This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for…oh…two days now. I know, a looong time for contemplating a write-up. But it is a something I’ve pondered in some form or another. My relationship to alcohol is a precarious one at best. There have been good moments, bad moments, and…moments I can’t remember. (Yay, college.) Lately, I thought I had that tightrope act down. I approached my relationship to beer as a cautious critic would - at arm’s length, like at a Sadie Hawkins dance.
Recent events, however, have prompted me to rethink things.
No, nothing tragic has occurred. No one was injured. My car is very much intact. The reasons for this pondering prose are far, far more pansy. And it all started Saturday.
I got off work early - like two whole hours early! Totally unheard of in my field during the peak season. My first impulse was to head out to a tearoom, which I did. Smith Teamaker, to be precise. And, boy, am I glad I did! Darjeeling samples greeted me on arrival. Fate is with me this day, I thought.
Afterwards, I made a jaunt over to Southeast Portland to pay a pit stop to one of my favorite haunts - The Green Dragon. For those not in the Portland know, it’s a bar owned by Rogue Brewing, and it has a “botanical” brewery called Buckman attached. Three or four tea-beers I’ve had in the past were notched off here. It also has the unfortunate reputation of being a well-known hipster den. Luckily, not so much the day I went.
I settled in on a bar stool with a pint - a beer brewed from shiitake mushrooms, no less. (Yes, you read that right.)
While I people watched, I also perused the ol’ Facebook newsfeed. A friend of mine - whom I hadn’t seen in a year - posted that she wanted visitors at her work. It was right next door to where I was barstooled. I chimed in and said I would jaunt over for a spell.
Making the merry trot a block down, I visited with said friend, waxed nostalgic a bit, and moved on to pint number two. A Ninkasi something-er-other. An IPA, I think; they all seem to be IPAs. A bit of time passed, and I got it into my slightly foggy head to visit another friend at his work. It was several blocks up, but I figured I could use the walk after two pints.
I’m not sure if it was the dual-dueling pints or the weather, but my senses felt heightened. Sights and sounds seemed more noticeable. Passersby, random sights, buildings of odd model-‘n-make were more fascinating to me during that jaunt. Particularly this doggie hotel. Seriously, I have no idea why I found it so hilarious.
Said friend wasn’t at his work, so I made the trek back down to where the other friend worked. She was about to get off shift, and a few minutes later we made our way to a bar across the street. A good couple of hours had elapsed; I figured I had one more pint in me. I ordered something from Double Mountain. An IPA, I think; they all seem to be IPAs.
Not sure why…but I felt incredibly socially awkward during that third pint. I was stuttering more, fumbling constantly. Vocabulary was still intact, but my delivery was more…autistic. Not drunkenly so, just…less lucid (?).
Upon returning home, I felt a headache forming. I surfed the net for a bit, then headed to bed. Still relatively clear of mind. No drunk-feeling to speak of. Or so I thought.
The next day…
Worst. Hangover. Ever.
My head felt like it was in a French press, my stomach cycled in on itself at the first budge of wakefulness, and I uttered a simple, raspy, “Owwww.”
It didn’t feel like I’d had three beers the night before; it felt like I’d consumed a keg. I stumbled for the shower, washed a bit of the “hurting” away, brewed some tea, got dressed, and headed out the door. It was 7AM. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention it was a work morning? Yes, I did.
Once I scarfed down two bagels, and clanged a pint of Ceylon tea, the feeling of festering faded. I made it through the day with nary a wince of pain, save for a grumbling bad mood. The whole day still gave me pause. Three beers never had that much of an effect on me, especially in such slow succession.
By Monday, that was a distant memory. Or at least to my infamous short attention span. The work day went by swimmingly - cheerfully, even - and I left during a patch of nice weather. It felt like drinking weather. As if on cue, I received a text from my ol’ beer buddy NinjaSpecs. He was down at The Green Dragon, following up on a text I’d sent him about a certain wine-and-whiskey-barrel-aged Belgian quad that was back on tap. I never knew my car was capable of light speed until that very moment.
I downed about two 10oz. teardrop glasses while I was there - felt fine. NinjaSpecs and I came up with the bright idea to draft a friend’s house for an episode of totally wanton - but completely responsible - inebriation. This was the first time in a long time I’d planned out a night for getting completely wrecked. We had a place set up to say - no driving, at all - and I had the next two days off. Plenty of time for recovery.
We stopped and ordered greasy fast food burgers on the way for alcohol padding. Everything was going according to plan. Upon arriving at said friend’s house, we broke in some card games, and busted out an oak barrel-aged stout for first of the evening’s festivities.
I lasted only 6oz.
It happened all so suddenly. At first, I was gleefully playing and laughing, the next…my head began to pound. Thud. Thud. Thud. THUD! Words ran together whenever I talked. Sentences started in reverse - Yoda-style. Was I having a stroke?!
The original plan had been to stay the night at the friend’s house, then I was to take NinjaSpecs back to his car whenever we rousted in the morning. My body had another idea in mind. It was telling me, “Get your ass home right now, or you’ll puke your brains out all over this table. Literally, your liquid brains!”
And at that point, I choaded out on my friends. Less than two-and-a-half pints in, from within a four-hour time-frame, I pussed out on the rest of the party. I gave my sincere apologies, and made the drive home in abject humiliation. Skull splitting the entire way.
When I returned to my apartment complex, I grumbled a bit. Someone was occupying my parking spot. A white car with a “Country Girl” bumper sticker and a community college parking pass. Mumbling something along the lines of, “Durrnnn kids these days,” I called the tow company. I felt like a 90-year-old man.
The headache was mostly gone the following day. Aspirin and generous helpings of tea helped keep it at bay. My sister/roommate listened empathetically at my neurotic retelling of the last few days. She suggested, “Maybe you have a gluten sensitivity.”
I refused to listen.
I wasn’t going to be one of the gluten-free people. First and foremost, it would’ve been an insult to people I knew who had a legitimate reasons to be gluten-free. As in, innards-melting good reasons. Being a beer-wussed old man was not a reason. At least, not without proper diagnosis.
Perhaps the reason was far simpler, and far less hippie. Maybe my drinking days were done. I mean, not “cold turkey” done, but severely scaled back. My body was probably telling me that those old partying days were over. Not that I was the type to get wrecked anyway.
For well over a decade, I had imposed a two-pint rule upon myself. Given my propensity for being a lightweight, and my genetic history, I chose to limit myself to two pints in a single outing. That was my sobriety threshold. Yes, I did violate that on a few occasions. (Damn you, 14-year-old Scottish whiskey, and your deliciousness!) But generally, that was the rule o’ thumb. My comfort zone.
And now, here I sit, head still slightly ringy; my body literally telling me, “YOU. CAN’T. GO. OVER. TWO!”
I think I’ll listen now.
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