A Masthead for Vagabonds, Drunkards and Saints

Drunk in America – Idyllwild

Different types of alcohol affect me in different ways. I am doubtful of scientific support for my experience and accept that the variation is based on nothing other than my prejudices, but still, the effect is palpable. Before I get too far into this, however, I should mention that I am not a sloppy drunk. At least, not until my body revolts against a stupid quantity of spirits, which doesn’t happen very often, since by nature I am wary of losing control of my faculties. I have been hungover many times, but have only lost memory of the night before twice. Once was funny. The second was not.

Really, I guess I mention all this to preempt any thought that I am an alcoholic, which if you knew me would be laughable. Since most of you don’t know me, however–a grace I barely hoped was possible when I began The Rambler–I feel like I should toss in the disclaimer. I should also mention that if you need a drink to get you through the day, to get you through every day even, you’ll find no superiority here. I’ve seen up close how destructive addiction can be, but I’ve also seen how destructive religion can be, and poverty, and love, and I won’t begrudge any man his crutch, even if it turns his limp into a disability. Besides, sometimes you just have to say fuck moderation and throw yourself into the maelstrom. My only wish is that you are your only catastrophe. Of course, it never really works out that way: our self-destruction often takes a few city blocks with it, which throws me back to that whole moderation thing, but now I’m just rambling.

Beer, in general, makes me happy; its influence on my constitution is sufficient that my son knows the best time to tell me bad news is when I’ve had enough beer to drink. It’s also what I tend to drink when I write, but not when I read. I’m drinking beer right now, actually. Fat Tire. It’s what I drink when I feel like dancing in this wrack of a universe. If I were going to the cross, I’d want a pint.

Whiskey, however, makes me melancholy in a bracing British sort of way. Never maudlin, just, “yes, you’ve been kicked in the teeth. Yes, I’ve found your molar and part of a bicuspid, but your canines are lost. Yes, it is horrible, but let’s get you to a dentist. Don’t cry. A school bus’s worth of children just died of starvation in Rwanda.” When I’ve had enough whiskey, I’m great for blowjobs and dominating sexual play, but my performance is more adolescent than proficient.

Wine, now wine unlocks something else entirely. Under the vine’s sway, I understand the proximity of desire and spirit. There’s a reason Dionysus was the god of wine and not beer. The Greeks had both. Sophocles cautioned against too much beer, but not wine. Wine is the claret of tragedy’s sweet hunger. It’s what makes of an orgasm “the little death,” what draws us so near to beasts in the throws of pleasure that our lovers appear angelic. Our bodies become, in that moment, matter’s lucent surface staved in God. Perhaps that’s too far. I don’t wish to obscure my purpose. Let me try again: when I drink wine, I am hungry for a flesh that transubstantiates the spirit–a reverse communion. After the wine and the grace of a generous lover, you could pull the wafer from my mouth whole. When drunk on wine, I understand in an intimate way how the etymology of “ejaculation” has shot across the centuries–from a short invocation of God, or paroxysm of spirit, to its current uglier, but perhaps more satisfying meaning. Indeed, much of our sexual vocabulary has a spiritual foundation. On the down side, I can’t really write with wine–for reasons that are unnecessary to elaborate, I’m sure.

This past weekend, in Idyllwild, my fiancé and I spent the entire afternoon in a wine bar, the fruit of which I will get to in a second–although to a different purpose than you are expecting, I hope. If you’ve never been to Idyllwild, the best compliment I can offer this small community is that its name is not only appropriate but true. There is nothing to do. No skiing. No vineyards. No sledding. One movie theater and a lot of mediocre and occasionally overpriced food. We love it–though as I describe it, I’m unsure why.

Molly, that’s the fiancé, and I split the day talking about some vain preoccupation of mine, and the fact that her close friend and former teacher was recently killed in a motorcycle accident. A car, which was supposed to yield to oncoming traffic, instead made a left turn in front of him, and that was it. Gone. First a son, then a veteran–husband–father–teacher–best friend–and now, obituary. Given the sophistication of modern trauma techniques, however, it took several days and surgeries to know that the accident was a verdict and not some kind of parole, and in the interim there were lots of prayers and Facebook posts and positive thinking, but in the end the universe just had better things to do than dispatch mercy to this history teacher and his orphaned family. Sadly, the universe often has better things to do.

When we returned to our cabin, after I’d had enough Syrah to claim French citizenship, and we’d exhausted ourselves on the obvious, I found myself puzzling the walls. Now, the walls of this particular cabin were covered in carvings. Lovers primarily, but there were families too. Lots of “Joe + Mary” enclosed in a heart, followed by a date. When I say covered, by the way, I mean covered. There was barely the space for us to leave our own mark–though we have done so, three times now. And that is, finally, what struck me. No matter how overcrowded the field, no matter how many times we’ve carved our names in the wall, no matter how many times we’ve loved or written, or failed, there’s always room for one more. Though scraped clean, we remain, curling the “Q” of a Quincy, mashing Molly’s “M,” squeezing our voices through the rock and the hard place into the day’s brief light. We are all, each and every, love’s palimpsest.

We have our mother’s hair and our father’s eyes, and the nematode’s gastric simplicity in our guts. We may slide through the world’s warm chutes like some transitional species in an evolutionary chart, but we will remain. We will remain. Although remainders, we will remain. Although gone, we will remain. Drink enough wine, and you’ll believe it. Drink enough wine, and you’ll even sing a friend’s banana peel slip from the world, because different fruits bear different truths.

5 Responses to Drunk in America – Idyllwild

  1. Frank I. says:

    Beer gives me gas. Wine gives me heartburn. Or is it heartache? Hard to tell sometimes. However, I do completely agree that different types of alcohol reveal different aspects of ones personality. My father, a lifelong alcoholic, would become mean and bitter when drinking whiskey or tequila. Beer would just make him silly. Wine was a mixed bag, but usually involved alot of melancholy, before either morphing to silly or mean.

    Of course, that always depended on whether he’d ran out of wine and started in on the hard liquor.

  2. Gracie G. says:

    This is beautiful. Here is what went through my head as I read it: First, I wanted to joke that “the first step is admitting your problem”; Then I sort of got all squirmy about all the ejaculatory remarks because God knows, I’ve heard it from Molly, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it again; finally, I was just moved. Well done. This essay deserves more praise and understanding than commiseration about the personal effects, gastric or otherwise, of various alcoholic drinks.

  3. Frank I. says:

    While I agree with you on your assessment of this piece Gracie (well done btw Travis), I’ll save the empathy for those better able to express it. I’m much better with commiseration and the obligatory gas quip. 🙂

  4. Mike Anderson says:

    “No matter how overcrowded the field, no matter how many times we’ve carved our names in the wall, no matter how many times we’ve loved or written, or failed, there’s always room for one more.”

    Often I think nothing is worth doing, but I’m always the one to go to the store to get the breakfast food, and often times to cook it, even though I am tired and don’t care and it won’t be worth it. But it is.

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