Dear Concerned Cad,
Normally shy, in the midst of a blackout I can influence, coordinate, seduce, and work a room like a stand-up comedian (according to witnesses). Unfortunately, I can neither remember my actions nor replicate them sober. In your years of fighting the good fight have you come across a system to help remember all this fun and clever sauciness? Am I forced to live the best nights of my life vicariously through my friends’ recounts? There’s got to be a better way!
—What The Hell Did I Do?
It’s an age-old conundrum—drinking makes for better times, but it also makes them harder to recall. F. Scott Fitzgerald summed it up perfectly when he mused, “Sometimes I wish I’d went through those good times stone cold sober so I could remember everything, but then again, if I had been sober the times probably wouldn’t have been worth remembering.”
The answer, of course, is to carry around a mini digital recorder. Make sure it has at least 12 hours of memory. Before your first drink, hit the record button, slip it into your shirt pocket, and forget about it. (Don’t let anyone know it’s there, or they’ll be yelling at your pocket all night.)
Then, theoretically, the device will capture all the brilliance you’re sure to spew as the evening progresses. The next morning you may wallow in your genius at your leisure and maybe learn a little about the real you.
That’s the upside.
So what’s the downside?
This: that infernal machine is pure evil. All the scientists of the Third Reich couldn’t have constructed a more sinister device.
It will take your brilliant speeches and twist them into insane blithering. It will make your smoothest lines seem the creepy mewlings of a sexual predator. Nuggets of pure wisdom will be spit out as lumps of offal.
You will find yourself cringing with horror before that tiny digital spy, punctuating its merciless squawking with great shouts of “Good God, no!”, “Holy shit, did I really say that?” and “Well, I can never go back to that bar again.”
As you can tell, I’ve tried this system, and what it taught me is to appreciate the beauty of the blackout.
I much prefer to wake up thinking I was on my best behavior the previous evening, until proven otherwise in a court of law.
Dear Concerned Cad,
I hear a lot of talk about “moderate drinking,” and how good it is for you, but what exactly is the definition of such? Everyone seems to have a different opinion. What’s a good amount to drink, anyway?
—Confused in Columbus
There was a time when moderate drinking meant drinking as much as you liked, so long as it didn’t cause any problems. That perfectly sensible definition, however, doesn’t sit well with the regimented mind set of the modern Nanny State.
And even the nannies can’t come to terms. The FDA, for example, says two drinks a day for men and one for women is moderate drinking, regardless of your weight and tolerance. The UK government’s estimation is about twice that. Other European countries reckon up to five drinks a day for a male is perfectly acceptable, while a growing number of US health groups swear that five drinks in one session (even if the session occupies an entire day) is honest-to-God binge drinking.
Consider it: drink one beer every two hours over a ten hour period and you’re — Great God! — binging! Or what we drunks like to call sobering up.
Some anti-alcohol groups have even gone so far as to suggest that anyone who drinks 3 to 4 drinks a week is a “heavy drinker.”
Which is perfectly hilarious. What they’re trying to do is lower the standards to the degree that even a grandmother who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner will be shamed into giving up the hooch entirely.
Finally, asking me how much you should drink is akin to asking a deacon how much you need to pray to get into Heaven. Some people never pray (except perhaps in those hours of extreme need and fear), some think once or twice a day is plenty, and there are those so caught up in the fervor of devotion they prefer to pray all the live long day (and night).
Ultimately it is up the acolyte—whether we’re talking about drinking or praying—who must decide how much he needs to do to get to his or her version of paradise.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I’m just getting started in the world of drinking and am pretty ignorant about the whole scene. I was wondering if you could turn me on to some good books to get me started down the path of enlightenment.
—Bob in Lakewood
While there is no surer path to drunken enlightenment than putting in your time on a barstool, you are correct in thinking certain books will serve as torches to light your way down the trail.
Around the World with a Jigger, Beaker and Flask (1939) by Charles H. Baker Jr. A splendid book. Baker did what we all wish to do — he traveled the world gleaning exotic cocktail recipes from the cream of the drinking intelligentsia. Each drink is served up with a charming (sometimes ribald) tale about how he acquired the recipe.
John Barleycorn (1913) by Jack London. Though Jack meant this to be a prohibitionist rant, he couldn’t seem to help himself from turning it into an robust guide to adventurous drinking.
The Hour (1948) by Bernard DeVoto. A curmudgeon of the highest order and a misanthrope after my own heart, DeVoto speaks volumes about what drinking is truly about.
The Joy of Drinking (2007) by Barbara Holland. This slim volume is loaded with breezy wit, and revels in all the good drinking has done humankind.
Modern Drunkard (2006) by Frank Kelly Rich. Essential reading for the—ahem—modern drunkard.
On Drink (1972) by Kingsley Amis. Armed with a caustic wit, Amis covers all the bases of being a functional drunk.
As far as fiction, you should start with The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy,The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett, Money by Martin Amis, and anything by Charles Bukowski.
Dear Concerned Cad:
Do you drink to live or live to drink?
—Curious in Michigan
I live to drink and drink to live and drink to drink or whatever the hell else, so long as there’s a drink involved. ¸
Dear Concerned Cad,
I keep getting drunk in bars and then making out with random men. My friends are getting a little irritated about this, as every time they try to find me in the bar I’m too busy sucking on the face of a stranger to hang out with the people who actually know me and invited me out in the first place. It’s getting a bit out of hand. Suggestions?
—Hey, He’s Kind Of Cute
While I can understand your friends’ feelings of abandonment, they need to come to grips with the fact that you are serving a much grander ideal. The possibility of meeting (and perhaps sucking face with) a woman such as yourself is one of the major reasons single drunkards go to bars in the first place. Let your friends (and perhaps some of the embittered gentlemen who are denied your attentions) think you a floozy—in my eyes your are nothing less than a modern-day Florence Nightingale.
Dear Concerned Cad:
Recently becoming the legal drinking age, I am constantly called an alcoholic by my friends and family simply because it takes me 15 beers to get to the stage they are at after six. I am proud of my constant boozing and my title of “alco” but I know that they are jealous of my superior drinking skills and call me these names to try offend me. While I have a natural talent for drinking; it has taken me many nights and sometimes days of hard hooching to perfect my skills. Is there any way that I can get them to confess their jealousy of my boozing and admit that they know all their taunts are in vain?
—Tom from Canberra
First, you’re going to have to accept the fact that being exceptional at anything will always earn you a degree of spite from your peers. Especially if you’re young.
This is natural. No one likes to be shown up. Imagine if you were a tremendous poker player and you effortlessly emptied your friends’ pockets every time you sat down for a friendly game — how long do you think it would be before they stopped inviting you to games and started whispering that you might well have a gambling problem?
If it’s true you are as cognizant as they when you have two to three times more hooch coursing through your veins, it cannot be your behavior they’re worried about. It’s their own image that concerns them — your superior ability is making them appear to themselves and others a pack of slack-jawed lightweights.
There are several possible solutions to your problem. First, you can do what most champion drinkers (and poker players) do and seek out peers who perform at your level. You’ll find them at the bar.
If you think your friends worth salvaging, however, you are not without options:
Consider switching from beer to cocktails. A stoutly poured cocktail can carry the alcoholic weight of two or even three beers, allowing you to match them in rounds without cutting back on your natural intake. Instead of running circles around them (and their egos), you’ll merely jog next to them with a 100-proof rucksack strapped to your back. You might also consider a couple windsprints before meeting up with your less athletic cronies.
If subterfuge doesn’t appeal to you, you’re going to have to go on the offensive. Realize that in most drinking circles you would be revered and saluted. Make them understand that the real problem isn’t that you drink too much, it’s that they’re a gang of slack-jawed lightweights.
Next time one of them makes a remark about your aggressive consumption, turn the tables with this troika of stingers:
The “Only Midgets Call Me Giant” Ploy:
“Man, I wish I had as low a tolerance as you. It would save me a helluva lot of money.”
The “It’s All Relative, You Goddamn Nazi” Defense:
“Well, you know what they say—some drink like Churchill, some drink like Hitler. Eh, mein fuhrer?”
The “I Seek the Higher Mountain” Gambit:
“I know it’s easier to play it safe and cautious like you, but I want more from life. I want adventure! I want to push the limits! I want to live life to the fullest, damn you!”
With any luck at all you’ll shame them into stepping up to your level of expertise.
Dear Concerned Cad:
Here’s my situation. I hope you can help. I recently started hanging out at a new bar and have found myself attracted to one of the ladies who works there. Amazingly, I think she might be interested in me as well. She makes a point of coming over and saying hello every time I’m in, sometimes a pat on the arm, etc. After careful observation, this is more than other regulars get from her. Also, she works the tables and I sit at the bar, so it seems unlikely that she’s bucking for the big tip. So, here’s the tricky part: I have worked in a few bars in my time. I know how guys who ask out the girls on the clock are perceived. I don’t want to be that guy. How can I make a move without seeming like a total douchebag? Or is it even advisable, since I would hate to make such a flagrant breach in the rules of proper drinking protocol? What do you think?
—Stuck Between Human Nature and The Code of Conduct
You are quite correct in your assumption that asking her for a date while she’s on the clock is a bad move. If she says no, both of you will be forever uncomfortable and you’ll most likely have to go into exile to another bar for at least three months.
Furthermore, your chances of success are diminished because she too is aware of The Code and will be afraid of giving other patrons the impression she is open to all sorts of advances while she’s on the job.
Which leaves you two alternatives. The best, of course, is to meet her on neutral ground, off the clock. You can arrange a “chance” meeting by eavesdropping and finding out where she spends her free time.
Failing that, you can attempt a stealth date. While in the bar, casually remark that you and some friends (this is important) are going to see a band that she’s likely to find agreeable. Tell her you have an extra ticket if she wants to tag along. So long as you keep the excitement out of your voice and matters on a purely platonic level, this does not technically violate The Code. The great thing about live bands is they provide a self-standing purpose — no one has to confess romantic inclinations of any sort, but merely a similar taste in bands.
If she says yes, make sure you do bring your friends along, or she’ll think it a crass violation of The Code and be forced to behave accordingly.
If things go well, you can ask her to join you for drinks after the show, where you can attempt get on more intimate terms.
If she turns down your offer to see the band, that’s fine, no one is uncomfortable and the ball is in her court. You have obliquely expressed your interest and she may ask you out if she wishes. Oddly, there is no stigma whatsoever with a staff member asking a patron out.
Dear Concerned Cad:
If I may pose this query as a rhyme
Besides the meetings and the verbal choleric
What difference between the drunkard sublime
And the sad, diseased alcoholic?
I am curious to hear what will surely be a very slanted opinion.
If you mean slanted in the sense of speaking the truth loudly where others would couch it in whispers, then I’m leaning like the Tower of Pisa, chum.
Your question is a valid one, considering the times we live in. What was once the norm is now reason for condemnation and confinement. There was a time when drinking with gusto meant you were at best a vital member of society, at worst, human. But now your three (or more) drinks after work serves to brand you an antisocial cretin deserving of whatever terrible circumstance can be visited upon you. So, you might ask, what the hell happened?
Some of my chauvinist peers would place the blame squarely on women getting the power to vote. While it is true that that turn of events ushered in Prohibition, the ladies are not entirely at fault.
The real reason is we are fighting a two-front war. It used to be alcohol was under siege solely from the Religious Right (The Women’s Christian Temperance Union being a notorious example), but nowadays the real threat comes from the politically-correct nannies of the Left.
Why would these self-proclaimed liberals want to take away our after-work beer? Because they think they’re smarter than us. We’re a gang of dummies incapable of making our own decisions, so they’re going to make them for us.
I do agree with the opposition on one point. Everyone shouldn’t drink. There are those, AA meetings are full of them, who are, quite frankly, horrible drunks. You know who I’m talking about — they’ll have two beers and turn into Attila the Hun, ruining the drinking experience of everyone within earshot. The more self-aware of that gang rightly choose not to drink. As the Bible says, their right hand offended them, so they chopped it off. Which is fine, except some of them would also, purely out of spite, like to chop off everyone else’s right hand too.
I am often asked by that crowd why I defend my right to get loaded so vehemently. I’ll let Lord Byron field that one:
He’s a fool who gives over the liquor,
It softens the skinflint at once,
It urges the slow coach on quicker,
Gives spirit and brains to the dunce.
The man who is dumb as a rule
Discovers a great deal to say,
While he who is bashful since Yule
Will talk in an amorous way.
It’s drink that uplifts the poltroon
To give battle in France and in Spain,
Now here is an end of my turn,
And fill me that bumper again!
Pretty sharp for a dead guy.
Dear Concerned Cad:
My bartender recently informed me the famous drunk Dylan Thomas didn’t drink himself to death, as is widely believed, but was killed by a doctor who misdiagnosed his condition. Enlighten me, please.
—Dylan Was Framed
The bartender was undoubtedly referencing the 1997 book The Death of DylanThomas by British biographer George Tremlett and Yank neurosurgeon James Nashold. The authors contend there is near-irrefutable proof that the Welsh literary giant was not hustled to an early grave by the 18 bourbons he downed in a single sitting, but rather the drugs administered by Dr. Thomas Feltenstein, who apparently wasn’t aware Dylan Thomas was a diabetic. Misdiagnosing Thomas’ lethargy for alcoholic stupor (even though it was days after his drinking feat), he injected Thomas with cortisone, morphine and Benzedrine, shocking his system into a fatal diabetic coma. When two young doctors at the hospital questioned Feltenstein’s diagnosis, the book claims he destroyed the medical records that would label him a quack.
So there you have it. Often feted as a dire warning to young poets who would have their way with the booze, Dylan Thomas’ fate may now be considered a caveat against quacks.
Dear Concerned Cad:
What’s the hands-down best way to get a free drink?
—As a Matter of Fact, Being-Broke-Is-My-Job
There are as many ways to wile a free drink as there are to get a hangover. You probably know about and make excellent use of art gallery openings, brewery tours or simply moping around your friends’ house until they get irritated enough to buy you a twelve pack of Meisterbrau. For the more sporting chaps, however, there’s a vast arsenal at your disposal, namely age-old bar tricks that were once known as Check Payers. Wildly popular in the ‘40s and ‘50s, they have virtually vanished from bars and clubs today, which makes them all the more effective.
Here’s how they work: when it comes time to pick up the tab or pay for the round, offer a friendly wager with your drinking companions or bartender for the price of the drinks. For example:
Bet that you can breathe underwater indefinitely. The idea of holding your head underwater will probably appeal to them on some level, so they are likely to accept the wager. At which point you simply hold a glass of water over your head, smile in a “Better luck next time, chaps!” sort of way, then run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.
Another fine trick is to tell the patron on the next bar stool that you will introduce him to a blonde from Paris if he buys you a drink. If he agrees, and he probably will, tell the bartender to put this one together. (Don’t tell him the name, it tends to spoil the fun.)
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
1 oz. Gin
1/4 oz. Creme De Cassis
2 oz. cream
Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass and serve.
Accept the drink, salute your benefactor then drink it down like there’s a fire in your belly. When he asks when he can meet the French blonde, give him an odd look and say, “You just did, chum. She liked me better.”
Once again, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I am currently unemployed so my girlfriend buys all my drinks. Every day it gets a little harder to swallow, literally. I feel like I’m trading my pride for booze. What should I do?
—Guilty But Thirsty
Listen, pal, this is a column for people with problems, not a forum for bragging.
Dear Concerned Cad:
As a transplanted native of New Orleans, I’m having a hard time adjusting to the liquor stores closing at midnight and the bars shutting down at 2 am. Is there any chance for some after-hours action in this town?
—Too Sober To Sleep
Dear Too Sober:
Sorta. While Denver has many charms, liberal drinking laws is not one of them. To carry the party past last call you have to be a bit more cunning and, sad to say, more flat-out ruthless than you would in more cosmopolitan burgs. Here’s how:
1) The Secret Lives Of Bartenders
Bar owners are loath to admit it (and some probably aren’t aware), but there are after-hour drinking parties at many of the bars you habit. Sometimes they are just a brief respite for the staff to wind down after a long night of putting up with you and your ilk, other times they are all-out booze fests that last until the wee hours. Most veteran drinkers have been privileged enough to sit in on at least a few, and because it’s the staff—the zoo keepers if you will—who are getting hammered, it’s a great opportunity to try out some highly experimental cocktails. I will go so far as to say the majority of the cocktails we enjoy today were created during these sessions.
The catch is, they’re not easy to get invited to. I mean, why should they invite you, a rank outsider, into their beautiful circle? What have you to offer? Here’s a couple suggestions:
Date one of the staff. Then you can claim to be his or her ride home. Failing that, transform yourself into an affable, high-tipping regular, a guy who’s such a gas to have around they’ll start thinking you might add some flavor to the after-hours banter. You’ll know when you’ve made it when the bartender, after screaming at everyone else to leave, turns to you and whispers, “You’re cool.” And at that point, you are cool.
The beauty of it is, once you do one after-hours—and behave yourself—your chances of being invited to the next one are vastly improved. Thing is, you have to prove yourself worthy every time or you’ll lose your AHP (After-Hours Power). It’s unfair, but that’s the way it works. Bar staff are taking a chance by having you there and you have to make them want to take that chance. And don’t expect it every night. You’ll know by the staff‘s behavior at last call if they’re going to throw one. If it seems unlikely, for the love of God, don’t try to talk them into one.
If it does seem likely, make yourself useful, put up chairs, cool down conflicts, make the staff feel you’re on their team. If you help the bouncer/bartender drag out a troublemaker, odds are you’re going to get a victory drink. Drink it slow, cross that indefinable time line, and you’ll be hooching all night.
2.) The Party Conjuror
If you haven’t caught wind of a party by last call, you’re not out of the game yet. Do this: seek out a friend or even a casual acquaintance who you know has the booze but not the motivation to stay up drinking, then assail his weaker emotions. After last call, spot two attractive females on the other side of the room and tell your victim the ladies want to hang out for some after-hours cocktails. This doesn’t have to be true, he just has to believe it is. Tell him you’re going to set it all up. Get his address then go over to the girls and invite them. If they say no, engage them in some idle chit-chat, tell them anything you want, just make sure your pal can see but not hear you.
Walk back to him with a big sloppy smile and say, “It’s all set. I gave them your address and they’re definitely going to be there after they pick up some smokes. The cute one really digs you, man!”
Once you get to his place, dive into the booze immediately. Then pretend to wait, drinking as fast as you can. Say things like, “They were pretty loaded, I hope they didn’t get in an accident,” and later, “Those goddamn whores! Toying with our emotions like that!” After an hour he’ll start getting upset, but hey, now you’re too drunk to drive home. Ask to crash on his sofa and as soon as he hits the sack, it’s a wide open bar, baby.
3.) The Soft Drink Switcheroo
If all else fails, fall back on this time-tested gambit: stop at a 24-hour supermarket that sells 3.2 beer and doesn’t lock the coolers at midnight. Go to the soft drink section and find the premium root beers. Select one of the brands that feature the cardboard six-pack carriers that hide everything except the top of the bottles. Go to the beer cooler and trade out the root beer for 3.2 beer. Try to find a lesser known or imported beer, something that isn’t instantly recognizable by its bottle cap. If you get caught at the check out, act innocent, even offended that they were trying to push beer on you. If you get away with, don’t waste any drinking time feeling guilty. Premium root beer and 3.2 beer cost about the same. The only person who’s getting the shaft is the sap who takes home a sixer of Barqs when he wanted beer. But screw that guy, anyone who buys 3.2 beer when he could go to the liquor store and get the real deal doesn’t need to drink anyway.
See you at the check-out stand!
Dear Concerned Cad,
I like to get really drunk, then do hilarious and mind boggling things. The problem is that the next day, all of the things I did are neither hilarious nor mind boggling, they are simply lame. But I have found that a few beers makes me feel much better about the experience, and in fact it makes me not give a crap about what I did. Is this a standard practice for drunks?
“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare said, and he was more right than he knew. Problem is, we have to spend most of our lives stuck in the cheap seats, straining our eyes to see what’s going on. There is an agreeable usher on hand, however, and if you get friendly with him, he’ll move you closer to the action.
That usher, of course, is alcohol. The more you buddy up with the guy the closer he moves you, and if you spend the evening getting really tight with the fellow, you’ll find yourself right up on stage, at the very center of the drama, delivering the performance of your life.
Sometimes the reviews aren’t exactly fawning, come morning. Those who don’t know the usher will be especially deprecating, but that’s only because they’re too far from the stage to fully absorb your brilliance.
As you noted, however, sometimes even you might have doubts about the value of your performance, but pay no mind. In the words of the peerless actor (and consummate drunk) Sir Laurence Olivier: “After the play I may think I was awful, but while on stage I’m sure I’m sublime.”
Dear Concerned Cad:
I am a gainfully-employed, fully-functioning drunkard who frequently finds himself supporting moneyless alcoholic friends. I don’t go to any house, any party, any theater without my own supply and yet I am constantly dishing out my drink out of generosity and feelings of guilt that I am drinking and others are not. How can I maintain my heroic intake of booze around my friends without these feelings of guilt and selfishness and ultimately, without giving half my booze away?
—Alexander in Canberra
Your problem, Alex, is you are trapped between two primary laws of drinking. The first law, the one that’s lending you the wholly undeserved feelings of guilt and emptying your pocket, is the Law of the Open Bottle. This age-old covenant states that if you have booze, and your friends do not, you must share the wealth. Your friends seem keenly aware of this law, as most drunks are.
The other law, the one that they seem keen to forget, is the Law of Round Reciprocity. Also known as the Buy Back Rule, this states that when someone buys you a drink, at the next opportunity you must complete the cycle (or close the circuit, if you will) by buying a round in return.
As it stands, you haven’t broken any laws of drinking and they have, repeatedly. In the old days, when Bacchus was running the show, they would be chased out of the bar like mangy curs. So cast aside any feeling of guilt and cut them off. It is your duty as a proper drunkard to educate these savages. If they don’t start learning the rules, the whole system will come crashing down around us and we’ll be forced to drink in caves like hermits.
If they start whining about you being stingy, tell them: “You know how electricity works, right? If you don’t close the circuit, you don’t get any juice.”
Dear Concerned Cad:
I’m in the military, and my favorite drinking buddy was recently forced to attend AA meetings, and I have a feeling I may be on the same road. Apparently they can do that. I was wondering what pointers you could give me to combat their rhetoric and possibly save my good drinking buddy, one of the greatest drunks this world has ever known.
—Still Searching for a Decent Bar in Middle Georgia
Dear Still Searching:
Just as it’s harder to get sucked into a movie when someone has told you the entire plot line, you’ll have a much better chance of surviving AA if you know exactly how their gig goes down.
First, be aware that AA uses the same effective techniques a lot of other successful cults use. Second, their approach is very subtle, so you have to stay on your toes.
Right off the bat, they will encourage you to admit you’re an alcoholic. Now, you and I might consider the tag a hard-earned badge of honor, but to this gang it means victim. Next they will try to get you to believe that you are a powerless victim. That alcohol is not, in fact, the means to a good time, but rather a terrible tyrant you never had a chance against from the start.
Finally, they will try to convince you that you will always be a powerless victim, right up to the day you die.
That’s how it works. First they take away your identity, then your self-determination, then your hope.
Remind you of anything? That’s right: basic training. The difference being, the military is interested in creating aggressive soldiers, while A.A. seeks to create powerless slaves.
Fortunately, those forced to attend A.A. usually arrive with their self-esteem still intact. And because of that, your first instinct will be open defiance. Resist that feeling. First, it’s hard to maintain, because they’re all so damned nice and caring. See, all they want to do is protect you from that big mean bottle that so effortlessly kicked all of their asses up and down the street of life. And since they couldn’t handle it, they figure you can’t either. If you tell them you don’t have a problem with the booze, they’ll counterattack with hugs and gentle speeches and smug little frowns. What’s worse, they’ll make a project out of you.
Subterfuge is the smarter path. Remember what you learned in basic training: keep a low profile. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Never volunteer information. If they ask you to make a testimonial, do not launch into those drinking stories you like telling at the bar. They will detect the relish in your voice and try their damnedest to squash it. Instead, tell the most boring and mundane stories you can think of. Make them think you have as much personality as the chair you’re sitting on.
All the while, keep this in mind: you have absolutely nothing in common with these people. You are an Olympic athlete forced to attend an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. They are the defeated, the weak, the forlorn. Where they failed, you succeed. Your self-esteem is your best defense, keep it intact and you’ll graduate with flying colors and an undiminished taste for alcohol.
One final caveat: don’t try to free any of the slaves. Though they will never admit it, they are slaves by choice and not the sort of people you’d want to drink with.
Dear Concerned Cad:
My girlfriend is super religious, but I’m not even sure if God exists. Is there a drink for that?
Why, yes, Terry, there is.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once claimed to have seen the Almighty, up close, while loaded on absinthe. His pal Ernest Hemingway also claimed the liquor gave him “religious feelings” to the point he would sometimes drift into churches to pray while in the Green Faerie’s grip.
Of course, getting absinthe at a bar is (except for a few rare cases) nearly impossible in the States, so we’ll fall comfortably back on a libation collected by cocktailologist extraordinaire Charles H. Baker Jr. in his excellent drink guide Around the World with a Jigger, Beaker and Flask(1939).
1 oz. Babylonian Grape Brandy (cognac)
1½ oz. Sodom and Gomorrah (Italian vermouth)
¾ oz Rum aged in Noah’s Ark (light rum)
½ tsp. Cain’s Syrup from the Garden of Eden (grenadine)
Citrus from the Desert of Sin (4 drops of lime juice)
Ice from the Crest of Mount Sinai (finely cracked ice)
Give it a good shake, pop a cherry on top and yell “Hallelujah!” after drinking.
Teach this recipe to the bartenders at your local haunts, then announce to your girlfriend that you have found The Light. Then, whenever you pop into one of your locals with your girlfriend (just tell her you just want to shake down the sinners a little), greet the bartender with a righteous and resounding, “Hallelujah!” When the cocktail arrives, quickly drink it down. The customary after-drink “Hallelujah!” will also serve to order your next round.
When your girlfriend asks what the Devil is going on, say, “I have no idea. Every time I praise the Lord a delicious cocktail appears. He does indeed work in mysterious ways.”
This should serve to confound her and, perhaps in some small way, bring you a little closer to the Almighty (after about eight Hallelujahs you may even catch a glimpse of him.)
Dear Concerned Cad:
As I approach the “autumn of my years” some of my friends and many relatives have taken to relentlessly importuning me to abandon my drinking. They resist all arguments about health benefits and the simple pleasure it brings.
Why won’t they leave me the hell alone?
–Awaiting Your Sage Advice
Why won’t they leave you alone? Because they rightfully suspect you’re having a much better time than they are. It’s basic human nature. It’s never the people at the party that complain about the noise, its always the sober and spiteful neighbors next door.
The bigger question is: why did they decide at some point that they had to slow down? Some will have a good excuse (child rearing), some will have a bad one (getting serious about their careers) and some will have no excuse at all.
It is a very American idea that at a certain age we’re supposed to stop enjoying ourselves, become “responsible,” and start waiting for Death to make his rounds. It a rather dubious gift of our Puritan forefathers: for every pleasure, they assumed, there must be a penance, a time on the rack. So if you lived it up in your spring and summer years, surely you must live it down in the autumn and winter.
Which is a perfectly ridiculous notion. Alcohol was once considered the solace of the aging, a gentle crutch to carry them to the darkening horizon. If the Bible is to be believed, Noah drank (and plenty) into his eighties. When a Viking became too old to plunder villages for booze, he was issued a standard ration of mead to ease him toward Valhalla. And wasn’t it William Faulkner who said, “A man shouldn’t fool with booze until he’s fifty; then he’s a damn fool if he doesn’t.”?
It’s the same as anything. The strong will carry on, and the weak will fall to the wayside then try to convince the strong that the ditch they’re lying in is actually far superior to the wide-open road. Winners never quit and quitters ever whine.
So don’t expect them to get off your back anytime soon. What you need to do is accept your mantle as the black sheep of your clan, turn a deaf ear to their complaints and revel in your time.
I mean, do you think the Vikings ever gave a damn what the villagers said about them?
Dear Concerned Cad:
What’s the deal with pink elephants? I drink a hell of a lot of liquor and I’ve never seen one. Are they extinct?
—Big Game Hoocher
Etymologists tell us the creatures are most likely a descendant of “pink giraffes” who were said to follow drunks around as early as the 1890s. The idea being, if you happen to find yourself drinking with a large, exotic, unnaturally-hued creature, you are well into your cups indeed.
The first mention of the elephant moving in on the giraffe’s action is in Jack London’s brilliant drunkard confessional John Barleycorn (1913), when he spoke of a type of drunkard “who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.”
Guy Lombardo wrote and performed a popular song about the plastered pachyderms in 1932 (a purple cow, lavender alligator and a polka-dot boa constrictor also made appearances in the song, but they were strictly B-team.)
Most of us were most likely introduced to the animal long before we took our first drink, thanks to the rather startling “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in the classic 1941 Disney film Dumbo. Remember the song?
During that great drinking era that was the 1940s-1960s, the beast was tamed and transformed from the stuff of dipsomaniac nightmares into a lovable icon that promised a good time.
Becoming very nearly ubiquitous throughout the cocktail culture, pink elephants appeared on bar napkins, coasters, glassware, flasks and anything else that had to do with drinking.
But just like rye whiskey and the swizzle stick, the pink elephant eventually faded from the culture and presently survives only as a quaint idea.
That said, if you really want to see a pink elephant, your bartender can point you in the right direction:
Pink Elephants on Parade
4 oz vodka
4 oz pink lemonade
½ oz Midori Melon Liqueur
Mix and drink.
Dear Concerned Cad:
Just a question that popped into my head at the end of happy hour (and me broke again!). Is it possible to be truly happy without being filthy, stinking rich?
—Poor and Unhappy
Well, of course it is. As an astute German nobleman once noted, “No matter how rich you are, you can still only drink 16 or 17 liters of beer a day.”
Dear Concerned Cad:
My friend the cop (I’ll leave him unnamed) insists that police officers are among the biggest boozers in the world. Fact or fiction?
—Helen In Evergreen
Just the facts, ma’am—it’s true. Like members of other high-tension professions, law officers turn to alcohol for stress relief. And why not? It’s legal and won’t, after a short period of time, show up on a drug test. And besides, it’s a matter of tradition. The beat officers of turn-of-the-century New York, Irishmen for the most part, were nicknamed “wobblies” because they would often walk their beats in an intoxicated condition.
Don’t expect to find policemen falling down drunk at your favorite watering hole, however, as they, perhaps sensing the public’s inability to appreciate the irony of the situation, generally drink in bars that cater to their own, every town has at least one.
For further affirmation, pick up one of Joseph Wambaugh’s excellent novels. An ex-career police officer, Wambaugh not only gives sharp insights of life in the LAPD, but also provides excellent primers on getting extremely loaded. Sadly, I’ve found that bringing up this rich irony while leaning back and touching your nose to the beat of swirling blue lights to be a poor choice of topic or tactic.
Dear Concerned Cad:
After my drinking friends went home late on a Sunday night, I was still thirsty so I strolled to the nearest lounge. I ordered a drink from the waitress and as she handed me the bottle I was caught between her beauty and the beer and I dropped it on the counter. The base of the bottle slammed the counter and the beer splashed out all over the waitress’ chest. I apologized and sat down in a booth alone. I finished what was left of my beer and noticed the waitress avoiding my table. I went to the bar for another and was halted by the owner who said, “It’s cold outside, I don’t think you need another.” I sat in my booth without a drink and listened to a few tunes on the jukebox before I walked home in the snow. After the incident I cringe each time I walk past the bar and am too ashamed to go back in. Should I ever go back and order a drink? It is the closest bar to my place, so I am confused.
Not only should you go back, you must go back. First off, everyone who ever had the nerve to apply the title drunkard to their name has dropped a bottle and spilled a little beer. Your offense is trifling compared to behavior of other great drunks. The great poet Dylan Thomas, for instance, would crawl about on the floor and snarl like a vicious dog, sometimes even biting the ankles of innocent patrons. The next day he would stroll in, tell a few jokes about “the hair of the dog,”, buy the house a round, then, a few hours later, get down (on all fours, as it were) to some serious ankle work. This happened so often it became a tourist attraction of sorts.
So here’s the battle plan—go into the bar completely sober and order a drink. Odds are she won’t even remember the incident, spilling beer and breaking glass is like blood at a bullfight, these things happen every night. If she does appear to remember the misfortune, make light of it. Say something banty and self-effacing like, “Sorry about the other evening, I thought it was wet T-Shirt night and I was trying to lend a hand.” Then have a few drinks, tip well, say goodbye, then go drop bottles somewhere else. Later you will both laugh about it, which will serve to lever you into position to ask her out. So you see, my drunken comrade, from funerals come flowers, and from spilled beer comes fresh opportunities.
Dear Concerned Cad:
All my favorite authors and poets (Hemingway, Faulkner, Pound, Byron) were alcoholics. Were they great because or in spite of their drinking habits? Do you have to be a drunk to be a good writer?
—Just Starting Out
Dear Starting Out:
Yes, as a matter of fact, you do. I’m not saying pounding booze is going to automatically make you a better writer, but it certainly can’t hurt.
I’m also certain your creative writing instructor in high school spent an entire class fretting aloud about how much greater those masters of prose and poetry would have been if they’d just laid off that awful booze. Well, let me tell you something—they would have all sucked and you’d never have heard of them. If your teacher’s logic were true there would be scads of great teetotaler writers instead of a meager few.
I scan my extensive library and can’t find a single master who wasn’t a certified drunk. F. Scott? Boozehead. Mark Twain? Drunkard. Dylan Thomas? Whiskey addict. Mailer? Sot. Kerouac? Big boozer. Wilde, Swinburne, D.H. Lawrence? Hooch hounds!
Now, one could argue that too much drink brought low some of the greats from their dizzying heights of genius, but it was the creativity and life-enhancing properties of alcohol that put them in that high tower in the first place. And if you’re going to fall, you might as well dive from such a height that you can enjoy the view on the way down.
Don’t you agree?
Dear Concerned Cad:
Does drinking four beers a day qualify me as a drunk?
–Confused in California
Yes and no. According to AA and any number of prohibitionist organizations, you qualify for full-fledged drunk status if you manage to put down two drinks a day. So, in their eyes at least, you are a super double-drunk. Congrats!
However, in the eyes of dedicated drinkers—those who consider the word “alcoholic” a badge of honor and honest effort—you are what’s known as a Happy Hour Hero: you have your hands on the oar but you’re not doing much pulling.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I keep hearing that quote about how Abraham Lincoln, when told General Grant was a raging drunk, gave the order to find out what brand of whiskey Grant drank so he could give some to his other generals. What brand was it? I want to be a kick-ass leader of men too.
–An Ambitious Lieutenant in Ft. Lewis
It was Old Crow (and plenty of it) that saw Ulysses through America’s darkest hours. Andrew Jackson, another general who shifted the party from the battlefield to the White House, also swore by the stuff. Remember to save some for the troops.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I notice that bartenders are held in high regard in your magazine, and while I recognize their vital job, I would also like to voice some anger. I am getting tired of bartenders rolling their eyes as if I’m laying a terrible burden on them when I ask for a drink that contains more than three ingredients and requires more effort than holding a pint glass under a tap. For all the money they make you’d think they’d be a little more helpful. If I went to a restaurant and asked for extra cheese on my dinner salad, I wouldn’t expect them to get snotty about it. So what’s the deal?
–Still Waiting For a Drink at the End of the Bar
I’m going to tell you a secret that may shake your belief system right to its very foundations. If you’re unwilling to have your world turned upside down, turn the page.
Here it is: Most bartenders secretly despise their customers.
Don’t get me wrong. Some bartenders love their patrons more than their own flesh and blood. But they are in the minority.
So why would the majority loathe the very people who put money in their pockets? Couple reasons. Ever walk into a bar at last call while stone cold sober and spend a little time with your hammered friends? If you were in a similar condition you’d think them the greatest guys in the world, but while sober they can be rather vexing. Now imagine if you had to do that eight hours a day, five days a week. They’re not only paid to serve us, they’re paid to put up with us. Secondly, bartenders dispense something we want very much and anyone with that much power is going to get a little mad with it. All the money, conversely enough, tends to fuel this power mongering.
So what’s to be done? Nothing. It’s been this way since the first wine seller set up shop in Babylon. If you can find a genuinely friendly one, stick to her like glue. If you can’t, then just play along. Focus on your drinking and try not to wonder what’s behind that strained smile. Just pretend it’s as real as the money you’re laying on the bar.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I’m currently on the tail end of my freshman year in college and living in the dorms. Being a generous fellow, and a somewhat accomplished drunkard for my age, I generally am quite free with my alcohol. I’ll gladly invite complete strangers over for a drink, particularly the female ones. Lately, however, my budget has grown tight, and I’m having trouble meeting my cigarette and whiskey obligations. Since I’m already drinking the worst cheap bourbon imaginable, I was forced to institute a payment system (well, ladies still drink free). All of a sudden, I’m an asshole because I won’t let people drink all my goddamn booze! I’m a generous guy, but I gotta look out for number one. Help me out here, Cad.
–John in Iowa City
Ah, yes. The golden goose stops laying eggs and suddenly everybody starts wondering what pâté de foie gras tastes like.
You obviously wanted those people in your dorm room or you wouldn’t have invited them in, and if you do invite someone in, you must abide by the rules of Drunkard Hospitality. Which means, yes, you must provide drinks. Which can be expensive. So naturally you asked for money.
Which was a mistake. While it’s true drunks will empty their pockets in a bar, paying for a drink in a private residence always seems sordid. Why? It’s the Brothel Syndrome. You pay for sex inside a brothel, but outside it’s utterly free. Similarly, once a bottle leaves a liquor store it radically changes in value. It no longer represents its equivalence in dollars, it instead represents bonhomie, hospitality and good times, things everyone expects to be freely shared.
Now, if Mr Manners were fielding this ball he’d probably tell you to impress upon your guests the idea that they are expected to bring beer, wine or liquor to your get-togethers. But the problem with Mr. Manners is, he’s an idiot. If those cheap bastards had ready access to beer, wine and liquor they wouldn’t have cursed you so roundly for cutting them off.
Your best hope is the age-old Chip In Ploy. It goes like this: When guests arrive, announce that you are fresh out of hooch but are about to make a run to the liquor store and would they like you to get something for them? Or would they care to chip in on a bottle or case?
They probably will. Why? Because the booze is still sitting on a shelf in the liquor store and thus still has a tangible monetary value. When you were asking money for booze you already possessed, you were the Man, but now you’re a brother-in-arms looking for a little help. Watch how it works.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I’m tired of guys saying I drink too much, just because I can drink them under the table. Is it some kind of macho defensive tactic? I’d love to hear your take on the subject.
Men are frightened of women capable of drinking them under the table because we’re afraid you’ll take advantage of us while we’re passed out.
Not really. The real reason is that historically drinking has been considered a male sport. Not so long ago women weren’t even allowed to drink with men, never mind outdrink them. It was considered something we are naturally better at. Which, physiologically speaking, is generally true. Because women tend to be lighter in weight and carry more body fat, they get drunker faster.
Thus, insecure men will feel threatened by women who can out drink them. Or beat them in a basketball game. Or beat them up in general. So, yes, it is a macho thing.
But times are changing. Women are not only drinking more than they used to, they’re drinking stronger drinks. And just as there are now female cops, CEOs and senators, there are a growing number women at the bar, matching men shot for shot.
So keep drinking them under the table. And if they don’t like it, beat the living crap out of them.
Dear Concerned Cad,
I am a reasonably young, reasonably attractive woman who enjoys a quiet drink or five when I’m forced to travel for business. Unfortunately, “reasonably young and attractive” turns into “Bridget Bardot look-alike” to sleazy businessmen from Omaha six Scotches into a padded expense account.
I’ve been told by those whose opinion I trust that any woman alone at a bar is seen as “fair game” and “easy.” I don’t want to appear as such, I just find that drinking kills a lot of time and helps me unwind from a long day of meetings. Plus, I like to drink. I’ve tried ignoring the “her drink’s on me” types by burying my nose in a book, intently watching whatever game is on, and pretending not to speak English, but a drunken salesman can be quite persistent. Is there a way to stave off unwanted advances and just enjoy getting quietly drunk in a dark hotel bar?
–Sign me, Wanting To Get Tight, Not Be Seen As Loose
P.S. I am married and clearly wear a ring, but that is totally ignored by all and sundry.
I feel your pain, sister. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at a bar, minding my own business, and some pushy dame starts forcing drinks down my throat. Then, once my sterling virtues have been eroded by devil alcohol, she turns into Ms. Octopus. Then I—well, I usually stop dreaming and wake up.
Just a little joke, but it illustrates a point. Men tend to be aggressors and women tend to be defenders. Blame society, testosterone or Hollywood, but it’s a fact. Men will attack, that’s not going to change, so you’re going to focus on digging deeper and better moats.
Your current defensive tactics are actually working against you. A lone woman reading a book at a bar is very nearly irresistible to most men. It makes you appear lonely and intellectual. Intently watching a sports game sends the signal that you’re a sporty lass, and guys love that. And you know how American men feel about innocent foreign women so helpless they haven’t even learned the native tongue yet. The ring won’t help at all, half the men approaching you probably have one too— though it’s probably buried in their pocket for safekeeping. And forget the “I prefer women” ploy, every heterosexual male operates under the assumption he can turn any lesbian around with the sheer power of his manly charm.
You are not without hope, however, because there are three time-tested strategies specifically designed to fend off the horny hordes. Namely:
Your Blue Balls May Earn You a Black Eye
No matter what smooth line he lays on you, fearfully whisper: “Listen, I’m waiting for my husband. I know you’re a nice guy and all, but if he sees you talking to me he’s going murder us both.”
Stare at the bar’s entrance as you say it, like the hulking bastard is ready to lunge through the door at any moment. The impending arrival of a jealous and potentially homicidal husband has a chilling effect on the most overactive libido. It doesn’t matter if your imaginary husband ever shows up. If your would-be suitor comes near you again, just throw a look of terror toward the entrance. Fear is infectious. He’ll keep his distance.
Befriend the Gatekeeper
Sit at the bar. When you order your first drink quietly inform the bartender that you’re alone and don’t wish to be bothered by stray males. Then tip well. Bartenders are instinctually protective of women who tip well. It’s part of their code. And the one person drunks don’t screw with is the guy pouring their drinks.
The instant the barroom Romeo starts slingling lines, start coughing. I mean, go to town with it. For fifteen full seconds, and don’t bother covering your mouth. When you stop, he’ll try again. Let him get in two words then start coughing again. Long and hard. When you finish, say: “I don’t know what it is. It’s been like this for a month. I hope to God it isn’t what I think it is.”
He’ll think the worse. Every sexual fantasy spinning through his head will come to a dead stop. Naked sick people are scary.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I’m a functioning alcoholic. One of those people who get “I can’t tell when you’re drunk” all the time. Little do they know I have whiskey with my cornflakes and sometimes don’t wait for lunch break to have a cocktail. The only thing that’s giving me away is my scent. It’s not horrific, but even after a shower and a good brushing of the ivories and tongue it’s still there. I’ve found Breath Assure to be helpful in the mouth department but that stuff is like four bucks a pop! Is there any other advice for me specifically in the “emanating from my pores” department?
–Sincerely, Haze of Booze
Dear Haze of Booze:
First thing in the morning, take an extremely long and hot shower. Stand in there until it’s like a goddamn sauna. Sweat out all the lingering booze in your pores. After toweling off, splash yourself with old school cologne. I’m talking Old Spice or Aqua Velva. Not only will it hide your tell-tale scent, your co-workers will not come within six feet of you. If they dare make a comment about it, confess your wife, child or girlfriend gave it to you as birthday present and you have to wear it. As for your booze breath, gargle and drink an entire can of Spicy V-8. Tomato juice will get the smell of skunk off a dog, and it’ll get the smell of last night out of your mouth.
Drink on, brother.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I am faced with the dreadful dilemma of reaching my late twenties and finding that while my passion for liquor and beer has increased in intensity, my, how shall I put this, storage of said liquor is becoming increasingly obvious. Despite finding the recent need to purchase new slacks and a stronger belt, I cannot bring myself to give up my boozing/expanding. I have attempted to give up food, but found the withdrawal pains far too severe, and as for trying to subsist on a diet of liquor and bar food, my previous employer/girlfriend/neighbor can tell you that course of action was unsuccessful. Anyway, the bottom line is: How do I remain slim and continue to break my personal bests as consistently as I have been?
Dear Aging Boozehead:
Alas, it’s a sad fact that as we get older our metabolism slows down and we end up looking more like Jackie Gleason than William Faulkner.
But don’t blame the booze. At least not directly. A slew of recent medical studies suggest that the beer belly is a myth. Believe it or not, on average drinkers tend to be slimmer than teetotalers.
That said, America as a whole, drinkers and non-drinkers alike, is getting fatter. Why? Three reasons. One, we’re more sedentary than our forefathers. Two, we are constantly bombarded by advertising for very unhealthy food. And finally, the government foisted the wrong-headed carbohydrate-heavy Food Pyramid on the public thirty years ago. And we’ve been ballooning ever since.
So what’s the solution? A modified Atkins or Zone Diet, which I like to call the the Drunk Caveman. I’m talking meat and hard liquor. Most liquor doesn’t contain carbs, but the mixers do. If you drink Jack and Coke, switch to Diet Coke, or better yet, Jack on the rocks. Martinis are a safe bet and diet tonic isn’t noticeable after your third G and T. If you’re a beer man, much as I hate to say it, switch to the new low-carb varieties. They taste like hell, but they’ll get you just as drunk.
Now this may seem outright sacrilege and a hell of a sacrifice to you, but remember, you’ve become aware of a problem and you’ve decided to do something about it. Reaching a new goal almost always means changing your direction.
Will it work? Yes. Two years ago, after noticing my rib cage had gone into deep hiding, I embarked on the Drunk Caveman. I lost thirty pounds in six months.
Dear Concerned Cad:
Lately I haven’t been drinking as much as I would like. The thing that makes me concerned is that it’s not because I can’t stomach it or I don’t have any money, it’s that I don’t really feel like it. Is it possible to be too depressed to drink?
As with most endeavors, it’s all about taking that first step, or drink, as the case may be. You must have faith. Realize that after three drinks you’re going to feel much better about drinking. It’s like going to the gym: It can be the hardest thing in the world dragging yourself there, but once you get started, you feel fantastic.
That said, you can’t expect the whiskey to do all the work. Realize that booze and the bar that serves it doesn’t owe you a good time. It merely provides all the tools a human being needs to have a ball. A bar is a playground. And since there are no slides or seesaws to be had, you’re going to have to play with other people’s minds.
In his infamous 1813 scallywag manual Trappings of a Cad, Sir Edward Biddle referred to the practice of this dark art as “Going on the Hoot.” He and his cronies would drift from bar to bar, executing elaborate pranks on the staff and whatever unfortunate customers were on hand. Often their pranks would result in bodily harm, but what did Biddle care, he was high-born and protected by thick circles of money and power. As you probably lack both, here’s an assortment of less violent yet equally cruel tricks I sometimes use to liven up a long stretch of power drinking.
Bar Games for Bastards
Devil Rum’s Advocate
Sit at the bar and wait for someone to voice an opinion about something, anything—sports, religion, politics, the weather, whatever. Immediately pick an argument with him, even if your position is diametrically opposite to your actual beliefs. It’s really quite exhilarating, especially when your opponent states an opinion he believes utterly safe and widely held, making your counter-stance completely ridiculous and indefensible. For example, if your victim says Benito Mussolini was a nasty person, inform him you are in fact a card-carrying Blackshirt and we’d all be happier if Benito were in charge. March up and down while shouting, “At least he made the trains run on time!” If your victim speaks poorly of rain-forest destruction, announce that you are going to personally fly to Brazil to hack-and-slash as much vegetation as possible. Why? Because a rubber tree fell over and crushed your dad when you were a kid and you must have your sweet revenge. Or tell him you believe the faster humanity destroys the environment the faster we can build cool Battlestar Galactica-style colony ships and cruise the universe looking for alien chicks. You must speak with absolute, infatiguable fanaticism and never give in. You may get in a fistfight but, hey—you said you wanted excitement, right?
Free Drink Frenzy
Try to see how many free drinks you can sleaze and seize in one hour. Use every possible trick, back issues of this magazine will arm you with all the ammunition you’ll need. A caveat, however: this is one of those hobbies that sometimes turns into a lifestyle.
Pushing the Bartender’s Eject Button
The goal of this ruse is to get asked to leave the bar without doing anything violent or illegal. It’s harder than you think, so here’s a few time-tested tricks to employ. Note: never use these at your local bar because it will affect your ability to get a drink in the future.
Only communicate with the bartender by scribbling notes on bar napkins. Write “A pint of Guinness please” and earnestly pass it to him. Don’t say a word. He will assume you’re a mute until you start speaking with other customers. If the bartender inquires about your newfound ability to speak, nod aggressively, then dash off a quick note. It will drive him crazy and he will want to hurt you.
Dr. Heckle and Mr. Pie-Eyed
Walk into the bar stone cold sober and act uptight, like one of those chaps who has one wine spritzer and calls it a night. Then, halfway into your first drink, start acting sloppy drunk, to the point the bartender starts sizing you up for an escort to the door. Then spontaneously snap out of it and resume your uptight sober persona. Act outraged if he suggests you may be drunk. An upper-class English accent might be in order. Repeat until he develops an eye tic.
Never let your eyes leave the bartender, your hero. Act voraciously interested in everything he does; lean over the bar occasionally to get a better view of what he’s doing with the bottom rack. Bug your eyes with excitement when he pulls a tap. He will eventually ask you if you have a problem with him. Assure him you do not, you just like the way he’s doing things. Make simpering comments like, “The way you poured that Coors was awesome. Great technique!” Turn to other patrons and excitedly say, “Check out his shaker technique! See that wrist action? He’s the best ever!” Inquire about his schedule, so you can catch his next “show.” Watch the layers of his psyche slowly peel off right in front of you.
Stump the Bartender
Before going out, consult a bartender’s bible and write down in a notebook thirty of the most obscure cocktails you can find. Then go to the bar and start down your list. When he professes ignorance, act hurt and make a notation in your notebook, like he’s being graded. When he asks if you’d like something else, mumble a bitter, “No thanks.” Wait two minutes then brighten up and ask for the next cocktail on your list. Keep doing this until he wraps his hands around your throat.
How you win: Asked to leave (1 pt.). Physically escorted (3 pts) Bartender physically attacks you (5 pts). If you can earn ten points in one day, you may consider yourself an honorary member of Sir Edward Biddle’s Order of Bar Bastards!
Dear Concerned Cad:
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to my share of keggers, blow outs and booze-ups. I have recently reached the age, however, that people are now inviting me to proper cocktail parties. How is one expected to act at such a thing? I’m assuming keg stands are out.
Keg Savvy, Cocktail Confused
Indeed they are. A cocktail party, a real one anyway, is an institution defined by certain rules of order, and I don’t just mean the rules against vomiting on the drapes and hurling kegs out of third story windows. I wrestled mightily with the notion of browsing through my vast collection cocktail guides and etiquette manuals then echoing their facile counsel, but I would be doing you a great disservice.
Fact of the matter is, those books haven’t been updated since the Mamie Eisenhower used to wow foreign dignitaries with her splendid shaker technique in the Rose Garden. Those dusty old tomes are very good at telling how not to have good time, but fall gravely short on informing you how to throw together an evening you’ll never wish to forget — if can you remember it at all. The social attitudes that gave birth and molded the very concept of a “cocktail party” have radically changed, leaving many drinkers bereft of the slightest inkling on how to behave.
Which is where I come in. Just as baiting a pacifist into violence can teach you scads about human nature, I shall instruct you by savaging the rules that have aged into hideous half-truths and outright nonsense.
Cocktail Party Myth #1: Always arrive fashionably late.
This is a patently ridiculous idea. It is far better to arrive early, so early the host is still setting up the bar. If you are crashing the party and don’t know the man from Adam, bring along a large bag of ice and inform him “Mike” sent you ahead. If he inquires as to which Mike, tell him John’s pal. John who? Why, the John who used to date Heather. Eventually the key will turn.
An early entrance not only earns you first dibs on the choicest liquors, but also makes the fashionably late assume you’re a dear old friend of the host and will thus treat you with deference and respect. Either of which may stay the hand that wishes to alert the authorities to your behavior later.
Cocktail Party Myth #2: Be careful not to overdress, as it may put the host and guests ill at ease.
Putting those with which you will compete for liquor ill at ease is precisely want you want to do. A properly erected façade of superiority will enable you to act very badly while looking rather good. There’s an old saying that addresses the situation perfectly: “The difference between a philandering thug and a dashing rogue is a tuxedo.”
Cocktail Party Myth #3: Refrain from criticizing the bartender.
First off, the gentleman mixing the drinks is most likely not a bartender at all, but rather a befuddled oaf who thinks a muddler is someone given to interfering in the affairs of others (which is exactly what you should do.) Don’t be afraid of brazenly moving behind the bar and seizing control of the apparatus. If an incompetent sea captain is about to steer the bloody ship into an iceberg (or drown a martini in sweet vermouth, as the case may be), it is a gentleman’s right, no, duty to shove him aside and seize the wheel/cocktail shaker. Poorly executed cocktails, after all, have wrecked many more evenings than rogue slabs of ice.
Cocktail Party Myth #4: Stay alert for hints that the host may wish to wrap up the evening.
They make it sound as if you should cower near the door with one arm in your coat, ready to bolt into the night the instant the host glances at his watch. I say poppycock! Hosts are notorious blackguards of caution, and as such should never be allowed to sway the natural exuberance of the festivities. Instead of staying alert for hints — and who the devil is going to be alert at that hour? — you should meet each “It’s getting kinda late” and “Who needs a cab?” with complete oblivion or, if pressed, outright derision. I’ve watched parties that the host attempted to extinguish at midnight flare back up and rage on well into the following afternoon. Here’s an example of the Art of Kickstarting a Cold Host:
Host: “Well, good luck getting home.”
CC: “Home? The evening has just started.”
Host: It’s five in the morning. You’ve been here since six.
CC: We’ll just have one more. A night cap to cap off a perfect night.
Host: Okay, just one.
CC: That was very fine! Well, we might as well finish of the dregs of the bottle.
Host: It’s still half full.
CC: Now it isn’t! We’ll do these two and be on our way. Chin-chin.
Host: And that’s it.
CC: That’s an eye-opener! Look here, the bottle is like a wounded sheep now, bleating pitifully in the night. Civilized thing to do is finish it off and call it done. There, that puts it to bed.
Host: Okay, but this is really the end.
CC: Right you are and–Say, there it is! There’s that bottle of ouzo I brought specifically for this occasion. Been looking for it all night!
Host: That’s my bottle. My father-in-law brought it back from Greece.
CC: Are you sure? I brought one dead like it. Look, you can see where I nicked the label–old military custom.
Host: You just did that with your thumb!
CC: Did I? Must trim these claws. See here, since I brought this bottle as a gift, I would be gravely insulted if we didn’t do just one little nip. Then off I go.
Host: Fine. God I hate that stuff!
CC: Frightful, isn’t it? But we used to drink the devil out if back in the regiment, didn’t we, Bob? George? Let’s have one more nip for the regiment.
Host: Before you arrived with a bag of ice while I was setting up the bar, I’d never seen you before in my life.
CC: Are you certain? Well, here’s to new friends!
Host: Listen, I think I hear my wife crying in the bedroom.
CC: She’s not crying! She’s laughing! Uproariously!
Host: Believe me, she’s crying.
CC: All the more reason to have another, wouldn’t you say? Well, look who’s here!
Host: Who are those people?
CC: The fashionably late. We’ll give them one or two for the road and send them on their way. Who wants a shot of ouzo?
And there you have it. The party is now ready to slip into second gear and, with any luck at all, your host will either pass out or retreat to his bedroom to weep with his wife. Party on!
Dear Concerned Cad:
Out of the blue, my girlfriend and my side ladyfriend break up with me on the same day. Undaunted, I hit my regular bars and suddenly every girl that used to flirt with me now acts like I’m an out-of-work hunchback with bad breath. Desperate, I hit the meat-market clubs and nothing going. I used to hit like Mickey Mantle and now I’m swinging like Stephen Hawkings. What gives?
–Went From Gods’ Gift To Get The Hell Away From Me
Most advice columnists would probably tell you: “Hey, even Mickey had dry spells! Now step right back up to the plate and start swinging, champ! Also, seek counseling.” The Concerned Cad, however, will not cravenly lay the blame at the feet of vague statistics, and instead indict the real perpetrator. Namely, you. Yeah, you. Here’s the history of your fall from grace in three chapters:
1.) The Vanity That Was Rome: You got smug. Every high-wire artist will tell you their worst enemy up there is overconfidence. You were probably executing triple-backflips while shaking up a martini. And why not? You sagely had a back-up girlfriend, the safety net was in place. Unfortunately, the whole circus packed up and left town without you.
2.) Throwing Rocks At A Chained Dog: But screw them, they didn’t know how good they had it, right? It was time to breathe life into all those barmaid/cocktail waitress fantasies, righto? You were getting more winks than Rip Van Winkle and it was time to collect. And . . . you came up empty. Why? Because flirting is generally a form of female entertainment, like kids teasing a lion at the zoo. It’s all fun and games when there are three-inch diameter iron bars between you, but once the lion gets loose, the teasing usually stops.
3.) Eeau Du Loser
Reeling from your string of stinging defeats, you hit the shark circuit looking to gorge your ego on easy prey, maybe you could pick off a straggler from a over-imbibed bachelorette party. And still no dice. Why? It’s simple. You smell like a loser. When you were secure in your relationships, you gave off an air of confidence and disinterest, powerful pheromones few woman can resist. Now, desperate and adrift, you carry the universal scent of every sap they ever gave the ol’ heave-ho. You went from a tuxedoed industrialist lounging on the bridge of the unsinkable Queen Victoria to a starving, bedraggled castaway clutching at a waterlogged piece of flotsam.
Don’t believe me? Well, there’s a way to find out. It’s called the Bartender Initial Impression Index. Visit three bars you’ve never set foot in when they’re not busy. Order a mixed drink from the bartender, pretend to look away, but observe from the corner of your eye. When he starts to pour the liquor, you start to count. If he gives you four seconds or more, he thinks you’re one hell of swell guy. Three seconds means he thinks you’ve got possibilities. Two seconds says he doesn’t particularly care for your type. One second? You smell like a loser and he thinks it might be contagious. Any subsequent drinks will be influenced by your tip, so they don’t count. So what can you do to shake the vile scent?
Take time to heal. Getting dumped is the ego equivalent of blowing a hamstring. Instead of going back out on the playing field and making a gimping fool of yourself, give your psyche and personality time to reform. Right now you’re probably wearing a sloppy combination of smug finery and ragged desperation. Dump that outfit for the Mysterious Stranger ensemble. Find a decent bar that doesn’t know you and start infiltrating in the guise of the strong quiet type. Keep your mouth shut about your glory days, no one wants to hear about it, especially the ladies. Day by day, drink by drink, your ego will heal while your Mysterious Stranger aura grows. Its vacuum will eventually suck in some poor girl and your healing will be complete. You will then have the confidence and power to secure a “side ladyfriend” and you can get back your beloved high-wire act. You’re welcome.
Dear Concerned Cad:
I just moved here from Boston and I’m 20 years old. The bars are a little tight about carding here, so my only option for a social life is parties. Problem is, I don’t know anyone and when I do find a party to crash I usually get the boot before I can drink all their beer. What’s a Beantown boozer to do?
–Tired of Crashing (and Burning)
Let’s take it step by step. Before you can crash a party, you have to find one. You can’t wait until an invitation falls into your lap, you have to search them out like a beer-seeking missile. Call whatever friends you have as early as Wednesday and start pumping them for information. I don’t care how unconnected they are, they’re going to hear something. Another ploy is to hang around college campuses or anywhere else underage drinkers congregate. If worse comes to worst, you can wander around Capitol Hill and keep your ears open for music and loud drunk people. On a typical Friday or Saturday night you’ll find one every three or four blocks.
Now that you’ve located the objective, you have to get in. Some parties, especially the larger ones, don’t care if you crash. It’s the smaller ones, where everyone knows each other, that will test your mettle. They’re a much harder nut to crack, but the pay off is the booze is usually of much higher quality. Scout the entrance first. Are there people on the porch or lurking around the door? That’s trouble. Defenders are much more likely to turn you you away at the gates, once your in, they’ll feel more uncomfortable because you might go berserk and smash their knickknacks.
A good way to get past the porch patrol is to slip up from the side of the house (never bumble up the sidewalk) with a plastic cup or glass in your hand. Act like you’re finishing it off as you approach, make them think you’ve already been inside and are going back in for a refill. If you’re the patient type, lurk outside in the dark until a couple or group approaches the door. Follow close enough to appear to be with them and slide right in. If there is some form of actual security at the door, don’t panic. He may be just taking money for the keg. If he tells you it’s a private party, nonchalantly say, “Mike asked me to come.” Mike who? “You know, Michelle’s friend.” Every human being in America knows either a Mike or a Michelle. Keep pushing name buttons, one is likely to spring the lock.
Try not to arrive empty-handed. If you have hooch, bring it. If you don’t, pretend you do. A brown paper bag wrapped around an empty bottle (aka Trojan Hooch) can be very presentable. Once you make it inside, ditch the bottle when no one’s looking.
Okay, you’re in, but you’re not safe. You will most likely pass through a living room and this is where the people who know the host personally usually hang out. They will eyeball anyone who comes through the door and you have to be ready. The most important thing is confidence. If you act like you belong there, they will assume you do. The biggest mistake is to slip in the front door with the shame blinders on, refusing to meet anyone’s eye, your vision tunnelled toward the kitchen where you assume the booze to be. Go in smiling, loose. If you say hello to three people, each will assume the other two know you. They may figure it out later, but by that time you’ve sunk half their scotch.
Okay, you found the booze, and, giddy with success, your first under-age instinct will probably be to start acting like a wild ass. This is a mistake. It will draw attention to yourself. For at least the first three drinks you have to keep a low profile. Get them used to your presence. Don’t lurk over the bottles or keg like a vampire. Get a drink and move away from the source. Don’t act desperate. And never ever stand by yourself. It screams unwelcome stranger. Pick out the friendliest looking group and smile your way into their circle. Laugh at the first half funny thing you hear. Laughter makes people like you. If they start looking at you funny, drop some insider lingo like, “Good turnout. I don’t recognize half the people here.”
If you can’t find a friendly group to hang with, keep moving. You’re the Frankenstein monster loose in the village. If you stay in one place too long the villagers will gather, light their torches and, well, you know what usually happens to Frankie, right?
So you do everything right and it still goes wrong. Maybe it’s a small party and enough people have cross-referenced to figure out no one knows you. Maybe you giggled a little to loudly as you raped that bottle of Grey Goose. Suddenly you’re the leper no wants to talk to. Attempt to strike up with a group and they’ll reply in monosyllables and drift away. And there you are, in the most dangerous position of all–standing alone near the booze, friendless, defenseless, sucking down expensive liquor, a sitting duck. They have culled you, the boozehound in sheep’s clothing, from the herd and soon someone will ask you to leave. It will probably be a woman first, then, if you resist her shaming you, the largest males they can muster.
Before that happens, you have to act, and act quickly. As soon as it appears the gig may soon be up, drink as much hooch as possible as quickly as possible. Assemble King Kong vodka and tonics in a container you can travel with. Act a little crazy while you’re doing it, talk to yourself, give off an air of instability. This won’t stop you from getting ejected, but it may delay it long enough to finish shooting that Goose. You’re welcome!
How many drinks are advisable on a first date?
I Keep Screwing Up
A lot. In the best of circumstances you will both get a bit tipsy. Why? Several reasons. First, alcohol is a great ice-breaker. A few drinks of wine turns a very awkward first dinner into a charming hoot.
Secondly, as I am always quick to remind, you don’t know a thing about anyone until you’ve gotten loaded with them. It is a mutual baring of sorts, drink strips away all the false fronts we tend to throw up before strangers, especially if we’re attempting to impress them. As Mark Twain noted, “Deep down in his private heart, no man respects himself much,” and due to this we often misrepresent who we truly are and try to keep our darker secrets hidden until a later time–the divorce proceedings, say.
Of course, you don’t want to be the only one doing the soul-baring, so, here are a few stratagems to get the fun-juice flowing in both directions.
The Health Nut Reversal
If you catch her eye-balling your second glass of dinner wine like it was a tarantula in her ice cream, tell her you were just talking to a doctor friend of yours who went into almost fanatical detail about the so-called “French Enigma.” The reason the French rarely get heart disease is not because they are in liege with the devil, as was once widely suspected, but because they drink at least a couple glasses of wine with their meals. Finish up with the coup de grace, “I guess that makes me something of a health nut.
“The “I Remember Drinking With Hem” Ploy
If, after dinner, she balks at the idea going to a bar, take her to a cafe that serves espresso and alcohol. Order two coffees then, while still at the counter, say, “Mon Dieu, this cafe reminds me of Paris during my expatriate days! We’d sit in that crazy cafe drinking wine and writing those splendid poems and stories until the break of dawn!” Wiping a sentimental tear from your eye, whisper “L’eau de vie, l’eau de vie” then ask the bartender to put some Irish in the coffees, “for old times sake.”
Only an insensitive monster would deny you this noble pleasure. Order top shelf and toast in French, she’ll think you’re an aristocrat.
The Carpe Diem Gambit
If you’re still meeting resistance at this point, it’s time to bring out the heavy guns. As you exit the cafe, cast a rather crazed eye to the stars then whirl on her as if you’re overtaken by the moment. Grab her arms, stare her lustily in the eyes and insist, “Enough of this selling grey days to the Grim Reaper. Let’s go crazy tonight. Let’s live tonight like it’s our last night on earth!”
If she starts mumbling about work tomorrow, start yelling “Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem! Seize the day!” until she crumbles. If she ever saw the movie or read On The Road or a Whitman poem, this tactic will almost certainly dash to insignificant pieces whatever will power she had left.
The Jaunty Jig of the Juicer
Alas, if she fends off this expert triple attack like a wino sheds whispered remarks about his personal hygiene, it’s time to drop the bomb. Turn on her savagely and howl, “Drinkers live up to a decade longer than abstainers! Why are you trying to send me to an early grave? I’m going to live forever! I’ll dance on you grave with a bottle of whiskey!”
And, yes, a little jig might be in order at that moment.Then, every time you run into her, say, “I could be mistaken, but I believe I once dated your daughter, ma’am.” You lost the beachhead but you won the war!
A friend of mine from New Jersey claims he holds the record for buying rounds–he says he bought roughly two hundred people three rounds at a Newark’s Lee’s Lounge on St. Patty’s Day. Does he have bragging rights or should he shut up and try again?
–Mike W. In Denver
Tell him to get out his wallet and yell loud. The biggest round ever recorded was for 1,222 people shouted by Jack Amos in Newcastle upon Tyne, England in October, 1974, at the conclusion of the Jack o’Clubs road show. If your chum decides to give it a shot, so to speak, let me know. I’ll bring some friends.
Here goes. I am by nature a shy person. The only way I can get the nerve up to even talk to a girl is to get very, very drunk. The mean irony is, when I’m that drunk I lose what few social skills I own. Only you can help me!
–Shy Sober, Dumb Drunk
Yours is a common dilemma, actually. Your condition is why so many people go to bars in the first place–they need a little social lubricant to loosen up the jaws. Instead of attacking your excellent use of alcohol (never, sir!) I shall address the true source of your problem–lack of self-confidence. How do you get confidence? By being competent. And the first step toward competence is knowing the tricks of the trade. See, you don’t lack the looks, you just lack the look. Before you blindly storm up to the lass, you must first establish an eye-contact beachhead, and instead of ogling her like a lust-crazed lumberjack, why not try one of my patented Leers Of Love? Here’s two winners:
The Joe Camel
This is the unspoken equivalent of shouting, “Let’s make love!” Named, possibly modeled, after the cartoon cigarette mascot, it consists of looking your target d’amour directly in the eye, bugging your eyes a little and turning on a supremely confident, almost diabolic smirk, all the while repeating this silent mantra: “I am an internationally famous playboy.”
This look tells her, “I’ve got it all, baby, and I’m willing to share.” Get a picture of Joe and practice in front of mirror. Study the camel, my friend, suppressed medical studies aren’t the only secrets he possesses.
The Jimmy Dean Up-From-Under
This subtle sneak attack makes up with finesse what it lacks in force, but can be very difficult to pull off after your eighth shot.
Here it is in a nutshell–tilt your head slightly toward the floor and look up at her, smile mysteriously, then back down at the floor, then back up and smolder! This maneuver, if properly executed, will simultaneously arouse her maternal and femme-fatale instincts–at this point you’re so on the beach you’re starting to get a heck of tan!
The beachhead firmly established, you must now actually walk over and talk to her. Instead of limping over to jabber some nonsense about what a cool place the bar is, arm yourself with a couple sure-fire torpedoes. The two best ice-breakers I know are the tried and true, “May I buy you a drink?” and the more original (and the generally more effective) “I’m robbing a bank tomorrow and I need a wheelperson I can trust. You game?” You’d be surprised.
My problem is my boyfriend’s bizarre attachment to his mother. He believes as long he lives with her he will never grow old. If there’s any known cure for apron-string immortality complexes, I’d sure like to know.
–Impatient in Plano
P.S.: And he never washes his hair.
I know just the libation for that situation:
3 ounces Everclear
4 ounces tomato paste
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Gently layer the tomato paste and egg whites in a heavy glass mug. Top with Everclear, ignite (carefully!), then, letting the cruel weight of the mug do the work, crack this delicious cocktail across your boyfriend’s skull.
The tomato paste (easily confused for blood) running into his eyes will shatter his immortality complex, the Everclear will disinfect the inevitable scalp wound, and super-heated egg whites make for an excellent hair tonic. You’re welcome!
CC Old Chap:
Afraid I’m in a bit of jam. Seems my wife left me. Again. Not such a bad thing, except she cleaned out the wet bar and bank account this time. I’ve nothing left save a half empty bottle of mescal kept hidden under the sink in the fear some fool might mistake it for tequila and actually try to drink it. The cruelest turn of all is she left behind a photo album haunted by the ghosts of happier days. If you’ve any comforting advice, I’m dying to hear it.
–Distraught Doesn’t Begin To Cover It
Your problem, my good man, is you see the mescal bottle as half empty when you should be seeing it as an excellent start to an evening of alarming behavior. Here’s how:
Heaven Lost (Is Hell Gained)
1/2 bottle mescal
Her best picture
One book of matches
Place the snapshot in a medium punch bowl and ignite. Let it curl and die. Grind the ash into the fine black dust every relationship eventually becomes. Energetically splash in the mescal while chanting, “The whore! The goddamn whore!” Then, disdaining all possible glassware, show the bottom of the punch bowl what the ceiling really looks like. Drink it down, let it spill down your neck, understand why mescal’s south-of-the-border nickname is the Devil’s Venereal Urine, then, when you’ve had your fill, vomit liberally on your chest. You are now ready for the evening.
Drop by every bar you and your lost love ever visited. Demand drinks then gulp them down before they realize you have no money. Collar every mutual friend and insist on telling them how you’re much, much better off without “the lizard-eyed harlot.”
After being being vigorously ejected and barred from every lounge you’ve ever loved, your previous rejection will seem a mild cuffing in comparison. And you can look forward to your wife’s “best friends” coming around the next morning to exercise their thoroughly aroused Nightingale complexes. Enjoy!