Tightrope Walking

From a Shakestir.com interview with Mr. Erik Adkins:

“It’s a tightrope. I always think there are two types of bartenders: those who have quit drinking, and those who are on their way to quitting drinking. There are a lot of bartenders I know who have quit drinking, because you can’t manage it. If you drink at work and you drink when you’re not at work, then you’re just a drunk.

“In my 20s, you’d say, “Only drink after the sun goes down,” but during winter, that’s a problem. Now, I have a glass of wine with dinner, I may split a beer with another bartender, but you’ve got to have those boundaries.

“There was a bartender I once worked with, he’d only drink at work — when he was at home and on his days off, he wouldn’t drink. Most of us do the opposite. It’s hard, because then you get home and you want to unwind, and that’s at least two drinks — or three — and if you’re not careful, you’re gonna wake up and be tired. I have a set wake-up time, so if I decide to stay up late, I pay the price, and that reminds me the next time it wasn’t worth it.

“When you’re in your 20s, you don’t have to worry about it. In your 30s, it doesn’t hit you physically as much, but in your 40s, between eating restaurant food for staff meals and consuming alcohol, there are some serious lifestyle issues with your health. My doctors laugh and say it’s an occupational hazard, like it’s forgiven because of my job, but it still has that effect on your triglycerides and your blood sugar and all that stuff.

“You’ve got to set your lifestyle for what you’re going to be doing in your 50s and 60s.”

An Inappropriate Relationship

From an interview on ShakeStir.com with Mr. Dale DeGroff:

“I did have a period when I was a heavy drinker, but I don’t know a single bartender who’s out there working as an older man who still drinks heavily.

“A doctor said to me about 10 years ago, “You’ve got problems—they’re not serious, but your liver is stressed. You can keep drinking the way you are for another 10 years and then you’ll probably die; or, you can stop drinking for a while, and if you leave your liver alone and let it recuperate, you can probably go back to moderate drinking.” And that’s what I did.

“There comes a point—your body will tell you—that you either do what I did, or you take the tradeoff and die when you’re 65. I had a customer at the Hotel Bel-Air in L.A., who got exactly the same ultimatum I did at the same age. He’d sit at the bar and talk about it, and for a year he tried to stop drinking; eventually he said, “Oh, f*ck it,” and several years later, he died. He made the other choice, and he was happy—drinking was too much a part of his life, and his life wasn’t pleasant without it.

“Every bartender who’s a heavy drinker will have to make this decision when it’s time.”

Drunks & Drinkers

I admire people who drink without, (apparently,) getting drunk.

As a skinny, lightweight, drinker, the edge of drunk and too-drunk has always been a knife’s edge for me.

Not only that, but there are just some people who approach drinking differently than others.

A lot of people drink as part of a social interaction: go out to the bar, hang out with friends, drink some pints, chat, play darts, etc.

Have several drinks over the course of hours, pacing themselves, without apparent danger of disturbing the rules of the social contract or becoming out of sorts.

On the other hand, some people like to be drunk.

I’m one of those people, the ones who sometimes like to get a little too drunk.

Different people go different ways, when a little too drunk.

Most of the time, I am OK. Pleasant enough, smiling, if quiet, and somewhat mischievous. Fine.

On the other hand, sometimes drinking a little too much, is a descent into the yawning chasm of self-pity, insecurity, and anger which sits at the center of my being.

Again, as a skinny person, it is a knife’s edge, one drink this way or that, between pleasantly too-drunk, and unpleasantly too drunk.

And sometimes, it just seems to be mood, or my perception of the situation in which I find myself.

“Evil Erik,” my wife calls these bad trips. Mostly I just tend to leave, walk away from the situation in which I can clearly, drunkenly, see I am not wanted, or interested in participating with.

Some people believe that drinking, or other drugs, can make you a different person.

For the most part, I disagree.

I believe that whatever aspects you show when altered, are there with you, to a larger or smaller degree, all the time, perhaps sublimated under your restraint and respect for the rules of the social situations in which you are participating.

As a sober participant in social interactions, I can usually perceive that walking away from the people I am talking to, or ignoring their words, (words, so many words,) is something I should not do. I sublimate my fear, anger, and insecurity beneath my respect for the social contract.

However, this is something I had to teach myself to do, and have to sometimes consciously make an effort at. Let’s just say I have my Asberger tendencies.

When I was younger and I was bored with my friends, or felt like they weren’t interested me, I would simply walk away. Go inside the house and read, even if it was in the middle of a game or conversation.

I guess drinking too much turns me back into an 8 year old brat.

Wake Up in the Morning

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

Attributed to Frank Sinatra.

On the other hand, lately, I’ve been feeling the complete opposite.

I feel sorry for people who do drink, knowing how bad they will feel the next morning.

One of the problems I’ve been hitting lately, is, as I’ve gotten older, recovering from just about anything takes longer. Being sick, physical activity, drinking too much…

Where when I was young, a little sleep and a lot of water would cure a slightly excessive night of drinking. As I’ve grown older, it takes longer and longer to recover back to normal.

It seems like people either choose to skip normal, and keep drinking, or choose to skip imbibing.

If I want to continue to get back to being a base-line normal human being, somewhere there has to be a point of diminishing return, and I do like feeling alert and “normal”.

Drink as Little as Possible

Around my birthday, last year, I realized I had been drinking for 30 years. Since I was 18. Whew.

The broken bottle and the damage done, eh?

Since this realization, off and on, I’ve been trying to drink as little as possible.

Generally, this hasn’t worked well.

Started the less drinking project October-ish, then there was my birthday and Portland Cocktail Week. I was cut a break when Heaven’s Dog closed in Oct/Nov, and peer pressure was reduced to drink on a semi-weekly basis. Re-started the project, and then there were the holidays. In January, I finally got around to drying out for a few weeks, then I got invited to England to visit the Savoy Hotel. In February, to Boston for a cocktail event.

Then started working behind the bar regularly at South in the SF Jazz center.

Even leaving aside peer pressure from fellow bar staff, there is always an excuse to drink.

I was reading Roger Ebert’s memoir, not to put any spoilers out there, but in his 20s and 30s he drank to excess with the rest of the Chicago newspaper scene at The Goat and O’Rourke’s. Eventually, he decided he was an alcoholic and joined AA. When he joined AA, his sponsor gave him a drug that would make drinking very unpleasant, “If you are able to drink, it is only your will, and will always fails,” or words to that effect.

Without drink, he went on to live a fairly productive late life, with adopted children and a wonderful, supportive wife. Film festivals, TV show, etc.

For most of my life, I feel like, and this is my perception, that I’ve managed to keep drinking in its box. It has never cost me a job or a relationship. I’ve never lost a weekend, or a week, to a bender.

On the other hand, I’ve always been lucky to have friends or loved ones to bail me out from periodic lost nights. Shove me in a cab with some money, or help me get into my pajamas.

When you’re young, binge drinking seems fun. However, at some point, you just become a drunk old guy, instead of an enthusiastic, youthful, partier.

I was looking at a photos of older men, who still try to sport the stubble look. It’s like that. At some point, you just look like a rumpled old man who didn’t have time to shave, instead of a youthful bon vivant.

I feel like that now, I’m old enough I should have learned to drink well, like the quintessential Italian man. To drink enough to enjoy life, but not enough to be drunk in public.

But, I haven’t, and I still manage to occasionally get embarrassingly drunk.

Maybe 30 years of drinking is enough.