After spending Wednesday in a state of shock—joined with my co-workers in that we were all shocked by her departure yet separated due to the fact that they were mourning the loss of a rising star in the company while I’d only be grieving the loss of the officemate I liked to ogle—I was happy to have the next day (Thanksgiving) off to relax and get things together. It was a good opportunity, since the previous two drinking bouts had been limited, to really get tanked. I started the day well enough, choosing to take the sweater-and-oxford combo that had worked such wonders in Iowa down a notch by substituting jeans for freshly-pressed slacks, and got to the bar just as I was finishing my morning coffee—shortly after noon. To keep up the healthy glow I hoped I was showing, I began with a vitamin-rich Bloody Mary. It was good, but spicy and thick and hard to drink at the pace I wanted to keep myself at. I was ready for a cool beer before I was halfway down the glass.
I did not have that refreshing beer, at least not just then, due to the first patron other than myself to enter the tavern that day. Not a friend in any way, just an acquaintance from high school who had turned into a cell phone-pushing tool. I hadn’t seen him since our fantasy draft, and we mainly talked about how lucky I was to have drafted Kurt Warner. He was also a lover of a good mix of vodka, tomato juice, various spices and a brisk autumn morning, I learned that day, and also generous. Hawking technology instead of going to college had done him well, apparently, because when I finally got to the bottom of that first drink he offered to buy me another. I obviously couldn’t accept a dollar-fifty beer at a time like that, and went for another of the same. I figured a little more hard liquor wouldn’t affect me too much, at least not as much as the growing influence of future company would.
The small group that entered next seemed only vaguely familiar when we first started drinking together, then bruised my thinking for the rest of the night. It was an aunt and two cousins of the man pouring drinks, and although they joined me in the symbiotic relationship I was enjoying, wherein he provided us with free drinks while we did our best to offer company, I didn’t notice the family resemblance at first. The bartender is overly friendly with his regulars, and more cordial to strangers than I’d be to even my closest friends, so I assumed his generosity was all part of a plan to get larger tips. It wasn’t until I removed myself from the situation and relocated to the closed-for-the-holiday kitchen, where I could smoke pot and blow it into the overhead exhaust vent, that I was given my first clue that I had drank with the masculine cousin in my younger and wilder days. Downloadable jukeboxes can be a godsend for folks looking to play the new slightly-danceable track from a relatively-obscure band from New York, like myself, but I found out that day that they’re also well-suited to metalheads wishing to hear someone scream about drinking blood and giving heroin to babies.
It was then, as he showed off his metallic pipes, that I came to realize that he was one in a group of crazy assholes whose drinking games had led to me downing twelve beers in an hour one night. I suppose I can be forgiven for leaving without a clear picture of all the attendees. The fun of the games, by that time in my life, came from nostalgia. It was during my later college days, when barrooms and pool halls had already sucked out of me most of the desire for the insane binge drinking 52 basic cards had caused me to delve into so many times. We talked a bit, and what resurfaced of some cloudy memories helped lift my spirits, but the major victory of my simple conversation, and the recognition of the fact that I had met two of these three before, came about because it instantly endeared me to the fam. I certainly didn’t try to play the sad sack, but it came out in our little chat that I was at the bar rather than at a relative’s house mainly because of a lack of plans with either kith or kin.
That terse statement turned the bar for a time into a rowdy pity party, with all three insisting that I needed to come over and get a good meal in me. At first I gave only a hesitant affirmation that I’d be there, but my resolve was gradually worn down by the newfound rapt attention delivered to me by the daughter, whose mildly jutting stomach and twisted smile began to disappear with the intake of more vodka. She had made the first move—bringing her beer over to me and occupying the adjoining seat—and things grew more intimate once we realized that I had previously worked at the nursing home where she was currently employed. The plans for reunification were sealed with a side hug that I modified slightly to get a gentle press on her ample bosom.
When they left, and the clearer side of my thinking began to once again prevail, I realized how awkward it would be to show up at a family event after spending all day drinking. Still, I was curious enough to probe for some details. After all, things had been pretty lonely in the three months since I’d last had a female come near my bared unit. The bartender didn’t have a lot of information, but was able to share that he thought she was a few years younger than the shots of Wild Turkey she was downing would suggest. She had only been delivered these because she was related to the one pouring, who estimated her at eighteen or nineteen. Also, he thought I may run into a live-in boyfriend if I were to stop for dinner. This information was very discouraging, and the next hour spent shooting pool with a guy who was being paid to keep me company offered little relief from the constant balancing act going on in my mind over what I should do.
By the time I had officially switched to beer, and had quickly downed my first glass, my body suddenly realized that it had been taking in alcohol this whole time and not just empty vitamins. I had a fairly strong buzz lit underneath me, which didn’t help the thinking process at all, and decided a short coffee break might do me good. Because I came to this realization while the bartender was out for a fag, I decided to take the initiative to go behind the bar and figure how to manipulate the monstrous industrial coffee maker into brewing a single cup. As the door opened, and the only other company I’d have for the day stepped in, I grew terrified that I’d forever be outcast for entering the forbidden zone. Luckily, it was just two guys I’d gone to community college with and a brother of one. Good people to drink with, for sure, and some variety at the pool table as opposed to getting my ass handily kicked each time I played.
Unfortunately, none of the three had pursued graduate studies in mixology and all insisted that I drink my coffee with a touch of Bailey’s—a combination I avoided even on March 17. I’d even gotten into an argument eight months before when the bartender had insisted, citing the internet, that this was the recipe for Irish coffee. I’d called him an idiot for saying so. In truth, I wasn’t a big fan of either, or of hot alcohol in general, but with three pals egging me on and the full roam of the bar, I couldn’t say no to a dash. Peer pressure had caused me to have sitting in front of me not only an unpleasant-tasting drink, but also an alcoholic one, which is what I had made the coffee to get way from in the first place. Shortly after choking this down, I told these guys that I’d love to stay and drink with them, but that I had to ride around with the bartender, who was just getting off, and get high. He was sans reefer, and had done as much for me on multiple occasions. I invited the riff-raff, and two of the three accepted. The third felt the tug of his fat wife calling him home. I’ve already mentioned that my buzz had been a slow creeper that had felt like the dull ache of vodka sticking with me most of the day before sharpening up with the first beer, but I hadn’t taken into account that my cannabis intake had been very moderate up to that point. Now that I was going for broke by taking the whole weed party on the road with me, the haze around my skull was thickening to an unhealthy level. Trapped in that cloud, floating above the other random thoughts of the day, was the last phone call taken by the gentle barkeep before he left work. It was from the cousin, who looked gorgeous in my ethanol-fueled hindsight, wondering why I hadn’t stopped by yet. Knowing I’d probably never see these people again if I didn’t make the visit, I had him deliver a hollow promise that I’d stop by and tabled the issue in my head, where it remained while I took part in this last joyous experience of the day.
If you had asked me right after we returned what the route had been on our short trip, I probably would have given you only a red-eyed stare, owing to the aforementioned cloud of smoke, booze and weighty ideas. All I would have remembered is that the ride had given me a chance to at least lean strongly to one side on the choice I had to make, as once we returned to our starting point I thought I had made a final decision to stop in. Little did I know that it was really only the first in a short series of pendulum swings. My thinking had been largely influenced by my recent girl problems. What better way was there to get over the loss of an imaginary lover than to gain an actual one? Looking back, there are probably much better ways, as really putting your dick in something causes many more problems than just thinking about doing it. When I got behind the wheel, however, I didn’t even need that much insight to immediately regret my decision. I went into reverse and decided that straight home would be the best way to go. Unfortunately, I had to overcome half of my twelve-mile trip home before that decision became final and succumbed to yet another change of heart. Oddly enough, the final two shifts in thinking had the same underlying premise—that I had drank way too much. My first thought was that I would be the guy at the party too drunk to do anything other than be laughed at. This was a position I had been in many times before, and not one I wanted to be in at a family gathering. My second thought was that, due to the kitchen being open only to potheads looking for a place to get high for the holiday, I hadn’t eaten anything—another reason why my intoxication had alluded me to this point. Seeing as I was driving, and always paranoid about taking this particular road after having a few too many drinks, I came to the conclusion that a short pit stop might do me some good. In truth, I had basically compromised between my two lines of thinking. By focusing on the food instead of trying to bang a girl I’d just met that day, who was not even that attractive, I’d be much less likely to make a fool of myself. I didn’t read people well even when I was sober, so trying to determine whether someone in a crowded house was dating my recent lust interest would have been near impossible at the level of intoxication I was coming in at.
I had been to the house once before, and was given directions immediately before I went, but probably still would have backed out at the last minute had my confidence not been bolstered by seeing the family’s name printed in large letters on the garage. The first thing I noticed upon entering was a group of shitbag-age males smoking from a huge bong. I went by after only a brief hello, partly because my mind was so focused on food and partly because I was still in cordiality mode from my own Family Thanksgiving, causing me to want to extend a thank you to the host before she thought me ungrateful. During this trip into the kitchen I met the grandmother I’d heard a few scattered sentences about in the bar. I leaned in for a hug and got the real thing on the cheek followed by a compliment on my youthful good looks. From there I went for the spread, which was very disappointing. Family Thanksgiving dinners usually have at least one dish that’s either fun, exceptionally tasty or at least worth mentioning for its adventurous spirit, but here I got only a basic plate of turkey, mashed tates, gravy, green bean casserole and creamed corn. Nothing on my plate stood out from the rest, but I had come for the caloric value, and a well-prepared dish would have been wasted on my inebriated taste buds anyway. As I went in the direction I was pointed for a beer, the group of potheads accosted me, and I was made to take large inhalations between bites. So much for sobriety on the way home.
I excused myself rather abruptly, I suppose, after finishing my first unsatisfying helping and making a second appearance in the kitchen. My attempts at conversation with two guys I guessed were uncles fell flat, and my brief sighting of the girl who had so occupied my mind earlier that day had been more than a little awkward. I probably should have let a joyous brief encounter be just that, but at the time my mind was still in the gutter and my dick still anxious to be whetted. If I had really wanted the pause in my trip home to be a sobering experience, and one that would help me concentrate on the road, I had failed miserably. In addition to downing another beer and getting stoned out of my mind, I spent the rest of my ride sending a series of unreturned and increasingly odd text messages to the drink-pouring matchmaker who had set this all up in the first place. I remember the first being straightforward and informative, simply stating that I had stopped to eat, while the last one was a 160-character-limit-testing rant about how I wanted people to like me and the way I dress followed by a plea for him to “put a good word in to his female cousbalz.”
He wasn’t the only one too busy to communicate. As I sat listening to music and moving closer and closer to insanity, I found myself scrolling through my phone looking for a sympathetic ear and finding none. I guess there is at least one disadvantage to not having family plans for the holidays. When the portable CD player that I’d had since I was in seventh grade, and that was my only option for listening to recorded music at that time, ran out of batteries, I had to make a choice. I could either listen to shitty local radio, have the lunacy of my innermost thoughts completely take over, or have an early bedtime. I tried all three, in that order, and slept well in preparation for an early return to steady work in the morning.