Posts Tagged ‘ alcohol ’

Will You Be Sad to Know that Pink Elephants Don’t Exist?

Pink elephants don’t exist.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. A few albino elephants look pink. It’s not a great condition for an elephant to have, and they tend to suffer skin damage and blindness in the wild, but they are out there.

What don’t exist are the magical dancing pink elephants that you see when you’re drunk. Pop culture has lied to us on that one for almost a hundred years now; Jack London is generally accused of being the first to use the phrase:

…the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.

– Jack London, John Barleycorn, 1913

(I like how this is a man “whom we all know.” Hard-drinking crowd, Mr. London’s.)

Pink elephants have been with us as a symbol of drunkenness since: in Dumbo when the titular elephant drinks champagne (although in his case I suppose that would be the equivalent of seeing pink people?), on the labels of Delirium Tremens beer, in the names of many pubs throughout the English-speaking world, and so on.

So let me take a moment to clarify the record, and in doing so to provide some very valuable advice for any young drinkers out there:

If the booze you are drinking makes you hallucinate, drink different booze.

Because despite strong pop-cultural programming to the contrary, the effects of alcohol consumption — no matter what the quantity — do  not include hallucinations.

Seriously. It’s not a thing that happens to your brain. Either there’s something else in your booze or it’s interacting horribly with some other medication, if you’re actually seeing things that aren’t there.

The “pink elephants” (and other, less-pleasant hallucinations) that habitual alcoholics sometimes see are an effect of withdrawal after long-term dependency, and don’t start showing up until a good 12 hours after drinking stops at the very earliest. Depending on whether you’re having a mild bout of alcoholic hallucinosis or full-blown delirium tremens, you can expect the horrorshow to last anywhere from a momentary flicker to two or three days.

But again, that’s only for people deep into alcoholism. The rest of us may entertain unrealistic fantasies, imagining that we are stronger or faster or more likely to take that cute girl at the bar home than we actually are, but we should not be getting bogus audiovisual signals from our brain when we booze.

I put this on my blog only because of its long-running devotion to writing about alcoholism, and because an old Questionable Content comic reminded me:

In a way I’m kind of sad. The QC drunken hallucinations always look like pretty fun guys to hang with. But seriously, if your booze is making you see things that aren’t there, switch drinks. And possibly bars, friends, and neighborhoods.

Meditations on a Hangover

A beautiful morning in Madison today (or rather Saturday, when I wrote this, since I’m far too lazy to waste a perfectly good blog post by putting it up on the weekend) — one of those days where the air is so cool and the sky so blue that the summer sun is welcome warmth instead of punishing heat.

I of course was hungover for all of it.

There’s something fascinating about the intensely artificial alertness of waking up hungover and being unable to go back to sleep, especially once it’s propped up by diner coffee. It feels productive and awful all at once (productive in part, I grant, because it adds at least four or five hours to my usual desultory morning schedule). You think very fast and very inefficiently, like a powerful car stuck in second gear, all on top of an unpleasant physical backdrop that you try hard to ignore.

Stomach and head can be mastered by the same technique: overkill. Pour coffee on the brain until it’s too busy to bother about the dull ache behind the eyes. Shovel greasy food onto the rebellious stomach until it settles not so much in relief as in resignation. There will be a reckoning later, but it’s worth the immediate relief (almost anything is if it tips the scales away from “vomiting” and toward “not vomiting”).

Showers are my panacea. I take them when I have a fever (cold, to lower my body temperature), when I have congestion (hot, to steam the gunk out of my nose in a hideous bubbling ooze), and most especially when I am hungover (midway between hot and cold, for no particular reason other than that it suits the odd, incomplete-within-yourself feeling that comes with hangovers). I have a talismanic faith that the water sinks through my skin and rehydrates the depleted cells, which may or may not have a grounding in actual medical science.

Speaking of medical science, I disdain its explanation for the hangover. The real reason for the hangover goes something like this: things shrink when you pickle them, as any fool knows. After a night of heavy drinking your brain is thoroughly pickled and sloshing around in a brine of booze. Overnight the level recedes a bit, and you wake up with a still-shrunken brain sloshing back and forth in the half-filled vat of your skull. The headache comes of your brain banging up against the insides of your skull. Vivid, no?

Gatorade and fancy vitamin drinks are pure witch doctory.

Painkillers are, for serious drinkers, much like steroids for competitive athletes: physically effective, but they smack of spiritual weakness. Take them with a sense of shame or not at all.

The three S’s do not apply to hungover grooming. Attempting to shower and shave in the lingering miasma of your beer shits will tip the scales rapidly back toward “vomiting” no matter how brutally you beat your nausea down at the diner.

And writing while hungover is, apparently, entertaining but inadvisable. It does keep the headache off, or at the back of your mind, at least until the glare from the computer screen starts to get to you. But looking back over this I can’t say that it produces anything you’d want to sign your name to or post publicly on the Internet for all the world to see.


Drink Classier: The Difference Between “Neat,” “Straight Up,” and Other Useful Cocktail Terms

It’s been a while since I overtly advocated alcoholism on this blog, but for a time there it was one of Misanthropology101‘s biggest draws, so let’s get back to basics today: today we are going to teach you how to sound like less of an idiot in bars.

I can even tie this vaguely into writing if you want, since it is all about word choice and how small changes in one word can alter your entire order, or something.

Neat or Straight Up?

Both of these mean “simple” in a most English language uses, and that confuses people.

  • Neat is the one that’s actually simple. It means the liquor ( just a single type — you don’t order cocktails “neat”) is poured into a glass and handed to you at room temperature. Neat.
  • Straight Up or Up (same thing) means the drink is chilled with ice (shaken or stirred) but then strained and served without it. The drink will be cold and very slightly watered down (which is good for most liquors, so don’t get on your high horse about it ruining the taste).

There’s not really a good mnemonic or logic to why one’s “neat” and the other’s “up.” Maybe remember that the bartender has to “upend” the shaker for a drink served up? For all I know that’s the actual etymology (and if it’s not, it might be a fun folk etymology to start — you heard it here first!).

In any event you want to avoid using just the word “straight.” Some spirit drinkers use it to mean a “straight pour,” i.e., a serving of liquor poured neat, while other people will use it as a shorter version of “straight up.”

Your bartender should be able to figure out what you mean from context (someone asking for a 12 year Scotch “straight” probably doesn’t want it shaken over ice and strained), but avoid the confusion. Say “up” or “straight up” for drinks chilled with ice and strained, and “neat” for drinks poured at room temperature.

“On the Rocks”

This one’s the easy one. Pretty much everyone of legal drinking age should already know that it means “with ice.” It’s used more with spirits than with cocktails, since most cocktails only have one “proper” serving method and the bartender already knows them. You don’t have to ask for your Tom Collins “on the rocks” — that’s how it’s going to come anyway.

There are a few cocktails with more than one serving option, however, so if you’re in doubt and you definitely want ice in your glass, go ahead and throw “rocks” onto the end of your order.

“With a Twist”

A twist is a small peel of citrus, usually lemon unless you specify something else. Properly done, it will be peeled directly off the citrus in question above your glass, so that the oils from the skin spritz into your drink.

You shouldn’t have to order this unless it’s unusual for the cocktail you’re drinking. Asking for a sidecar with a twist is just being a jerk. The bartender already knows it takes a twist. Save this one for when you’re ordering custom cocktails (and tip accordingly).

Backs, Bombs, and Chasers

  • A back is a glass of a complementing drink that comes with the main order. As the name implies, it’s meant to be drunk “behind” your actual drink, so sip the cocktail/liquor and then the back. If it’s a big drink, alternate sips (a Bloody Mary with a beer back, sometimes called a BMW, is a good example). If it’s two shots, slam one and then the other (Pickleback, etc.).
  • A chaser also means an accompanying drink with the main order. There’s argument as to whether it’s actually any different from a back at all, and for practical purposes it isn’t, but generally speaking a chaser will be a shot that’s slammed all at once either before or after the drink, while a back is sipped along with it and might not necessarily come in a shot glass.
  • A bomb is a chaser that you drop or pour straight into the main beverage. These often involve elaborate ceremonies (sake bombs), and in some cases may require you to drink the entire beverage quickly before the bomb does something screwy to the chemistry of the drink and ruins it (Irish Car Bombs).
  • Many men like to drink their boilermakers bomb-style, but don’t call it a bomb. A glass of beer served with a shot of whiskey is always just a boilermaker  — or “a shot and a beer,” slurred into something like shoddunabeer — regardless of how it’s drunk.

Hope it helps.

How to Make the Most Manly “Wisconsin Winter Toddy” Ever to Sit Just to the Right of Your Computer Mouse

Cold weather’s starting to roll in, and that means it’s almost Wisconsin Winter Toddy season.

What’s a Wisconsin Winter Toddy, you might ask?  It’s a drink that doesn’t even bother with putting hair on your chest, because if you’ve lived in Wisconsin this long you can already rent yourself out as a bearskin rug in your spare time.  This Darwinian drink gets the jump on winter and goes ahead and starts putting hair on your unborn children’s chests instead.

A Wisconsin Winter Toddy needs the following ingredients:

  • Brandy.  Not whisky, or whiskey, or bourbon, or rum, or anything else.  Raw fuckin’ brandy.  Wisconsin’s love for a drink most people associate with effete Frenchmen seems strange until you realize that we have fantastic grape-growing soil but miserable grape sunlight, resulting in abundant crops of grapes too sugary to make a wine that you don’t distill and age the shit out of.  Hence, Brandy Old Fashioneds, Brandy Manhattans, and Brandy Fuckin’ Toddies, served all over the state at road houses so dingy and ancient their blue collar atmosphere has faded to a dirty off-white with hints of old indigo and prominent grease stains.
  • Honey.  Pure honey from bees that fed on sweet Wisconsin meadowflowers, gathered with your own two hands while they swarmed and stung ineffectually at your chest hair and plaid wool jacket.  Ideally it should be so crystallized and frozen with age and cold that you have to dig it out with a spoon, but pour it in a spoon even if it’s not.  The spoon is important later.
  • Water, boiled on the stovetop in a kettle or saucepan.  If you’ve got a fireplace or a wood-burning stove to set a kettle on so much the better.  Don’t even think about microwaving it.
  • Lemon juice.  It lasts for months on ice, so press it fresh in the summer and have a good store laid in for winter.  Or just buy it at the store, whatever; we have to cut a corner in here somewhere.

To make your toddy, put the water on the stove and forget about it until it’s boiling and has been that way for a while.

Stick the spoon down into the honey and dig around until it’s mounded up with delicious crystallized goodness.  Select a mug based on how drunk you want to get and stick the dripping spoon right into it.  It should lean picturesquely against the side of the mug like the long-handled spoon in an old drugstore malt tin and stay there.

Pour brandy directly over the spoon until you’re between a third of the way and halfway up the mug.  Don’t be a show-off and pour almost all the way to the top; your drink won’t get enough boiling water to heat up if you do it that way.  Just find a bigger mug.  Don’t stir yet.

Add a splash of lemon juice.  It should be a healthy splash.  You’ve got a spoonful of honey in there, remember.  You should hear the bottle go “glug” once or twice.  Still don’t stir.

Fill the glass the rest of the way with more-than-boiling-hot water.  Now you can stir.  At this point one of three things happens:

  • 1.  You fill too full and stir too hard.  The liquid in the center of the mug sinks and the liquid around the edges rises until it pours over, spreading a hot mixture that evaporates and dries into a nigh-indelible film almost immediately all over your countertop.  Swear.
  • 2. You pour the boiling water directly onto the handle of the spoon without noticing and grab a brazen hold of metal that’s been flash-heated to 212F.  Scream.
  • 3.  You do neither of these things.  Drink your delicious toddy.  Feel like a beast.

Now.  Who’s ready to give up on whatever lesser drink they’ve been cradling through the previous long winters of writing (or whatever) and switch to the Badger Country special?  Because we all need something to keep our fingers warm by the computer, that’s for sure.  Feel free to share your recipes in the comments, if you like!

Just, y’know, don’t expect me to actually switch.

What To Do When an Editor Makes Your Writing Worse

Writing about editors is always a touchy business.  DISCLAIMER:  Guys, this isn’t about any of you.  My last few contracts have been fantastic.  I enjoy a degree of both freedom and stability that staff journalists are jealous of.  (They get health care, of course, but whatever.  I’m healthy.)  Please don’t fire me.

That said!  One of the realities of the freelancing life is the capital “E” Editor. Keeping him/her/them happy is pretty much the goal, since they’re the people that sign your paychecks.  Your own perspective of what the intended audience might want to read is relevant but less so; artistic goals do not even bear thinking on.  Usually this works out fine because the editor, just like you (theoretically), wants the piece to be as good as possible.

But every once in a while you’re going to get feedback that makes you wince.  Helpful suggestions in red that don’t help at all.  Fixes that break the writing altogether.  Feces flung all over your beloved icon.  I might talk about poop too much on this blog.

So what do you do when you receive corrections that flat-out make the writing worse?  A few things, usually:

1.  Decide How Much You Care

Seriously.  If it’s a 2000-word toss-off on a subject that you don’t write about much, it may not matter if the finished product isn’t your best work, even under your own name (and if it’s not a credited piece then there’s really not much reason to care). 

Remember that the people making the corrections have their own vision for how the piece fits into a larger publication.  They may have much more important reasons than yours for wanting the piece a particular way.  Think carefully before deciding that it’s worth arguing about the suggestions.

2.  Request “Clarification”

Your editor is never wrong.  They can’t be; they’re genetically incapable of it.  So don’t tell him/her that he/she is.

Instead, fire off an e-mail saying “Working on the piece now — just wanted a clarification on a couple of these edits.”  Then pick out the ones that frustrate you most, and say something like “Are we looking to do [exactly what the edit says] on this one?  Won’t be a problem, but I think it might [the problem you have with the edit].”

You may have seen something your editor didn’t and get a correction to the correction back.  You may also just get an impatient reply saying that yes, you should go ahead and do what they told you to the first time, damn it.  But at least you tried.

3.  Make the Damn Changes Anyway

You are the labor.  They are the management.  Welcome to the bottom of the heap.

4.  Do As Writers Before You Have Done, and Writers After You Shall Do

EDIT:  I never would have noticed without WordPress’s built-in notification, but apparently this is the 300th post on MA101.  That’s a lot of words.

Road Maps and Writing, or, What I Drank for Labor Day Vacation

D’you have a city that you just know your way around without a map?

My father and I always seem to figure places out after a little while in them; it’s why my mother says she never bothers to learn directions anymore.  O Best Beloved is the same way.  (God only knows what either of them will do if Dad/I get a knock on the head or something.) But it all seems (for me, at least) to be grounded in some atavistic sense-memory that guides me, like a homing pigeon, exactly where I want to go, rather than in a higher-brain system of names and coordinates useful to everyone.  Thus, while Milwaukee (just for example) looks like this on Google Maps:

…in my head it looks more like this:

For O Best Beloved’s purposes and mine, this gets us around just fine.  But it’s sort of useless for any directions based on, say, a helpful local with knowledge of actual street names and landmarks that don’t involve spirits distilled from grain.

It’s okay, though; this is Milwaukee, so all the locals use landmarks involving spirits distilled from grain too.  And after a while it all starts to run together and you realize that, fuck it, whichever way you stagger you’re going to wind up near at least one of those glowing, golden beacons still legible on your hop-tinged mental map.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re not, most of us, writing like this.  We have the places we mean to go, the must-have stops that aren’t actually necessarily good for us but make the trip a whole lot more fun; the cheerful locals pointing the way — some of them helpfully and some less so.  And in between is a whole lot of fill-in-the-blank crap that we drive through competently but without any real dedicated thought.

We also drink too much beer along the way.

Too overwrought a metaphor?  I hope not, ’cause those maps take longer to draw than they look like.  If they’re not helpful I’m going back to clip art.

In other blog news we’re halfway through our Infinite Jest building contest today, so get those submissions in!  Anything you like, built out of copies of David Foster Wallace’s mammoth work of literary fiction.  Prizes!  Also the minimal fame that a MA101 mention can get you.  The very finest in links about drinking problems and men taking their shirts off.

The Audubon* Field Guide to Unpublished Writers

Ahh, the unpublished author!  These majestic creatures are surprisingly common, but often overlooked due to their camouflage strategies and adaptive behaviors.  If you’ve been lucky enough to spot one in their natural habitat (cheap bars and shallow, filthy gutters), consult your Audubon* Field Guide and see if you can identify the specific subspecies!

Authorial Nymph (Scriptor juvenilia)

The undeveloped author is a charming creature!  They lack the distinctive plumage of their fully-developed cousins and must be identified by behavioral cues.

With wide-ranging habitats and migration patterns circling from their parents’ nest to semi-abandoned buildings and slums and back again, they can be observed in many different settings.  Learn to recognize:

  • Self-deprecating references to “maybe writing the Great American Novel some day!”
  • Part-time, minimum-wage jobs.
  • Long-suffering spouses.
  • Blogs with only two posts from like three years ago.

The S. juvenilia is a harmless and unaggressive creature by nature.  However, avoid provoking them by asking “what do you plan on doing with your life?” or “are you still at Wal-Mart?”  They can become vicious when intoxicated and depressed over their failings in life!

Common Aspiring Author (Scriptor domesticus)

The Common Aspiring Author is a migratory creature, and can often be found switching between genres, publication methods, and social media.  Developed adults may have begun to show distinctive plumage, though many retain the camouflage of their nymph state and prefer not to tell their parents yet.

Look for S. domesticus in its natural habitat of small apartments, blogs with daily readerships of <100, and long-term relationships with people who earn a real salary.  Distinctive features may include:

  • Social behaviors, primarily with other S. domesticus, including mimicry of S. pactum (see below).
  • Foraging among blogs and Twitter accounts for helpful links.
  • Displays of plumage at social events:  “Oh, I’m a writer.  You know.  Just little stuff.”
  • Periods of hibernation, during which S. domesticus locks itself in its room and drafts/edits obsessively

S. domesticus is the friendliest and most easily-trained of the aspiring authors.  It can be taught to mimic specific behaviors, especially when rewarded with small paid-by-the-word salaries.  It can, however, become irritable during hibernation periods, and often uses these as a way to end a courtship or mating period.

Authors Awaiting Reply (Scriptor neuroses)

This less common species has distinctive plumage (frayed), habits (unpleasant), and life cycles (submission – rejection – submission – rejection).  It is distinguished from its lesser cousins by a more evolved writing style and a more extended social network, which it cyclically alienates.

S. neuroses are most commonly found in bars, face-down in gutters immediately outside bars, or huddled into a small ball in their blankets, rocking back and forth.  They typically go into intensive periods of revising in between submission and rejection cycles.  S. neuroses is a very distinctive creature!  You will recognize its hallmarks easily:

  • Semi-permanent abodes (until the rejection cycles exceed the rent cycle).
  • Strained but sustained relationships with stable partners (sometimes).
  • Obsessive collective of trade journals, agent and publisher business cards, and slightly shady How-To books/websites.
  • Life cycle typically ended when a S. pactum (see below) replaces them, or they drink themselves to death.

S. neuroses are delicate and nervous creatures!  They should be handled with care, primarily by never mentioning their agent/publisher/periodical search or how it’s going, or by doing anything that could possibly jeopardize their latest pursuit of the aforementioned agents/publishers/periodicals.

Contracted Authors (Scriptor pactum)

The contracted author is a rare and splendid creature!  It frequently fans its vibrant plumage, reminding everyone nearby that it has a solid contract and can in fact expect real wages for its work.  S. pactum has an unusual relationship with other species of unpublished writers, which both imitate and envy it.

S. pactum is usually unmistakable in its natural habitats (bars, gutters outside bars where it mumbles happily to itself, and anywhere else that people have to listen politely to self-centered babble, such as therapy and the confessional).  Look for its bright plumage and its characteristic behaviors:

  • Name-dropping (publishers and fellow authors, mostly).
  • Repeated crowing on its blog.
  • Brief panic attacks when contracts appear unstable.
  • Dispensing advice with extreme confidence and authority.
  • Being able to speak to their parents again.

S. pactum can be a difficult creature to live with, but offers more stability in its environment than the other aspiring authorial species.  It makes a good long-term companion for anyone seeking colorful character and elaborate preening behaviors!  A steady diet of congratulatory cocktails is essential to S. pactum‘s health and happiness.

*The Audubon Society had nothing to do with the publication of this guide.  However, we like to think that James Audubon could have made a pretty sexy sketch out of our editorial staff’s portraits.  Now, which species are you?  Leave a comment!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,007 other followers