Columns, Opinion

BERICK: On the rocks

Sunday night, generally a sobering time, is perhaps the only night of the week when my roommates all drink tea, needing whatever peace the East can offer and whatever blind optimism the British can instill. I sat down in my kitchen with a friend whose stiffest drink has been tea for exactly 14 days now. Elizabeth ‘- an example to us all ‘- has contracted alcoholic gastritis. This is the kind of diagnosis that Student Health loves to dole out. Unlike swine flu, which just looks bad, and a sprained ankle, which may or may not be morally deplorable, alcoholic gastritis comes standard with a lecture. It even contains ‘alcoholic’ in the name. Elizabeth drank through her stomach lining. This is the kind of feat that might get you a merit badge in a fraternity house, or in Australia. At Student Health, it merited only a lecture and a suggestion of Alcoholics Anonymous; clearly they haven’t read the memo. Alcohol is only an official problem after you graduate.

Elizabeth has had a fairly typical marriage with drink. They began as high school sweethearts, timid at first, catching some hours together here and there out of view of the parents and teachers.’ They soon began spending wild nights together, and have had a few fights, but overall, it’s a steady companionship, someone to come home to at night, until now. This trial separation has been hard on all of us.’ She has missed dinners and parties. Fortunately, Elizabeth is the only one who has had to deal with it without a drink. Elizabeth has had the rare experience of domestic culture shock.’ She has now attended two college parties entirely sober. In the interest of social science, I have decided to sit down with Elizabeth and ask the hard questions. As I hand her a mug of chamomile, her roommate asks from the next room if we have anything to drink. He has been sober for about seven hours.

‘ My worst suspicions are confirmed by her first answer. It ought to be no great surprise that an activity preceded by force-feeding yourself disorienting drugs is less impressive without them. The fun house is the first metaphor. I was curious about the hour at which being the only person with cognitive powers begins to feel uncomfortable.’ Elizabeth, like a champ, resisted the urge to say, ‘Immediately! Why on earth would there be such a thing as Jello shots if we weren’t surrounded by overgrown eight year-olds with an extraordinarily precocious interest in sex?’ She actually explained, ‘It’s like being in a fun house. Everyone thinks their reflections are getting weird and yours stays the same.” This was chillingly like Ken Kesey’s commentary on insane asylums.

I asked her about the challenges. ‘Reverse beer goggles,’ she confessed. ‘No one looks quite attractive enough.’ This could be because their makeup is smeared and sweat and beer cover their bodies like a newly revived spa treatment. So far our social life was looking grim. ‘It’s kind of funny. It was at first. I’ve tried to make fun of people, but after a while I realized there was just no point. But I voluntarily worked on a Sunday.’

I took a sip of my hopefully detoxifying tea, and failed to see this as an advantage. ‘Do you gear up differently?” I wanted to know.

‘I don’t dress differently, but I dance a lot worse.’

From the other room her friend contributed, ‘I dance better when I’m sober.’ We tell him this is because he couldn’t really do worse than his bottle-deep bogey. We move on.’

I pressed her about what the party atmosphere felt like when she wasn’t really partying. ‘The floor! You have any idea what’s on the floor at a party?’ I actually do. It’s eerily similar to the sticky concoction that can be found on some Delhi street corners.

I happened to know the police came to break up the most recent party she attended. I asked her if there was the same, sub-zero fear in her chest?

‘I was 21 and stone-cold sober, standing on a porch full of underage catatonics, I wasn’t worried about ‘- ‘ Here, Elizabeth who has baptized her liver, but not her mouth, for Jesus, dropped a piece of profanity.

We wrapped up and walked into my living room to watch ‘Mad Men.’ The show is a riot of drinking and smoking from before such things were harmful . . . unless I’m misunderstanding the premise of the series. By the end of the hour my friends got up for a cigarette break.’ Our test subject called over her shoulder, ‘You should come over ‘- I’m trying a glass of wine of Friday. ‘ After all this sobriety, she really needed a drink.

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