Shawn had recently decided that whiskey sours were the finest drink a human could hope to be holding, and I agreed. We were in West Berkeley at a group art show that featured his graduating class, California College of Arts and Crafts ‘03. I was in town from Arcata, having recently moved back up there after my tenure with the City of Brentwood ended, and was supposed to be meeting some old friends, former neighbors in fact, at their place in North Berkeley for dinner in about an hour. Upon hearing I had to leave early, Shawn prescribed the only appropriate measure: a binge.
Most of the other people in attendance were drinking wine, and Shawn’s bottle of Seagram’s was conspicuous. After seeing me attempt to slyly the bottle under the table, he asked what the hell I thought I was doing. I had been trying to hide the bottle, not to hoard it but because I thought it would be frowned upon. No, Man, It’s Okay, he said, downed his glass, and poured another, this one closer to fifty-fifty. I followed suit, and was indignant everyone else’s refusal to join Shawn and I in sharing in a bit of the harder stuff. I wouldn’t have thought it would be so easy to out-drink a bunch of 22 year-old artists, but it occurred to me later that I alone was in the unique position of not being in the company of several of my professors, and thus unreserved about setting myself up to make untoward statements. It was indeed difficult to refrain some walking up to varied people chatting and remark “Bullshit”, then move on. There was no shortage of Junior Joni Mitchell types, and one guy was actually wearing a beret.
After several rounds with Shawn, I left the refreshments table and made a tour of the gallery. I stopped for a while and stared at one painting in particular whose colors mesmerized me, and performed an internal investigation to see whether there was some correspondence between it and my current BAC. Shawn bid me adieu a short time later, and I departed with a genuine sadness over abandoning the remaining third of the Seagram’s fifth that remained. However, the sadness dissipated as I fumbled with my keys and surmised how much fun driving across town was going to be.
The drive did not disappoint. I wore sunglasses, took a ridiculously illogical route because I had very little clue of exactly where I was going, and am lucky no one died.
I arrived at E and M’s apartment some forty-five minutes late, and M was hungry. E gave me a rueful look and chastised me for driving drunk. We got into E’s car, and he and M decided on a Mexican place that they had recently been to for the first time, as M was eager to have some more of their house sangria. Yeah, Sangria! I said., and felt a certain pang about not being behind the wheel as we headed out back across town.
We pulled up to the restaurant, and it took me a moment to sort out my deja vu, but I soon realized we were a block away from the art show I’d left an hour earlier. I explained this to E and M, who did not see the humor in me kidding that I was just going to head back over there for a second and see if there was any whiskey left. I’m Kidding, Guys!, I said, to which E replied When It Comes To Drinking, You’re Rarely Kidding. Remember Christmas?
Indeed, on Christmas Day E found me unconscious in the hallway of my apartment with my pants around my ankles after abruptly departing his apartment twenty minutes earlier. We’d gone out to brunch in Eureka, and had then settled in for a cozy afternoon of drinking vodka and kool-aid and watching Kingpin. Shortly after Kingpin ended I decided I need to write a letter to the Man of the Year, i.e. the wonderful bastard that invented eleven-dollar jug vodka, and intended to do so after taking a crap back at my place. The crap was a success; the letter remains unwritten.
So I didn’t check back in at the art show. Dinner was pleasant if uneventful, and E deemed me sober enough to hit the road back to Arcata after we got back to their place. I was making great time, and though the needle was riding on E as I approached Fortuna, I decided to hold off on stopping until Eureka, since I had a shot a breaking my personal drive-time record. As I crested a hill about a quarter-mile south of College of the Redwoods, Seven Nation Army came on the radio, and I yelled wildly and started punching the ceiling after turning it waaaay up. Then the engine started sputtering, and died completely, leaving the car to roll to a stop half a minute later at the bottom of the hill.
Side note: When Casey first heard Seven Nation Army on the radio, he heard “Insemination Army”, and thought, Yeah!
Out of gas, but not out of road. I walked a mile into King Salmon to call for a tow, knowing that through my towing assistance package, a tow back to Arcata was completely free while gas service, though faster and more appropriate, would cost me four dollars for the gallon.
So the record was not set that night; my car and I were dropped off at my apartment in Arcata around four AM, two and half hours after electing not to stop in The Friendly City. There would be future instances when I found myself passing out on the concrete floors of people’s studios in San Francisco when I would look back on what was gained that evening, something far more tangible and rewarding than any personal best: the knowledge that I could out-drink art-school kids.