Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Big Blue Malibu Wave

One of the zinnias in our garden has always been a little different from the rest -- a sort of reddish color, rather than orange. Its most recent flowers have spots. Who knows what weird genetic stuff is going on there?

I'm still working on the first of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical books, "A Death in the Family." I like his writing and it is engaging to read, but at the same time I sometimes find myself wondering why I'm reading it. (Probably like you're wondering why you're reading my blog!) It's relatively plotless and devoid of earth-shaking events and revelations -- just day-to-day life, down to the most mundane tasks like preparing a cup of coffee or watching snow swirl outside the window. It's interesting to get a sense of what it was like to grow up in Norway in the 1980s, and there's some family drama going on, but nothing wildly extraordinary.

At one point in the book he describes drinking with some friends as a young teenager -- I think they were 14. It got me thinking about my own early experiments with alcohol.

I never drank -- never even touched the stuff -- until I was in college. That's probably unusual, but I had a close group of friends in high school for whom drinking wasn't a goal. When we went to movies or to the mall, scoring alcohol just wasn't on our agenda. Which was fortunate! I knew other people were drinking, and I was dimly aware of Friday-night parties out in the orange groves and that kind of thing, but I never went and don't remember really even wanting to go. I don't regret my high-school teetotalling at all. I'm sure it saved me a lot of grief.

In college, I moved into the dorms my freshman year and discovered that a guy I'd gone to high school with, Robert, lived right down the hall. He and I began hanging out, and one night we decided to break the alcohol barrier. Somehow we got some bourbon, and along with Robert's erstwhile girlfriend, Marje, who lived on the girls' side of our co-ed dorm, we mixed it with ginger ale and began sipping.

At first, nothing happened. We were just sitting and talking as usual. Then I said something -- I don't remember what -- and maybe it didn't make much sense because Marje looked at me and said, "Steve's drunk!" I was not, I said indignantly, and then I began laughing and couldn't stop. So, yeah, I guess I was.

It was all very innocent and we didn't drink too much. As I've written before, our dorm RA distributed a weekly honor known as the "puke award" to whoever got sick from drinking on any given weekend, but I never won it, and I don't remember ever getting sick in college. As I recall my first hangover came the following summer, after I went on an afternoon canoeing trip with friends on the Alafia River and we drank multiple cans of Busch Beer. I came home, got into bed and woke up later feeling terrible -- dehydrated, I'm sure, and after all it was lousy beer.

All freshmen drink crazy stuff. I had a girlfriend, Lori, who loved Asti Spumante, and I remember going to sit with her and Robert and Marje under the trees on our spacious campus at night with a bottle or two of that sweet, fizzy wine. She'd also had some training as a bartender, so I used to look through her bartender's guides and then, when we went out to a local bar like Coconut Joe's or Ruby Tuesday, I'd order peculiar cocktails like mai-tais. I remember one called a Malibu wave, basically a margarita with blue curaƧao -- and yes, it was bright blue. I'm sure the bartenders correctly clocked me as a complete dork.

The first time I drank enough to be sick, I think, was when I visited Miami Beach with my friends Sue and Arthur in the late 1980s, after I'd graduated. For some inconceivable reason I did two vodka shots in our hotel room, which proved to be a bad start to the evening. And even then, I never got truly wasted -- to this day I've never blacked out or been unable to remember where I've been or what I've been doing.

Despite the "Animal House" culture of college in the '80s, I don't remember ever hearing about people being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning or that kind of thing. I'm sure it happened and none of us knew.


Yorkshire Pudding said...

When I was at university, there were nights when excess alcohol made me do some very bad things. Even now I would hesitate to share some of those memories. I am so glad that my drinking is now what I would call "in moderation" though admittedly I consume more "units" than the health gestapo would advise.

Vivian said...

Aw, you were such a sweet kid, Steve. You don't mention Peace Corps drinking, but if Morocco was anything like Niger, there must have been a LOT of binge drinking. Lucky for me, I have never liked the taste of beer so I was stone sober during my two years, watching the other volunteers act like idiots and feeling very superior.

When I lit out for Paris as a 19-year old I was very naive about booze and the only thing I could think of ordering at a cafe was Cinzano, which for some reason I thought was a very sophisticated liquor. I think I was 26 the first time I got well and truly drunk, on a gin martini. Like most budding alcoholics, I soon switched to vodka, and although I can't say I've ever done anything "bad" while under the influence (I must be a boring drunk, unlike Mr. Pudding) I did have to swear off martinis in my late 40s and I have not had one since 2003. But that's only a matter of semantics; I love vodka on the rocks, in other words, a very very very dry martini in a highball glass.

When I came home from living in France in 1980-something, it seemed everyone in America was drinking a new fangled concoction called a Wine Cooler. That surely was the most hideous drinking fad ever invented.

Sharon said...

Your teenage years sound very similar to mine. I never messed with alcohol either. I was asked if I wanted some at one private party I went to but, I said no. I really had no curiosity about it at all. And, like you it changed in the college years but I still didn't drink that much. It wasn't until I was working that I started drinking socially and then it was just periodically. I'm sure some people thought I was strange but, I didn't let it bother me. Even now, I really only drink wine with meals or champagne for celebrating but I rarely have a cocktail. My parents didn't drink at all so maybe that influenced me.

John Going Gently said...

The alcohol wasn't as strong and most kids drank beer here.
I thought I was sophisticated when I was 18 and drank Pernod and lemonade

Ms. Moon said...

When I was growing up we were mostly trying to find pot. Drinking was rather frowned upon.
Looking up, I think we were blessed in that regard.

Ms. Moon said...

Wait- I meant "looking back" although perhaps looking up is not inappropriate either.

Ms. Moon said...

Also? Kids in Winter Haven partied in the orange groves as well.
So much fun. (Not.)

ellen abbott said...

when I was 16 my sister got married and I got tipsy on the champagne, my first experience with alcohol. as a junior in high school a girlfriend and I decided we were going to get drunk to see what all the hoopla was about so an older male friend got us some gin and he told us to mix it with grapefruit juice. nasty drink but we drank it and got drunk and I was so hung over the next morning that I never was interested in drinking after that. Then the summer before senior year I started smoking pot so, like Ms Moon, drinking was for jocks and the 'popular' girls which I was not. there was a big scandal at school at midterm exams, someone had an apt in a disreputable area (Sin Alley we called it) and they would go there and hang out and drink and have sex and got busted when they showed up for exams drunk. I learned to drink beer in my mid-20s but only if I was at a party or a bar. Didn't start drinking alcohol til my son got sent to Iraq. just weekends his first tour (6 months) but when he got sent back during the worst of it for a year, we started having a drink every night. something we still do, have a cocktail or glass of wine every evening.

Red said...

The topic in death of a family got you off in a tangent. Booze has changed. It's made to taste great like coolers so people drink much more.

37paddington said...

In college my drink was a singapore sling. i think because it tasted like a very sugary juice. to this day, i dislike the taste of hard alcohol. i'm quite ok with red wine, though.

Anonymous said...

I didn't drink in high school or college. When I was growing up it was all about pot and hash. My first husband liked to drink bourbon, so I did go through a phase of drinking that, but I never really liked it much. Nowadays, I don't smoke pot or hash, but I do drink wine with dinner. And it briefly takes a bit of the edge off the world.

About literature these days... I haven't read a book in years. My attention span seems to have shrunk to the size of a megabyte. I think going to grad school in literature wrecked my ability to read without having a critical eye and mind looking for themes, character development, and contextual nuance. It took all the pleasure out of it for me.

Jennifer said...

I drank to excess a few times as a teenager, but like Ms. Moon, smoking pot was more my thing. And like her, I'm glad....alcohol seems far more dangerous for teenagers. Adults, too, come to think of it. :)

I LOVE that red zinnia!

Catalyst said...

I can remember once when I was in high school someone got hold of some Southern Comfort, which we were drinking right out of the bottle. It was horrid but I said (probably more than once as we drove around that night) "Ahhh, tastes just like honey" or something. I switched from gin to vodka but only because SWMBO insists men who drink gin (like her first husband) are mean drunks. I didn't smoke pot until I was in my early 30's and now, in spite of access to it seemingly everywhere, I haven't had any in maybe 20 years. Still like my vodka, though.

Linda Sue said...

you were very smart, better things to do. University was awful, I am still hung over and nauseous 40 years later...Or so.

Alphie Soup said...

Gee, this is like true confessions...
Anyway I'll stick to the zinnia, it looks like a 'sport' to my untrained eye.
Although I have to say the mention of curacao did recall a memory of a rainy Saturday afternoon spent in the Beer Keller at Thredbo because the ski slopes were a washout.

Steve Reed said...

YP: Well, you're certainly not alone in terms of youthful excess! The health gestapo seems downright unreasonable about those units, although lately I've been trying to abstain completely during the week and have a couple of drinks only on weekend evenings.

Vivian: Oh, I have certainly been on a binge now and then! We did our share of drinking in the Peace Corps, but living in a muslim country, we couldn't readily get alcohol near our sites. The trainers discouraged us from buying it locally, lest we sully our professional reputations, and it wasn't even sold in my small town -- at least not that I ever saw. We had some SERIOUS parties when we gathered in the big cities, though. I LOVE a gin martini, even now.

Sharon: My parents didn't drink either, at least not when I was young, and I definitely think that helped normalize a life that didn't include alcohol.

John: I remember people in college (or soon after) drinking Everclear at parties, but that was a rarity. Beer was definitely the main on-campus drink.

Ms Moon: Yeah, partying in the groves sounds miserable, doesn't it? All that sand, and fire ants! Mosquitoes!

Ellen: Gin creates a terrible hangover. If I had a loved one in Iraq I'd be drinking more too! In all seriousness, you can see how people turn to alcohol to self-medicate when they're going through a stressful time.

Red: I've heard that from public-health campaigners -- that the sweetness and apparent mildness of some drinks leads kids to drink them.

37P: Booze is definitely an acquired taste. I don't like any of it except gin. But I do love gin.

Robin: It's hard to beat a good glass of wine! I think there's such a thing as being overeducated, don't you? Like, sometimes it's best to just appreciate something without too much analysis.

Jennifer: Oh, totally! It's so ironic that our culture has been so permissive of alcohol and prohibitive of pot.

Catalyst: Funny that you remember that "honey" comment. Whiskey definitely does NOT taste like honey! I don't like any brown liquor as a rule. I'm pretty sure vodka can produce some mean drunks too (don't tell SWMBO), but I think that depends more on the drunk than the type of booze itself!

Linda Sue: I was mostly busy with the student newspaper! We did our share of drinking, but seriously, we had too much to do to get too wasted.

Alphie: What is a "sport"? That rainy afternoon sounds kind of nice, actually!

Jean Ellen said...

Please try to save some seed from that gorgeous zinnia. You may have hit upon a new variety! It is amazing. I have to say, I have a few tales from college days that needn't be put to paper on the internet!

The Bug said...

I never liked the taste of alcohol & I believe I've only ever finished one drink in my whole life - a fuzzy navel that I took about two hours to drink. My parents didn't drink, and in fact my mom HATED it because one of her brothers was an alcoholic. I remember as a small child going with her to a bar to roust him. She left me in the car & he came out without her & got in. He was all amiable, but scared me to death for some reason.