It began in failure. As so many parties do. We simply never knew how to end what was blatantly finite. We chewed the tarred ends of our cigarettes with 7-11, coffee-stained teeth; we wore every moment and every party down to the bitter ashes of our friendship. We were young and earnest, building monuments to the night with something closer to fever than enthusiasm. It was compulsive and indulgent and self destructing. Some people run with the bulls, some people sky dive, and some people…some people binge drink.
Ever since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984’s passage, turning twenty-one has become the single most important event in the lives of American youth. And although I was already intimate with the effects of the cocktail before turning twenty-one, the significance of the date as a societal rite of passage weighed heavy on me. I knew I had to enter the age of inebriation with confetti, streamers, and a big sweaty brass band. My first inclination was to get married in Vegas wearing pirate hats and pantaloons. I wanted it all to be fireworks and flamingoes. However, after asking—drunkenly—several of my female friends for their hand and getting drinks thrown in my face in response, I decided on the next best thing: I would fill my trunk up with a preposterous quantity of hooch and go camping with the guys in Henry Miller’s Big Sur.
We lacked fire wood and proper clothing. The liquor store was our sole supply stop. Our combined budget of $300 went mostly to vodka, hard cider, rum, and beer. We stuffed my old baby blue Buick’s trunk full of booze and gleefully headed north up the 101 like Paul on the road to Damascus.
We spent the first night in San Luis Obispo at my friend’s dorm. Willie attended Cal Poly as a child development major and for whatever reason was living in a “dry” dorm, which we were loudly making as wet as humanly possible. While we were carousing, Elliot and I went out to the third story walkway to have a smoke under the prominently displayed No-Smoking sign. Being in seeped fine spirits we screamed witticisms good naturedly at passersby while our cancers billowed like smoke signals for the authorities. Unfortunately we decided to yell “Hail Satan, ma’am! Have a wonderful evening!” at Willie’s residential advisor (read: the one person whom you do not drunkenly yell things at). She promptly walked up the three flights of stairs to ascertain our reason for being drunk on school property, a school which we clearly did not attend. Realizing that the situation called for a quick tongue and a sharp mind, I readied myself and tried my best to act polite and sober.
“I apologize ma’am for the shouting; my companion and I had a few drinks at the restaurant next to our hotel, the Sunrise Hotel to be specific (an obvious lie). I guess we got a little carried away. Once again, my sincerest apologies for the disturbance. We’ll leave immediately,” I managed to rattle off nimbly. She looked upset and a little confounded by my politeness. She was about to speak when Elliot decided to question her authority.
“I don’t have to tell you anything. Why would I tell you anything? It’s none of your business.” Definitely perturbed by this statement, the RA asked us whose dorm we were staying in.
Elliot and I responded in unison, “Why would I tell you?” At that moment Tyler opened the door and poked his head out, quizzically looking at us and at the RA’s face, then laughed and closed the door. A moment later Willie emerged.
“What’s up Anne?” asked Willie, addressing the RA.
Anne let out a deep sigh and said, “We’re going to have to search your dorm, Willie.” Now keep in mind that when Elliot and I left the dorm, there were bottles, cans, and shot glasses strewn about like toys in a toddler’s room.
“OH! Um…well, yeah. Okay.” Willie mumbled and backed up slowly into his room with a fallen countenance. He disappeared briefly and reemerged with a beaming face and said, “Oh yeah, cool! Sure, come on in, Anne!” Elliot and I exchanged a glance of horror and confusion. Anne walked in the door and we tip-toed behind her, preparing to run. Somehow Willie’s roommates and our friend Tyler had managed to hide the evidence while we were in dialogue with Anne; the dorm was spotless. Unconvinced, Anne called for backup and a thorough search was conducted. They found vodka in the freezer and empty bottles stashed under the sink. We all forlornly sat there as more bottles were uncovered. Anne personally conducted the search through Willie’s room for anything illicit, convinced that she would find drugs.
She triumphantly strode up to us with a small, seemingly metal pipe in her hand, arrogantly waving it around and asked, “And what is this, Willie?”
We all tried to conceal out merriment as Willie took it from Anne’s hand and coolly replied, “This, Anne, is a kazoo. Wwwbbbzzz!”
Anybody who calls themselves a serious drinker has a hangover cure. I’ve been told homespun remedies ranging from greasy diner potatoes to the highly theoretical “hair of the dog.” As a philosophy student , I am inclined to the latter.
I woke up with the sun trying its damndest to evaporate the last drop of moisture in my mouth through the curtainless window. “Where am I? Why do I feel this way? How did I get here?” This was not me waxing existential. I was certifiably bewildered by my state in the world. It took a few moments to collect myself and the memory of the previous night. My internal dialogue ran: “I am in San Luis Obispo. This is Willie’s girlfriend’s house. I am horribly hung-over. My mouth tastes like burnt cheese and celery. I yelled at Willie’s RA and probably got him kicked out of his dorm. Final summation: this is the best weekend ever!”
We had to keep our momentum up and head back out on the highway to get to Big Sur by nightfall. The drive went fast and the four of us pitched our tent with a few hours of daylight to burn. We proceeded to drink everything we had: one bottle of vodka, two bottles of rum, around twenty-four tall cans of hard cider, some beer, and what remained of our dignity. All was well for a while. We were eating beans out of cans and talking nonsense, convivially laughing at our existences and reveling in the malleability of a drunken hour. This was as high as we could climb on Libation Mountain and our oxygen tanks were empty (i.e. this was the beginning of the end.).
It was well into that January night when I threw an empty glass rum bottle into the fire. I then cleverly waited a few moments before attempting to retrieve it. My mitten was burned through, leaving little pieces of blue fabric in in my bottle-shaped, second-degree burns. It wasn’t long before I was crawling on my hands and knees into the woods to vomit. This is how you party.
It was upon returning from one of many trips to vomit that I decided I needed to go to sleep. I lay down in the tent and shivered for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes. It was unbelievably freezing and I became terrified when I ceased to shake from the cold. Panic set in. I was certain I was dying. “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” Tyler volunteered to drive up to the lodge with me to see if we could rent a cabin. I can only imagine how we looked to the young lady at the reception desk: covered in dirt and vomit and smelling like a Sasquatch’s foot fungus. It was less than a surprise when, like for baby Jesus, there was not a room available.
Tyler and I drove back to the tent to collect Elliot and Willie. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that if I stayed there, I was going to die. Elliot and Willie were in ethanol comas and near-impossible to wake up. I finally managed to get them to respond, “Go without us,” after repeatedly smacking them in the face. Recalling this later, I would realize that they would have said anything to get me to stop hitting them. I remember getting in my car with a feeling of relief. And then I blacked out.
I came to on the freeway. Tyler was in the passenger seat with the window down, stoically glaring into the sable night: somehow he was still drinking.
“Would you, like, be mad if I threw this out the window?” he asked while throwing a bottle of cider out of the window. He then reached under the seat and produced a bottle of vodka and said to no one in particular, “Ha! Wouldn’t it be weird if that hit a deer?” Clearly things had gotten out of hand.
Miraculously, I held the wheel steady and was cognizant enough to have put on my hazard lights while careening down the road at seventy miles an hour. Shit.
It looked like a scene from The Shining. It was utterly dark and the only light came from my headlights, which made it appear as if I was looking through a bifocal key hole. I was trying so hard to focus that I actually believed I was sober. This is what makes drunk drivers so dangerous: they always think things are going really well. We pulled into Monterey around 4 a.m., alive, and found a $40 motel to rest our bleary eyes.
I woke up sweating profusely next to the blaring wall heater and swiftly puked in the waste paper basket. Tyler’s bedstand housed several empty cider bottles and an empty bottle of vodka. It was 9 a.m.
It took several months before I remembered driving to Monterey. When I woke up that morning I hadn’t the faintest idea where I was or how I got there, and two of my friends were missing. So Tyler and I decided to do the only reasonable thing: go get some eggs and potatoes.
We leisurely sipped our coffee and orange juice in the restaurant next to our motel and poked our forks at the slaughtered spuds and runny embryos. Families around us were giving us looks of repulsion while whispering things into their inquisitive children’s ears.
“Do I look fucking crazy?” asked Tyler, looking fucking crazy. He had a mass of brown, curly hair tangled with dirt and vomit on his head and a beard that only someone who made moonshine would sport.
“We both look terrible,” I replied.
“I think I’m just going to take this,” he said as he stuffed a butter knife into his pocket. It was time to leave.
The drive back to Big Sur was quiet and serene. The Pacific dropped in and out of sight along the tree-lined highway and the radio was playing mellow blues. As we pulled up to the campsite I saw Elliot walking towards the car brandishing a large stone and yelling. It was then that I realized their night probably wasn’t so comfortable.
“WHAT THE HELL, MAN?!” screamed Elliot, when we got out of the car. “Where the fuck have you guys been? Where’d you go?”
I wasn’t anticipating having to articulate the events of the night so quickly, so I stumbled for a moment. “Well, we woke up in a motel in Monterey,” I finally replied.
“You assholes slept in a motel!”
“Uh, yeah, it wasn’t cool.”
“Wasn’t cool?! It’s like thirty degrees out here. I just took a cold shower in that stone restroom to try to get warm! And you, assholes, were snuggled in warm beds! Fuck you!”
Willie was sitting on the picnic table, shaking his head and looking at us like we had just kicked his baby sister in the ear. Needless to say, this was the conclusion of our “Best Weekend Ever.”
A problem with writing about things that happened in years past is the tendency to ascribe meaning to things that were, for all intents and purposes, idiotic in nature. To sentimentalize the relationships that were fleeting and superficial. The characters evolve to archetypes with each retelling, as we slowly replace circumstance with fate, infatuation for love, and polish our vomit into wit. But this story, this was a story about failure. No music swelled, no lessoned learned, I didn’t come anywhere close to getting the girl, but like most twenty-one-year-olds, I did piss off my friends and acted like an asshole.