There was a time when drinking on the job was not only accepted, it was considered one of the major perks of joining the workforce.
Crew cut lads fresh from college would put aside their childish experimentations with wine and beer, join a respectable company, and start the business of learning how to belt hard liquor from the seasoned souses at work. It was a hell of a deal and explains why there were so few layabouts back then. Why lounge around in a bar, spending money, when you could get cockeyed on the clock while dollars rolled into your pocket?
Sadly, those grand days of paid guzzling have gone the way of the snap-brim fedora. The nogoodniks, in their undying effort to ensure no one has any fun at anytime, have made a pariah of the desk bottle. They have passed laws where it is not only illegal to drink on the job, it is illegal to drink before you even show up for work. They have rescued the workplace from being a place of happy production and joyful camaraderie to a depressing prison crowded with high-strung nannies and treacherous snitches.
Which is why the modern working lush has his work cut out for him. Instead of being a soused soldier among many others, he must operate as a secret operative always in peril of discovery and dismissal, continuously struggling to conceal the accent and mannerisms of his mother country. He will need every wile and legerdemain in his possession to pull it off. He must act with confidence. He must act with cunning. Most of all, he must act in utter secrecy.
Why Drink on the Job?
Because most jobs suck. If you love your job, if the workday just flies by and you have to be dragged away from your desk at the end of the day, you don’t need alcohol. You need a psychiatrist. If you dread going to work, if the workday drags along like a crippled slug crawling across sandpaper, if clocking out feels like a jail door springing open, then a little booze can go a long way toward making a nightmarish death march of a shift seem a hop, skip and sip through a field of flowers.
You may wonder if you can actually perform your job while drinking, which is a ridiculous notion. Jackie Gleason threw together one of the greatest feats of television history (The Honeymooners) while fully in the bag. Alfred Hitchcock directed some of the finest movies ever committed to celluloid in between champagne breakfasts and gin-soaked lunches. So did Orson Welles. A prominent biographer estimates that Sir Winston Churchill spent the entirety of World War Two with a measurable amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. And if Sir Winston could survive the Blitz, rally a reeling nation and eventually whip up on millions of Nazis, surely you can throw together a spreadsheet by Friday.
The best reason for drinking on the job arrives with the realization that a quarter of our adult lives is ritualistically sacrificed to the cruel tyrant known as Working for a Living. For most of us, it’s something we have to do, but would rather not. Drinking, on the other hand, is something we choose to do, and would like to do more of. So why not invade that which we don’t like to do with that we very much like to do? Indeed, why not have the good times, for once, spill over into the bad. Eh, sir?
Why an Imbibing Worker is a Better Worker
Alcohol buoys and brings joy to the psyche. It can lend a different viewpoint to a difficult business problem. Why do you think there are thousands of wildly creative cocktail recipes, but only one recipe for water?
It cranks up the charisma and represses shyness, which is essential to any sales job. Ever try to charm the pants off a member of the opposite sex while stone cold sober?
It makes mundane tasks seem tolerable, if not downright fun. Tell someone he has to sit on a stool and stare into space for hours on end and he’ll hate you. Tell him beer will be served and he’s you’re best buddy.
And finally, the slightly loaded worker is a happy worker, and a happy worker will always labor longer and harder than a joyless one. As Canadian journalist Leah McLaren points out: “The real problem with drinking on the job is that it obliterates the reason for stopping work at the end of the day—so you can have a drink—thereby ensuring that if you keep it up, you will undoubtedly degenerate into a raving workaholic.”
Are You Cut Out For Juicing on the Job?
It depends largely on your temperament and occupation. Most people can’t handle it. It takes a sure and steady hand to maintain the illusion of not drinking while drinking steadily. You must be a fully functional alcoholic. If you tend to get giggly, hostile or befuddled after two beers, you are not going to pull it off. If you are the sort that prides himself in holding his cups, if your drinking companions have a hard time telling when you’re loaded, juicing on the job may well be for you.
That said, if your job involves a steering wheel, great heights, carrying a suitcase containing nuclear launch codes, machinery that may casually remove a limb, or, for the love of God, driving a bus full of adorable school children, it’s best to find another job. Because you cannot, in good conscience, drink while working under those circumstances. For all its benefits, being lit doesn’t improve your motor skills, depth perception or sense of balance. The last thing you want to do is kill someone or lose a hand, because, as Bukowski noted, they have the wrong kinds of bars in prisons, and it’s nearly impossible to execute a proper kegstand with only one hand.
The Drinking Professions
Journalists: Hooch is especially adept in helping one communicate with strangers and making up fanciful yarns, which explains why journalists hold it in such high esteem. While not the bastion of round-the-clock carousing it once was, liquor is still well-entrenched in the profession. British and Australian newspapermen are still remarkably unabashed about the habit, and speak about it with shocking forthrightness. Their Yank cousins prefer unabashed denial. Nearly every American journalist I’ve met will perform a very elaborate dance around the subject then, if pressed, confess that he or she doesn’t actually care for the stuff. I’ve seen enough of them later, in bars, doing a very different dance, to know they are, almost to the man, extremely deluded or clever liars.
Clowns: I’ve never met one who wasn’t a lush. And who can blame them? Would any of us want to entertain a gang of screaming brats while in the grips of grey sobriety?
Salesmen: Back when salesmen were viewed as barely employable con men working some sort of semi-legal grift, the profession was populated almost entirely with drunks. In recent years the craft has attained a vague sense of semi-respectability, and that damnable respectability brought with it new rules against drinking. Not that those rules are necessarily followed.
CEOs: The best drinking positions are those that require little supervision and don’t require you deliver tangible results. Which is why the CEO’s office is one the last great citadels of workaday lushing. According to one study, the higher you climb, the more likely you’re going to drink on the job: Twenty-three percent of managers are estimated to juice on the clock, compared to eleven percent of supervisors and eight percent of hourly workers. Every CEO and military officer I have ever worked for (aside from an overwhelmed Mormon gentleman who would engage in monthly nervous breakdowns) was obviously or strongly rumored to be a lush. And why not? Sitting around not doing much at all can make a man surprisingly thirsty.
Law Enforcement: An estimated 25% of police officers are thought to be alcoholics. Why? Well, there’s the stress, the long hours, the siege mentality, and the fact that they have little fear of getting arrested for drinking-related crimes.
Service Industry Workers: This includes cooks, chefs, bartenders, DJs, wait staff, bouncers, strippers and those that support and lead them. It’s nearly impossible to work in the midst of all that booze and not drink. In fact, you should look with keen suspicion upon any who do not drink: If they disdain the product they’re pushing, they most likely view you with equal disdain.
Graveyard Shifters: The overnight shift is a natural habitat for drunks. First, it tends to draw night owls (and we know what sort of people they are), there is usually little or no supervision (when the cat is snoozing, the mice are boozing), and those long, horrific and unnatural hours of ennui will drive even a parson to the bottle.
College Professors: They drink for the same reasons as clowns do, the only differences being they are protected by tenure and the screeching children tend to be older, if not better behaved.
Construction Workers: Despite the inherent dangers, shrill investigative reporters routinely catch these men getting hammered at lunch then jumping behind the controls of fifteen-ton cranes. If you ever wanted to gaze upon a monument to on-the-job drinking, stick your head out the nearest window and take a gander at your city’s skyline.
Lawyers: Lawyers will tell you they drink because they have to assume the most horrible problems and crises of others. Others will say they drink because they are in league with the devil, and by association, demon rum. I say they are superior drunks, if not the best tippers.
You can lump in with the above any job involving intense stress, swaggering machismo, true camaraderie and odd hours.
Introducing Booze to Your Current Workplace
Enlisting alcohol to the task of bringing joy and purpose to your current toil is a tricky proposition at best. Your newfound jolliness will be viewed with intense suspicion by your workmates and superiors. They will think 1) You have finally turned the bend and will murder everyone in the office on Friday, 2) You have come out of the closet, and 3) You are juicing on the job. While the first two will earn you a certain amount of deference, the third will secure you only disdain and possibly a pink slip.
You have to either work the booze in very gradually, increasing your intake day by day, or coincide your juicing with a flagrant lifestyle change that would explain bizarre behavior, such as gaining religion or embarking on a new diet/exercise program. (See The Holy Roller Ruse and the Health Kook Con below).
Bringing Booze into a New Workplace
If you are starting a new job, you are in a far superior position. Since your new coworkers don’t know you personally, they will assume your workplace elation an extension of your natural personality. In fact, you may wish to have a few drinks before your first interview. It’s a hell of a relaxer, it makes you appear more confident and competent than you actually are and, if the interviewer is any sort of drinker at all, will create a subconscious bond between you.
The best way of disguising your drinking is assuming a persona that will either explain or mask, your behavior. They are:
The Health Kook Con
This is especially effective if your company has a shower on the premises. Ask if you can shower and change into your work clothes when you arrive because you like to workout before coming to work. Those obsessed with Health and Fitness are rarely thought to be the sort who would drink on the job. You drag in looking bedraggled and wearing sweats and they’ll assume you just finished a run or pumped iron, when in fact you’re very badly hungover. Word to the wise: Just because you’re wearing the gear, don’t give in to the urge to actually exercise. You’ll end up smelling like a distillery. Instead simulate sweat by squirting water from your omnipresent sports bottle onto your face. The rest of the day you can blame your unnatural dehydration, shaking hands and cold sweats on the morning’s “monster session.” It also gives you the right to drink lots of sports drinks (bolstered with vodka) and protein shakes (milk, protein powder, coffee liqueur and Baileys).
The High on Life Hoax
Behave as that aggressively pleasant workmate you have often encountered and always loathed. Always appear upbeat (which won’t be hard since you’re going to be drunk), walk around very quickly with a jaunty bounce in your step and a boisterous smile on your face. Busy your cubicle with all sorts of happy pictures and knickknacks, keep a vase of flowers on your desk. Breeze through the workday with nary a care nor worry. You don’t need alcohol to be happy, by gosh, you’re high on life! Just never let on you’re happy because you’re hooched up.
The Sickling Strategy
This ruse is especially effective if you happen to be on the thin side. Let on early that you are suffering from a long term illness (never mention the malady by name, as this will restrict your range of symptoms) yet bravely go to work anyway. When you come in haggard and hungover, they will think you’re having a relapse. Hint that you may be contagious, so your coworkers will keep their distance. If they try to delve into the exact nature of your illness, start coughing violently until they creep away. Decorate your desk with a myriad of prescription pill bottles (you can load them with vitamins and ibuprofen). Keep your liquor in family-sized cough syrup bottles (some Italian liqueurs and cherry schnapps are surprising difficult to differentiate from actual cough medicine). There lies the true brilliance of the Sickling Strategy: You may chug liquor right in front of your coworkers.
The Holy Roller Ruse
This is an example of the Big Lie. The trick behind this ploy is to create such an uptight façade that none will think you capable of enjoying a light beer after work, never mind sneaking shots of vodka on job. Prominently display a Bible on your desk, or better yet, The Book of Mormon. A framed picture of the Savior might be in order. Routinely wear a bowtie. Strongly condemn alcohol at the least opportunity. If a coworker appears hungover, attempt to slip a religious tract in his hand. If you think this ploy doesn’t sound like fun, you are gravely mistaken. There is nothing more entertaining than lecturing some poor weekend drinker about the evils of beer while three belts of hard liquor are coursing through your veins. It’s no wonder many of the great fire-and-brimstone preachers of yore were secret drunks.
Understand, however, that the sheer power of this façade is also its weakness. There is no flexibility whatsoever. You need only be seen staggering out of a bar once by a coworker and the entire gig is up.
Tipples of the Trade
Heavy dilution is the key. It not only buries the tell-tale scent, it forces you to pace yourself and not get obviously loaded. A good pour of vodka or neutral spirits diluted into a large bottle of designer water, with a squeeze of lime for taste, is an excellent choice of workaday cocktail. It is nearly odorless and appears completely guileless. The volume of water will force you to pace your intake and keep you properly hydrated. Spicy V-8 and grapefruit juice are also superior scent-maskers. Milk-based cocktails, such as the White Russian, are nearly odorless, and are a pleasant alternative. Spearmint schnapps can be utilized, but only if you make a big show of constantly shooting Binaca Breath Spray into your mouth.
Avoid the brown liquors, as they tend to be the most heavily scented. Also eschew carbonated drinks (beer and some cocktails) because they induce burping, which will shove the scent of alcohol into the nose of anyone within five feet.
The Basics of Sneaking Booze
The bottle in the desk is an archaic relic that belongs to another time. As romantic a prop as it is, it is much too hard to hide and very difficult to explain away. As far as job retention goes, alcohol is a weapon of mass destruction. And as such, must be very cleverly disguised.
Always premix your drinks before work. The only people who mix liquids in the workplace are chemists and drunks. And they know you ain’t no chemist.
Keep your hooch in contradicting containers. Refillable plastic coffee-chain mugs are excellent subterfuge. When someone sees the word coffee on a container, he will subconsciously assume it contains coffee. Sports bottles are also effective, especially those with built-in straws. Using the straw to deliver the hooch to the back of your throat will minimize booze breath. Stemware and highball glasses are best avoided.
Old school colognes such as Old Spice and English Leather are excellent for masking the smell of alcohol. They are so effective it makes me suspect they were created by our hard-drinking great-grandfathers expressly for that purpose.
Inject citrus fruit with vodka. Using a medical syringe, inject vodka through the skin and into the pulp of an orange or grapefruit. Take your time and don’t inject too much in one spot or you’ll create a pocket of liquor. If you begin peeling a fruit and a coworker starts eyeing your treat with a look of hunger, accidentally sneeze directly onto the fruit. If someone does detect the scent of alcohol, make a face, announce the fruit has gone sour and throw it away.
Don’t overdo it. Remember, you are trying to attain then maintain a pleasant time-killing buzz, not get wildly hammered. Set your alcohol thermostat to a comfortable glow and coast to the end of your shift.
Interacting With Coworkers
Alcohol is a wonderful thing. It inspires generosity, goodwill and camaraderie. While at work you must ruthlessly suppress all three of these fine emotions.
Become a good listener. Speaking is the most dangerous thing a working lush can do. It’s impossible to slur if you keep your mouth shut. If you have to speak, speak in short, flat monosyllables. It’s when you try to utter an entire sentence that the ends of words get rolled together. Close talking is occupational suicide, let it be known early on that you are one of those people who are touchy about their personal space.
Choose your words carefully. Yep is a prime word for the working lush. It doesn’t involve any slurry sibilants and its only pesky, easy-to-drop vowel is held prisoner between two rugged consonants. The “p” ensures you finish with your mouth closed, barring any booze breath from punctuating your utterance. It also possesses a certain casual finality, for example:
“Hey, Jack! Are you working hard or hardly working?”
“I’m going to go back to my cubicle now.”
It may well happen that you will get fully hammered at work, unintentionally or otherwise. If this happens, first you have to stop drinking. Fight the natural gregarious urge and attempt to isolate yourself. Spend an hour in the copy room. Attach yourself to your keyboard with an aggravated look on your face while typing furiously. If you must parlay with your workmates, wipe the silly grin off your face and assume the stern mien of a prison warden. Your eyes are the first giveaway, they will begin to close and blur, so force them open wider than what feels natural. Recognize that you most likely appear much drunker than you imagine. Remember when you were in the bar, thinking you were coming off cool and collective and the bartender cut you off? Same deal.
Using Company Parties to Your Advantage
Company parties are wonderful opportunities for the working lush. Not because you can get loaded, quite the contrary. You must stay sober. For two reasons. First, it will make you appear completely resistant to the charms of alcohol, and, much more importantly, it will supply you with enough moral ammunition to last you until the next company booze up.
Company parties are an elaborate form of Mexican Standoff. Because nearly everyone (especially the amateur drunks) behaves badly, there is a mutual understanding that whatever sordidness takes place will not be spoke of again. Which is why you must remain sober and absorb every filthy detail.
Those details are solid gold bullets and must be used in an extremely judicious fashion. Never breathe a word of what transpired until someone mentions ill of your drinking habits. Then let them have a full broadside of rancor.
Say you happen to crawl into work looking a little worse for the wear and Sally quips, “What’d you do, Jack, fall into a vat of vodka?” Before the last flippant syllable falls out of her mouth, return fire with: “Oh, I had a few, but not enough to make me stick my tongue down the throat of Herb, that married sleazebag from accounting.” Sally will absorb a very cruel and powerful lesson.
Once they make the Pavlovian connection that pairing your name with alcohol will result in a devastating volley of embarrassing memories, they are likely to avoid the subject altogether.
Dealing with Other Drunks
You will encounter two types of fellow drinkers in the workplace. First, there are the amateurs, the weekend warriors. Avoid them like the plague. View them as a hardcore revolutionary views semi-radicalized college students who occasionally attend sit-ins and protest marches. You are a highly seasoned professional committed to the cause while they are half-hearted dilettantes who are very likely to crack under pressure.
They will confide how drunk they got last night, how hungover they are that morning. They will try to draw drinking stories out of you; they will attempt to penetrate your elaborate disguise. And once you start talking, they will repeat what you say, and soon you will have a reputation of a secret drinker. And you know what secret drinkers do? They drink on the job.
The second and much rarer stripe of drinker is your peer, the fully functional alcoholic. Do not use any heavy-handed reversal tactics on this cat, she will probably have sniffed you out for what you are the moment she met you. If she is content to carry out her mission solo, leave her to it. If, however, she doesn’t seem adverse to some company, consider combining forces.
Should You Find a Co-Conspirator
Tippling in tandem with another functional drunk can be a thing of breathtaking beauty. There are many advantages. You can cover for each other. If one of you drags in late, the other can clock you in, physically of figuratively: “Oh, Jack’s here, he just ducked down to accounting to square up some numbers on the Anderson account.” They can squash rumors in your absence: “Can you blame him for smelling like bourbon yesterday? His grandmother, she practically raised him, passed the night before. What would you do?” You can gang up on the suspicious, you can share intelligence and techniques, and you can share booze.
You may even develop a vocabulary of secret words to communicate with your comrade. Here’s an example of an encoded conversation:
“How’s that efficiency report coming along?”
“All done. But I have a bear of a spreadsheet to wade through. ”
“Need some help?”
“I could use a hand.”
“Happy to help. You going to the gym at lunch?”
“Oh, I’ve got a hell of a workout planned.”
“Just make sure you shower afterwards. Last time you smelled like a locker room.”
“I’ll take an extra long shower.”
What was really said:
“You have any schnapps on hand?” Efficiency=Germans=schnapps.
“Finished it up. But I have some vodka.” Bear=Russia= vodka.
“Can I have a taste?”
“Let’s have one together.”
“Fantastic. You going to the bar for lunch?” Gym=Jim Beam=bar.
“Oh, I’m going to knock some back.”
“Makes sure you don’t come back smelling like you’ve been making out with Jack and Jim.”
“I’ll splash on some extra Old Spice.”
Just don’t get too verbose and clever, or you’ll arouse suspicions. Even teetotaling Mormons in deepest Utah are aware subcultures like to toss around a lot of slang. Get too cutesy and they’ll know you’re up to something.
Boozing With the Big Guy
As I’ve said, CEOs tend to be drinkers. The fact that the privilege of drinking on the job rarely trickles down to the rank and file should not surprise you. To reach the position of CEO you have to be possessed of the idea that you are somehow better than the rest, and thus can enjoy the privilege of reveling in sins you would condemn in underlings. A prominent example being those millionaire evangelists who are routinely caught in motels liquored up and bedded down with prostitutes.
In the old days, being invited to the boss’ office for a belt of bourbon was considered a sure harbinger of good tidings. It meant the Big Guy thought you were a square joe, wanted to know what you had to say, and you could rest assured he was grooming you for promotion.
Nowadays the rules have utterly changed. Instead of pat on the back, the gesture may well be a probe, or worse, a trap. Here’s how it may go down:
You’ve been summoned to the boss’s office and, after offering you a seat, he asks if you’d care for a drink.
Choke down the urge to holler, “Goddamn right I do, sir!”
Instead say, “If you’re having one, I will.”
Don’t get tricked into thinking that, since the boss offered, it is perfectly all right to drink in front of him. Treat him as a weirdly smiling cop who walks up to you and says, “Hey, why don’t you pick my pocket?” Me, I would leave his wallet where it was. If the boss isn’t having one, then neither should you. If he does pour himself a drink, then, as a rule, you must have one too. To refuse is to appear a prude, communist, or too good to drink with him.
No matter how good the scotch is, and it’s probably going to be top shelf, don’t gulp it down. Drink a little slower than he does. Let him finish first. Then, if he offers you a second drink, respectfully decline.
On the other hand, if he makes the offer at Hooter’s or one of those fancy pseudo-Irish pubs CEO’s are drawn to, indulge. You’re off the clock. Just don’t get loaded with him. I know bonding over beers with the Big Wig seems like a grand idea, but nine times out of ten it isn’t. Why? Because one of two things are likely to happen: You’ll get drunk and display or confess an unnatural fondness for alcohol, or two, he will, when he sobers up, come to deeply regret the fact he revealed his secret to a lowly employee. He will feel uncomfortable around you and your head full of ugly secrets and instead of promoting you, he will more likely make you go away.
Always expect a trap. True story: After a year at sales job, my boss summoned me to his office and offered me a drink. I knew he liked a taste (he had a fully-stocked liquor cabinet to the right of his desk) and I immediately agreed. He asked me general questions about my sales route, then asked if I needed a refill. Of course I did. Then, during my third scotch rocks, I realized with a black dread that he was not drinking. It was right about then he started asking me about bars that were in my sales territory and I knew I’d fallen into a trap. I knew about those bars very well because I spent about a third of my on-the-clock, out-of-office time happily ensconced inside them.
He offered a fourth and, fully aware I’d crossed the rummy Rubicon, I accepted. The way I figured it, the axe was already falling and I was collecting the closest thing I would get to a severance check. A week later I was let go.
Which brings up a point. I was not fired for a lack of performance. While I was not the hottest salesman on the street, I was in the upper thirty percentile. Though I am a naturally shy gentleman, I outsold teetotalers right and left because I used my frequent stops at the bars to keep me loose and sociable. My mistake was I had miscalculated; I didn’t put a lot of effort in hiding my tracks because I assumed my performance good enough to make my superiors look the other way. Which brings up the next section.
When You Are Discovered
And you will be. Now, we’ve all heard stories of shocked relatives uncovering vast stores of bottles in various stages of distress in the basements and hidden cupboards of recently deceased grandmothers whom they thought utterly teetotal. Thing is, granny could pick and choose her social interactions (“Don’t come over today, dear, I’m playing bridge with the girls.”). She didn’t have a gang of coworkers snooping around and her household chores weren’t measured by efficiency reports.
Accept the fact that sooner or later you will be found out. Hopefully by that time you’ll have made yourself indispensable and they will look the other way. This is called reaching the Churchill Stage. This is that glorious state when you have made yourself appear (it doesn’t have to be true) so invaluable that you can walk around the office with a bottle of bourbon hanging from of your hand and no one will breathe a word. It’s been know to happen. Sir Winston pulled it off. So did Bogart, Gleason, FDR and JFK. Most of the veteran newspaper reporters and columnists of yore reclined in that exalted state of grace.
If you, like I, discover that you are not of great value to the company, the battle is not yet over. Most states have identified alcoholism as a disease, and you cannot be legally fired for being under its dire influence. So play it up. Start sobbing uncontrollably and throw yourself at your accuser’s feet. Launch into a hysterical diatribe, such as: “You’re right! I’m a diseased person! Help me! Help me help myself! Do you hear me? Diseased, damn you! And according to current state employment laws, you must send me to paid alcohol counseling. And I thank you.”
You may then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and take the rest of the day off. You can look forward to a month of long boring sessions with an alcohol counselor and/or recovery group which will make for great stories at the bar later. Once caveat: Larger companies might take in upon themselves to ship you off to a full-bore, locked-down rehab clinic. In that case you might think about finding another job, because, believe you me, booze is very expensive in those places, and sneaking drinks within those walls will make your workaday hooching seem child’s play.
—Frank Kelly Rich