Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Journey with a Drunk

I found the bottle of Black Label Jack Daniels the other night. I had bought it to take with me camping last summer. I was not looking for it. I was looking for something else. Just what I was looking for was forgotten the moment I laid eyes on that fifth with about 3 shots worth still inside.

I gave up drinking..... uh, I guess about the mid 1990's. I didn't think about it, I just decided one day drinking was not doing it for me anymore. Hangovers, obnoxious behaviour, and wasted money all suddenly seemed so foolish. 25 years as a hard likker drinker had finally worn me out. So I quit.

Okay so I have tipped a few since then. But I would guess less than a case of beer and way less than a quart of likker have passed my lips in the 12 years since I gave demon rum the boot. The occasional party, wedding, or those moments I just wanted a beer came up from time to time. But for the most part, I just stopped. Didn't anguish. Didn't even really think about it. Became a semi teetotaler.

And then I found that bottle of Jack. I picked it up, unscrewed the top, and passed the bottle under my nose. The sweet smoky aroma caught me and I just had to have a taste. I tipped the bottle back and let a small amount drain into my mouth. Wow! I was immediately questioning the poor judgement I used when I cut this elixir of the gods out of my life. Swishing the brown liquid joy, I swallowed and felt the old familiar burn and warmth the first shot always brings with it.

We all have weaknesses. Some of us have more than others, but all of us have something that makes us crazy. Of the many weaknesses I seem to embrace, hard liquor is most definitely one I have trouble controlling. Sour Mash and Single Malts are my favorites. I can consume them like they are water. I begin to drink because of the taste. At some point it turns into drinking for the buzz. And finally I black out and do things I would regret if I could remember them. I was often rudely reminded of this impolite tendency of mine by folks who regretted having me around when Mike's lights went out. The last time I blacked out, I made quite the scene at my nephew's wedding. My brother still has not forgiven me. Sen. Dick Lugar was there and apparently I was very rude. That was I think in 1991. Thereabouts anyway. Open bars are so dangerous.

Flash forward to tonight. As I sipped what was left in that bottle of Jack, I was immediately bummed there was only a token gesture left. And yet at the same time relieved. Not enough to get out of control, just enough to leave me with a good taste and a mild buzz. Forced moderation is about the only way I can handle moderation. And even then, when the appetite has been teased, I often will search out more buzz fulfilling substances just to keep the momentum of the whatever buzz I have at the moment. Probably a good thing I quit when I did.

Never underestimate the power of a determined drunk

Because the measly three ounces left in that Jack bottle left me wanting more of the same, I went exploring for more of the same. My wife still drinks. I knew she had some Cuervo Gold in the liquor cabinet. She likes the occasional girly drink of some kind that needs to ruin good tequila to make it. Yes, there it was. Up front, half empty and just asking to be drained. But wait! What's this? Hiding up on the top shelf covered in an inch of dust? By Jesus, it's a never opened bottle of Rebel Yell. Uh Oh. I see trouble brewing.

In the scheme of, or rather the hierarchy of my sour mash favorites, it goes thusly - Jim Beam when that's all I could get and what I wanted was a buzz and no fooling around. When in a more casual mode, Black Jack was my go to favorite. Reasonably priced, especially in St.Louis, and the quality was hard to beat. True sippin whiskey. Good, straight or on ice. Definitely sacrilege to mix it with anything else. But of all my favorites, my top tier pick even though it was often cheaper than Jack, Rebel Yell Whiskey has to be the one. More kick at 90 proof than Jack and it still had that special smoky flavor only those Scottish descendants from the South know how to tweak out of some corn meal and water. And here right in front of my half mast eyes was a bottle that has been aging for God knows how long. Going to sleep soon was put on hold.

I pulled the bottle out of the cabinet. Dust and cobwebs covered it. A quick wipe off with a wet rag and I was ready to crack the ATF seal, tip it up and take a good hit when I remembered my place. An unopened bottle of Rebel Yell could not just be cracked open and drained into open gaping mouths. There were rules about this kind of shit. A top quality sippin whiskey needed to be sipped from an appropriate vessel to achieve the full impact of the nectar so many slaved over to get into that bottle. It was a matter of respect.

While I contemplated the various ways to enjoy this fine whiskey, I looked the bottle over hoping to find some kind of date that would tell me how long it had been waiting for me to open it up. Hmm. A Maryland tax stamp. Looks like it was 1990 I brought this bottle home from a trip South. 19 years in the bottle after who knows how many years in an oak barrel in some dark dank warehouse in Kentucky. Excellent.

Now, to pick just the absolute perfect glass to waft it, whiff it, and swish it between my cheek and gum. I looked up to the forgotten shelf of alcohol glasses from my previous years of wanton imbibement. Pub glasses, wine glasses, shot glasses with clever and witty slogans on them and then I saw it. My silver gilded shot glass. The glass a lady friend from my loose dog single days bought me for Christmas or a birthday. It had significance at the time. Now it sat dusty on the shelf, the silver long gone black and just shouting, "Pick Me. pick me."

It is now 3:10 AM. I have made a serious dent in that fifth of Rebel Yell. I sit here drunken and disorderly trying to impart what it is like to be shitfaced after an absence from that scene for so many years. It's not like being drunk for the first time. But it's close.

As ever, moving onto something else, something hopefully better..............

Notes from the next day - Payback for being stupid

As I stated, the last time I remembered was 3:10 AM. I must have at least found the couch because that is where I came back into reality in a semi-comatose state around 7:30 AM. I immediately understood why I had given up alcohol in the first place. It was waking up like this after losing control the night before. My head was at least the size of a basketball. My tongue felt and tasted like the cats had taken turns using it as a litter box. And each eye seemed to follow their own path, one focused at two feet, the other at three feet.

Several cups of coffee and a handful of Ibuprophen finally performed their magic and both eyes fell into sync and my head seemed to shrink down to something resembling normal. My balance was still shaky and no amount of tooth paste and mouth wash was going to bring back that fresh mouth feeling. The crud was going to have wear off I guess.

I staggered through my morning rituals beating myself up because I still had to go to work ferchrisakes. I had to be presentable in a few hours, at least pretend to be among the living. Yes, I loved my demon rum. But the price it exacts because I have no control is not worth the full day of payback that follows. That bottle of Rebel Yell is back on that dusty shelf, hopefully forgotten until the next time I need a reminder of why I do not drink anymore.

Some lessons need to be updated brutally on occasion just to reinforce positive behaviour in the future.


(1424 / 9527)


Ishmael said...

Huh. Really good writing for 3 a.m. and half a bottle of Rebel Yell. I go from snarky to angry. Oddly, my spelling doesn't suffer. I had a similar off-the-wagon after teatotalling for three months. Weird. I'm ready to go dry again.

AirmanMom said...

I read your post... therefore I comment. But truly, not sure what to say...except thank you for sharing this story. Beautifully written, beautifully honest.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

thats better writing than most of the garbage coming out of Hollywood today----and definitely bettr than what TV offers us. My Dad was an alcoholic, and my mom died from drinking---but even knowing that, I still have to struggle to limit my own social drinking----moderation is control.

Utah Savage said...

You are one hell of a writer.

I'll be back to read again and maybe I'll learn some more from your incredible talent and great skill.

When I was a drinking woman, I liked George Dickel as my whiskey. I could go on to make my favorite gin, vodka, Irish, Scotch, etc... Now I only stock a bar to be a good hostess and keep my bar tending chops up.

BBC said...

hard liquor is most definitely one I have trouble controlling.I got over that many many years ago when I decided it was stupid to be waking up with women I didn't really know. Like my wife, ha ha ha.

Or that time I sold my car to get a plane ticket off the island.

I think that a little booze is good for any soul to deal with this planet, I drink every evening.

But it's wise to know the limit, and I do. I haven't had a hangover for years.

I've not let booze rule me since my twenty's but I damn sure love the nectar of the gods.

Any wise spirit keeps things in moderation.

Your writing is okay, it's all just babbling anyway, that is what we do, babble.

Many hope to make money on it, many fail. I just write because I'm driven too.

Kulkuri said...

I used to do stupid shit while drunk and then we moved and didn't have anyone to drink with. I would still a beer or two, but eventually got to where months would go by without a drink. Now, I bought a six-pack back on Valentine's Day and still have one bottle left. Never was really into the hard stuff because of a number of bad experiences with hard shit when I was young.

There are two sure-fire ways to prevent hangovers, never drink or never sober up!!

Demeur said...

Nothing like waking up and remembering why you don't drink. The thought used to pass by my foggy brain when I drank. Why did I just poison myself?

Anonymous said...

Great post, Crummy. Truly is.


PipeTobacco said...


I really appreciated your essay! I think that the drinking is a fine way to occasionally spend an errant evening and do so myself upon occasion.

In my own efforts, I am fortunate in that I do not typically indulge to such an extent that I wake up the next day feeling very sour. I am not sure why, but it may simply be I have grown used to knowing what level of drinking will allow the pleasure without the wretched after effects. It is not to say I have not had a few instances of a hangover, for I think everyone does who chooses to drink.

So, again, thank you for the excellent essay. It rang beautiful and true and allowed me to visit that enticing land of intoxication while sober as a judge. That suggests you are a damn good writer.


El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Paraphrasing Cliff Claven, you should know that an occasional evening of heavy drinking is good for a person, to wit:

In the same manner that the weakest among the buffalo herds are killed by predators, so too are the weakest brain cells eliminated from a living state by alchohol. The effect on the buffalo herd is an increase in the average strength of the herd members - they've lost the weak ones who pull the average down and give the herd a bad name. The effect of a night of heavy drinking on your brain is much the same: the average strength, intelligence and general manliness of the remaining neurons increases.

There is no downside. I don't see how any different conclusion could be reached.

Randal Graves said...

Now this was some good stuff. That buzz is the best. Anything beyond and you're risking a funkadelic hangover with your brain piercing itself with invisible railroad spikes.

A Midnight Rider said...

The last time the State of Minnisota got drunk like that, they woke up with Jesse Ventura at thier governor. Moderation is the key.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Oh man...that was some great stuff; I want a bourbon now.

My drinking is a mere shadow of what it used to be - one or two a week, even with brewing my own beer at a frantic pace. There are still times where I've reached the "commit or bail point" - stop now and be functional tomorrow or keep going and end up like you did. Fortunately for me, I bail almost every time.

BBC said...

There are two sure-fire ways to prevent hangovers, never drink or never sober up!!No, there are three, drink in moderation is the third.

Snave said...

Good post, Mac.

I used to drink lots and lots and lots of beer. When I started taking Zoloft about ten years ago for my OCD, it took away my desire to drink. I have been off anti-depressants now for the last year and a half, but the tendency to drink too much has not returned. I find it hard to finish a beer nowadays.

But I can see how I could get interested in drinking a nice scotch on a regular basis. Love the stuff!

A couple of hangovers about a year ago pretty much put an end to the days of drinking more than one beer or one shot or one glass of wine in an evening. Like you did, I rediscovered a few of the bad things about alcohol.

"Some lessons need to be updated brutally on occasion just to reinforce positive behaviour in the future."