Today’s drinking story:
Here we see Ben Tanzer review his fruitful life of drinking. We also learn Kelly D. was a babe. But you already knew that.
I do not have a drinking problem. Though, my drink of choice is a Jack and Ginger. I do not have a drinking problem. Though, I have been drinking steadily, at times excessively, now for twenty-five years. I do not have a drinking problem. Though, even as I write this I am drinking a Bloody Mary by myself, at home, at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon as my son naps in the back. I do not have a drinking problem. And this is my story.
This is not the first time I binge drink. That was one week before. I am at a graduation party. It’s late and I’ve drank a lot. Jimmy Nash walks over. Jimmy Nash is older than I am. He is very cool and very tough. He is Tim Riggins sans the model good looks.
“You want some chew?” Jimmy Nash says.
I don’t say no to Jimmy Nash.
“Sure Jimmy Nash,” I say, leaning on a tree for support.
I take the chew, jam it between my lip and gums as the Skoal commercials direct me to do, sit down at the base of the tree and promptly pass out. When I awake I swallow the chewing tobacco in its entirety. This is followed by my violently throwing up everything I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. As I lie there, Kelly D. comes over to check on me and wipe my brow. Kelly D. is a sophomore and a star on the softball team. Kelly D. is a babe. I love Kelly D. This is not how I wanted to meet her.
After I recover Kelly D. wanders off into the night and I end-up eating micro-waved macaroni and cheese on someone’s cracked linoleum kitchen floor. In hindsight, this probably should have been a sign of some kind.
Ali is rich and smart, a tennis player, and easily the most beautiful woman I have met during my first fifteen years on the planet. She is the Tyra to my Landry and unavailable to me for all the obvious reasons. If her sheer unatainability isn’t bad enough though, I also have a deal with my friend Richie that we will never, ever, date each other’s former paramours and so even if something freakish were to happen, like say Ali briefly losing her mind, she would still fall onto this list of untouchables.
And so it is until tonight’s party. Because on this evening though, and after many, many Gennessee Cream ales, Ali apparently does lose her mind and I apparently decide that I don’t care all that much about lifelong friendships. While this is probably another sign of some kind, I allow Ali to lead me to a bedroom where she proceeds to lie down on top of everyone’s winter coats. I should add here, that at this point I have never been to second base, and so as I look at her in this state, it is all I can think about.
Being the 1980s however and winter in upstate New York there are some challenges. I must remove her L.L. Bean rag wool sweater, quite itchy, her father’s Brooks Brother’s pinstripe oxford, many buttons, a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, pique, and tight fitting, an Izod turtleneck, white, tighter still, a T-shirt that reads “All This and Brains Too,” and then a dreaded, front snap bra which requires me to do a semi, one-handed push-up after a dozen drinks while on top of dozens of shifting CB corduroy ski jackets.
Now, for the record, and in case I ever hook up with anyone reading this, I have long since learned that I prefer a back snap that I can unhook with my left hand. I also prefer to attempt this sober.
Beth has made it clear to me that she does not sleep with friends and does not intend to do so tonight even if it is the prom. She says this with her legs wrapped around my waist and her prom grown somewhere up above her own as we sit in the den of my friend Brad’s house, whose parents have given us their home, stocked the bar and are staying in a hotel for the night.
I have never enjoyed kissing Beth. She was my first kiss in eighth grade and in tenth grade we made out drunkenly on someone’s front yard. The problem is that her lips are cardboard-y, and dry, and so when she says no to sex I wasn’t counting on, I say fine and proceed to join Brad and Louie T., two other guys who aren’t getting any, at the bar. After we proceed to polish off a two liter bottle of Absolut Vodka in the length of time it takes us to watch an episode of SportsCenter, Beth magically appears.
“Dude,” she says, “I’ve changed my mind.”
There are no rooms left though and so we hit the kitchen floor. Maybe it’s the alcohol, or her cardboard lips. Maybe, it’s the fact that I’m sleeping with someone besides Beth that maybe I’d rather be with tonight, but despite Beth most valiant efforts, I cannot complete the transaction for the first time in my still very nascent sexual life. This maybe should have been a lesson learned as well, something like alcohol giveth, and alcohol taketh away, but either way, we go to sleep and later that week, Brad’s father tells me how he came home that next morning because he forgot to bring a tie with him, but after seeing us lying naked on the kitchen floor he decided he was too scared to proceed any farther.
I am madly in love with my friend Debbie though she has zero interest in me. She’s got long skinny legs and long brown hair. We go to college together at SUNY Albany, watch Days of Our Lives, drink at O’Heaney’s and eat Slim Jims. Tonight we are at Ralph’s and we are at Ralph’s because they do not proof, and on Fridays you can buy half-pitchers of Long Island Ice Tea for three dollars each and oh yes, she is supposed to be meeting some other guy there.
After an hour, Debbie has had three half-pitchers and I have had five. She goes to talk to the guy and I pretend to be the dutiful and supportive borderline gay friend. She returns and asks me to walk her to the bathroom. She pushes on the door to no avail. She leans against the door to catch her breath. She is beautiful.
I am staring at her and I do not care. She suddenly grabs me by the neck and kisses me hard on the lips. It is the greatest first kiss ever recorded. Poets will write about it. By all rights it should never end, but sadly, we are interrupted.
“What the fuck, can I use the bathroom?” girl with bad nose job says.
“It’s locked,” Debbie says.
“Yeah,” she says, “do you mind if I try it?”
The girl pulls instead of pushes. The door opens. She walks in and we are now too flummoxed and self-conscious to continue. We go back to the dorm to watch Miami Vice, Crockett is marrying Sheena Easton, but after some more drinks we decide to make out in our friend Avi’s bed instead. It is all very nice until we sober up and actually have to talk, a scenario that will play itself out again and again until we get it right.
I should begin by stating that it’s not like I don’t drink between 1987 and 1992, but my primary focus during this time is consuming as many hallucinogens as I can, and so I will hold off on discussing this era until I feel ready to write a piece on gateway drugs and beyond.
In 1992 I go to see a therapist for the first, but certainly not the last time. The therapist asks me if I think I have a drinking problem. I say I do not.
“Ben, have you ever blacked out from drinking?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say, “many times.”
“That’s a problem,” she says.
“How?” I say. “Everyone passes out from drinking.”
“No,” she says, “they don’t.”
I have never heard this before.
“Really,” I say, “because everyone I know has passed out from drinking.”
“Has it ever occurred to you,” she says, “that you may gravitate towards people with drinking problems?”
It had not until then. And I don’t answer her. But not unlike Bruce Willis’s character in The Sixth Sense I start to replay my drinking over the years and who I drank with. I realize now that I have always steered away from those who don’t drink. I’ve never even really met those people, though I remember some of them now and they seem like they may have been nice. It is honestly one of the most profound moments I have ever experienced, and so armed with this new insight I do the smart thing, I stop seeing her.
We are having our going away parties at work. We are moving to Chicago. After my party I meet up with Debbie for hers which is at the then very hot dance club Tatou. The tables are covered with shots and Debbie is glassy-eyed and slurring her words. We down several Kamikazes each and realizing we now cannot dance, much less walk, we decide to head home to the apartment we are crashing in. I begin to think that I might get lucky. I do not.
Every drinker has a friend who claims they have never gotten sick from drinking. For me, Debbie has been that friend. Until tonight. So, instead of late night drunken escapades, I find myself holding the hair out of her face and wiping her brow as Kelly D. once did for me so many years before. When Debbie is done, she will not get into a bed, preferring to campout in the bathroom, just in case. I remove my now soiled T-shirt and get a blanket.
As we lie there on the cold tile floor Debbie tells me she is done drinking, no, really, no more drinking, at all. And she is, I know she is, it’s just how she operates. We doze off and when I awake I am still on the floor, freezing, uncovered, and by myself, Debbie in bed with our blanket. As I lay there shivering, I realize that without alcohol it will not only be a new relationship, but that maybe I need to start drinking less. I also realize that things are quickly changing. I go out to look for an engagement ring.
It is my Chicago bachelor party and we are at the Old Ranalli’s on Dearborn spending time with the lovely and talented Melanie Melons. We are drinking, of course, and after Melanie leaves, we decide to move the party to the original Iggy’s. I slip a bottle of tequila into my pocket.
We drink at the bar for many hours as we discuss the merits and drawbacks of getting married. It goes something like this:
“I’m sorry, why would you do this?” Eric says.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” I say.
“Good enough,” Eric says.
We retire to the pool table on the outside deck and I remember the bottle of tequila. I slip it out of my pocket and as I raise it to my lips I feel a hand come down on my shoulder. I am dragged off of the deck, down the stairs, out the door, across the street and thrown against a chain-link fence.
The dude is enormous. He is bald and wearing a black suit. He is the white Ving Rhames. And he is fucking furious.
“You bring alcohol into my house,” he spits in utter disdain, “my house! You disrespect me like that? My dad would have beat my ass for such a transgression.”
I remain calm. I weather the outrage. But it has never been more clear to me that even occasionally drinking alcohol the way I once did is becoming less and less manageable. From this point on I drink less and less.
I am in Atlanta for work and meet up with Stephanie, an old friend I once drank with. At dinner she consumes one drink after another as she reminisces about all the partying we did in college. She seems thrilled and nostalgic just thinking about it, but watching her I feel kind of sad and I hope I never sound like this anymore.
“Do you ever think we drank too much in college?” I say. “I’ve begun to wonder whether or not we all had drinking problems back then.”
It may be that I sound more self-righteous than I intend to, it may be that I am acting all self-actualized when I’m really not, either way though Stephanie isn’t having it.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she says polishing off her drink and reaching for another. “No, no fucking way. It was totally normal behavior.”
This may have been the wrong time and wrong person to discuss this with, but she does remind me of someone I once knew and hope to never see again.
I make myself a Bloody Mary. I sit down on the couch. And I start to write. I have only one drink.
This story originally appeared in decomP.
this is brilliant, ballsy stuff. nice writing.
That Tanzer, he’s a national treasure!