Thursday, March 6, 2014

Southern Comfort and a Very Long Day

When I was six, my mom gave me a spoonful of the brandy she occasionally used in cooking. The bottle was at least my age and hadn’t kept well. So, my first taste of alcohol deterred me for the next fifteen years. I had my first legitimate drink one month after I turned 21. It didn’t really do much for me, so I gave it up again. After graduation I enjoyed the occasional hard cider, for which my roommate mocked me relentlessly. Derision notwithstanding, drinking wasn’t really that high on my to-do list. I wasn’t taking a principled stand, I just didn’t care that much.

My unhurried entrance into the world of booze stood in sharp relief to my peers in the service industry. Unlike many of my co-workers who were self-described professional drinkers, I was playing in the tee-ball equivalent of drinking. My inaugural drink into the world of bar hopping was a shot of Jack, no chaser. It could have been worse, but I don’t recommend it. Even then, I didn’t really dive into drinking. I would have one, maybe two drinks once a week after shifts at the restaurant.

Near the end of a particularly lucrative shift for me, my friend Jenna caught me and shared the highlights of her nightmare shift, which included personal error, kitchen error, and both mean and stingy customers. She insisted that when the torture ended, I must come to the pub and drink with her. “Why not,” I thought to myself, “I’ve had a great evening; I can celebrate and commiserate in the same drink.”

The bartender was deeply sympathetic to Jenna’s plight, and when Jenna ordered us a pair of SoCo shots to go along with our standard drink orders, he poured nearly five ounces of Southern Comfort into rocks glasses for each of us. I had a vague recollection of a cautioning about the dangers of SoCo, but I couldn’t quite pin it down so I didn’t stop her from ordering the drinks. I would profoundly regret that moment over the next 24 hours.

“To great and to crappy evenings!” we opined clinking our glasses together, then bouncing them off of the countertop, barely managing to throw back the entire contents of our glasses in a single gulp. I learned instantly, that unlike my shot of Jack, this cloyingly sweet drink didn’t test my mettle at all. Sheer quantity aside, the ease with which this bite-less drink went down washed away all memory of the warning. When a third friend walked into the pub on the heels of our shot and ordered another round to participate in our triumph and defeat, I gladly consumed another five ounces, “To great and to crappy evenings!” Jenna knowing she’d be driving before the night was over, decided to pass half of her shot to me, pacing herself for the rest of the evening.

Ten minutes and ten ounces of Southern Comfort into my night, sipping at the drink I wanted in the first place, Bacardi O and Sprite, I waited for my fries, and relaxed in the corner of a booth. Our tiny cohort migrated to the tables out back to let our smokers light up their wands. If you don’t already know this, the human body absorbs alcohol at a constant rate, so as each moment passed, I became a little drunker than I was the moment before. By the time we settled around the table, drink one was gone, and I was munching on the fries which I don’t entirely remember receiving. Sitting next to me another friend and co-worker realizes that he has to leave and insists that I finish his gin and tonic, a drink I do not like, so that it does not go to unconsumed. The strictures of my personal code demanded I help him out; I don’t condone wastefulness, and he asked very nicely.

Not long after I finished the surprisingly delicious gin and tonic, one of the dimly lit and vaguely blurred faces across the table from me suggested we all play a drinking game. I remember thinking about how horrible that idea was. Then I remember a beer mug in front of me and cards in my hand. I don’t know what game we played, and I’m not sure how well I did, but I remember drinking a fair amount of beer, which also tasted better than normal.

In rapid succession I realized a number of things: First, I had about ten minutes to catch the last train to my apartment. Second, I was far drunker than I had ever been. Lastly, there was no chance that the normally five minute walk to the Metro station would end in anything other than pain and failure. Thankfully, my by then totally sober friend Jenna insisted on driving me to the entrance of the station. I shoved some money into her hand and walked carefully outside. She settled my tab for the fries and one drink I actually ordered and followed to find me swinging around the lamppost belting out Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song. Only, I don’t know the song so it was more like, “Dada mm mm, dada mm mm, dada mm mm, dada mm mm, dada mm mm, dada mm mm FEELIN’GROOVY!!” repeated over and over again.

She deposited me at the station, and I made my way deliberately to the escalator and began the next leg of the journey to my apartment. There’s a little bit of a memory gap between the top of the escalator and the actual train, but I was suddenly the only occupant of a metro car. I planted myself firmly in one of the cross-facing handicap-priority seats staring at the wall, to minimize the threat of vomiting during the seven stop trip home.

My dream of a private metro car ride home lasted two whole stops. A very beleaguered man, headed home from a long day of work slumped into a seat not far from me. Noting my ostensible disorientation, the stranger slid a few seats closer to me.

“Hey buddy, you okay? Where are you headed?”

My brain said, “I’m headed to Rhode Island Avenue Station. Don’t worry though, we’re approaching Silver Spring, so I still have a few stops before I need to get off.”
My mouth failed to pass that message along accurately and whatever came out gave my fellow traveler the distinct impression that I wanted to get off at Silver Spring and that I would be unable to in my distressed state.

As our train braked into the station my would-be Good Samaritan walked over and, caught me under the arms. I wanted very much to dissuade him from this course, but words failed me and a fight would not have gone in my favor. So against my modest resistance he lifted me to a semi-standing position and ever-so-gently maneuvered me to the exit as the chimes sounded, and the doors slid open. After being released off-balance my battle with gravity is a bit one-sided as I drift backward into a slow-motion fall.

Now, I’m sitting on the ground outside starring up at the last train into the District of Columbia and home to my apartment knowing that in a few seconds the door will close, and I will have to try to come up with a new plan. Considering my options, a bus trip which includes a transfer, or a six mile walk to my apartment, I realize that if I don’t get back on the train, I’m not getting home. After two failed attempts to stand, I begin the absurd exercise of crawling frantically back to the train when I hear the operator’s voice over the PA system. “I think I might need Metro [police] for a possible disturbance in car four.”

Assuming that the conversation I’m about to have with the summoned cop will go better if I am not lying on the floor, I pull myself hand over hand up the rail and plop myself back into my wall facing seat just in time to see the familiar uniform appear in the window of the car in front of mine. He opens the door and inspects me for a moment, “Hey buddy, where are you headed this evening?”

Drawing from the lesson of the communication fiasco with my “rescuer,” I opt for the simplest answer “Rhode Island Avenue.”

He considers my answer, then considers my state, “Are you gonna be able to get there?”

Brief and deferential, “Yes, sir.”

A very tense few moments later, the cop wishes me a good night, walks through the door to the adjacent car, and says something into his radio. I can only assume that he green-lighted me to ride because we’re back on our way. Whatever I may feel about cops on the whole, Metro cops seem almost human. A drunk on the train isn’t behind the wheel, and they get that. He disappeared from the window, and I attempted to recover from my unintended pit stop. Unfortunately, after being shaken like soda can I popped like one.

After my violent expulsion, the rest of my trip was uneventful and blessedly short. I barely remember the slow, deliberate steps from the station to my home, but I made it to my sanctuary without further incident. Despite my chemically altered state, I am mindful of my nauseous state, and take a few precautions as I ably prepare for bed, and put myself down for the night.

The next morning, my precautions don’t seem nearly as effective. The bucket next to me was a good call, but the fact that I was sleeping in the recliner in my living room isn’t quite as much of a point in my favor. The detail which makes it clear that my wits weren’t exactly about me is the fact that I woke up wearing not one but two t-shirts. The first of which was exactly where a t-shirt belongs. The second however was stepped into by way of the neck hole, like some avant-garde skirt from a Salvation Army fashion show. So, maybe my chemically altered mind wasn’t the ally I believed it to be.

As I close my eyes and ears against the assault of light and sound, the full warning comes crashing back into my memory like something out of a bad movie:

“Don’t mess with SoCo, Mo. It’s the drunk you don’t see coming. You’ve always drunk more of it than you think you have, and by the time you realize it, you’re absolutely wasted. Worst of all, because of the sugar content, a Southern Comfort hangover will redefine the word for all time. You will hurt worse and longer than you’ve hurt for a while. Like the trees in the garden, partake of whatever you want, but drink not from the bottle of SoCo, for on the day after you do it you will surely wish you’d died.”