Sometimes with a notebook, sometimes with a guitar, sometimes with a shining device. Or, nothing at all. Just the glass and the potion and the ice within. In the womb of dark silence, a few hours after midnight, a few hours before dawn, anything’s possible.
“It’s quarter to three. … So, set ‘em up Joe.”
If tomorrow demands nothing, sound of busses, sirens, car horns and alarms dialed down, the house silent – spirits beckon. Not the spectral – the bottled variety that sends the mind pondering to where there are no borders. And to the freezer and the quantity of ice therein. The adventure begins.
I am of a generation of users and abusers. I’ve been abstinent and clean and sober. I’ve spent euphoric nights and “coming-down-again” nights.
Today, I am at peace with less euphoria and less coming down. But I am not opposed to reflections one finds not in a mirror but in a wee dram or three.
To be alone, glass in hand or on the nearest table, in the darkest hours, when no one texts, phones, asks what you want for dinner or “have you seen the ...,” there is singular magic.
In the best of times, the benevolent appraisal of yourself, bestowed by alcohol, includes the home and the partner in your bed. Or perhaps a lover from another time or a celebration of the oft-unsung serenity of being all alone. Or simply being alive and well. Taking measure.
Except for those who congregate around the bass notes, booze knows to put its finger on the scale when measuring success, no matter how you define it.
In this era of everyone shouting, to sever the electronic umbilical and explore the hours before down with only yourself and a bottle is luxurious self-indulgence. And, as the distiller’s art massages your brain, it matters little if the bottle cost $35 or $135.
The silent ministrations by the science of fermentation is its own reward, cashed in only if one puts the glass away before passing out. Immoderate moderation is the aim.
Once excess reduces the adventure to walking into walls, falling down stairs or “talking into the big white phone,” as a former colleague described the hazards of his trysts with whiskey, you made a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
The ambition is to explore, rationalize, appreciate and speculate. If properly pickled, the self-analysis in the hours just before dawn are transcendent.
Alcohol, a wondrous poison that unfortunately kills indiscriminately, even when used as prescribed by common sense, yields revelations that, on occasion, make sense. True, no one’s around when you make sense, but, bonus, no one’s around when you don’t. And you don’t have to drive home. You won’t wake up in a strange bed. In fact, nothing says you have to get off the sofa.
As musical philosopher, George Thorogood, sings:
And we drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
Yeah, you know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
If balanced just right, this descent into non-toxic inebriation is palliative. Your ego might be battered, your nerves burnt, your fears accelerated, but a few ounces of 40-proof imbibed in shadowy solitude is a chamois for the soul. My new friend is small-batch local gins, over ice, unsullied by tonic.
I’m not convinced that malt does more than Milton can, but the voyage is more important than the destination.
Another advantage of imbibing when the world sleeps is the small hours do not lend themselves to drinking and dialing or texting. Unless, of course, you’ve swallowed a finger or four too many. The trick is to find the sweet spot of the righteously pickled before you go over the falls of the shit-faced.
As have most, I’ve spent hours drinking with people who can’t stop talking. People who can’t talk but turn red-faced and smiling – the village-idiot drinker. I’ve drunk with the maudlin. I’ve drunk with someone who had one tape of disappointment that was replayed each time the first bottle led to the second. I’ve drunk with someone who after a half a glass of beer became angry and aggressive. I’ve drunk with a couple who flew into rages while under the influence. Watched one half a couple spent the night insulting the other half of their marriage.
I’ve worked with heavy hitters who stood on bars and shouted obscenities. And, once or twice, I’ve drunk with women whose bed I had no business sharing.
But, I’ve also drunk and enjoyed good conversation with good people that didn’t slide off the rails into slurred redundancy and self-obsession.
And, I’ve drunk alone, where measured excess was as right as the dawn it ushered in.
Solitary down-time is transitory and sometimes plain out of reach, so we need to cram days of it into hours. Spirits accelerate the process of examining our navels, our crimes and misdemeanours, and we can raise a glass to the few successes and tell ourselves it’s been a great ride. On good nights, alcohol paints the glasses rose-coloured.
After all, if one can spend an hour or two looking at what might be the scariest subject of all – yourself – and still go to bed smiling, it would seem a perfectly acceptable, if necessary, delusion.
As Alan Arkin, playing a junkie grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine, tells his precocious granddaughter, “At your age you’d be crazy to do drugs. At my age you’d be crazy not to.” Of course, this being Hollywood, Arkin had to die by the final credits lest we get the wrong message.
A needle in your vein is not the same as a few ounces in a rocks glass. But the necessity or ambition may well be similar. We wish to alter our consciousness. But, handle with care.
When the curtain falls on your liquored-up excursion, the trick is not disturbing the one you love by walking into the closet or collapsing on top of him or her or they. Your adventure is not meant to be a misadventure for whoever shares your life.
Next, make sure the quantity of elixir consumed has expanded the mind without tearing off scabs or opening scarred tissue. The goal? Silently arrange your pillows, enjoy the familiar warmth of the body beside you and smile.
“T’is 4 a.m.,” the town cryer called. “And all’s well.”
At least, that’s what he said in the movies.