In some respect, I was kind of what some would call a “late bloomer.” I never had a rebellious phase, never got brought home by the police and contrary to the majority of my age group back home, I didn’t spent my teen years partying and drinking alcohol. In fact, I only drank my first beer at the age of 23 when I was training in Okinawa. And during those first few tastes of golden, alcoholic bliss, I was hanging out in a climate that required my body to retain every single drop of fluid I was taking in, which meant I was pretty much drinking beer AND water with impunity. That first little while saw me drinking with little to no after effects (other than raised blood sugars from the occasional high carbohydrate beer) and never a hangover.
Because of that fact, I thought I was somewhat invulnerable to the effects of alcohol. At least where hangovers were concerned. I didn’t learn my lesson until about six months AFTER my return from Okinawa where, on my way to a friend’s party, I couldn’t decide between two brands of beer, and bought a 6-pack of both. And then consumed them all. In one evening. Within about three hours. Ironically, I remember my evening quite clearly and it was a lot of fun. No worries or concerns, really. But the physical pain I was in the following morning taught me the error of my ways and why I should never drink with such impunity again.
I woke up soaked in what I hoped to Light was sweat, and my body sending out warning signals of varying sorts. My blood sugars were through the roof and my bowels and stomach were having an extremely loud argument over who had the right to kick out their unwanted guests first. I decided that my parched and swollen tongue required some water before giving attention to anything else. The water aggravated my stomach further, causing me to rush to the washroom where I managed to sit on the toilet while simultaneously testing my ability to aim by unceremoniously throwing up into the sink next to me.
It was like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was throwing up. I walked away having learned an extremely valuable lesson about alcohol, after that night. Despite being in my early 20’s, it would prove to be only one of two or three times in my life (so far) that I would actually get drunk. Putting aside the story of the staff party where I don’t remember being dropped off at home, the recollection of the third and last instance where I got truly drunk is the topic of today’s post. It involves an unplanned road trip coupled with a legendary and often-feared drink: absinthe.
Because of the first two instances of getting drunk, I had a strict “no getting drunk” policy, which involved never drinking anywhere but the comfort of my own home as well as never drinking enough to go beyond the enjoyment of simple libations and the flavour of whatever I may have been consuming at the moment. That isn’t to say that I don’t have the occasional beer when out at a restaurant or bar with friends. Far from it. But as a personal policy, I never allow myself to drink to excess. I think this is an important self-policy and should be followed by everyone. But my third and last time of getting drunk hammered it home for me. Here’s what happened…
Sometime between my return from Okinawa in 2001 and moving to Ottawa in 2007, I had a friend who lived in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The capital city of New Brunswick, it sits near the south-west corner of the Province and is about four hours away from where I was living at the time. My friend had moved there some years’ prior and had an apartment on the south side of the river. Although some locals may argue this point, the south side is where it’s at. It has the university, the shopping, the coffee shops and the bars. It also has the best comic shops.
Since I had a lull in my career, I found myself between jobs and had recently become single (unrelated) so I decided to pay my friend a visit. I haven’t spoken to him about retelling this, so for the purposes of this story I’ll simply call him “Treats.” If he reads this, he’ll be the only one who knows this involves him. I swear on my right hook that this is how the night went down, but his recollection may be different. I’ll let y’all know if he ends up reading this and reaching out to me. But I left early in the morning and arrived at Treats’ apartment around lunchtime. This worked out well, since we decided to go have brunch at one of my favourite breakfast restaurants called “Cora’s.” Although it’s nothing special beyond the fact they serve fresh fruit with every dish, one of our mutual friends also work there.
Treats had managed to gather a small group of mutual and new acquaintances to join us for breakfast, which included Treats’ brother and made for a pleasant, social outing. That’s right; I can be social. After an uneventful afternoon of coffee shops, comic book stores and good conversation, we discussed what we would be doing for dinner and with our evening. This is where things began to slowly roll downhill. Innocently enough, we decided on a local pub where we could indulge on a dose of unnecessary calories while having a few drinks. Once again, we had a few people with us but everyone kind of melted away as the evening progressed. A combination of university, work and the fact it was a week night made for a quiet party.
We got bored and didn’t want to spend a fortune on every beer we got, so we stopped by a local liquor store and got a case of beer for the apartment. We decided to binge watch some Family Guy. This was before Netflix was the big thing, and Treats actually had all the current seasons on DVD, so we watched and giggled like drunken school girls until we watched a scene involving Peter Griffin and the giant chicken. This prompted a heated discussion about fighting and martial arts, as I had been training in karate and he had apparently been doing kickboxing for quite some time. We already had quite a few drinks and despite being heated, it was nothing but conversational until Treats spoke the words that would change the tonality of the evening: “We should do a shot of absinthe…”
Folks, absinthe gets a reasonably bad rap. There was a this misconception that it had hallucinogenic properties and was mostly banned in North America, as a result. This concept has been mainly disproven in the past twenty years, and you can now buy the stuff at most liquor stores. Its no more dangerous than consuming any other spirit. Treats had brought over bottle from his travels in Europe over the previous couple of years and wanted me to experience the stuff, since I had never tried it. On the flip side, this shit is about 150 proof and is meant to be consumed by sprinkling sugar over ice and combining the absinthe with water. Treats took out two shot glasses and poured straight from the bottle. Asshole.
We were already drunk and bearing in mind that both of us had likely consumed close to a 12-pack each, albeit over the course of several hours, I wasn’t keen on the prospect of downing a shot. My previous experience with spirits hadn’t ended well. But I figured, what the hell was the worst that could happen? We were in the relative safety of Treats’ apartment and weren’t planning on going anywhere. Famous last words…
I take an experimental sniff of the greenish liquid and compared it to a bad combination of surgical-grade antiseptic mixed with antifreeze. I watch Treats throw his head back and down his shot. Suddenly, my self-confidence is shaken since Treats is about half my size and weight and he’s drank as much beer as I had. I do my best not to be a prideful person, but booze makes all the smart thoughts go, “Fuck it, I’m outta here!” So, like a true drunken idiot, I also throw back my shot and down it in one gulp.
It almost felt as though my entire body went into panic mode as every molecule in my esophagus was suddenly screaming at me and asking why I had brought this unwanted guest to the party. My stomach responded in kind, akin to a bouncer trying to tell someone they weren’t on the list and didn’t belong in the club and to get out of there. My stomach threatened to reverse impulse engines and expel right there in Treats’ kitchen. Sharp beads of sweat break out on my forehead and my knees buckle as I get dizzy, wondering what the hell I just did to myself.
Treats is laughing at me, mostly because he’s drunk and he sees me swaying in place but also because half the absinthe bottle was empty. This meant it wasn’t his first rodeo and he intentionally wanted to see what effect it would have on me. This makes me indignant and I consider this a slight against me the likes of which karma needed to correct. Once my momentary weakness passes, I decided it would be a good idea to test my blood sugars. This is a true testament to my muscle memory and control over Diabetes. Most people would have put that shit on the back burner.
When I come out of the guest room, Treats is back on the couch and has continued to watch Family Guy without me. This makes me morose as I sit in silence and begin to watch with him, having missed a portion of the episode. Somehow the conversation returns to our respective fighting styles and becomes more argumentative over the value of certain methods and techniques. I pride myself on being open to others’ interpretation. But as I mentioned earlier, drunk Shawn has a much different perspective. I berate and belittle his perspective. This makes him openly angry. Absinthe has joined the argument!
Treats finally decides he needs to demonstrate the effectiveness of his kickboxing prowess and invites me to spar in his entryway. We’re talking a less than ten-foot by ten-foot space inside an upper floor apartment. I start picturing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s drunken fight scene in Kickboxer and decide that this is a fantastic idea. We move his dining table slightly and square off. I can only imagine how ridiculous we must have looked; two grown-ass men, drunk beyond reason on beer and absinthe, planning to “spar.” I use the quotation marks because of what was to come next…
He starts with a couple of simple jabs. He’s using the typical boxer’s stance that I despise; his guard is firmly against the side of his head as he delivers his jabs. I block the first one. Then I block the second one. I begin to realize that my excessive martial arts training allows me to operate almost on instinct and I stop TRYING to block and simply let the blocks happen. I am in the zone. He delivers a couple more jabs and punches without any success. Although my guard is still up, I start laughing. And that’s when it happened.
Because of my drunken stupor, my laugh involved my eyes squinting shut. This is not a good thing during a fight. His next straight jab catches me right in the face. My eyes were no longer closed, let me tell you! I look at him in shock and surprise and try to deliver a jab of my own. As I do, he suddenly remembers the “kick” aspect of his art and delivers a firm, roundhouse kick to my right ribs; right underneath the arm I was jabbing with. I fold over on the injured side, which opens up the left side of my face. BAM! He delivers a right hook to the left side of my face.
The hook jars something loose as a flood of all the times I had been bullied and beaten up in school came flooding to the surface (Yes, I was bullied in school! One story at a time, people!). I was drunk on more alcohol than I should have consumed and my inner filters and controls melted away by Mr. Absinthe, and I saw red. I threw a quick rounded punch into Treats’ gut. He grunts. I am displeased at his lack of folding over, so I deliver a front kick to his solar plexus. As he doubles over, he guards the left side of his face. Since his fist is firmly against his head, I strike and it’s as though the fist isn’t even there. I bring a knee up into his abdomen and back kick him into his living room, sending his sprawling over the coffee table.
Maybe I should have mentioned that his girlfriend was also there at the time. Did I mention his girlfriend was sleeping there, at the time? She got up and was not impressed. We were both battered and bruised, with fine rivulets of blood at our nose, mouth or both. Everything had happened over the course of about five minutes. She used a rather matronly voice to “suggest” that we quit our bullshitting or she’d get “involved.” This this day, I don’t know what she meant. I didn’t want to know then, and I don’t want to know now. We watched a couple more episodes and the mood lightened significantly. Probably because we had drained out all of our testosterone in those few moments. Who knows?
I awoke the next morning and staggered my way to the washroom. The left side of my face had some mild swelling and it hurt to move my rib cage. I stepped out into the kitchen and found Treats seated at the table. He offered me coffee, which I gladly accepted and then grinned devilishly while making some off-the-cuff comment about how I couldn’t handle my booze. I left it alone. I didn’t know how much he remembered from the previous night, but I have the significant advantage (or disadvantage) of always retaining full memory of what I’d done despite the alcohol.
We decided to have a second round of brunch at Cora’s before I got back on the road to home. I had a reasonably low after-effect and little to no hangover, considering the amount of alcohol AND the strikes to the head. We chatted, we laughed and I got back on the road having thoroughly enjoyed my time with Treats. Good times and good memories. It would prove to be the last time I would ever consume that much alcohol of any type, and one of the last time I ever went beyond “tipsy.” Even though I didn’t have a rambunctious youth, I recognized that my capacity for violence when inebriated was significant. And I didn’t want to ever chance inadvertently bringing harm to someone.
So there you have it! A little insight on lesser moments in my 20’s. I definitely wasn’t proud of how I was that night. Anymore than I was of the other two instances when I allowed myself to drink outside the home. But this is why I make a point never to consume to intoxication. And for the most part, I never drink outside my home. My personal and professional life have taught me that there’s too much room for error. To this day, I enjoy my wine. I also enjoy beer much the same way many folks do: cold and while barbecuing. But sometimes we need to learn about moderation the hard way. Maybe some of you will see my story as a way to learn that lesson. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll need a couple of hits to the head, like I did. ☯
2 thoughts on “In The Absinthe of Good Sense… (A Long Read)”
A lesson I wish my brother would learn.
It’s definitely a hard one to shoot, if you aren’t looking for it. I was never one for getting drunk at the best of times. But on the few occasions that I allowed myself to, nothing untoward ever happened until this situation. And luckily, it was with a friend and “all in good fun.” I can’t imagine what might have happened if it had been a genuine situation in public with a total stranger.
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