Although I had worked up a routine during the last week of November and the first three weeks of December that was great at isolating me from the people around me through a slow degradation of my physical and psychological health, I was not immune to the outside world. It just took time for me to catch up. Instead of feeling the pinch of Christmas on that busiest shopping day of the year, as some do, my world was turned on its head when, upon looking at the calendar on a Sunday afternoon, I realized it was already the twenty-first. Others, I’m sure, would have gone into a panic and begun making crazily itemized lists that would encompass everyone’s desires and send them off to a multitude of stores. I merely worried about finding a day that I got off early enough to get my shopping done and still enjoy my couch and the six-beer minimum I now required most nights. I found the night, and headed to The Universe of Books—a place where I could conveniently get all my gifts, get credit on my book club account and, later, brag about shopping at a locally-owned business. I celebrated that night by easily besting the above stated minimum, forgetting that I had budgeted time for neither the partial night it would take to wrap all the books nor the extra family time I’d be required to put in due to my brother flying in for the holiday.
I was able to make time one night to wrap presents, although it was not under the best of conditions. I was on my third beer when I remembered that this was the night I’d set aside to get this done, and I wasn’t the best wrapper in the first place, but luckily books being rectangular made them one of the easiest items to wrap. It didn’t occur to me until later that I probably shouldn’t have been taking puffs in-between gifts. I certainly wasn’t going to unwrap them, air out the pages and start over, but I spent the days leading up to the big day hoping that no one would get a big whiff of stale smoke when they ripped open the paper. As for my brother, he was not going to be flying in until late Christmas Eve, and so all the family events would take place from the sacred morning forward, leaving me with the night before to have as my own.
It seemed like a perfect night to drink, although at this point, for me, most nights did. I used the beautiful snowfall, which was expected to become more violent, as an excuse to stock up on beer and blackberry wine, in case I couldn’t leave the house. Fruit wines had never really been a consideration for me until the season and my ever-growing thirst for something new to drink necessitated I try them. While it was probably more because of the latter, it certainly seemed festive. They’re like pie that gets you drunk, and who doesn’t like a big slice of pie during the winter months? Even being the type of guy who shied away from desserts most of the time, I certainly did, and I certainly liked getting drunk.
Owing to the storm, my friend was also going to be making his own plans for the night, as he deemed it too risky to test the roads and attend his family event,and opted instead to stay at home and slam beers. A third just hated his family, and treated the evening as any other in which he had the next day off. Mother Nature can sometimes be the perfect excuse for our vices, whether it’s a cold weizen on a hot summer’s day, enjoying a Marzen when the colorful leaves begin to fall or cracking open a Maibock to celebrate the first big thaw. Other than the weather outside being so frightful, however, there wasn’t much festive about the night I spent with two of the only guys that drank enough to stand hanging out with me. As I had turned into a huge pothead by then, although I would have denied it had you asked me then, I wanted someone to smoke with me to make me feel like what I was doing was normal. The only other person I knew who smoked—the guy I mainly hung out with because the amount he smoked dwarfed me and, I felt, justified my own use—was out of town, so I tried convincing these two to go back to their old habits. It took some persuasion, but the thought I planted in their heads that getting stoned would somehow help them spread Christmas cheer won out in the end. We spent the night zoning out to a video game from the early nineties, and I pleased myself greatly by making the smart decision to stay there rather than battle the storm and my inebriation.
If Christmas Eve hadn’t been associated with drinking long before my time, I probably would have considered it much too sacred an evening to spend liquored up. I was reminded of these feelings briefly due to TBS and its annual “Twenty-Four Hours of A Christmas Story.” It’s not a religious feeling at all, and not one linked with the crash consumerism decried by so many but practiced by so many more. It’s completely a TV thing. Anyone in my generation who grew up with a set in their house would have had to work hard to avoid the mystique hammered into them by the “Santa Clause Is Comin’ to Town” family of puppetry movies, which I love, and anyone who’s interested at all in film, TV or theatre would have had the same done by the constant reworkings of A Christmas Carol. This year, my first without a television, I found myself buying a copy of all five of Dickens’s Christmas Books. Looking back at some of the stupid and lazy things I did while in this sotted period of my life, one of the things I regret the most is that, all through December, I was unable to finish even the first short novel. Literature, which had once been my only real escape from the troubles of the world, and the one thing that separated me from the anti-intellectualism of the common man, fell by the wayside so that I could take a few years off of my liver.
I didn’t realize at the time, but I was creating opportunities for use where they would have seemed extraordinarily out-of-place before. Owing to the long night of blackberry wine and XBOX controllers, I needed to smoke pot Christmas morning, to rid myself of some of the worst symptoms of my hangover, before making my way to the family gathering. The one area I give myself credit for is that it did not affect my ability to look my best. I showed up dressed better than I’d hoped to do at any point in the past month, and I think this distracted from my glazed-over, half-open eyes. On the way, I wanted to pick up something festive so as to not show up empty-handed. My culinary skills had once again been insulted when I was not asked to bring a dish to pass, so I bought a bottle of Lambic at the corner liquor store—somewhat to pass around, but mostly so I’d get at least one drink in during my time at the party. Things went pretty much how they had at Thanksgiving—I thanked everyone for their generous compliments on my outfit before failing at conversation once more and relegating myself to being the awkward guy in the corner. The difference this time was that, being so close to home at my parents’ house, I could leave, within reason, whenever I wanted. I had my glass of Cherry beer, along with a bock my dad insisted he’d never get around to drinking, and left before any of the more-conservative members of my family expressed any concerns about my ability to drive home. Unbeknownst to them, I would be heading to the local bar, and I would have given them ample reason to express those concerns had they seen me when I finally left town.
I was more than a bit disappointed by my trip downtown. I stayed bright-eyed enough to scope out any females that might be interested in a well-dressed gentleman, but tipsy enough that I shouldn’t have driven home. The scoping just wasn’t that good though, and I probably knew, somewhere in my mind, that it wouldn’t be. Women seem to revel in the squeaky-clean façade that everyone feels the need to display on holidays, and men seem to flock to bars to avoid it and to be reminded of the ugliness of everyday living. There weren’t many better places to revel in common unpleasantries than this humble tavern. I took the time I’d hoped to spend flirting with lovely young ladies to think about just how little I’d done anything close to flirting since my brief encounter with the Thanksgiving Mistress.
Pretty much ever since I’d graduated from high school, drinking and sex had an ongoing battle for my complete brain power. While neither had ever fully taken control, booze seemed quite a few lengths ahead at this point. I told myself that I had come to drink in a shitty bar with my mind on taking home some snow bunny, but there was no denying that I had come here to drink. Snow bunnies were an afterthought, as they seemed to have been for the past month. As evidence of alcohol being poised to win this battle, while I often still thought about sex at this point—whenever I saw a cute girl, smelled a perfume that reminded me of a past crush, heard what could be mistaken as an orgasmic squeal or even such an innocent word as “plump,” or, on the rare occasions I was in close quarters with a female, when I happened to brush up against a boob or butt—drinking always became incorporated in the fantasy. The image comes into my head of not just me and my subject fucking, but of us going out for drinks together or meeting by chance when we’d each gone out separately. Either way, in my imagination I have to be in that perfect state of whiskeydick that seemed so necessary for me to communicate my desires to one of the opposite sex.
Disappointed that my already blunted libido would again have no outside motivation, I took advantage of the joint I’d rolled for the ride home while listening to “A John Prine Christmas.” Things could have been so much better, but I was sated. My focus was on getting through the week I had to endure before the world finally got to that most fabulous of drunkard holidays—New Year’s Eve!