My Geek Demerits #5: No Alcohol

Bloody Mary, podium, convention

Convention photo: Bloody Mary at the podium.

[Being the fifth in an intermittent series covering assorted areas in which I feel resigned to live as a minority among geeks.]

Despite the fun my wife and I have had attending comic book and sci-fi conventions together, I’ve heard the best con-related stories happen after hours, whether at the scheduled night-owl events or at the nearest hotel bars after official programming is over. Casual encounters and chats in the convention hallways or between panels during daylight hours have their charm and keep the weekend lively, but the Internet keeps telling me that con parties are where the real geek gathering happens. Be there or be even squarer-than-square.

The last convention we attended made no secret that drinks are part and parcel of the community experience. The guests on stage and the more boisterous audience members traded comments back and forth about their plans that evening, about the drinks that left the most indelible impression on them, or about the previous night’s unforgettable rowdiness. In such settings, everyone’s an adult capable of making their own decisions and surrounded by like-minded folks out for a good time. The convention is an attractive draw in itself, but it’s also a great excuse for sharing hobbies and activities other than science fiction or comics. To a certain extent it beats the good old days, when everyone lived in isolation in separate states because they had no idea that anyone else on Earth was quite like them. There’s something to be said for engendering fellowship and the interconnectedness of “family”, so to speak.

Unfortunately, in this context, among vast numbers of people who like the same shows or books, I find myself a black sheep. I don’t drink, and I’m not wild about hanging around other people while they’re drinking. I’m kind of a killjoy that way.

Even before any kind of overt spiritual development entered my life, I never understood the point of alcohol. I’m a control freak when it comes to my mental state. I prize being able to think, create, calculate, improvise, extrapolate, synthesize, and brainstorm as quickly as possible. The concept of a substance that helps me move at the proportionate speed of a turtle, slurs my speech, wipes my memory, makes me clumsier, takes away my prized driving skills, and temporarily hobbles my brain more than the aging process already has? Yeah, that’s completely lost on me.

I was one of five people in recorded history who never drank a single ounce of alcohol until birthday #21. For that special occasion, two coworkers treated me to a can of light beer and a swig of tequila — sampling both ends of the spectrum, I guess. I hated them both equally. Over the next few months, we went out a few more times and tried other alcoholic liquids. Through a series of boring experiments with wine, wine coolers, champagne, non-light beers, and so on, I only found two such substances that didn’t trigger my spit-take reflex. I could manage up to three swigs of a “fuzzy navel” or the upper portion of a bottle of Night Train before my taste buds would scream like banshees and reject any further intake. Apparently the highly recommend conditioning act of “acquiring” this coveted taste requires one to keep chugging it with every meal until all the nerve endings in your tongue die and you eventually don’t mind it becoming a major part of your life.

The nadir of this era was New Year’s Eve 1993, the one and only time I’ve ever been drunk in my forty years of existence. I figured that a single attempt would provide insight as to what all the fuss and worship is about. It was also the first time I’d ever been invited to a New Year’s party. As I recall, my part of this “party” consisted of sitting around, forcing myself to finish a couple of drinks, turning into a rambling motormouth for about ten minutes, coming extremely close to vomiting, but stopping short and instead ringing in 1994 while gripped by pent-up nausea. I also recall the host couple spending the entire night arguing. I woke up in their living room the next morning without a hangover, and without a desire for a second try. Ever.

I knew better in the first place, but wanted firsthand experiential evidence in the name of science. I’ve witnessed plenty of examples in my life of how “acquiring the taste” has made a difference in other people’s lives. There was the coworker who turned into a mean drunk and held shouting matches with his wife in front of their baby. There were other coworkers who lost their jobs because of their obeisance at the altar of the almighty Party. There was the time when I was a kid staying overnight at my uncle’s house on vacation and had to lie awake for hours in a cot while he argued for hours with his boss and boss’ wife, who had both turned from partygoers into belligerent, unwilling sleepover guests. There was the time I had to cancel dinner plans because someone I knew needed immediate help sobering up or else face grave consequences. There was the aunt who drank herself to death. There was the other aunt who was killed by a drunk driver while she was standing in her own backyard. There was my son’s former stepfather, whose drinking and lashing out led to that “former” tag, whom I’m sorry (and yet not sorry) is no longer in our lives.

I don’t get why I should want to share the same headspace as any of that.

Today I still can’t stand the taste. I don’t go to bars or clubs, unless a musical act as awesome as They Might Be Giants is playing at the Vogue, where I’ll only order Diet Coke if I buy anything at all. I don’t like being in a position where I’ll have to clean up someone else’s irresponsible mess. I don’t even laugh much at “funny” scenes of drunkenness in movies or on TV. It’s hard to chuckle while I’m imagining how easily such scenes can shift in a heartbeat from Moe’s Tavern to The Lost Weekend.

If alcohol is mandatory in order for me to relate to other hobbyists and enthusiasts who otherwise enjoy the same works I do, you’ll have to pardon me if I’d rather live out my days in ignominious solitary confinement, even if it means fewer anecdotes and friendships for me.

God loves me and my wife still thinks I’m cool. They’ll do.

8 responses

  1. I might not have wanted a drink or a glass of wine (before it made me sick), but no one wanted to believe it and kept trying to convince me to be a sport and “drink” but now that I have a legitimate medical reason not to,(gallbladder) no one bothers me. I do talk about it on twitter or my blog and act like I do drink, but that’s just my blog voice, not the real me! I commend you for not doing something that is super toxic for your body and mind!

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  2. Good for you! I’ve not gotten drunk in over 20 years (overindulged one night in an attempt to experience the joys of alcohol toxemia over a spoiled romance) and it’s difficult to explain the lack of desire to indulge in recreational drinking. You are an excellent spokesperson for sobriety. Besides, if you go to a bar and explain that you’re the designated driver, you often get your soft drinks for free.

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    • FREE soft drinks? No one told me about that. Rats. Someone owes me a few from many years ago, then.

      On the other hand, the last time I played designated driver, one of the passengers threw up in the back seat. Lucky for me, I was driving their car and not mine.

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  3. My husband has never drank alcohol. Ever. So, you’re in good company with the whole no alcohol thing. I think its important to note that there is a BiG difference between enjoying a beer on a hot summer day, a glass of wine with dinner, cocktails with friends vs drinking to get drunk. Which I have done. Purposely and accidentally.
    Growing up, or at least coming of age, in a “dry county” I have seen the proper poster children for alcohol abuse while everyone looked the other way because believing antiquated laws that only allow alcohol sales across county lines would stop underage drinking.
    Knowing about addiction, talking about addiction, being aware of people who need help with addiction, and not judging them for it, all goes a long way toward preventing tragedies.
    Oh, and the DD. Yeah, that makes a person awesome in my book. Saving someone’s life is worth more than a free coca cola, but hey we’ll take it!! 🙂 Great post Randall!

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    • Thanks. 🙂 My wife has had even less alcohol in her life than I have — a sip or two from a single wine cooler about twenty years ago. She makes me look like Otis of Mayberry in comparison.

      We have other family members who’ve had struggles that I didn’t want to mention here at length, whom we’ve shown kindness and support where possible (with, sadly, mixed results sometimes). Back in September we caught up with a cousin who recently cleaned up, and were stunned at the difference we saw in him. Quite the joy to see. Now if only we could invite him to go role-modeling for those other relatives…

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