Thursday, April 20, 2006

Denial is a river flowing with cold, tasty imported wheat beer

Before I begin this post, I feel like I need to make one thing clear - no matter what you read below, I don't have a drinking problem. I drink to excess, yes. I drink when I shouldn't, perhaps. But a drinking problem, I do not have.

So let's rewind back to Tuesday night. I was sitting in a booth at Slainte on Bowery. I had already downed my two oversized glasses of Hefeweissen and now, I was drinking Red's beer after she stepped out for a smoke. "That's it. I'm cut off," I told myself. After all, I had a presentation at work the next day and I was supposed to call my colleague to discuss it before I went to bed.

I'm a lightweight. That much I'll concede. Also, I'd skipped lunch, I was exhausted from working through the weekend and had already had two beers before I arrived there. And fuck, it was Tuesday night. Clearly time to go home.

Now, the great thing about New York, particularly my neighborhood, is the abundance of bars within walking distance. No wasting money on cabs or risking a DUI. As long as I stay upright, I'm all right. Of course, walking home also means walking past temptations, and sure enough, minutes after leaving Slainte, I found myself in front of the door of Lucky Jack's.

"What's another drink?" asked the little devil on the shoulder with a wry smile. The little angel on my other shoulder was passed out and unresponsive.

Now, if you haven't been to Lucky Jack's, I should explain the layout - the bar runs the entire width of a block and has entrance on the two ends, Allen Street and Orchard Street. It feels almost like two different bars in one because it's so long.

As I entered on the Allen Street side, the little angel on the shoulder woke up and chided me. I had enough to drink already, and only alcoholics drink by themselves. I am not an alcoholic, dammit. I resisted the urge to sit down and without losing stride, I kept walking all the way to the Orchard Street exit, and as far as I could tell, I made it out without anyone noticing.

Some might wonder how a non-alcoholic would end up in another bar under those circumstances in the first place, and that was my exact thought as I woke up this morning at 4:50 am. Do I have a drinking problem?

I remembered how much willpower it took to not order a second beer over dinner at Kenka Monday night. At Heather's reading, AliZ mentioned the subtitle on the blog banner above, and I wondered whether that was too true to be funny.

Though at least I'm functional. And whatever is wrong with me or my life, I'm preeeeeeeeetty sure it's not because of my drinking. But as I lay in my bed trying in vain to fall back asleep, I started to take an account of my past binges.
  • I've never been caught drinking and driving. But I have driven drunk in college. Too many times.

  • I don't get violent when I drink. Not to people, anyway. I have rugby tackled newspaper boxes and once ripped a mirror off a car.

  • I've never woken up in a ditch face down. I have woken up on the steps of a subway station at 6 am.

I should clarify that I've done none of the above since... oh, let's just say 2002. I've grown a little since then, I'm sure. But I do tend to surround myself with people who drink a whole fucking lot. After getting a late start on destroying my body -my first real drinking experience was in the December of my senior year in high school with a 40 oz Crazy Horse, two Heinekens and a wine cooler- I got to college and let peer pressure do its thing. To do further damage, I played rugby, a sport with a bigger drinking culture than lacrosse (sorry). After college, I spent a year in South Beach where, on too many occasions, I'd play this game called "Let's See If The Morning Paper Beat Me Home". Currently, I'm in a profession where binge drinking is almost expected (I might argue it's even a necessity) and I hang around people who take social lubrication seriously.

It's New York City too. It's a city that lets you act whatever age you want. If I were back in North Carolina, I'd probably be driving a sensible sedan and making payments on a house with a yard and a two-car garage. I might grab a drink after work and have a few drinks with old college buddies over dinner on Saturday night. My friends would be wondering when I'm going to just find someone to marry. Here? I'm living in a dumpy apartment, getting sloshed on weeknights and socializing with an equal number of 35-year-olds and 22-year-olds. Which is to say, there is no age limit on irresponsible behavior.

Combine that with the city's romanticization of drinking - footsteps of literary giants are marked, not by where they slept, but by where they drank. Where did O. Henry live? Who gives a shit? But I can tell you he frequented Pete's Tavern on Irving Place. And amidst all the changes that have come below 14th Street, White Horse Tavern will always be where Bob Dylan came to be inspired and Dylan Thomas simply expired. You find the best concerts in the city, not in Clear Channel-programmed amphitheaters that serve overpriced macrobrews, but in small, sticky-floored venues that serve draft beers and mixed drinks. Sundays in New York are marked in equal parts by the thickness of the Sunday New York Times and the Bloody Mary that accompanies the Hollandaise-covered poached eggs.

I don't mean for this post to be an apologia for self-destruction. Moderation is good, I get that. And someday, I'll probably realize that I'm witty and charming enough without the aid of a vodka tonic. O But at least for my own sake, I wanted to put my behavior into perspective. And all things considered, I'd say my level of drinking is fairly normal.

Plus, if I acknowledged that I had a drinking problem, the next logical step would be to quit, and I'm just not ready to. I enjoy drinking way too much.

But 10 years from now, if you catch me writing Dry 2: The Electric Boogaloo, well, you'll know that rock bottom has yet to come.


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