Saturday, January 29, 2011

1st Drunk: Urbandale 1976

I've always been late at doing everything. At least late in doing those things often considered as rites or thresholds and such. I was eighteen before I ever got truly drunk--bad drunk--and that was when, in 1976, the drinking age was eighteen. I must have been nineteen--almost twenty--before I got laid and though I had tried pot towards the end of high school, I'd never been stoned until the age of twenty, while in college. Even later for later thresholds, I was always behind somewhat, be it a live-in relationship with a girlfriend or love and marriage or getting published and teaching and so on down the line. As I've said before I was (am?) a late bloomer.
So, this incident is not one I like to recall often. It was after high school (which I pretty much hated) was over. It was summer. I was working full time at Younkers with no plans to go to college--my only plans were to get a van, get a dog and drive out West: Idaho and Oregon specifically. I was smart in some ways, very stupid in others: I was still a kid. After a self-imposed semi-exile from my longtime friends at school (I thought I was punishing them as well as myself, but I don't think they noticed that much that I was gone from the group--but this is another story/lesson), I was pretty much back into the fold by summer, after graduation. And I was out with them: Jim, Randy, Bill, Rick, Dave. There was a party somewhere in Urbandale, not at someone's house but at some rented room like one would for an anniversary or birthday or bar mitzvah (though we knew nothing of bar mitzvahs, any of us, as there were no Jews in Urbandale [that we knew of] just as there were no asians or blacks or much of any ethnic diversity [okay, there was one asian girl, Alice, and there was one black girl, but that was pretty much it for a suburb of Des Moines in the late 70s]) and in this room were only fellow former students of our class.
Now, I'd had beer. I'd had wine and whiskey and such. My parents were no teetotalers. In fact, they were heavy drinkers in their way--nah, strike that, they were heavy drinkers--so I'd had sips and gulps since childhood and there was always beer and such at the house and I'd had a few beers since turning eighteen, but only a few. But I'd never been drunk.
Well, at the strange party I drank beer after beer. I had been quiet and invisible for most of my high school years--at least invisible to the movers and shakers, that upper echelon of cliques in the tiered world of high school--and a lot of the popular people, guys mostly, were there. But, becoming drunk, I was doing just fine. (I'd also changed a bit--again my luck, my sense of being late--just out of high school: my acne (a great thorn in my side, the bane of my life) had dissipated, I had put a lot of pettiness behind me very quickly since school was done, I was more vocal and personable. So, I was holding my own and somehow became the focus of attention as music blared and they all encouraged me to chug a beer. Me! And so I obliged.
Now, do I think they purposely encouraged me so that I'd get drunk and make a fool of myself?
They had no idea I'd never been drunk. They encouraged me because they too were drunk and that's what young males do, the only difference here was that I was new to this game, this bonding through drink and objectification of women and such. So, I drank it up! And, I was quite drunk by the time the party broke. A good chunk of the boys decided to head to the Urbandale Country Club to sneak into the pool for a swim. I recall Dave was driving (Dave was one of my earliest friends, since junior high, and his father was the Mayor of Urbandale (seriously)) and Dave had his dad's Cadillac. I was full bore drunk by then and I rode in teh back seat as we charged out to the country club (a place alien to me except that I'd gone a few times with Dave, as his family was a member) and they all clambered out of their cars and climbed the fence in order to swim. Me? I was too far gone, feeling quite sick, so I only made it to the top of Dave's Caddy, where I sprawled out like a wounded soldier and groaned. I wasn't very aware of things and in other ways I was very aware. So, I rolled and moaned on top of the car and then I eventually began to vomit.
I threw up great hanks of slime and chunky beer-swum vomit and--so very unfortunately for poor dave (or poor Dave's father--the car's windows were open below me. So, on top of the Cadillac I threw up down the side of the car and into the open window. Ah. I was out of it. I'd never been drunk, had never vomited because I was drunk, I thought little of it other than the vomiting made me feel a bit better.
I don't recall everything after that. I know dave was not happy. I know we went to Gary M's house but I was wasted. They--the classmates who I did not care too much for (though I always liked gary and he was always good to me)--my erstwhile classmates of 76 put me tenderly to bed, treated me quite nicely, were very amused that I had thrown up into the open windows of a Caddy and there I was.
In the morning I woke up feeling 100% horrible. I did not like standing up. My mouth was dry, tongue swollen, my skull was like a washing machine at full tilt. But it was my stomach that pained me the most (I've always felt things through my stomach, be it worry or heartache or what-have-you). I did rise and make it out of doors. I knew where I was and why. No one else was around. It was still somewhat early--maybe nine or so, maybe seven--and I felt strange as well as sick. My world--the simple world of Urbandale which I pretty much hated--was different, different in neither a good or worse way. Just altered somehow. And I began to walk. It was a slow painful walk, a long distance to walk, further than my walks from 65th Street to the high school, but I walked.
When I finally got home, my mother was there. She was relieved to see me. Of course I had not called and I had never before failed to come home, but my parents were not the over-worrying type, they assumed we kids knew to keep ourselves alive. Still she was relieved and pretty quickly made the correct assumption why i was struggling home at nine in the morning. I told her i was sick, that I had been drunk. She was not angry. She told me I was hungover.
"I'm not hungover," I protested. "I'm sick. My stomach hurts."
She laughed.
"That's what a hangover is," she informed me.
Ah. All that time I'd only seen hangovers through the lens of TV and the movies and in those it was always the recipient's head that was in pain. But, there, I learned that wasn't true.
Well. Though I'm often late to things, I'm rather glad for it. It's like when you have kids and in those early years people prattle on about when your child or their child first learns to walk or talk or even sit up and as a parent you'll fret over it until it happens and then it's forgotten for the most part. The thing is, they learned, it happened and now on to the next threshold. So, I'm glad I took my time. My brain and body had a good while to develop and strengthen before I learned to destroy it. My emotional state--always a bit iffy with me--had time to strengthen also before I involved myself in the trials of humanity. So, I'm okay. And now, on to the next rite of passage . . .

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