Now that I’ve finally wrapped up the devious ditching of my maidenhead, it’s time to move on to another reader-suggested subject: booze.
Which is perfect, because writing about myself having sex for the first time was weird and I could use a drink.
Wrote Christopher of Freethinkers Anonymous, “Since Gina stole my sex idea and since you suggested drinking enough rum to kill Captain Jack Sparrow (which would be all of it) I’m going to ask about the first time you got drunk. Hopefully that won’t overlap with anything to do with sex. Or maybe if it did it was a good thing. Anyway I’m hoping it was a good experience, or at least a funny one.”
Well now, let’s see.
✘ Sex – nope.
✓ Good experience – yep.
✓ Funny experience – well…I thought (and still think) it was hilarious. Certain owners of a certain apartment building might have had a differing opinion. But we’ll get to that.
Eleventh grade was a good year for me. My parents had finally caught on that I was too busy dallying in suicidal depression to properly appreciate the prestige of attending an all-girls private school, and so, with reluctance, they set me loose into the public school system.
They did not, sadly, allow me to burn my former school’s regulation pleated tartan skirts as I had dreamed of doing for many years, but sometimes you have to pick your battles.
My new school was excellent, and had all the advanced classes I could dream of. The teachers had open minds filled with fresh ideas, the students were friendly, and I didn’t have to dress like someone’s anime fantasy anymore. It was perfect. Almost.
There was just one thing missing: drama.
I’m referring, of course, to theatre. Of teenage drama there was still plenty, despite the fact that even the “cool” kids were still ten thousand times nicer than your average student at my old school.
The school was currently in its second phase of being entirely rebuilt, and at the time of my arrival, the arts wing existed only on paper. A spare science lab had been jury-rigged to serve as a temporary visual arts studio, but there was no space large enough that anyone was willing to give up as a makeshift stage. So theatre would just have to wait.
But this Nut was unable to wait for theatre.
Acting had been one of the only things that made the Girls’ School From Hell bearable. Even the most stuck-up of my former classmates had begrudgingly admitted at one time or another that I belonged on the stage. It was my one undisputed claim to excellence, and I clung fiercely to it. And I wasn’t about to let that part of myself go just because I could wear jeans to class now and study with cute boys.
Sitting in the non-existent wings of a non-existent theatre twiddling my thumbs for an entire year was simply not an option.
So my mother suggested I audition for the teen theatre company at a local not-for-profit arts centre, and I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. And when I got the phone call saying I’d made the cut, all was officially well with my world again.
Better, in fact. Being in a dedicated troupe of performers was an entirely different experience from the drama classes and school plays I’d participated in. This was an intensive program, and those accepted into it comprised only a scant dozen. Trust had to be built quickly and efficiently to meet the ambitiously high standards of our director; there was simply no wiggle room in which to be self-conscious or shy. So as the weeks flew by, we went from being strangers to colleagues to friends to practically family in nearly seamless transition.
Our parents were positively thrilled at how close we had become, and had nothing but encouragement to offer. We began organizing the occasional big post-rehearsal dinner, then other evenings out, and soon even the rules most of our parents had against co-ed sleepovers were relaxed. That year my sleeping bag passed more time on my theatre friends’ rec room floors than it had ever spent in a tent.
So when Annabeth, our director, offered to host a giant sleepover at her apartment as the official cast party after our big end-of-year show, no one blinked an eye. The show’s musical director, Eleanor, and Sean the sound designer would also be in attendance; surely three professional, responsible adults would be more than adequate to keep a handful of theatre kids safe and sober.
In the colorful living room of Annabeth’s downtown apartment, the very first order of business for the “responsible adults” was organizing a liquor run. We’d all brought secret cash of our own for booze in addition to the money our parents gave us for pizza. While Eleanor called up Domino’s, Annabeth and Sean took down everyone’s drink orders. To say the list they left with was extensive is an insult to understatements.
They returned shortly, rustling and clinking as they staggered up the stairs of the two-storey walk-up with six massive plastic bags crammed full of bottled inebriative glory.
It was only when we were done unpacking them that someone noticed the bags had “Thank you for not buying alcohol for minors,” printed on them in bold block capitals.
We took a group picture with one.
While we waited for the pizza, Annabeth introduced us to the juvenile snicker factory that is Dan Bern’s “Tiger Woods”. It was wise to get the track out of the way before the food arrived, because anyone caught unawares with a mouthful of pepperoni and cheese could’ve easily choked to death on the first line.
The Domino’s delivery guy showed up soon after with our order. We fell on the meal like starving wolves, devouring every crumb.
And then, in wordless unison, we declared open season on the booze.
The adults decided to start the evening off with some semblance of decorum – which would later be abandoned when tequila called and asked if it could come over and play – and uncorked a bottle of Merlot at the kitchen table.
Beth and Sheila, two the more self-disciplined girls, settled down in a corner of the sofa to nurse a 4 pack of wine coolers between them. Lily and Faye were similarly well-behaved, staring wistfully at the array of spirits but ultimately grabbing bottles of the lightest beer available and plunking themselves down on the area rug by the stereo.
But the rest of us young folk were reasonably at home with hard liquor, and had no intention of a) practicing moderation, or b) moving any further away from the intoxicant supply than was absolutely necessary.
Cameron immediately cornered a bottle of Jack Daniels, while Gavin became fast friends with the gin. Beverly, who had requested an entire bottle of sambuca to herself, made the rounds pouring sample shots for anyone who wanted to try some, after which she began gulping it straight from the mouth of the bottle.
Danica took experimental swigs of everyone’s beers before deciding maybe beer wasn’t really her thing, at which point she embarked on a strict regimen of vodka and cranberry until she was drunk enough to wonder if maybe she owed beer a second chance. Drew, an early prototype of the modern hipster, quietly assembled a collection of the more unusual bottles available and planted himself in a rocking chair next to it, pensively swirling glass after tiny glass of liqueur and occasionally tugging self-consciously at his turtleneck sweater.
Which left Derek and me. Explorers on an epic quest to leave no booze uncharted. Seekers of the Ultimate Intemperance. Neither of us had ever managed to best our respective high tolerances for alcohol before, but then again, neither of us had ever had unrestricted access to quite so much of it before. By unspoken agreement, we took the sheer abundance of the stuff as a challenge.
“Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear; beer before liquor, never been sicker,” Derek recited as he held his bottle of brown ale in one hand and poured himself a Bacardi and Coke with the other. “But what do rhymes know?” he grinned.
I chugged the rest of my Guinness by way of a response, then added, “Pass the rum when you’re done.”
By the time our chaperones had finished their wine and moved on to the harder stuff, the collective buzz level in the apartment was high enough that a spontaneous dance party had erupted in the middle of the living room. I was enjoying an amaretto and orange juice at that point and had already officially lost count of how many drinks I’d made myself, but I was feeling good. Really good. I had good booze, I was with good people, dancing to good music. Life was just…good!
And it was about to get even better. Mid-agreement with ABBA (“Damn right I’m the goddamn dancing queen!”) I saw Derek beckoning to me from the kitchen, so I shimmied my way over.
Derek produced a carton of milk with a flourish more befitting setting up a magic trick than presenting a dairy product. “I have decided that we need White Russians. Immediately.”
“I have no objections. Just one question: what the fucking hell is a White Russian?”
“Observe, grasshopper. Kahlua, vodka and milk. Pour into glass. Drink. Achieve nirvana.” He passed me the glass and started on a second.
I sipped at the creation and deemed it delicious. “I bow to your superior knowledge, O wise one. Should we enlighten the others?”
“No, let them suffer in ignorance. Cheers!”
And it was all Russians for us from that point on.
I don’t know how full that milk carton had been when we started, but whatever was left, we used it all. And when there was no milk left to make the White Russians white, we switched to Black Russians. Because Kahlua. And vodka.
We must have finally run out of Kahlua too, because at some point I found myself back in the living room hanging onto an empty glass and getting jiggy with Will Smith. I was still feeling good, but I was also starting to feel awfully warm. It occurred to me I hadn’t had a single glass of water all night, and the endless parade of Russians were starting to make themselves known.
“Comrade!” they called cheerfully from my stomach. “Your face is red, Comrade. You should maybe sit down for a minute, da?”
“You know, guys. that’s not a bad idea…it is kind of stuffy in here.”
“Good, Comrade, good. You sit, listen to music. Plenty of time for dance.”
“Yes, plenty of time…gosh I’m warm. This heat is making me sleepy. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for a second.”
“Yes, good, you rest for just a second.”
“What the hell, let’s make it five.”
I woke up an hour later. The dance party was still in full swing. Someone had covered me with a crocheted blanket. I was still clutching my empty Russian glass like it was the last and most important possession I had on this earth. I put it down carefully on a side table and headed right back out on the dance floor.
Beverly waved her bottle of sambuca at me when I rejoined the group. “You’re alive!” she grinned.
I definitely felt alive. I could sense the pleasant glow of drunkenness flowing through my veins, but otherwise I was remarkably clear-headed. As I swayed to the music, the beat resonating in my core, I became aware that I was growing increasingly more positive and motivated. By the time the next song was starting, I had reached a state of pure ambition. I had the overwhelming urge to go out and just, like, summit a mountain or something; maybe kayak down a frothing whitewater river.
Then I remembered it was probably a touch dark out for that at the moment.
But I could look outside, at least. I wandered over to the open window in the corner and took a breath of cool night air. The chilliness heightened my senses even more. I noticed a hint of pine on the breeze from a nearby tree and inhaled deeply. And as I breathed in its fresh, invigorating scent, I looked up at the bright moon and the glittering stars, and thought, My god, we live in a beautiful place.
And immediately proceeded to spew a long, dark, gravity-assisted streak of indelible, faintly mocha-scented vomit down the building’s white stucco exterior.
Across the room, at precisely the same moment that I began my technicolor yawn out the window, it just so happened that the Russians also caught up with Derek. I was too fully committed to my display of reverse peristalsis to witness the event myself, but he would later tell me that at the onset of the attack, his mind went completely blank except for a single word: RUN.
So Derek ran. He charged through the group of drunken dancers. He rounded the corner and sprinted – past a perfectly good unoccupied bathroom boasting both a sink and toilet within easy reach. He threw open the apartment door and bolted into the hall. He tore down the stairs, feet barely skimming the steps. And he hurtled toward the front door of the building and threw it wide.
Then, and only then, on the front steps of the apartment complex, did he allow the wrathful Russians to leap up and out to freedom.
Morning came. I woke early, mouth so dry I could’ve easily drained one of those 10L water cooler bottles on my own, but otherwise none the worse for wear. The adults were nowhere to be seen. Everyone else was sprawled out on the worn Persian rug or draped over various pieces of furniture.
Beverly and Beth stirred awake shortly after I did. We tiptoed around the sleeping bodies and set up the coffeemaker in the kitchen. As we waited for the pot to fill, I followed the sound of water over to the Vom Window and looked out to see Sean holding a garden hose, spraying Derek’s partially digested artwork off the front walkway.
No one could figure out what to do about the remains of my Russians.
Luckily, Annabeth didn’t really care. When we explained the situation, she walked calmly over to the window, looked out, then clutched her sides and doubled over, shaking with laughter. “That’ll give the landlord something to think about,” she gasped, before dissolving back into giggles.
The rest of us looked at each other and shrugged. If she didn’t care, we didn’t care.
So the Russians stayed.
They’ve been painted over by now, I’m sure. Maybe gotten weathered down some by a few rainy seasons first. But they’re still lurking there, underneath. I’m certain of it.
Sometimes, on bar nights with friends, I think I hear them calling to me.
“Hey, Comrade! Have another drink, da?”