There is a strange bug in the human system that seems determined to test our limitations. In our youth, it manifests itself in a kind of self-destructive behavior akin to slamming oneself against a brick wall and the stronger we feel we are, the more we want to see just what the market will bear, so to speak.
For all of the bad habits I actually do have, there are many I have failed to cultivate.
For instance, as I began to approach my majority, it seemed to me that it was time to investigate the pleasures of smoking.
I went through every variation with the possible exception of actual tobacco chaw. I tried cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, this last even leading me to contemplate the purchase of an expensive Meershaum pipe, the better to create the studious, Holmesian air to which I aspired.
The problem was that, like our greatest President, I simply could not bring myself to take the smoke into my lungs. Some sort of gag reflex kicked in, leaving me merely able to sadly puff out futile and impotent clouds of smoke.
Of course, this last also meant that any dalliance with marijuana would have been a waste of time, so I passed on that completely. It was also, so far as I could see, an awful lot of work when you considered you actually had to create the cigarettes yourself.
So for me, it was the lazy man’s drug, which is to say, alcohol.
Was it not the unofficial libation of the writer? Did it not encourage convivial and chummy relationships among the proletariat? Was it not a versatile and colorful thing, bottles of bright and amber liquids lined up like so many magic potions, promising an endless variety of tastes and experiences?
Yes, and it got you a little tipsy into the bargain.
And so the imbibing of alcohol was one of the few bad habits I became successful at and the further I explored its effects, the more I wanted to see how far I could take it.
It was during this same general timeframe that I and my friend M., a good-looking man who enjoyed some popularity with the ladies and for whom the initial could have variously stood in for Masculine, Magnetic, and Master of Menstrual Relief, drove up to a nearby college town in the middle of nowhere, led on by the promise of some bacchanalian festivities that would surely make the trip worthwhile, perhaps resulting in my being crowned Queen of the May.
I should have learned to bring a crossword puzzle book on these trips, as the fairer sex’s fascination with my friend usually ruled out the possibility of their noticing that I was there. And so it fell to me to create my own amusements.
In this unfortunate instance, my eye was caught by a large jug of rum and the possibilities it might afford me.
Now at first I took a couple of swigs and put it down again.
Then I would return to it, hang onto it for the purpose of upcoming swigs (no point in putting it down then) and then replacing it a few minutes later, having slaked my thirst.
Eventually I didn’t put it down at all and started walking around with it, taking long draughts from the jug as I began to introduce myself to various strangers in private rooms.
After this, things start to become a little muddled. I can recall playing a tenor saxophone at one point in a style that recalled Albert Ayler and following that with an acapella version of St. James Infirmary, though, if I’m not mistaken, I think there were some complaints.
A merciful blanket of amnesia then descends upon the proceedings, with the exception of a gleaming white toilet bowl that seemed awfully important at the time. I had fallen asleep on the rim of its porcelain mercy, awaiting the next challenge to my center of gravity.
Then someone helped me into bed while I informed them that I was absolutely positive that I would not last the night, so if they had anything important to say, they’d best say it now.
I was shocked to find myself awake the next morning, and equally shocked to find that my body was completely paralyzed. Standing up or walking was not even on the menu. This was no mere hangover. I could literally not move a muscle and it took several hours to move myself into an upright position. The day’s biggest achievement was eating a piece of toast, slowly and quietly.
And so the alcohol went the way of the cigarettes that day, as I realized that I had reached the limits of what fermentation could teach me. The yellow brick road of childhood had ended and the great, wide world of adulthood beckoned.
It was time to challenge the all-you-can-eat buffet, a wrestling match that continues even to this day and one which, if I may say, I am winning quite handily.