Talking to a drunk

Years ago when I was practicing law – and regularly drinking scotch whiskey in the evenings before dinner – it was not uncommon for me to have a lengthy telephone conversation with a friend in Ottawa who did the same thing.  Things have changed since those days.  My friend has moved thousands of miles away and I quit drinking entirely.  He did not.  This evening I talked to him again (around the cocktail hour, his time – about three hours behind here) and he as usual was drinking.

Although he wasn’t slurring his words it wasn’t difficult for me to tell that he was drinking – apart from the clinking of the ice cubes in the background.  What was especially distinctive was the general tone of the conversation  – markedly ebullient almost sunny.  While our chinwag began with some reservation involving the usual complaints, it wasn’t long before the discourse escalated to the hilarity of our former days mostly I suppose because we were reminiscing about the “good times” we had had together. Drunk talk often inspires idealized memories.

In fact it is quite true that we’ve had fun times together, always involving booze. This evening for example we recalled the occasion he introduced me to the Side Car cocktail.  We were in Provincetown, Cape Cod part of a group of about ten confederates at the end of the summer. Likely it was the Labour Day weekend (which meant we were there for at least a week, the minimum stay for most guest houses in the area at that time). At the conclusion of one particular meal in an upstairs restaurant overlooking Cape Cod Bay, my friend hauled me into the adjoining lounge where he confronted two solitary bartenders (who it is reasonable to assume were Lesbians) and instructed them in the mechanics of making a Side Car – 2 oz of Cognac, 1 oz of Cointreau and 1 oz of lime or lemon juice. The cocktail – which reputedly hails from the Savoy in the 1930s – was as new to them as it was to me.  It is the closest thing I know to an alcoholic anaesthetic though seemingly no more potent than a shot of lemonade. It is quite possibly a digestive as well. And like most drinks made of highly distilled liquor the repercussions generally border on psychedelic.

We did of course have other less fashionable descensions but always the occasions were marked by paced abuse, frequently protracted over an entire evening beginning with highballs, a bit of sherry with a clear soup, then wine with dinner followed by Porto and usually finishing with neat Scotch whiskey before one or the other of us poured ourselves into a taxi and headed home. Late one afternoon (after an uncommon midday luncheon and subsequent bar room dalliance) we walked my little French bulldog Monroe while carrying Waterford crystal tumblers of vodka/soda on the street (an image rendered all the more stark by our supercilious condescension to a rubby-dub whose path we crossed in the park). Another time we dignified the noontime martinis with chicken pot pie at the Neuvième in the old Eaton’s store in downtown Montréal. There we ended inviting the young classical pianist to join our table afterwards and that of course accelerated the jubilation correspondingly. We also decorated the bars and dining rooms in both Toronto and Naples, Florida, each time with some unforgettable consequence. It was not uncommon to expiate our indulgences with the intervening ceremony of attendance at a local art gallery or museum.

I could go on – but the theme was always basically the same, getting smashed and carrying on. We inevitably ended in what appeared to outsiders to be an argument but to us it was just spirited verbal fencing. We certainly never fell into fisticuffs nor to my knowledge were there any harsh words other than those which had the admittedly failed pretence of logic and reason. Often our topical debates spilled onto others and we were notorious for rallying perfect strangers for the length of the bar.

Now that I am completely temperate, my conversation with drunks is less gung-ho. My friend has developed full-blown alcoholism.  He has been in and out of hospitals and rehab centres more times than I know.  While he has attended long-term treatment centres (for a month or more) at least a couple of times, he has told me he is not convinced he wants to stop drinking, this in spite of having fallen several times and the police having once broken down his apartment door to get him help. I have evidence that he has become addlepated; on two occasions he has forgotten in what city I am or he is.  It is only his profound resource of brains and wit which preserves him from idiocy.

Regrettably my experience with drunks is not limited to my friend. In every case the experience is identical. The drunk usually talks more slowly and more loudly. The refinement of thinking is lacking.  Rationality and deductive reasoning are limited.  There is an aggressiveness to the promulgation of ideas. The connection between the conversing parties is tenuous. The conversation is usually boring from my point of view. No doubt the drunk seeks to imbue his or her lifestyle with credibility and approbation of one sort or another, whether involving distinctive people or things or places. It is however inevitably tedious and wanting. Such dire evolution does at least have the advantage of making it easier to avoid being around people who drink. I am at the stage where I prefer mental acuity in both myself and others; and I regret to observe that it requires very little alcohol to engender compromise of that objective.

Not so long ago we regularly joked about having a martini. But the thought was strictly wistful. A number of things keep us from becoming hopelessly nostalgic – the reality of being stunned by alcohol, its ill effects the next morning, the cost and the capitulation to inanity generally. When time is noticeably running out I’d much prefer to prolong the experience in other more profitable ways. Knowing that I can drive my Cadillac at any time of the night or day is but one example.  Or write. Or read. Whatever it may be, doing it sans alcohol is being unhindered. There are arguments advanced to the contrary, usually introduced by the same theory that “life is short” as though that were licence for abuse or at the very least rationality for doing what one might otherwise be inclined to avoid. Certainly the argument can be persuasive.  I need only recall rooftop dining in Rome overlooking the spires of the entire city.  Somehow the prospect of a chilled martini glass on white linen is compelling. But brief analysis is all that is required to dispel the fantasy.  Essentially we’re never going to be young again and no amount of back-pedalling will do it. It is perhaps a harsh reconciliation – and not one that is entirely devoid of contest – but on balance I am done with talking to drunks.

“The experience of the world inculcates a discreet reserve on the subject of our person and estate, and we soon learn that a free disclosure of our riches or poverty would provoke the malice of envy, or encourage the insolence of contempt.”

Excerpt From: Gibbon, Edward. “Memoirs of My Life and Writings.”