Well, it’s finally happened. At midnight on Friday morning, I instantly and unexpectedly gained a wealth of worldly knowledge and maturity that vastly changed my outlook on alcohol and its recreational purposes. The state, in turn, recognized this change in my psyche by giving me permission to drink, a privilege which I recognize as a bold new responsibility.
Really, though? Really, it’s like they say about having an affair: “Half the fun is the sneaking around.”*
*I’m pretty sure this is something They say, because I think I heard it on TV or in a movie. However, I would not put it past myself to come up with a totally creepy, morally questionable saying all on my own.
When I was under 21, drinking had a certain rebellious vibe to it that I kind of liked. Sure, it was rebellious in a pathetic way, like peeing outside, but it was rebellious all the same – furthermore, drinking and peeing outside usually went hand in hand anyway. Getting together with friends and drinking was fun, yes, but in a subconscious way we were saying, “Fuck you, America, for not letting us drink until we’re 21! We can handle it! Watch us drinking!” We would talk passionately about how stupid it was that we weren’t allowed to drink or be around people who were drinking. In some cases, we wrote blogs about it.
Having turned 21, all that fire has gone out of me. I’m like a hippie in any decade except the 1960s – rudderless, bereft of cause, and sitting in a bar.
My birthday was the day after Thanksgiving and most of my friends were otherwise indisposed (or so they said), so instead my parents and I went to a steakhouse for a fancy dinner with a quick stop for a drink in the bar beforehand. In the low light the bartender had to examine my ID carefully under a lamp, and I was worried for a second that he would accuse me of fakery and throw me out.*
*”Nice try, asshole. Truman? Go for a halfway plausible name next time, McLovin.”
Instead, he flashed me a big smile and wished me a happy birthday, and I made a big show of knowing the names of drinks by ordering a Cuba Libre (which is basically a rum and Coke with a lime in it). I was expecting the sort of drink that you get at a college party, wherein somebody splashes a bunch of either rum or vodka into a glass, followed by an entire can of soda, to the point that you can only barely taste the booze.
What I got instead was a glass full of rum with a splash of cola in it, which served to give it a pleasant light brown color and did little or nothing to make up for the fact that it tasted like a glass full of vaguely sweet, intensely painful napalm. This, I realized, was a Big Boy Drink, while the countless dark brown rum and Diet Cokes I’d sucked down at band parties were the equivalent of milk taken through a Jonas Brothers crazy straw. I was 21 now, and I could no longer get away with drinking alcohol that didn’t taste like alcohol.
I had to taste the pain.
I nursed that drink all night, much to the consternation of the staff at the steakhouse, all of whom were quick to share their 21st birthday experiences with us and were somewhat disappointed when I didn’t order six more Cuba Libres, turned down the offer of wine with my steak, and didn’t act in a way that would require them to forcibly eject me from the restaurant and/or break out the body fluids kit.
The next day I travelled to Salem to be with Alexander (as seen on Hair Guy), who had turned 21 about a week before while serving in Afghanistan. To my understanding, a 21st birthday is a difficult thing in a Muslim country that is also a warzone filled with people who hate you, so we had agreed to go visit a bar in Salem and do our 21st birthdays up right.
The problem is that Alexander and I are both men of discerning taste. We like good things, and unfortunately we were in Salem, where there are no good things (or happiness). This applies to bars as well – there are a few hundred bars where truckers go to drink Coors and play video poker while overweight 45-year-old unemployed receptionists sit on the deck and smoke Virginia Slims through their tracheotomies. However nice that may be for them, it is not exactly our scene.
Alexander’s dad recommended a bar downtown called The Brick, his reasoning being that it catered to a “younger crowd.” When we told our friends that that was where we were going, everyone groaned and said, “Not The Brick!”, and then, when we got there, all it took was one look to realize that people who Mr. Jasper considers young are still old enough to be our overweight trucker parents.
We wound up going to a bar nearby called Pete’s Place, which had a friendly enough look to it in spite of the fact that there was a hobo sitting at the bar making no end of trouble for the bartender. We arrived, showed our IDs, and then balked when asked what we wanted to drink.
Wary from my Cuba Libre experience the other night, I asked for a rum and Coke, and then really distinguished myself as a class act by asking the bartender how he made a rum and Coke, in the interests of seeing if the proportions were to my liking. Alexander, who has drank far less than me in his life, ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels, no chaser, which he put away in about five seconds.
“What,” he said, staring at his empty glass. “That’s it?”
We left shortly thereafter, returned to Alexander’s house, and played PS2 until the break of day.
Truman Capps has not given up on drinking just yet.