Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yo Ho Ho

...and a bottle o' rum! After all, I'm a pirate.

Although I'd rather have a beer. Or a single malt scotch. A finger's worth of calvados can be nice. Perhaps a beefy barolo. Or a nice auslese from the steep banks of the Saar. I've even slugged down shots of vodka while sniffing chornai khleb* in a dingy nightclub in a bad part of Kiev during the cold war.

I've had my share of drinks. Gotten drunk many times. Once or twice I got so drunk that I had to be carried out of the bar. But even though I've had a few God-I'm-gonna-regret-this-in-the-morning moments, I never went into the evening (or, once or twice, afternoon) with the expressed intent of getting plastered. In fact, I always viewed such instances as failures, in a way: I drank so much that I was non-functional. I drank so much I made myself sick. In essence, I poisoned myself.

This was not something that someone told me, or anything; it just made sense to me. If you get too ripped, you've gone too far. I quickly (well, relatively quickly) learned that if I started to suspect that I drank too much, it was too late: I already drank too much. I learned my limits, and tried to stay within them.

Which is probably why I was so taken aback one Friday afternoon in my senior year in college when two attractive co-eds stepped into the elevator I was riding.

"God," one of them said to the other, "I'm gonna get so shit-faced tonight."

Really. Here was a someone who was planning--looking forward, even--to do something to herself that I considered to be a failure of self-control. This wasn't to say that I hadn't heard the expression before. I had, but usually it was uttered by someone who was already well on the path to full fecal-facedness. Even though I went to a college with a reputation of being a party school, I had assumed she was an anomaly. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't.

But one thing I'm sure of is she wouldn't be an anomaly today.

A few weeks ago while driving to work, I hear this NPR report about the dangers of your boss becoming one of your 'friends' on your Myspace or Facebook page. The expert, a columnist for the Financial Times, was going over the potential land mines of this issue, when she tossed this comment off in a very flip way:
LUCY KELLAWAY: But if you say yes, what about all those pictures of you naked and dancing on a table, drunk? Do you really want your boss to see those?
Forget the boss, I thought, why would you want anyone to see them.

Then I thought: If they didn't want anyone to see them, why would they post them on their webpage in the first place? Why would they even take the pictures?

Then I thought a deeper thought. Deeper, and sadder: They did this because they did want people to see it. They're not only not regretful of their actions, they're outright proud of them. It's a mark, a badge, a rite of passage: get completely drunk, drop all your social filters, then drop trou and dance. Bonus points if your a girl and you make out with another girl while naked on a table. Then picture it and post it for posterity.

Like it's a good thing.

I know, some of the pictures aren't posted by the partiers, but by the putative pals of the pukers. But still, it's a sign of the times. If you don't have embarrassing pictures of yourself on the net, then you ain't nobody.

All of my embarrassing pics, by the way, involve platform shoes and polyester suits in the most unnatural shade of blue ever created.

Back to the topic: drinking has gotten out of hand. All the attempts to curb teenage drinking simply drove it underground. Now the main way of teens drinking is binging on hard liquor. Which has led some people to wonder if the best way to solve this problem would be by lowering the drinking age. As the husband of an alcoholic, you might think I have an issue with this. I'm not sure I do.

According to the story:
The federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2005, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans reported that they had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged — that is, consumed five or more drinks at one time — within the previous month.
85% of 20-year-olds have drank. 40% of them binge. According to Lt. Trouble (who considers himself a cop first, an Air Force Officer second), any law that 30% of the population breaks is considered unenforcable; that is, you will most likely not be prosecuted if you break that law.

So is lowering the drinking age a good idea? I don't know. I do know that raising it really hasn't stopped the problem. Anyone else got any better ideas?

Yes, I've gotten drunk before. I've been dragged out of bars and tossed face-first into the backseat of my car. I've fallen asleep with my head in a toilet. I've driven drunk and lived to tell about it simply because I was lucky.

I've also had incredibly deep, meaningful conversations over a pitcher of beer. I've sat and watched sunsets with friends sipping Beaujolais. I've toasted newlyweds with champagne, and the dearly departed with whiskey.

Alcohol can be a social tool, or a social weapon. Kids need to be taught that.


*Black bread. The Eastern European equivalent to tequila-and-lime was a shot of vodka followed by a bite of pumpernickel. But food shortages were common in the Soviet Union, so to make the bread last longer, you sniffed your slice rather than eat it.


Blogger terry said...

i was always baffled in college by those who drank even though they didn't like the taste of what they were drinking. like those girls in your elevator, they were drinking JUST to get drunk.

when i overindulge, it's BECAUSE i like the taste.

and here's another reason i'm so weird: i didn't go through that usual teenage drinking crap. i think it's mostly because i was allowed to have wine or champagne at home, on special occasions. took all the mystique out of the drinking.

perhaps lowering the drinking age isn't such a bad idea.

2:38 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I have a theory that the amount a person drinks is proportonate to the amount of control they feel they have in their own lives. Of couse, college students are generally an exception to every rule, and they often drik because this is the first time they're able to and no one's ever taught them how to control their alcohol intake - one of the pitfalls of a society that has the legal age set to an age where people are for the first time outside of adult supervision.

Everyone I know who was allowed to have wine and beer at home as a teenager is a responsible drinker, assuming they weren't allowed to have it without supervision (such as the high school parties we hear about). Cultures in which alcohol is part of the food experience have a lower percentage of alcoholsim and binge drinking than cultures in which alcohol use is viewed as taboo until a certain age.

9:21 AM  
Blogger mal said...

that stuff went on when I was in college too...(OMG! Platforms? *L*) Drugs seemed to be more readily available then, than they are least from what my daughters say. We have always been open with them about our own experiences and I hope it has helped them learn how to keep it in its place.

Although they both have shown a real weakness for GOOD champagne........*G*

11:36 AM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

Oh boy, one of my favourite subjects!

The drinking age in Canada is 19. I always thought it was ridiculous to have it set at 21. Everybody knows you get all your heavy drinking out of the way before you reach 17. Duh. Or was that just me?

This gets even more interesting for me, being raised Mennonite. We're not famous for drinking. There was never alcohol in the house and still isn't at Mom's. However, lots of us drank. It just wasn't something anybody knew how to deal with. More shameful than in a lot of other comunities.

Wehn I met my future in-laws I was stunned that alcohol was a normal part of their lives. They weren't a bunch of drunks, and nobody was hammered every day. When they went back to England, the kids got a little shandy when the folks got their guinness. And they were healthy well adjusted people!!

I think it comes from home and sadly, not all homes have a healthy attitude about drinking. My kids are being raised by a mother who has a two beer limit. And a dad who don't drink like he used to. Cuz he ain't 18 anymore.

I think you should someday indulge in a bottle of Le Fin Du Monde while watching a sunset on a farm!

11:48 AM  
Blogger GC said...

I've never had the pleasure of getting shit-faced. I was drunk once and didn't like the feeling. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good drink. Why have it now, after you've already had a few, and be sick when you can have it next week and feel great?

Lowering the drinking age won't make a difference I don't think. If someone is going to abuse something, there's little you can do to stop them. There's no legal age for chocolate soufflé.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

GC: I've never had the pleasure of getting shit-faced, either. Yes, I've gotten shit-faced, but it wasn't a pleasure.

I, too, believe exposing older teens to examples of social (responsible) drinking on a regular basis--up to the point of allowing them to drink as well--is certainly a smarter way to deal with alcohol use. I believe it will teach them to drink socially and will help with the binging. However, how many parents drink responsibly? And even then, what about the societal taboos that are now around this?

Let's just say that I, as a responsible social drinker, who knows his limits, doesn't drive when drinking, et c., allow my late-teen son to have a glass of wine or beer at certain dinners, especially celebrations. What happens if my son mentions this to one of his friends, who mentions this to his or her socially conservative parents? Or what if my neocon neighbors see my kid in my back yard with a beer in his hand during a barbecue? What if these sort of tight-assed busybodies who seem to be in every neighborhood decide to call Child Protective Services on me?

What happens then?

America in the early twenty-first century is a reactive society, not proactive. It is much more interested in slamming down laws that look like they take care of a problem than it is in actually taking the time to examine a problem and figure out a sober, long-term solution to it.

This is just another end result of the neverending election cycle. When every election won means only that your two-, four-, or six-year re-election campaign has just begun, it's hard to think about long-term solutions to problems.



5:34 PM  
Blogger Dear Lovey Heart said...

"putative pals of the pukers"

that, good pirate, was some amazing alliteration

7:43 PM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I think one of the worst things about this country is that anyone can call CPS because they don't like the way you choose to raise your kids. If a child is healthy, doing well in school, well taken care of, and doesn't have any bruises, leave the parents alone, even if you don'tlike what they're doing. What's even more frustrating is that perople actually get in trouble for trying to teach their kids about alcohol from an acceptable age, but people who beat their children regularly have NOTHIGN happen to them. Our government is not spending its money well,and our citizens are not paying attention to what's really important.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

I knew many people in college who started drinking "too late". They hadn't been exposed to alcohol and then when they were old enough, seemed to try to make up for lost time. Usually this didn't end well, and in some cases messed up their future.

My dad used to let me taste his beer when I was little. As a teenager, he would let me have a beer with him. It wasn't a big taboo and I think it kept me from going overboard with the drinking later.

I think the age should be lowered. Then kids wouldn't be driving around drunk trying not to be caught drinking.

3:37 PM  

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