Lent started early. On December 7 — a day that shall live in infamy — I embarked on an alcohol hiatus. At the three-month mark, I close-in on the sobriety record by people with the surname “Flynn,” which I set twenty years ago at seven months and 29 days. It’s not in the Guinness Book of World Records, but that’s only because Guinness doesn’t seek to encourage competition among Flynns here. It would be catastrophic for the bottom line.
I glimpsed an inspirational cliché that essentially said that how you live in your forties will determine how, and whether, you’ll live in your eighties. Not wanting to suffer from dementia when I grow up, I thought it wise to cease drinking to temporary senility. Forty will have that effect on a man. One can’t help but notice that people who drink excessively eventually exhibit drunken brains even once they stop drinking. The real hangover comes later.
Frederick Exley’s book A Fan’s Notes influenced my respite. Therein Exley, an expert on all things inebriant, reveals in the novelized memoir what alcoholism is: sadness. Booze can’t fill the void. And a personal prohibition can’t uproot the root cause. More symptom than disease, the condition finds a cure when drinkers allow happiness to outweigh gloom. Putting the past down remains a more difficult proposition than putting the bottle, needle, or pipe down.
For writers, as Frederick Exley’s ghost surely would attest, alcohol works as a performance-enhancing drug. As an editor, it works as a performance-inhibiting drug. Despite seeing many famous sports journalists completely trashed when I worked at Fenway Park as a kid, my transition into sports journalism — I edit Breitbart Sports — finds me avoiding the product promoted on stadium walls, in sporting-event commercials, and in some arena names. Even free booze offered at the parties in New York City leading up to the Super Bowl couldn’t tempt my inner Carrie A. Nation to morph into Nick from The Thin Man.
Speaking of parties, I’ve been invited to one on Capitol Hill tonight complete with free booze. Given my rule to never keep a closed mind about an open bar, the festivities will prove a challenge. Contrary to what you may have learned in civics class, DC is short for Douche Capital. So flashbacks from parties past of the assault of business cards, beta males giving their sincere impressions of alpha-male handshakes, and pissing matches about who knows who disguised as polite conversation push a man to drink. Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Hell is other drunk people when you’re sober.
They’re even tough to bear when drinking. My routine allowed strong drink on the two weekend evenings, which were wisely spent away from others following a similar routine. Bars, which exponentially increase the possibility of trouble by collecting all the drunk people in one condensed area, remain largely off limits. Instead, I stay inside among those I can’t make a fool of myself in front of because they already know me as a fool.
A vodka with Red Bull — a healthier version of cocaine — follows the first three beers to reinvigorate the party rushing through my bloodstream. The stimulant offsetting the depressant allows for several more beers. Upbeat early-’80s party music from my childhood — General Public’s “Tenderness,” Tracy Ullman’s “They Don’t Know,” The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” — plays in heavy rotation at evening’s outset as the soundtrack for reading and writing. But, mimicking the progression of alcohol on the body, the nights close with more melancholy music (The Stones’ “Winter,” Colin Hay’s “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” U2’s “All I Want Is You,” etc.). A bottle of champagne, normally shared while watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Mighty Boosh, or some other magnificent program that wins high ratings on my DVD player but not on broadcast television, puts the exclamation point on the celebration.
I miss the old routine only when I’m not following a new routine.
Vices operate much like Whac-a-Mole. Knock one down and another springs up. The less I imbibe the more I inhale, so much as anyone inhales cigars. Best to replace a bad habit with a good one, or at least not as bad a vice. Alas, addicts generally travel on a road from pot to PCP, not the reverse.
If only to more fully appreciate the effects of alcohol, drinkers should quit for an extended time — Mondays don’t qualify — every so often (Lent works). The ensuing phenomenon comes across a lot like “Stairway to Heaven.” You appreciate the loud more when it follows the quiet. One can’t truly experience the drunk without the sober.
There’s something unhealthy about prohibition just as there is about overindulgence. One can be gluttonous for abstinence, a fault with which I am thankfully not burdened. So I will someday jump off this Billy Sunday bandwagon and back on a Budweiser Clydesdale. As Aristotle counseled, moderation in all things.