Raising the Bar

A week of the drink

Some Dude's Apartment in Soulard

You are in a room in Soulard at 1:04 p.m., smack-dab in the asshole of St. Louis Mardi Gras, and a stranger is wrapping two 40-ounce bottles of beer into both of your hands with duct tape, tight, and directly against your skin. Within five minutes your hands will be unbearably cold. In ten, they'll be numb, and the reality will start to sink in that these 80 ounces of beer, a six-pack-plus, must be consumed. You'll have to drink these two things fast, or your hands will get frostbite and your reputation among drunks will be greatly diminished.

You look like Edward Scissorhands, but of course, not as adorable. And instead of blades, your hands are big glass bottles, one of Bud, one of Miller (the Bud is a better beer) and silver duct tape. Rub your eye, poke it with glass. Strangers look at you and laugh. Others watch out of the corner of their eyes and feel sorry for you, the pathetic jester. A grown man standing at the second-story window of a friend's Soulard apartment, bottle-arms abreast, addressing the drunken masses, bellowing like a banshee to any man passing by. Days earlier, you were royalty, and the jester-type repulsed you. Now you are him.

Jennifer Silverberg
Ask Las Palmas server Humberto Casillo about 
tequila, and his eyes get all happy and he breaks out in 
a smile. "How do you like it, my friend? Strong? 
Jennifer Silverberg
Ask Las Palmas server Humberto Casillo about tequila, and his eyes get all happy and he breaks out in a smile. "How do you like it, my friend? Strong? Smooth?"

Soulard, Outside the 1860 Saloon

So it's come to this, Edward Fortyhands. Clumsily, willfully, drunk at 3:32 p.m. Lost in a roiling mass of people, your hands hairless and burning by 4 p.m., stepping up to the hurricane stand, ordering one in drunk-speak -- "I guuh have uh hurricane?" Then, into the ocean of lushes, so many at Mardi, all of whom agree in principle: Let's get loaded!

And loaded you get, on hurricanes, the archetypal Mardi Gras mixers, which, unfortunately, have changed since they were first concocted in New Orleans nigh a century ago. Then, they consisted of Cognac, absinthe and Polish vodka (this tidbit and a few others within courtesy of Dale DeGroff's landmark cocktail book of a few years back, The Craft of the Cocktail). Does that not sound delicious? These, though, are made with rum, more rum, lime and a host of juices.

One of the sadder sights of this joyous day: a grown man, lying face down on the sidewalk, heaving, weeping. Heartless and debilitated, you step over him and continue on your way.

Then, the body revolts, the stomach collapses in on itself. What was once an invisible receptacle, a gaping maw blindly accepting anything and everything. Then this sensation -- you know the one -- the queasy greasy uh-oh, barrels up to your head, which struggles to maintain balance. It will not, but luckily you are a few blocks from home. You stagger with the departing masses, refugees on the Trail of Tears.

Home, Alone

Let's say your father's drink was vodka, at least judging by the bottles you occasionally found hidden about the house -- in the bin of an antique school desk, behind files in a drawer; behind the antique brass cash registers he adored. At fourteen, you found such discoveries confusing. Why would he be hiding vodka? There was a whole bottle in the liquor cabinet. You and your sister had some inkling; a few years prior, he had a mysterious illness that required an extended stay at Barnes, followed by an explanation that Dad couldn't ever have anymore alcohol -- not even Chablis mixed into white sauce -- or he would die.

A few years later, he started drinking again, which is when you started finding bottles, the first clue that something was amiss. Plus, the usually hilarious and kind man turned grumpy. He took a lot of naps. But he was seldom drunk, and never mean. He was just a closet, ashamed drinker. You don't remember him ever slurring or stumbling. He just went out on Saturday afternoons, and many weeknights, then came home and went to bed.

When you were fifteen, Mom and Dad caught you drunk for the first time. They tripped over you on the front porch; when you're drunk, keys can be difficult to maneuver. The next day Dad took you on a drive, but he had to pull over when he started crying too hard to steer. He explained that he understood that you were experimenting, and that you'd have to learn on your own about alcohol. But, he said, he had a drinking problem, and had always had a drinking problem.

A couple years later his liver started showing signs of giving out, and you and your mom and sister drove him as a family to rehab.

He was in that place that David Foster Wallace, in his novel Infinite Jest, describes in great detail: "... then, finally, no relief available anywhere at all; finally it's impossible to get high enough to freeze what you feel like, being this way; and now you hate the substance, hate it, but you still find yourself unable to stop doing it, the Substance, you find you finally want to stop more than anything on earth and it's no fun doing it anymore and you can't believe you ever liked doing it and but you still can't stop, it's like you're totally fucking bats, it's like there's two yous...."

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