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Dying Under the Radar

dying under the radar

You did it again.

You went out on a work night. The stop at your favorite neighborhood bar for ‘just a quick beer” turned into a fifteen-round chug-fest that would make Papa Hemingway proud. On an evening when you should have been tucked in tight with dreams of spreadsheets dancing in your head, you snuck out for a cold one and your buddies ambushed you with shots of Jager. The last thing you remember is wondering where the hell all these nice people were last Friday when you sat alone ‘til 2am waiting for the party to start, and the rest is a blur.

Some hangovers are mumbled insults from a departing stranger, barely noteworthy, and a cinch to shrug off. You slap yourself in the face, pull up your pants and get through the day without anyone realizing the severity of your extracurricular guzzling. Sure there’s some deception involved, but it’s hardly any real challenge.

But today is different. The alarm clock startles you out of blissful alcoholic slumber and thrusts you into a nightmare world of pain and regret. On the hangover scale of one to ten this one’s a fifty-five. Your face is green, your head feels like a dangerously over-inflated basketball being dribbled by a sadistic orangutan and your stomach feels like an octopus with rabies getting electrocuted.

In a perfect world you would call in sick and sleep the motherfucker off. But hey, perfection was last night and you’ve pulled that miserable rabbit out of the hat too many times before. You know deep down in your soul if you don’t show up you’re fired. With extreme prejudice. The horror of losing that convenience called cash flow, that magnificent procurer of booze, can be a powerful motivator.

Of course, just showing up at work with a pulse and your pants on is rarely enough to satisfy the Man. Especially if your boss is a teetotaling twelve-stepper that lumps over-imbibers in with child killers. You’re not only going to have to punch that clock, you’re going to have to appear as if you spent the night in church, praying for world peace. To pull that deception off, you’re going to have to stagger onto stage and deliver a performance that’d make Sir Laurence Olivier weep in his whiskey. And here’s how you’re going to do it.

Step One: Lose the Scent

Boss’s noses are smoke detectors, and hangovers are oily rags smoldering in the basement. You might think you smell fine, but, believe me, if it was a proper night, liquor is seeping from every pore. Jump in the shower and scrub the scent of saloon off your skin and out of your hair. Scrub like a newlywed who accidentally spilled a bottle of Eau de Whore over his entire body. Apply a sensible amount of cologne and brush your teeth until they start getting skinny. The booze breath will return so pick up some gum on the way to work. Eschew the schnapps-flavored brands like Trident and Big Red, and go for the innocent essence of Grape Bubble Yum. The scent is fruity and sweet, and the chewing will help you stay awake and alert when inside you feel like lying down on the floor and begging for sweet death to crush you into oblivion.

Step Two: Bleach Those Red Flags a Jaunty White

Every truly heroic hangover is accompanied by bleary, puffy, bloodshot eyes. Studies prove the first thing anyone notices about anyone is their eyes, they are big bay windows looking right into your depraved nocturnal activities.
Splash your face repeatedly with ice-cold water to reduce the puffiness. If that doesn’t do the job, wrap ice cubes in a wet paper towel and hold them against your eyes for as long as you can stand it. It will reduce the swelling and get rid of some of the red. Next, drop in some Visine. If you don’t have any in the house, your stoner roommate will. Bring it to work and re-apply in the restroom as needed.

If you’re a woman or a drag queen, you have the natural advantage of covering those black circles with makeup. If you’re neither, but live with one, and you’re secure in your manhood, you may want to spread a little of their foundation under your eyes. Maybe even a hint of blush to turn those sallow cheeks rosy. And stop right there. Tell yourself you’re still a man, by God, and remember this: there are no rules in love, war or hiding hangovers. If you’re still haunted, just think how unmanly you’ll look begging a toothless hag for a sip of her Night Train when you can no longer afford your own bottle of Beam.
If your eyes are still a wreck after all that effort, complain to your coworkers that your new contact lenses are giving you hell, even if you don’t wear any.

Step Three: Dressing for Success Hides the Excess

Aside from smelling like a bouquet of flowers instead of a bar rag, it’s a good idea to look like you spend your spare time reading at the library instead of rolling around on the floor of a dive. Wear something slightly more formal than usual. For some reason, people expect dipsomaniacs to let their appearance go to hell. Just don’t overdo it. The idea is to blend in, not draw attention to yourself. Leave the tux in your closet and stick to neutral colors, grays and tans. Something pleasantly dull. Steer your low flying, heavily camouflaged blimp right under the boss’ rummy radar.

Step Four: Fool the Tools By Keeping It Cool

It’s a grave mistake for someone in your condition to attempt to compensate for your semi-drunkenness with overt behavior of any kind. Fight the urge to act like one of those drunks trying to duck a cut-off call by being overly friendly with the bartender. Don’t shake people’s hands when you’d normally only mumble a hello. Don’t start any unnecessary conversations with coworkers and fight with all your might the urge to give your boss a big friendly hug.

And for the love of God, clamp down on the powerful need to share your previous night’s fun with your buddies. They may not rat you out directly, but once the workplace gossip machine gets hold of a juicy story, the fucker cannot be stopped. Your friend will share your debauched tale with a secretary, she’ll tell her pal on smoke break, and her pal will most likely blurt, within earshot of the boss, “Hey, check out Luke, you wouldn’t think he spent all night rolling around on the floor of a dive, would you? I know if I drank that much liquor, I’d never be able to do my job! I’d be fired for sure!”

Pretend you’re an ill-trained communist agent with a faint Chinese accent, with just one day between you and swimming out to the submarine waiting off shore. Just one more goddamn day and you get to spend the rest of your life guzzling rice wine as a Hero of the Revolution.

If your addled brain cannot focus on the real work at hand, busy yourself with menial tasks like cleaning, filing and arranging. Never let them catch you just sitting their, staring into space like a zombie. Once they figure out there’s something wrong with you, the next thing they’ll want to know is exactly what that something is.

If they do catch on something is amiss, and start to pry, meet them with a double tier of defenses. Bosses are clever, they’ll come on with the soft touch, they’ll smile a little and say, “Tie one on last night, son?” Don’t take the bait. Tell him: “Not me, sir. I think I caught something from someone at choir practice, then the neighbor’s dog — he’s such a nuisance! — kept me up all night. I’m not much of a drinker, on account of of what happened to my father.” That should shut him up.

If, however, he somehow finds out you definitely were drinking, claim a tragedy. When he hits you with the accusation, with one hand reaching into his desk for a pink slip, drop this one on him: “My grandmother passed on last night. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but she pretty much raised me.” Cover your eyes, lower your head, and choke out, “Poor ol’ granny!”

Only a cold-hearted monster would fire you. In fact, you might just get the rest of the day off. One caveat however: you can only play this ace of spades once. After that it turns into a three of clubs, at best.

Step Five: Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline

Sometimes the hangover is so awesome, so magnificent and cruel in its rule, you have to resort to radical tactics. You have to fight back with everything you’ve got, and if you’re smart, you’ll have a bottle of it in your desk.
Everyone has a favorite hangover fix-up, but in my experience only one tactic is a sure bet: Fight fire with fire.

That’s right, a shot of booze, and when I say booze I mean vodka. It’s lack of scent is ideal for the workplace. If you have the makings, fix up a big bloody mary at home. If you don’t, and I rarely do, there are liquor stores that open at seven in the morning. Grab a half pint and take the little fellow to work with you. Vodka goes great with almost all workplace beverages: O.J., Coke, Sprite, Gatorade, even iced tea. An even more devious trick is to inject it into a grapefruit or orange.

If you work in a restaurant or bar, you can skip the liquor store stop. It’s a given if you’re a proper drunkard, you’re friendly with the bartender. Coax her into splashing just a nip of Bailey’s into your coffee (it’ll look like cream) or maybe just a sip of Absolut into your Evian bottle.

If you work in a place where the only workplace mixer available is coffee . . . well, hey, you only live once. It tastes like furniture polish, but if you knock it back quick it’ll make short work of that headache. Soon you will be able to think clearly enough about how you’re going to brag to those assholes who got you drunk last night that you mixed McCormick’s with Maxwell House, and lived to tell the tale.

If you don’t have time to pick some hooch on the way, let on you’re coming down with a cold and hit up the first aid kit or the resident hypochondriac for some cough medicine.

Just don’t get hammered all over again. Oh, it’s tempting. A little bit goes a long way. A sip or two to calm the nerves and ease the pain, so you can continue puffing forth the smoke screen. If you accidentally do drink too much (it happens), you’ll have to resort to my patented copy-machine cure: when no one is looking, press your forehead against the glass of the office copier and press start. Stare directly into the light as it scans your face. The bright, searing light is like a jolt of lightning, zapping you back into focus. Don’t ask me why, but it works. And be sure to destroy the evidence laying in the copy tray.

Step Six: Feed the Beast

If you’ve managed to make it to lunch without getting canned for being a delirious mess, you’re in great shape. Lunch time is the glorious recess bell for the Hangover Hider. No matter how sluggish you feel, no matter how much you fear the sunlight, get the hell out of there. If anyone asks to join you, tell them you have a lunch date.

The hangover oftentimes hates a breakfast, but always loves a lunch. Jack up your metabolism with a high-protein power snack and a couple pints of soothing stout. Don’t eat too much or you’ll get drowsy. Some people swear by midday naps in the car as a hangover slayer, but they’ve never worked for me. Sleeping drags down the metabolism and you may wake up feeling like you did in the morning.

Find a dimly-lit restaurant that serves alcohol and relax. Lower your facade and let the tension flow away. Drink five glasses of water.

Make sure you make it back to work right on time, and suck in your second wind. From here on out it’s smooth sailing. If anyone detects the smell of alcohol, you can blame it on lunch. Refreshed and recalibrated, you are ready to attack the time that separates you from quitting time. You’ll probably feel so goddamn arrogant in your security, you’ll start sneaking calls to your buddies to brag about your deception and encourage them to meet you after work for just a beer or two.

Just remember to not stay at the bar until closing time. If you do, however, I’ll definitely see you there.

Luke Schmaltz