Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Course Overload #5: "Cheers!"

I didn’t drink alcohol before I was 21 . Yes, I was a goody-two-shoes, a party pooper, a crazy mofo; whatever you want to call me. I just wanted to wait until it was legal. I understand that given some of my subject matter, my loyal reader(s) could reasonably infer that I’d been perpetually sloshed every time I sat down at the word processor. Well, I’m sorry if I burst anyone’s beer bubble, but I was actually 100 percent sober every time. The only influence I was under while writing is insanity.

Somehow, over the course of my first 19 years, the drinking alcohol hardly ever came up. There’s only one instance I can think of, and that’s the cast party for my high school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. I had the honor of playing a human statue of the fiddler. Basically, my part involved standing in the lobby for several hours in the same position, acting as a human decoration when people were buying their tickets and allowing small children to drape candy wrappers and used tissues over my extended limbs. I was told that I was the backbone of the production and invited to the cast party.

By the time I got there, everyone, including the all three daughters, the Matchmaker, most of the townspeople, Lazar Wolf, and even Tevia himself, had had too much to drink. The only sober people remaining – me, the cat, and a few ferns – spent the entire time asking people if they were drunk. The answer was always “no,” at which point I would ask them to prove it by doing a handstand or a cartwheel. Around 3 a.m., I began requesting backflips. I was even considering dragging the neighbor’s trampoline into the house around 5 a.m., but by then all the fun drunks had passed out in various compromising positions. I spent an hour or so dressing them all in festive togas, and around the time the sun came up, I simply got up and left. I spent the next three hours walking home, in the cold, with nothing but my trusty overshirt and my dull wits to protect me.

Perhaps it was the disappointment of seeing an entire group of people I respected reduced to babbling morons (with togas!), or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t have just gone to sleep, for fear of being "shaving creamed" or having my hand dunked in warm water. Or it might have even been the pair of hunters who chased me for a good half mile of my walk home wile waving their shotguns in the air and screaming obscenities. But that day I decided that alcohol wasn’t for me until I could handle it, and 21 seemed like a good age for that.

For the rest of my high school career, my teetotaling  wasn’t a problem. However, within the first few weeks of college, the subject of drinking came up nearly two billion times. It all started when I was offered a beer at a party. “Oh, you go ahead and drink it,” I said. “I think I’ll just have a coke.” The happy chatter ceased. The music ended abruptly. The entire room fell silent. Everyone, drink in hand, stared at me. You’d think I had said, “Oh, no thanks. I’d rather bite the heads off of these kittens.” They simply could not fathom that anyone could turn down a beer.

From that day forward it was my friends’ mission in life to get me drunk. And it wasn’t just my college buddies: People I haven’t seen in years took up the cause too. Around that time saw my decrepit Uncle Jimbo for the first time in about ten years. The first thing out of his mouth was not “hello,” or “nice to see you again.” It was, “Why don’t you have a beer?” Even my girlfriend at the time was in on it. If it were possible to get drunk while simultaneously cutting off my ponytail and driving too fast, she’d have signed me up without my knowledge.

A typical conversation, with anyone I knew, usually went like this:

FRIEND: You should get drunk, Matt.

ME: No thanks.

FRIEND: Come on, it’ll be fun. Besides, alcohol builds strong bones and increases awareness. Consuming alcohol also helps feed the starving children in Kosovo. What, are you some sort of baby killer, Matt? You don’t want to be a murderer, do you!? Their deaths will be on your head! Help! Police! This man kills children!

ME (over the screaming): But, wouldn’t this time be better spent trying to find out what makes life so unbearable that society has to periodically ingest mass quantities of a semi-toxic substance just to be able to go on with our lives?

FRIEND: You bring up a good point, Mr. Frey. Perhaps you should expand on that idea over a nice jug of vodka.

As you can plainly see, it was a conspiracy. I was convinced that there was an entire government agency devoted to getting me wasted. An elite network of spies from all the countries of the world exchanged cryptic passwords and manila envelopes with each other while wearing trench coats and silly gangster hats to blend in, even in the summer, all for the sole purpose of slipping me a Mickey.

For the longest time, I asked myself, “Why does everyone get agitated when I turn down alcohol? Why does the entire world want to get me drunk?” But now I think I finally understand. I’ve figured out everyone’s little game. See, it’s like this: Nearly all my friends worked for Budweizer, on commission. Literally, their college education depended on my intoxication. It’s the only logical answer. In the early 2000s, there must have been only two kinds of people in this world: Those employed by Budweizer, and me. And a few ferns.

People should be allowed to do what they want, as long as its within reason and its not taking away someone else's rights. If you want to drink then fine, I’m not going to stop you. And if I want to drink, and I'm 21 and I’m not driving someplace afterwards, you shouldn’t try to stop me. But by the same token, I should be entitled to not drink if I so choose.

Just keep in mind that if you exercise your right to drink, I might exercise my right to dress passed out friends in togas.

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