Why I Quit Drinking
Photo by edenpictures, via Flickr.
I quit drinking in 2002, mere months before my college graduation. As you can imagine, quitting drinking before the window when it’s socially acceptable to be drunk all the time had closed was due to some pretty specific incidents and behaviors that I wish I could forget. Some of them I have forgotten, because I never remembered them in the first place.
Let me be clear about something—despite the fact that I no longer drink, I’ve never been drunk. This is because I’ve only been drunk. From what I hear, there is a middle ground between being completely sober and crying/vomiting/blacked out. This sounds like a lovely place. I’ve never had the chance to visit. As an Irish kid with very poor impulse control, my alcohol train is a one-stop express that leaves Sober Station and arrives hours later at Fiasco Junction. I can honestly not remember one time in my life where I had a few drinks and relaxed. I can only remember times when I had a few drinks, then had a few more drinks, then had a few more drinks, and then everyone else was unable to relax.
I’m very happy with my decision to go sober. It’s helped my life. It’s helped my mental stability. I can still go out to bars; I drink ginger ales and opt not to feel out of place.
When people ask me, “Why don’t you drink?” I usually smile and say “Because I’m not good at it.” If they press me for specifics, I tell them the following stories, which I will now present both out of the hope that any young people who have problems with the sauce realize I made it past these incidents and they can too, and so the public at large can enjoy voyeuristic laughs at the expense of who I was and how I behaved in the brief, alcohol-soaked period of my life that stretched from the ages of 17-21.
I had a friend in high school named Sam Mestman, and I fear him to this day. I haven’t seen Sam in about 12 years, and he was nothing but nice to me for our entire friendship. The reason I fear Sam is because somewhere in his possession is an audiotape of the first time I got drunk.
Now that I’m about to turn 33, my panic attacks about this tape’s existence only happen about once a month. I sometimes wonder if it’s going to surface and wind up on YouTube or something. I can’t imagine anything more humiliating happening to me, and I am a person who once cried while a dominatrix affixed nipple clamps to me on public access television. Humiliation is kind of my thing.
Despite the fact I was at the time operating through a two beer haze, I remember the following facts about the audio tape Sam made of me after we drank beers in his attic bedroom a decade and a half ago: my voice hadn’t quite changed yet. At one point I drunkenly grabbed his audio recorder and recited “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest in its entirety. I then proceeded to run down a list of which girls in our high school class I would have sex with and why. I named close to every female member of our class. I later slept on Sam’s floor, and had the first wet dream I remember having. It featured my friend Megan, a beautiful Jewish punk rock girl who sprouted breasts well before anyone else in high school. They were size 32D, and I know this because she told me often.
I woke up from said dream panting and grunting, and immediately made direct eye contact with a confused Sam. Years later, Megan would come over my parents’ house when I was house sitting for them during my college years, and we took a bath together. I was too scared to make a move.
I ruined my friend Fran’s 21st birthday. Fran was a year older than me, and we’d gone through high school together. His older brother was a fellow Rutgers student, so he often hung out in New Brunswick despite not being a Rutgers kid himself. We were the two youngest members of our crowd, so when the other dudes were done drinking at home and headed to bars, he and I were usually stuck by ourselves, drunk with no one but each other.
So when Fran turned 21, it was a sad occasion for both of us. I was the last runt of the litter and wouldn’t be legally able to enter a bar for about seven months after him and he knew he was leaving me on my own for a while. So on his 21st birthday, he pulled me aside.
“I’m going on my first legal booze run,” he said. “What can I pick you up? I’m honored to now be able to illegally provide you with alcohol.”
I was 20, which meant I was already aware that I had a severe problem with binge drinking. Instead of sobering up, I’d dedicated myself to drinking lighter drinks at higher quantities. I’d spent the past six months or so drinking Boone’s Farm Wine, hard lemonade, and Hooch pretty exclusively.
“Strawberry Hill Boone’s,” I told him. “Two bottles.”
“Dude, don’t make me buy Boone’s on my 21st birthday,” he begged me. “I have to come more correct than that.”
“Well, I get too fucked up on beer,” I told him. “So something light. Maybe cider or something? I don’t know. Something fruity.”
He glared at me.
“I know, I know,” I said.
He left the house and returned a half hour later with all sorts of bottles for all of our friends. Everyone was psyched to get free booze on account of his birthday happening. The last bottles he pulled out of his bag were for me.
“And for Chris,” he announced, “fruit flavored, just like he likes it.”
A laugh broke out. Fran handed me two large sized glass flasks of strawberry-banana flavored Mad Dog 20/20.
If you’ve never had Mad Dog 20/20, congratulations, you are not homeless. Mad Dog is straight up bum wine. It’s a dangerous concoction that eats your body from the inside and then crawls into your skull and punches your brain in its fucking face. It’s basically fruit flavored turpentine. You shouldn’t be allowed to drink Mad Dog 20/20 unless you also agree to evade a bulldog down in the railyard before hopping a freight headed down near Nashville way.
None of my friends knew any of this when Fran handed me those two bottles. They just all thought it was funny that he had gotten me a strawberry-banana flavored drink since I was avoiding manly things like whiskey and beer in those days.
I proceeded to open up the Mad Dog, grin at my condescending friends, and chug it to completion in one try. I threw the bottle on the ground and thought to myself Jesus, that shit tasted like gasoline. I didn’t express that sentiment out loud, and instead opened the other bottle and chugged it into non-existence.
Three minutes later I was so drunk that I tripped while walking and slammed my head into a countertop. Between the insane, sudden, and extreme drunkenness and the concussion I gave myself, I proceeded to go completely insane. For over 40 minutes I insisted on shrieking in a high pitch while sprinting around my friends’ house smashing anything I could get my hands on that was made of glass. I vaguely remember this feeling like fun even though everyone else was trying to pin me down and punch me for it.
I made my way to the second floor of the house, a now angry group of my friends following me and trying to keep me under control, when the physical effects of the Mad Dog snuck up on me out of nowhere. I went from a fist throwing, banshee screaming mad man to crumpled up in a ball in the corner quivering and crying in zero seconds flat. I don’t remember much, but I do remember going blind and getting very scared. I also remember oscillating between feeling extremely hot and totally cold.
When I came to, three of my friends were sitting on me while I screamed “I’m dying! I’m dying!”
I heard Fran yell, “You’re not dying!”
Then I heard my friend Sean say, “I don’t know, look at him. He might be dying.”
Then I heard myself say—in what can only be described as a terrifying demonic Exorcist-like growl—“I’m dying and I’m going to hell. Tell God I love him.”
Fran was freaked out. “What?”
“I’m going to die tonight,” I said, again sounding like the singer of Slipknot. “I’m dying and I’m going to hell. I will not meet God. Tell God I love him.”
I then blacked out again. I was told that the reason they didn’t send me to the hospital was because I was able to remember my four-digit numerical character password for NBA Showtime on Nintendo 64, a game I was obsessed with at the time. My password was “space space space space”.
The Night Before Halloween, 2000
My favorite bar in the world is the Peter McManus Café at 19th St and 7th Avenue. It’s a popular hangout for comedians from the Upright CitizenB scene, and I’ve been going there since I was 19. It’s also one of the last places I ever consumed booze. Four other comedians (Shannon O’Neill, John Ross Bowie, Chad Carter, and Jake Fogelnest) were present on the night in question, and if you know any of them I invite you to ask them the question: “Should Chris Gethard ever drink again?” All four will undoubtedly say no with a level of concern that hasn’t lessened in the 13 years since.
I’d had about five beers when I decided to call it quits. One of my friends off-handedly said “Ah, you quit first, pussy!” Because I can’t handle peer pressure or threats to my non-existent masculinity, I immediately ordered another pitcher of beer and drank the entire thing by myself. I stopped talking, began slumping over, and I remember thinking vaguely about my father and whether or not he is proud of me. The next thing I remember is being face down on a table, crying uncontrollably, and punching the wall, while mumbling the words “My father never knew me.” By this point, the four aforementioned comedians were surrounding me and trying to calm me down.
I decided I needed to throw up, so I headed to the McManus bathroom. I tried to puke, but couldn’t force myself, and instead laid down and went to sleep on the bathroom floor. For as much as I love McManus, I think even the McManus family themselves would say that laying face down on the bathroom floor of their establishment is ill-advised. I would think that making face to floor contact in that bar’s bathroom is probably a New York experience equal to licking a subway pole or drinking from the Gowanus. If you don’t get deathly ill, you should at least be slightly ashamed.
Anyway, my friends scooped me off the floor, and I threw a punch at one of them and ran outside. Halfway up the block on Seventh Avenue, I encountered a homeless man who was hobbling in the opposite direction. Because it was the night before Halloween, he was wearing a ratty devil costume he had somehow procured.
“YOU DID THIS TO ME!” I shouted at him. He was taken aback, and lurched backwards. I ran toward him and grabbed his shoulders. “Satan! Satan! You did this to me!”
“I don’t know, man!” he screamed.
I responded by power vomiting all over the sidewalk, then turning and looking him in the eye. At that point I inexplicably shouted –
“ROY G BIV! ROY G BIV! COLORS OF THE RAINBOW! ROY G BIV!”
The homeless guy was now out-and-out scared, and my friends came and wrestled me into a cab. I slept on John Bowie’s couch that night. It was the first time I ever went to Queens.
When I was a senior in college, everyone I knew shared my opinion that it would be best if I stopped drinking. As a young man with his whole life ahead of him, I slowed down on the drinking but occasionally attempted to drink and show moderation. The ultimate failure that shored things up and made me kick the sauce forever came towards the tail end of the year, just before my 22nd birthday.
I was at a bar with my friends Jill and Katie. I was madly in love with Katie, and she was madly in love with not being sure if she was also in love with me. Jill and I had a strange relationship where we often wrestled, and many of my friends told me this was a sign I should make a move. I never made a move. Needless to say, it was a fun happy hour with two lovely ladies.
The bar was three blocks from my house, but I got so wasted that I got lost on the way home. I was smart enough to call Jill.
“I’m lost,” I slurred into the phone when she picked up.
“You’re lost?” she asked. “Dude, we were around the corner from your house.”
“Call m’back in halfenhour,” I told her. “If’m not home by then yagatta come rescue me.”
“OK,” she said. “Please be careful.”
I eventually managed to find my way home without her help, but I did not honor her request that I be careful. My roommates were drinking, and as I walked through our front door one of them handed me a 40 of King Cobra malt liquor.
I’d been smart enough to call for Jill for help. I knew I was already that drunk. That didn’t stop me from polishing off that 40 in under ten minutes. I proceeded to yell at all of my roommates, even telling one of them he shouldn’t be ashamed of being gay even though I knew he wasn’t gay.
My roommate Phil said he was going to a party and wanted to know if any of us wanted to join him.
I jumped out of my seat. “I’m coming to the party,” I insisted.
“That’s not a good idea,” Phil told me. “Let’s hang out another time when you’re not so out of it.”
“I’M COMING TO THE PARTY,” I shouted. “AND IF ANYBODY HAS A PROBLEM WITH ME, I’M TELLING THEM PHIL BROUGHT ME.”
Phil went white with fear. I repeated my plan to cause mayhem and blame him publicly for it, all while grabbing his shirt so he couldn’t leave. Eventually, my roommate Dan grabbed my phone and ran away. Phil took this as an opportunity to sprint out of the house. I was passing out by this point, so Dan helped me to my room in the attic, made sure I got undressed, and put me to bed.
The next thing I remember is standing in the middle of a street in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while a group of people cheered me on. I don’t know what I was doing to warrant their cheers.
I did not know that I was wearing a Batman mask.
I did not know where I got the Batman mask.
I blacked out again, and the next thing I remember is being on the front porch of a house where a party was going on.
“You can’t come in!” someone shouted. Then, someone pushed me down a set of steps. A group of people laughed and threw cigarettes at me. I blacked out again.
The next thing I remember is jumping up and down on top of a parked car. A group of people surrounded the car and chanted the word “BATMAN!” I blacked out again.
I have a vague recollection of being inside a laundromat and being escorted to a secret door in the back that lead to a staircase. I have no idea where that staircase went. I blacked out again.
My final memory of the evening is coming to in my own bedroom. A tape was playing on my stereo. My vision was hazy, and as I focused I realized that two gentleman from my hometown were sitting on the couch across from me. They were smoking a huge blunt. They were both a few years younger than me. I was not friends with either of them. From what I remembered, they were low-level drug dealers. I bolted upright.
“Get out of my house!” I yelled.
They’d been laughing, then stopped.
“What?” one of them said. He was the one with the rat tail. The other had a Jew-fro.
“You gotta get out of my house,” I insisted. Based on their reaction, it was clear I had been in mid-sentence, speaking about something else, and had stopped on a dime to kick them out of my house.
“Bro,” Jew-fro said. “We want to hear the end of the story.”
“I don’t know what story I was telling,” I said. “Now get the fuck out of my house!”
They stood, definitely not pleased, and headed out into the New Brunswick night. I sat down on my bed and tugged at the Batman mask. I was too fucked up to get it all the way off of my head.
I woke up in the morning. The Batman mask was gone and I was now naked. It was the last time I’ve ever been drunk. I drank one time after that, a single beer at a bar. I realized that if I wasn’t looking to get plastered it was a moot point, as I hated the taste of booze.
I had no idea what happened to the Batman mask. About seven years later, I was cleaning out some boxes I had stored in my parents’ basement and found it at the bottom of a box. The only other things in there were the top half of a karate uniform and my high school yearbook. I have no idea how any of them got there.
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