My well documented fondness for alcohol, especially beer, goes back to when I was two and my father got up from his seat while watching a Cubs game to answer the front door. He came back a couple of minutes later to see me standing there, feet spread wide as if to brace myself for what was to come, a can of Hamm’s in my hand, the bottom pointing straight at the ceiling. I was chugging it. My mom wanted to call poison control immediately. My dad assured her that there wasn’t that much left, and besides, it was only beer. After watching me for an hour, my parents gladly came to the decision that they did not have to take me to the hospital where any future plans of winning Parents of the Year would have been forever dashed: “Our two year old is drunk.”
My parents, in fact, had a rather relaxed attitude towards alcohol: They hailed from Canada, then as now a nation known for knocking back a few on special occasions, or weekends, or any day that ends in a “Y”, really. Special meals were served with wine, even for the youngest kids, a practice that is common in many parts of the world. It wasn’t as if we were getting plowed or anything. My brothers and I would try a sip, just to make ourselves seem older than we really were, and then we’d ask for something that tasted good, like milk.
Pretty soon, though, I figured out that the tradition of letting the birthday boy choose what was for dinner also extended to what beverage was served with it. And so every birthday from the age of ten onward I asked for the same birthday meal: Delivery pizza and beer. Unlike wine, beer was tolerable and as I got a little older I even began to find it enjoyable.
One thing I had no experience with, however, was liquor. The first time I had liquor of any sort, I was fifteen and a friend of mine had made off with a half bottle of his parents’ Peppermint Schnapps. Now Peppermint Schnapps may sound appealing to you if you’re looking to mix your booze with ice cream and you’re also an idiot, but by itself it is not a drink you’d just sit down and slam a whole bunch of. This is primarily because if you overdid it, it would be like throwing up a stomach-full of candy canes, just the thought of which makes me a bit nauseous.
Luckily, Peppermint Schnapps is a drink for pussies and fifteen year olds who don’t know any better, and we split the bottle three ways with little more than a warm, pleasant glow for our troubles. “This is fucking bullshit,” I remember my friend Charlie saying. “I’m not falling down or anything.”
This experience left me perhaps a little too confident in my ability to drink, which would prove to have near-disastrous consequences. A friend of mine discovered that his parents would be out of the house on a Saturday night. “C’mon over,” he told me over the phone. “I asked my brother, and he said he’d cover for us if we took some booze from behind the bar.” Sounded good to me. My 21 year old brother was completely useless to me as he a) didn’t drink; and b) would fucking rat me out to my parents the instant he found out I’d done anything even remotely wrong. But my friend Eric’s older brother was cool: He’d let his 15 year old brother and his friends drink liquor, because what could possibly go wrong with that?
I was excited to get out of the house that night because I had just gotten over a two week bout of mononucleosis, and even though I still didn’t have much of an appetite (and in fact hadn’t eaten for two days), I was more than willing to push things health-wise if it alleviated the boredom of being homebound for so long.
So I walked to Eric’s house and immediately he and I and another friend named Chuck got to work. “Uhhh, how do we do this?” asked Eric.
I had no idea how hard liquor worked, but that didn’t stop me from weighing in: “Well, they call them mixed drinks, right? So we just mix it all together in, I don’t know, a pint glass, put a dash of something in for flavor, and down the hatch!”
Here is the drink recipe we used that evening (I like to call this little concoction The Morgue). I am not lying, this is what we thought was a good idea:
- Clam juice
- 1 slice white bread
- Mix equal amounts of gin, tequila, vodka, rum, and idiocy into a pint glass
- Splash with clam juice because, you know, that will make it fucking delicious
- Realize at the last second that you haven’t eaten for quite a while, and eat the slice of bread. There, that oughta soak up the booze.
Since it was Eric’s house, he was the first to “enjoy” his concoction. He took a small sip, made a sour face and said, “Wow!” He then took a deep breath and chugged the entire pint glass, stopping only once to make retching noises. “How was it?” I asked. “Sssssssspppooooo… aaauagdhhgsdghsjh… Ammrgrgegegufvhiu… … … Strong.”
I was next, and after having watched Eric manfully down a drink like that, I was determined to do the same. After wolfing down the bread I said, “Gentlemen, here’s looking up your old address!” (a line I’d stolen from M*A*S*H) and chugged the pint as Eric had.
Our friend Chuck was next, but after taking a mouthful declined to drink the rest because, as he so tactfully put it, “That shit is fucking horrible! You guys are going to be shitfaced!” Oh, how we laughed at Chuck, our naive friend. He was not as worldly as we were, and after listening to us tell him as much for a few minutes, he decided to take his non-worldly ass elsewhere. “I’m leaving. I’ll see you later.” To celebrate our worldliness, we split half of what Chuck had left behind before pouring the rest down the drain.
Now that we had properly kicked off the evening, we needed something to do. We decided to walk the couple of blocks to our high school, where a dance was in progress. In our high school, dances were usually attended by freshmen, dateless wonders, and other people who could not find a proper party (like ours!). They were also attended by ridiculous caricatures of undercover cops who didn’t worry us very much since we were administering roadside sobriety tests to ourselves as we walked.
It didn’t dawn on us at the time, but probably the most visible way you can tell people that you have been drinking, besides throwing up on their shoes, is to walk down a sidewalk, touching your fingers to your nose while reciting the alphabet. Oh, how much I would give to have videotape of us on that walk to school. But, as stupid as we were, we were brimming with confidence as we realized that we were passing all of the sobriety tests we knew of with flying colors. This dance was going to be fun!
And then, I’m not sure how we got there, but we found ourselves in the parking lot of the high school. I tripped over Eric as he was laying down between two cars. I found myself lying on the ground next to him puzzling over the snapped-off car antenna in my hand. And then it dawned on me… I will always remember what I thought as the realization took hold of me: “Oh, no! We are super-fucking trashed! We need to GET HOME NOW!”
As I tried to scrape Eric’s laughing ass off the ground, I surveyed the parking lot. I could see a few students off in the distance, and a patrol car slowly circling the lot. “C’mon, goddammit, we have got to get the fuck out of here before we get busted!” I said, or more probably, “C’mon dammih, we gotta get fuck outavere for’ wee geh BUSHTED!”
Somehow, adrenaline not only allowed us to cross the street, but make our way slowly but surely through a lot of back yards until we approached Eric’s house, which was less than a mile away. As we approached, Eric was hardly walking and the only thing keeping me upright was leaning on Eric. How we got anywhere like that, I will never know. Eric looked up at me and said, “Hey, can you pick my NOSE!?” and then broke out into drunken laughter.
Somehow, I negotiated Eric up the stairs and into his room. Because I knew about how some of my rock and roll heroes had died after consuming insane amounts of alcohol, I propped up Eric on his side in his bed. It was then that I noticed that I only had 20 minutes to walk home, which was two miles away. I told Eric I had to go. He looked up at me, leaned over the side of his bed, and filled his shoes with puke.
In retrospect, I was lucky to make it home at all, let alone in one piece. I ran the entire way because I knew that if I was as much as five minutes late, my mom would want to know the reason why and I didn’t like my odds of concocting a lie, or even talking coherently for that matter. Unfortunately, the run not only got me home, but it really helped my body soak up some of that booze.
After quickly saying “I’m home, good night!” I hopped into bed, relieved that I had made it home in one piece and could just go to sleep. This was when I was first introduced to the wonders of bed-spins. Holy shit, that was not appreciated. I bolted from my bed and sprinted for the bathroom, where I proceeded to throw up the rest of the booze, what was left of the bread, my spleen, a kidney, and about four feet of small intestine. I was also throwing up chunks of vitamin C tablets, which Eric and I had downed by the fistful because “it coats your mouth and helps disguise the smell of alcohol”.
After the second wave of vomiting, I tidied up the bathroom a bit and then my mom knocked on the door. “Greg? Are you ok?” Uh-oh.
Mom: Are you sick?
This was about as idiotic a statement as I could have made. My retching noises were clearly audible for miles around, so denying I was sick was tantamount to saying “I’m lying to you because I’ve been up to something tonight. Please come in and bust me.” But as I was trashed beyond comprehension, single syllable responses were all I could come up with.
Mom: Open the door.
Amazingly, the vitamin C did just enough to disguise the booze smell that it gave my mom the excuse she needed to not face an unpleasant reality: Her beer drinking two year old had grown up and was now a liquor-swilling fifteen year old. “Well, you don’t smell like alcohol, but it did sound like you were getting sick… Are you… Are you having diarrhea?”
This I would cop to. “Uh-huh! Yeah diarrrrrrhea.” I remember part of my brain thinking, “Listen to yourself, you moron! You sound fucked up! You’d better think fast!” And so I did a little “I-gotta-go-potty” jig.
“Ok,” said my mom. “I hope you feel better. Let me know if you need anything.” I sat on the toilet for five minutes, flushing a couple of times to hopefully sell the story.
I soon fell into my bed and into utter unconsciousness. When I awoke, it was noon the next day and my first time getting drunk had morphed into my first time dealing with a hangover so vicious that it would’ve blinded a rhino. However, as I was soon to find out, it could have been much, much worse.
As I wobbled out of my room I heard my mom calling from across the house. “Greg? Are you up? Eric is on the phone.”
Eric, it seems, was passed out in bed above his vomit-filled shoes when his cool (and drunk) 21 year old brother and his friend walked in and found Eric in his sorry, sodden state. So naturally, thinking it hilarious, they went downstairs to tell Eric’s dad. ‘Eric is upstairs, and he’s fucking WASTED!”
So poor Eric was made to come downstairs and explain himself, right at about the time I was trying to sell my drunkenness as the world’s worst case of the trots. Eric’s parents, however, weren’t sheltered people who grew up in a Roman Catholic convent in Quebec like my mom, and they knew exactly what they were dealing with.
“Don’t worry,” Eric assured me. “They’re not going to tell your parents.” That is something I should’ve expected from his parents, because I’d known them for years at that point in my life and beyond being incredibly nice people, they were also pretty damn cool. But while I should’ve expected that, I certainly didn’t deserve it, especially when you consider what they put Eric through: They let him go to bed, then woke his ass up at 6:00 AM to do chores until noon.
The very next week, in health class, our health teacher passed out a cardboard wheel. “This is a blood alcohol content calculator. You dial your weight in on the outer wheel, the number of drinks you’ve had in the middle wheel, and the amount of time you had the drinks on the inner wheel, and the number in the box is your blood alcohol content.” The first thing I did was try to calculate my BAC from the weekend before. The wheel did not go that high.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, however, I am able to calculate now what my BAC was. A pint and a quarter of hard liquor is equivalent to 13 or so shots, which I consumed in less than 15 minutes while weighing no more than 140 pounds. That equates to a BAC of 0.373. That should’ve killed my ass. Luckily, evolution programmed in the old “reverse drink” specifically to keep the genes of people stupid enough to ingest poison in the gene pool for some odd reason. Go figure.
Some people would have walked away from that experience and never touched alcohol again. I know I vowed to do just that about four thousand times the next day. But before the month was out, Eric and I were sneaking off with a box of wine (!) we had liberated from his parents. After all, we were worldly men and hell, I’d been drinking since I was two.