to be a heavy liquor, not like whisky, who is an old pal and we know how to dance. Gin was nothing more than a taste to me. I liked the taste, and I thought I could handle it like any other booze I throw down my face every weekend.

I was wrong.

Let me tell you some things about gin.

You will often hear of the evils of tequila. Frat guys, sorority girls, the clubbers and the partiers, they will all tell you tequila is king, that it is the true poison of all poisons, and there is nothing to rival it. This is not true. Gin is the most evil, noxious stuff that I have ever encountered. It is a sharp, minty knife that gets inside of your guts and zooms straight to your head, and then it jumps up and down on you, mostly on your genitals. You can tell the difference between tequila and gin just by sipping some of it straight. Tequila is and ugly sort of sweet. Gin is just plain ugly. I have sipped vodka, and vodka has nothing on gin. It curdles your insides like old milk. It is like minted gasoline.

Gin is probably the spirit of England itself, and it has a checkered and interesting past. For instance, the creation of the gin and tonic. During the British rule of India, Gin and Tonic became a great favourite with the English community, especially as the quinine in tonic water was used to protect against malaria. A GNT a day keeps the doctor away.

Once upon a time, gin was THE mixing drink. If you look in any competent cocktail book, there will be a great swathe of pages on the flexibilities of gin. This was back when you met and talked to your friends at a bar instead of a coffeeshop, when dancing was not bewildered dry humping, when the word cocktail referred to a type of party and drink instead of a dress. Then the stage slowly shifted and vodka became the mixed drink, followed closely by tequila and then by candy drinks, like rum and jager. Personally, I feel that these drinks are created for people who do not want to taste alcohol. Alcohol is a means to an end for them, something to be diluted and repressed. You might not know what I'm talking about. That's okay. I'm an old soul that way.

That is the history and glories of gin right there.

So me and Jameson decided to go English one night and buy some gin, along with the usual fare. We got a bit carried away, though. I think we wound up with a handle of Beefeater, two eight packs of Guinness, a six pack of Extra Special Bitter, and a four pack of Strongbow. We got this around three-thirty, and we started drinking the beer about four. I don't know when we got into the gin, but Jameson had the terrible idea of mixing it in full pint glasses.

Jameson knew what he was doing. He had tangoed with the evil shit before. I hadn't. But before you can tame a booze, you have to find your limits, and in doing so, you'll probably wind up at rock bottom.

Things melted into one another. The world became jarringly loud and incomprehensible. People came and went, laughing and shouting, and the Pogues howled from the speakers, and I grinned my axe-murdering grin and I tried to hold on, because I knew my train was going to leave soon and the ride was going to be utter hell. That was okay, though. A true drinker needs a certain degree of self-destructiveness to accomplish their most amazing feats.

Well, kids, I did something I hadn't done in a while. I blacked out, like some wet-behind the ears kid who didn't know what the hell he was doing. And I guess I didn't. I wasn't mean though, like I can be, like it was when I was first pounding whisky. I was just stupid, my brain short circuiting as cables got crossed and my motions became distant.

At some time, for some reason, I got outside. I saw a lot of sidewalk that night, and some how I got back to my place and thoroughly appalled Derek and Alyssa. I don't think either of them had ever seen someone really drunk. That was okay, too. I was having a goddamn ball. I remember holding onto the recliner like it was a life buoy and knocking over the chess set, but the witnesses have a much longer list. Apparently I was both blind and deaf. Jameson called and told me he had bought me a sandwich, although in memory his voice is tinny, like I'm talking on the phone and it's in the next room.

So apparently I start going back, and promtly get lost. I call Jameson. Here's the summary of what was said.

"Jameson, I'm lost."

"What do you see?"

"A parking lot."

"What street are you on?"

(irritated) "The street with the parking lot."

I think I called Jasper, too, and told him something about me throwing rocks at cars, knifing a guy, and the Pope? This was all untrue. I remember I did that because I though it would be a "lark." I called Jameson about four other times because I was really, really lost. It was fun, though. I can honestly say that, unlike some people, I am not a mean drunk.

But I got back to Jameson's, sloppily ate a sandwich, and, because Jameson was also too bombed to stop me, continued drinking. (Only beer, though. Some shards of common sense still remained in my brain.)

The next thing I know I wake up in my bed with my head vibrating and I thought I was going blind. It was just my contacts, though. I had slept with them in. For the first time in history, I slept in my own bed when Derek and Alyssa were over. Tyler later informed me that this was a monumental event, and that he was both proud of me and mortified.

I got over to Jameson's to rehash the night. We had apparently both passed out around midnight, a thing also unheard of. We went to go eat at this place called the Tavern, and it was there that I recalled the most startling thing while washing my hands in the restroom.

I came back and sat down and looked at Jameson with a dead face.

"What?" he asked.

"You know those scratches on my arm and side?"

"Yeah," he said.

"I think I climbed a tree last night."

He burst out laughing.

"And I think... while I was doing it," I said, "I think this couple stopped and asked me what I was doing. And... I think... I said I had a bomb."

This was actually allusion to a Doonesbury cartoon where Hunter S. Thompson gets smashed, climbs a tree, and tells passersby that he has a bomb. God alone knows why that came back to me at that moment. If God has the courage to open up my head and look.

Needless to say, we both had a long, good laugh over that one. Amazingly enough, we had barely put a dent in the gin. Maybe about a pint, maybe a little less, was missing. I think this is more a result of trying to combine stout, bitter, and hard cider with a very, very potent alcohol.

Hair of the dog that bit you. We started again at about two. And that night, we drank all of the gin. We had a good, nice, harmonious buzz going and it was one of those times when you put all the elements of a good drinking night together and wind up with a fun, riotous symphony. Nothing crazy happened, believe it or not. We just invited people over, had nice conversations, laughed at a few good jokes, and smiled untill seven thirty. A few good mates and a few good drinks is enough to remind you that God loves you. I wound up talking to a girl for at least an hour about the glories of Guinness, yet failed to convince her to try any. I still have yet to find a girl Stateside with the steel to enjoy a good Guinness. But it was fun anyways. It's always fun when you and three or four other good friends wind up sitting on the floor, backs against the wall, drinking and laughing. It's a rare thing, a gem in a see of mediocrity, and when it comes along you should enjoy it. I'm telling you that right now.

I think America does miss out on things like this a lot. We are not a drinking culture. Here, people are either terrified of alcohol and know little to nothing about it, or treat it like any other drug and frat it up. Perhaps the two exist because of each other, if you can but dig it. But oftentimes, it seems there is no happy middle ground. A quiet drink is a hard thing to find.
Or maybe this is just college, and maybe I just have the soul of an old man. That is always another possibility.


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