Once upon a time I was a wild young drinking lad. The difference now is that I actually like to drink in social situations. That and I don't get stupid crazy drunk. The story below is true, but names have been changed to protect the not so innocent.
Picture the roof of a revolving restaurant atop a Hilton Hotel in a major Tennessee city. If you look close enough you will see 4 men in their late teens to early twenties scampering around like idiots. The rooftop was much smaller than I imagined which in turn made it scarier than I imagined. There was also the nagging fear that either the hatch to the roof would be closed by a wandering maintenance man or even worse that we would be caught and thrown in the slammer for the night. Why were on the roof in the first place? I think it began when we stopped at a liquor store and bought a couple of huge bottles of cheap wine before we went to play miniature golf. That was just the way things went in those days.
Going caving? Let's buy and drink some beer first! Just got off an exhausting 8 hour shift at the pizza joint where we all worked? Let's go to Doug's and watch movies all night, but first let's shotgun a six-pack of beer before the real drinking starts. Going fishing at a well stocked illegal fishing hole? Be sure and drink plenty of whiskey before we leave. Boucing super balls off the parking garage at the Hilton? Well, you know how that day started.
I wasn't an alcoholic. In fact I didn't really enjoy the drinking all that much. I was just 19 and if I wanted to fit in with the older crowd I had to drink. So I made sure nobody ever left me behind. I could binge drink with the best of them. Lucky for me, most of them never got to see the aftermath. There were the days when I could barely crawl to the phone to call in sick because of a hangover. I learned that when you drink way too much, you can end up throwing up blood, which really sucks. But my body's tendency to hurl at a certain point probably kept from becoming an alcohol poisoning casualty. I eventually learned that when my lips turned numb it was time to start downing some water, but it took about three years for me to figure it out. I bet I drank more alcohol between the ages of 18 and 21 than I have in all the years since.
It began with vodka. I was nuts about it, either mixed with some Mountain Dew or taken straight. It was an insiduous beast. I discovered its full power one night while hanging out with some friends in the MTSU dorms. I was visiting the Shelbyville Kid probably watching Eraserhead when our friend T-Jam rang us up with the news that he'd written a new song and that we should come over to hear it. He lived just across campus and it was a wonderful autumn night so left Shelbyville's room lingering to stare at the St. Pauli girl poster looking so lovely on the concrete wall. As I made my way to T-Jam's the vodka, which had been having no effect on me suddenly decided to let me know; hey you big dummy you're actually quite drunk. Instead of walking across campus I wobbled.
I had been mixing my drinks with more and more vodka at Shelbyville's dorm room. I was royally wasted by the time we got to T's place. T-Jam was an interesting guy from Knoxville who had a love for punk rock and most of all The Jam. He was an insanely gifted bass player and all around nice guy. He played us the new song he had written and I kept drinking. He had gotten on to me just a week before about my drinking, but I had told him I was just following in the path of Jack Kerouac. Somehow he had seemed to make drinking romantic. I wish I would have read Big Sur sooner. The punk rock posters on the walls began swirling around like fireflies and my body began to ache. T-Jam was extolling the merits of the first Police album, "its actually really good", when I started to vomit on his carpet. It was the first time I had ever gotten sick drinking and I went downhill fast, moaning and retching as they rolled me outside so I'd quit ruining the rug. T-Jam's roommate came home and siad, "Damn, I'm glad I didn't bring a girl over" and from there events began to happen as through a heavy gauze bandage smelling of regurgitated vodka, I did manage to figure out that they had called my buddy Bruno to drive me home. It was embarrassing and the only thing I learned from the event was to never get sick in front of people again. Well that, and never to drink vodka again. Just writing about it makes me queasy.
That didn't stop me from drinking though. There was always beer, whiskey, and gin. Especially beer. Pitchers of beer at the pizza joint. Cases of beer at parties. I remember going over to somebody's place once on a Sunday. A party had been happening since Friday night and there was a mountain of beer cans stacked from the floor to the ceiling taking up a huge chunk of real estate in the living room, a teenage exploitation film come to life. There was all you can drink nights at Jabbs; Milwaukee's Beast by the kegs would get consumed by drunks playing darts. Beer could deliver that last bit of courage needed to climb the fire tower on Tiger Hill just south of Murfreesboro. You could sway right along with the wind in an alcoholic zen state while you watched the sun rise before heading to Krystals for gutbomb burgers.
But no matter how I tried to romanticize it, I knew that hanging out watching The Song Remains The Same for the umpteenth time was just another wasted day. Which is what we did alot during the winter months. There was also cardboard box slides down townhouse staircases and parking lot football at 3 AM which never failed to get the cops called on us. There were late night beer runs and drinking games like Pass Out that were only played when ladies dropped by. All of it conducted in various inebriated states. I spent most of my time in a funk, never really feeling a part of things. I knew this lifestyle wasn't my thing, but as it was the only social life I had at the time I didn't listen to my heart. The threat of loneliness was a powerful thing at that age.
Which was why I ended up with my co-workers from the pizza restaurant on that rare Saturday when were all off. I was a miniature golf fanatic so I liked the idea of playing against them. So first we stopped at the liquor store for the wine. For once I decided I wasn't going to drink with my buddies. My mind was on winning at mini-golf. They were acting good and drunk and stupid by the time we began to play. A cute lady was playing with her family right behind us so I starting hanging back to chat with her. She told me to come by and visit her where she worked at in Hickory Hollow Mall. I wasn't acting like a knucklehead and my day was going great. I won the two games of mini-golf and met a girl so I was good; ready to go home.
That's when I was informed that we were heading into town because they wanted to bounce super balls from the top of the parking garage at the Hilton. They got some beer to top off the wine and I decided to take a stand. I was going to be the stick in the mud for two reasons: I was tired of the whole drinking thing and I figured one of us should stay sober. We got to the parking garage and they started the super ball assault on the sidewalk below. It was kind of cool, but not all that great so when I noticed a leather jacket clad punk rock dude in a corner I decided to see what was up with him. He turned out to be a homeless punk rocker who had ended up in Tennessee by way of Pittsburgh, PA. While my friends continued to conduct their experiments in gravity I talked about punk music with him. We bonded over our mutual love of Minor Threat and M.D.C., but when I offered him a little cash he refused. He had a cousin somewhere in town and he figured he'd find her soon. He was a little strung out, but he still had his pride even if he was going to crash for the night in a parking garage.
We left him and ventured into the hotel. Some more drinks were purchased at the bar so I just waited in the lobby by a grand piano. I tinkled the keys softly with boredom as the evening was starting to get late. Next we rode the glass elevators which was a big pastime in those days. Then the plan was hatched to climb onto the roof of the revolving restaurant which sat atop the hotel. One of the guys I was with knew how to get into the maintenance room. You could climb a short ladder to the hatch from there. Since I was stone sober I didn't like the idea one bit, but did I refuse to take part?
I had taken a step toward my own social independence by not drinking that day so I wasn't going to rock the boat too much at this point. So I climbed up the ladder along with the rest. I have to admit the view was breathtaking, a super reality that was heightened indeed by factors not even related to booze for me. I was the first to bail citing the need for at least one of us to keep watch. They stayed up there for a good hour and I wondered when the day that began with miniature golf was going to end.
It evnetually did, but not before a spin around Centennial Park after hours where we almost ended up in the pond. Even though I was sober, I was outnumbered by the drunks who wouldn't let me drive. The near miss at the pond brought them to their senses and I wheeled us toward home, stopping at a Dunkin' Donuts shop just as the sun was coming up. I would still hang out with them every now and then, but my binge drinking days were officially over. My days playing in rock and roll bands were just around the bend.