Thanks to all the horrific examples of alcoholism in my family—a grandmother who chose to die homeless, a father who can’t remember (or selectively chooses not to remember) half the evil things he did to me, aunts and uncles who have ruined their relationships under the influence, and various distant family members whom I have never seen sober—I don’t drink. Don’t and won’t. I have never drank. The greatest amount of alcohol I have every imbibed, at any one time, has come from a communion cup. I don’t have the genes to make it worth the risk.
As any alcoholic will tell you, it’s hard to nail down the point of no return—that moment when social drinking turned into full-on alcoholism. One day you’re having a few beers with your friends; the next, you’re trying to defend your behavior, and swearing to reform, and knowing you really won’t, and your life has gone to crap. I’ve watched it happen. So I just go the extreme route and don’t drink at all. My siblings haven’t, and I hope to God they never go past one drink.
So when I joke, in the below strip, about Leonard only having a Mountain Dew, it’s ’cause that was my own line throughout college: “It’s not a beer; it’s a Mountain Dew.” To which people would respond, “Yeah right it’s a Mountain Dew.” But no, it really was. I didn’t drink in college either. Non-alcoholic beer when they had it—and I’d make absolutely sure it was non-alcoholic beer; I’d open the bottle myself—and soda otherwise.
Some folks would really want me to join in with the drinking, or want to know why I wasn’t taking advantage of the free booze. So sometimes I’d explain the sordid family history. Problem is, explaining the rampant alcoholism in my gene pool isn’t gonna work on someone who’s dead set on getting some Schnapps into me. Partiers can’t conceive why a non-drinker would go to a party. They don’t think of it as wanting to hang out with friends. Or wanting to be there when the cool stuff went down—with a camera, recording things that would later result in sweet, sweet blackmail money. Seriously though: “I don’t drink” won’t get people to stop nagging you to drink. They just don‘t want to drink alone. “Come on, one drink. How’s one drink gonna hurt you? You can’t get drunk from one drink. Just one drink. Just a sip. Come on.” And they’d nag all bloody evening. And I’d hold out all bloody evening, ’cause I’m stubborn like that.
But one day, when I didn’t want to deal with the whole frigging hassle, I just blurted out, “I’m an alcoholic.”
No I’m not. I’m a latent alcoholic. I have the perfect storm of personality and behaviors that, once you add alcohol, become alcoholism. Once you add other drugs, they become addiction. But I haven’t yet experienced that full-on addiction. So other people figure I’m just being a nervous Nellie and say I oughta take the risk: Maybe I’ll be the first exception in a thousand generations. So have a beer. Sip the Schnapps. What’s one drink?
But once you say, “I’m an alcoholic,” the nagging immediately, wonderfully stops.
It was beautiful. The nags apologized for leading me into temptation. They never prodded me again. They treated me, instead of like the killjoy who wouldn’t drink with them, like I was a noble recovering addict with a willpower of steel that hung out with them despite all the temptation they put before me. Probably they even felt guilt. Only utter scum would try to pull an alcoholic off the wagon.
It was kinda nice. But it was a lie, and my conscience bugged me about it. Eventually I stopped saying it.
Most of the parties I went to at CSU Sacramento were thrown by fellow journalism students—State Hornet staff members. Some of them were even hosted by the school paper. It was included in our budget: We got to blow off steam twice a semester. (Sometimes more.)
At nearly every party there was a guy, whom I’ll call Mike, ’cause that’s his name, who liked to bring Schnapps and tequila. What Mike would do at each party would identify a mark—someone whom he intended to have a little fun with that evening. Mike’s idea of fun was to wait until that mark had a beer or two in him, and then introduce him to Schnapps. “Hey dude, you wanna try some Schnapps?” Tastes like Torani syrup; all of them would say sure, they’d try Schnapps, and he’d get them to take one shot, then two, then three—enough to get extremely drunk within the next several minutes.
And then Mike would bust out the tequila.
As any partier will tell you, tequila, Schnapps, and beer are not the kindest combination in a 20-year-old’s stomach. Within 30 minutes, the recipient of Mike’s generosity would be violently occupying the host’s bathroom, trying to expel his own liver through the mouth.
I came to realize this was Mike’s intention from the very beginning: He got some kind of sick glee out of getting some poor fool violently ill.
So I began to quietly warn people away. “Stay away from the Schnapps, ’cause the tequila comes next, and then it’s the rest of the night bowing before the porcelain god.” But regardless, Mike regularly found a victim. One evening he found more than one—resulting in two guys fighting over a solitary bathroom, and one of them losing messily.
If hosts wanted to avoid a besplattered bathroom (or kitchen sink), they quickly learned not to invite Mike. But he won his way back into their good graces by providing marijuana instead of tequila. So, many a young lad’s tender stomach was spared thereafter… though a few of them did later become wake ’n’ bakers.
Soda was my drug of choice. I’d drink copious amounts. When we went to Bleachers—the sports bar on the far side of the Guy West Bridge—I’d order a pitcher of cherry Coke and a straw. I wouldn’t bother with a separate glass, and just drink from the pitcher. Partly that was for the stunned reaction from people who couldn’t believe I’d actually drink an entire pitcher of soda by myself. (Really, it’s the equivalent of two Big Gulps, so it’s hardly that impressive.) Partly it was so I didn’t have to share. College students are cheap, you know, and would drink two-thirds of my pitcher if I let them.
Since I only drank soda, I assumed I never had to worry about getting carded. But ’tain’t always so. One evening, some friends took me to the Last Chance Saloon, where no one under 21 was admitted. I didn’t know this until I tried to buy a Sprite. “Need to see some I.D.,” said the bartender.
“For a Sprite?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. He looked the I.D. and said, “Sorry. You gotta go.” Thankfully, my friends were willing to relocate on my behalf. (I wasn’t the only one under 21, but my friend Jen had a fake I.D.)
The next time some friends wanted to go to the Last Chance, I warned them I’d get booted… and they said, “No problem. If all you’re drinking is Sprite, drinks are on us. The bartender will never have to see your I.D.” Fun evening, and I totally creamed them playing quarters. (To keep things fair, we didn’t play for money. Bummer.)
I was once tasked with purchasing the keg for one of the State Hornet parties. I think it was some oversight on the part of whoever gave me the job: Me, the non-drinker, and underage, having to get the beer. But I brought with me an of-age friend named Tony. I handed him the cash and off we went to Safeway.
“Out of curiosity,” I asked the manager, “do you sell kegs of non-alcoholic beer?”
“We do,” he said. He pointed out a keg of O’Doul’s.
“You wouldn’t need I.D. to get that, I suppose,” I supposed.
“No you wouldn’t,” he said.
“Hm,” I told Tony, “guess I didn’t need your help after all.”
“You wouldn’t,” he said.
“You know the crazy thing,” I said, “they’d ‘get drunk’ anyway. They’d act just as sloppy and goofy as if we actually bought Budweiser. We could just watch them and laugh… and tell them the next day, and watch them be horrified. It’d be hilarious.”
“We should totally do it,” he said.
We chickened out. Had it been my own money, I absolutely would have.
As I said, I’ll drink non-alcoholic beer. I actually like the stuff—which just goes to show how good an idea it is for me to stay away from the regular stuff. Non-alcoholic beer has 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, so it’s 1 proof: In a 12-ounce can there’s 1.77 milliliters of alcohol. In the weaker communion wine—24 proof—there’s 3.55 milliliters of alcohol in a one-ounce communion cup. Like I said: The greatest amount of alcohol I’ve ever imbibed is in communion cups.
Mom, like me, doesn’t drink. Not because of a family history of alcoholism—although there is some on her side of the family. For her it’s a personal conviction; if she’s gonna be in church leadership, she believes she shouldn’t drink at all. I largely agree with her, but as I said, I have totally different reasons for not drinking. But Mom even objects to non-alcoholic beer. To her, it’s a gateway drug. To me, I can’t see how it’s a gateway drug: If non-alcoholic beer isn’t available, I am never tempted to have a regular beer instead. Maybe Mom is, but my brain doesn‘t work that way.
Still, when Mom first found out I drank non-alcoholic beer, she lost her nut. I had to listen to an angry ten-minute lecture about the evils of alcoholism and compromise. My arguments—that we’re talking 1.77 milliliters per 12-ounce can, and, by the way, I was 27 freaking years old—didn‘t faze her. To be fair, though, Mom had every right to be unreasonable: We were off to the Highway Patrol office to pick up Dad after he’d been busted for DUI.
Mom still gets annoyed when fellow Christians drink. She works at a multi-denominational Christian organization, and a lot of Christians think absolutely nothing of wine with dinner. She believes they should think of it—and abstain. Now, considering her experiences with alcoholics (which were worse than mine), I can’t say I blame her for being anti-alcohol. I just don’t share her attitude. Those Christians I know who drink, tend to do so in moderation. Then again, I don’t hang out with them a lot. But I still figure what you drink is between you, God, and your liver.
As for Leonard Squish: I have to keep reminding people that Leonard, while he and I share some thoughts and traits in common, is not me. He’s not a Christian; he makes poor, self-centered choices and is definitely going to hell. He’s written that way so I can make fun of what not to do. You can’t make fun of role models, you know.