Posts Tagged ‘Drinking


Going for a Song

A bartender the other day was telling someone a few stools down from me about a regular he served the night before. He was some corporate lawyer drunk who the bartender theorized had a need to subdue his conscience with booze.

“It doesn’t work, but he has fun trying,” he said. And they all laughed.

“You can tell when he’s wasted because he reads the closed captioning.” He gestured toward the TVs stationed behind the bar. “He sings it. He sings the closed captioning.”

I looked up at the television sets. Words scrolled, line by line, disappearing up into a netherworld of text. It just keeps coming and coming, with spelling errors, with missing words, missing phrases. Sometimes it’s just gibberish for a few seconds until something, a computer or a human, catches up.

“He always said the closed captioning looked like Morrissey lyrics,” continued the bartender.

Well, I’m not sure if this says more about the lawyer or about Morrissey.


Without the Brown Bag

As often as I am at my local bar, which is, shall we say, not infrequently, he must be there even more often. I see him whenever I am there.

He’s one of those old timers. Been going there forever. I imagine he’s seen the place change owners over the years. And he rocks that same barstool day by day and year by year. He owns that stool. Should he leave it for a minute to take a leak and come back to find it occupied, he spares no one’s feelings to get it back, and he’ll hover and wait patiently, though almost indignantly, until he is reinstalled to his rightful place.

The bartenders indulge him. I don’t know what his limit is. And I can’t say what condition he arrives in, but by the time I get there, he is sitting propped up on a stool at the bar. Usually he’s sleeping, despite the loud Latin music. Or he seems to be sleeping, his head cocked to the side and chin thrust downward onto his chest. In front of him is a bundle of newspaper, a glass of red wine, and a glass mug of something resembling water. Someone once told me it was something stronger.

I never see him sipping the wine, but it goes by and by. He gets refills a couple of times a night, speaking only to the bartender.

He was thin as a younger man but is now filling out in his middle age, with short neat hair and round glasses. I once imagined he was an accountant or a lawyer. But his voice, deep and gruff like a truck driver’s, doesn’t seem to match his frame. Someone once told me he’s a doorman in one of the more posh buildings nearby, but the only uniform I’ve seen him wear is an oversize gray sweatshirt and some baggy khaki pants.

He is harmless and inert. He inhabits his own world, and he occupies it grandly, passing an entire night without interacting with a soul, but he is as undeniable a presence as the pool table. He is a complete stranger, but as familiar as the cashier at the grocery store.

And for all his apparent alcoholism, who among us is better than he is? Our only advantage is that we are more animated, and we’re not there alone. But how often have I see that cash register inexplicably flash “Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning…” over and over and over, ad infinitum? How many times have I seen that single LED clock above the door click over past 3 a.m.? How often have I sat at that bar and not said a word?

So we don’t judge him, because it’s too much like looking at ourselves. Why do you think there are so many mirrors in a bar? We just leave him be. Who knows the circumstance and the moment of weakness that could deliver any one of us to where he is now. I don’t know his name. And I feel no need to sentimentally “give” him one. We just wonder out loud about him like we’re observing a passive zoo animal or objectively analyzing a piece of art. I don’t think he hears us.


Erin Go Blah

On March 17th, he’s the man.

St. Patrick’s Day just ended, and not a moment too soon.

I never was too jazzed about St. Patrick’s Day. And that’s fine. If it’s your bag, you’re welcome to it. St. Patrick doesn’t need my approval. Since driving the serpents (or pagans) from Ireland, he’s been driving millions of Americans to drink. Far be it from me to quarrel with ill-advised drinking binges. I just wonder if it all gets a bit insulting at times.

It’s one thing for Irish folks to go out and celebrate their heritage with a few too many pints and all the corned beef and cabbage they can handle — and even for their non-Irish friends to join them in the revelry. Far more than the feast day of a Catholic saint, revered for various and sundry miraculous works and acts of selflessness, this day is now an occasion for people to tramp through town, bar to bar, from early morning to late night, in green wigs and enormous green Cat-in-the-Hat chapeaux, shamrocks painted on their faces. It is a bastardization of a religious observation-turned-national-holiday. It is an entire culture reduced to a cartoon. For many on St. Patrick’s Day, moreso than any other day, “Irish” equals “drunk.”

New York is the city of parades. Everybody’s got one: lovers of Christmas, trick-or-treaters, wearers of Easter bonnets, gays, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Irish. We love identity politics in this city. It’s a defense against anonymity. And I love a parade, but honestly I’d rather watch golf. And so would a lot of other people, I guess. I didn’t see heaving throngs of spectators yesterday on TV.

This year’s parade was plagued with bad publicity. Some Irish groups got upset because the MTA banned alcohol from suburban transit lines. They claim the MTA is targeting and discriminating against Irish. Truthfully, maybe they should ban alcohol on all holidays, to be fair. Seems to me, though, folks should have no trouble getting their drink on well before or well after riding that train.

The GLBT community has long been upset because we are excluded from being publicly gay in the parade. It’s a long-standing struggle. Irish-American lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has boycotted the parade for this very reason, opting instead to march with the Irish in Dublin at their invitation.

Governor Eliot Spitzer wasn’t there today, either. He was upstate in Rochester, the first time in 12 years a New York governor wasn’t in Manhattan on this day. Some have seen this as a slight against parade organizers. Some have seen this as quiet opposition to the gay ban. (I doubt this. Spitzer doesn’t seem to do much quietly.)

The latest controversy this year involves a dispute between parade organizers and the FDNY. The firefighters were moved from the front of the march back about 35 spots as apparent punishment for an episode last year. Apparently, a contingent of New Orleans firefighters who joined in the festivities to thank New York for its support after Hurricane Katrina held things up a bit and threw the parade a half hour off schedule. Oh, and Committee President John Dunleavy also said that the firemen are usually drunk in the parade anyway, so nyaa nyaa!

It seems like everyone’s fighting about this parade. Only a non-native New Yorker such as myself would dare ask: Is it even worth it?


Guess You Had to Be There

One of my favorite drunk friend stories — with some compensation for the bits I don’t quite perfectly remember:

So, she’s new in her grad school program. One Saturday night, she’s out to see a band play at some bar with some fellow students and some guys she met in the process of buying the tickets on craigslist. They’re having a great time, getting wasted, letting off steam, getting better acquainted. After the show they decide to continue drinking elsewhere. One of them knows a great place. They all pile into a cab and go.

She gets out of the cab after paying the driver and runs up to the sidewalk to rejoin her friends. But suddenly it seems they don’t know where they’re going. She gets kind of annoyed.

“Hey, guys, where are we going? What’s going on?”

OK, fine, they say. So they turn to enter a bar, and she follows them in. Moments later, they’ve all got beers, and she’s laughing and having a great time, and everyone seems to be getting along. A few of the guys are sort of standoffish, but hey, no big deal, right? she thinks. She’s mostly talking to one guy in particular, anyway, who turns to her at one point and says, “Hey, I gotta ask you one thing: Who the hell are you?”

“What do you mean?” she says.

“I mean, who are you?” he says. “What’s your name? Who are you?”

She holds her beer a little tighter and looks at him hard, a little offended. “What do you mean, ‘Who am I?’ We’ve been hanging out all night. We went to that show. We had a great time. We caught a cab. And then we came here,” she says.

“Uh … no,” he says. “We” — he gestures slowly to himself and his friends — “didn’t go to any show. You got out of a cab and just sort of followed us in here. And here you are. We have no idea who you are.”

She looks at each of them in turn, and it slowly dawns on her that she doesn’t know the other guys. Wait a minute. She doesn’t know this guy either. She looks around the bar. Where are the guys she came in with? She thinks back to the cab. They were right there? Where did they go?

The next day her friends would tell her that after they got out of the cab, she simply disappeared. They went one way and she must have gone the other. They assumed she went home. Instead, she had joined up with a group of complete strangers, followed them into a bar and started buying rounds with them.

All these guys know is that some strange girl just walks up to them out of the blue acting like she knows them. “Hey, guys! Let’s go!” It’s fine. She’s funny and cute. Each one thinks that one of the others must know her … until they all realize that none of them actually does.

“Uhh…,” she says.

The guy’s three friends are so disgusted with the whole thing that they just throw their hands up and walk away.

“Oh my god,” he says. “That’s so crazy. You have to let me buy you a drink.”

She sits with him a little while longer, but she’s feeling a little sick to her stomach. But they were right there!. She puts down her beer.

“Um, I think I’d better go.”


Death and … (Well, You Know…)

Three things are inevitable in this world. In order of difficulty: Death, taxes and the propensity for party guests to stain one’s rugs. (This, among other reasons, is why white carpet is a cardinal sin.)

Death… well, let’s not get into that right now.

And I am coping rather well, I think, with the recent news that I owe thousands of dollars to the governments of the United States and the state of New York. That’s the big news in my life, at present. I just did my taxes last night and accidentally opened an artery. Those paper cuts can be a bitch.

At this rate I’ll be serving government cheese and generic brand soda crackers at the Oscar Night gathering we’re planning for Sunday. It’s not a party, I hasten to clarify. It’s a very small gathering.

At an Easter party we threw last year — bloody marys and mimosas; boiled eggs, kielbasa and saurkraut — a few of our thirstier guests wreaked unintentional (i.e., drunken) havoc on our floors, spilling red wine or cranberry juice (or both — who brought the wine anyway?) on literally every rug in our apartment. The colors in our rugs run from beige to gold, gray to brown. Mostly neutral tones, except for a blue, white and gray rug in the bedroom. You don’t exactly need a map to hit the lighter, easy-to-stain areas, but our guests were a consistent lucky shot.

A tempest in my head roiled and sent electricity coursing up my spine every time I saw someone teetering this way and that, red wine or a strong cape cod sloshing dangerously close to the edge of his or her plastic cup.

I had been told that cold water and salt will usually lift the color out of a wine stain. So I got all Martha Stewart and managed get the stains out. I kept calm and maintained a good host’s smile — and, to a degree, conversation — while I flitted from spot to spot all night, liberally sprinkling Morton’s. (When it rains, it does indeed pour.) The rugs remained largely unspoiled, and I felt spiritually and emotionally purged. It was a triumph.

After that trauma, however, I think we’ll have white wine this time on Sunday. And white cranberry juice. (But I’ll have my spot remover, my yellow rubber gloves and a salt shaker at the ready, stashed behind the couch, anyway — just in case!)


Kidney Tones (with apologies to Jeff)

From the cover art of Wain’s 2001 release That Was Then, This is Now

These days, my good friend Wain sticks mainly to cranberry juice. He jokes now about his bar tab. Not long ago, he’d drop a twenty at the most on a night out, because so many people would buy him drinks and the bartenders would do him favors. But no one gets anyone a cranberry juice, even good friends. He has to buy his own. And at a bar they charge you like it’s a cocktail. So now he spends much more not drinking than he ever did drinking.

He’s no alcoholic, and this is no 12-step program. Trust me, if he had his druthers, Wain would be back to the booze — free or not. But he’s got a problem with his kidneys that makes alcohol highly … um … disagreeable to his system. He’s on doctor’s orders. (And when that doctor is from the Mayo Clinic, one doesn’t argue.)

Wain’s kidneys are functioning at roughly 6 percent capacity. He needs a new one pretty badly. And as a musician, he doesn’t have heaps of disposable income and he doesn’t have great health insurance. He does have three things, however, in abundance: luck, friends and connections.

The luck came in at a bar in Walker, Minnesota, out in the north woods. He plays up there sometimes. At this bar, by chance, he met a doctor. That doctor knew a kidney specialist at Mayo. And suddenly there was Wain’s golden opportunity. Introductions made … 87 miles each way between Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota … tests taken … and voilà! We have a surgeon and we have a donor (one of Wain’s brothers).

The friends came in shortly thereafter. A bunch of musicians decided to get together to produce a benefit concert on March 10. Wain fronted a funk/reggae band in the ’80s and ’90s called Ipso Facto, and he’s been around the block a few times, having played with Prince’s band, Dave Pirner, Jonny Lang, UB40, Tracy Chapman and scores of others. This is where connections come in.

A few years back, Wain’s brother was Cyndi Lauper’s tour manager, and she became friendly with the family. Wain tells me he once saw her at a party in a gorilla costume. A musician he mentored toured with her. When she performed at the Minnesota State Fair in 2004, she let Wain sing “Time After Time” with her, letting him ad lib a verse dedicated to his late sister. She brought him back out on stage for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Wain and her bass player spun into an impromptu reggae jam.

A connection.


So, we are told, Ms. Lauper has graciously agreed to lend some of her time and abundant talent to the cause. And many other people he’s worked with are helping out, too: Lifehouse, Mint Condition, Soul Asylum. You can read about it on her Web site.

Wain was our neighbor for more than three years. His wife Catherine, another good friend, was our landlady. He sang at our wedding. We planted vegetable gardens and herb gardens together. They babysat our cat. We’ve had Easters and Thanksgivings. We’ve dined on curried goat. We’ve toasted aquavit. He once gave us 15 lbs. of crab legs (there wasn’t enough room in his freezer for 30 lbs.) because the parents of a kid he tutored are fishmongers and they paid Wain in fish.

We just saw Wain right before Christmas. And I guess we’ll be back in March. Apparently he thinks we don’t visit enough, so he’s hauling out the heavy ammunition. I’ll take any excuse to go back to my adopted home for a visit. Even in a month as c-c-cold as March. But it’s not Cyndi Lauper who’s luring us back. It’s the prospect of being part of a concert full of people who are there to give their love to my friend.

(Truth be told, having Cyndi Lauper there, too, doesn’t hurt.)

To all my Minnesotans: Please buy tickets!


Hi, my name is Chip, and I’ll be on your shoulder this evening.

Last night at the bar, a friend and I were distracted by a beautiful man taking off his shirt. He was standing with his back against the bar, facing us. A small cadre of piranhas had gathered around him. The guy who had asked him to disrobe — let’s call him Chip — draped the shirt briefly and inexplicably across my friend’s shoulder. Pleased to be included in the proceedings, we continued watching. How could we not?

Seconds later, the heavenly creature was persuaded to drop his pants to his ankles. We all cooed in approval. He was hairless, except for a trail of fuzz that ran south from his tight navel and dashed seductively under the waistband of his powder-blue briefs. Chip then grabbed the waistband and unceremoniously yanked the shorts down hard.

The guy put on a good show of being embarrassed and tugged them half-heartedly back up his thighs, but Chip was pretty insistent about leaving him exposed.

My friend and I looked at each other. “That’s not something you see every day at this bar,” I said, loud enough for everyone around me to hear. Like the red-blooded American homosexual males we are, we continued to react loudly and enthusiastically to the gentleman’s sudden and unexpected nudity.

Chip turned half-way to us and said something we couldn’t understand. Something about chocolate.


He repeated himself louder, or said something similar, but it still wasn’t making sense to us. It was something like: “You can stop talking about chocolate now. I know you don’t like the chocolate boys.”

My friend and I were incredulous. Who said anything about chocolate? Was he talking about black boys?

Whatever it was, Chip continued laying into us. It seemed that he was accusing us of being racist. Chip is African American. But we had said nothing about him. We had said nothing to him. We weren’t even looking at him. We were too distracted — and rightfully so — by the gloriously indecent exposure before us.

“Dude,” my friend said, “We don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

“We’re not talking about you, if that’s what you think,” I added. “We were talking about the naked guy.”

Chip was clearly agitated, and he continued his tirade. The more he said, the more worked up he got. There was something menacing and cold in his voice. It was all so sad and stupid. A moment that was so frivolous and harmless and fun had been sucked dry in just a few seconds by this guy, and all because of assumptions he was making about us. Who’s the racist here?

I wanted to try to figure out what he thought he’d heard us say so we could defuse the situation and move away without any trouble. I imagined we might laugh uneasily at the silly misunderstanding — uh heh heh heh… — and assume stations at opposite ends of the bar without any fuss. And I might have tried to play the peasemaker if he hadn’t then turned to my friend directly and said, “And by the way, I’m better-looking then you are, too.”

My friend sort of recoiled, wide-eyed and incredulous. It was making less and less sense. Chip then let loose on several aspects of my friend’s appearance. Chip evidently did not approve of certain things. What the hell was going on? He was fighting back with personal insults when we never even attacked him (or addressed him, for that matter) in the first place?

“Whoa… wait a minute. Where did that come from?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Hey, fuck you!” my friend shouted back.

At this point, I grabbed my friend’s bag and pushed it into his hand. “This is crazy. Let’s just go,” I said, not wanting to see who might get hurt if the situation escalated (it was less likely to be my friend).

Neither of us knew what Chip had heard or what he was going on about. “Bravo,” I said to him. “Have a lovely night.”

“Yeah, you too,” he said coldly.

“You bet,” I said. “Of course.”

I tugged at my friend and we headed toward the door. “Yeah, fuck you, you little asshole,” he yelled to Chip.

And when I got outside, I realized that I was in such a hurry to get away from the danger that I had forgotten to say good-byr to any of the peopel we were with. A complete stranger’s idiocy had just completely scared me out onto the sidewalk.


The Real Tragedy of Alcoholism…

…is the taste of non-alcoholic beer.


In, around and through

Last night at the bar, my boyfriend Jeff was outside on the smoking patio out front with some friends. I could see them through the floor-to-ceiling windows from where I was standing, safe and warm inside. (I secretly relish the new no-smoking laws.)

I wasn’t paying much attention to the smokers, but before long one of my friends ran into the bar in hysterics. A good joke outside, I guessed. I didn’t ask. Smokers have their own social structures and habits and laws when they get together, and I think it wise not to interfere.

I learned later that a guy on his way out to smoke, who must have been a.) forgetful, b.) blind drunk, or c.) just blind, smacked into the door at full stride. Cracked his face right into the window. Must have looked great from the other side where Jeff and the guys were standing. He made a funny face and everything. Stood there stunned for a few seconds. It was a scene from a slapstick movie come true.

Naturally, Jeff and the guys later claimed they were laughing with, not at, the hapless gentleman. Seems reasonable. I’ll concede, however, that probably the bouncers and the bartender and the drinkers inside and certainly the friends the guy came with were laughing at him.

Whatever his motivation, the guy then opened the door, stepped outside, hopped the short gate between the patio and the sidewalk, and scurried away. I presume he had that smoke somewhere further down the street where it was quieter.

the untallied hours