This holiday season I rediscovered the Gibson. Y’know what a Gibson is? It’s gin. Just gin. Taken out of the freezer and poured into a martini glass. Oh, wait, wait—there’s a cocktail onion in it. But y’know what’s all around that cocktail onion? Gin. Cold gin.
You know that scene in Unbreakable where Bruce Willis is trying to figure out how much he can bench-press, and his kid loads him up with all the weight discs in the basement, and then they start trying to find other things to add, so that by the end of the scene he’s got paint cans and shit hanging from both ends of a fully-loaded weight bar? That’s how we get all up on top of our potables over here at the Slagheap.
I’m not talking about drinking copious amounts, mind you, though, well, ah heh-heh, it’s your birthday and all. Rather, I’m talking about the seriousness with which we make a study and a plan of imbibing. I’m talking about the science of the process, matching cocktails with moods or movies we’re watching (film noir gets whiskey or bourbon, while screwball comedies rate martinis, The Office or Community gets beer, etc.), laying out the gear and the accoutrements, making sure we have the proper ingredients, and so forth. We’re not silly about it; we’re very mindful of our tolerance levels, and of the fact that 20+ years of tippling has resulted in the occasional strange behavior, like breaking into the first person plural voice when discussing our drinking habits. But we digress.
The point I was making is that we drink responsibly. Like, I’ll be responsible for drinking these here Gibsons, which are as close to Pure Unsullied Classic Cocktail as you can come. I’ll not be having anything with “Bomb” or “Buttery” in the title, for the same reason I had to get a passport and register with Selective Service: Because I am a Grown Ass Man.
Now, here’s a funny story about drinking, and it also contains romance and compelling human dray-ma, so it’s got a little something for everyone. Several months ago, two of my former students got be-wedded, and a bunch of folks I hadn’t seen in a while came in from out of town. After the service and the reception, about a half dozen of us retired to one of Bucktown’s more, um, colorful social establishments, the K-Lounge, which in a previous incarnation was a movie theater. It’s basically a dive, and it’s beat to hell inside and out, but it’s got, you know, character. It’s dark, the drinks are cheap, and the clientele usually minds its own business. (Note that “usually.” It’ll be important later.)
So we all roll up into the K-Lounge, me and a few other people, including Miss L. and Miss B., who are in from out of town. Miss L. teaches now, and Miss B. is a graduate student, and both are bright, funny, whip-smart persons, exactly the sort of people you’d like to pass time with down the ol’ pub.
The K-Lounge has two U-shaped bars. We sit down at the one nearest the front door, at the lower right corner, so we can sort of look each other in the face. On the long side of the U facing us sit two young-ish gennlemens, maybe mid- to late-twenties. Let’s call them Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache, for, like, absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Both Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are deep into their cups. And because they keep calling for more of them, we know what they’re drinking. Ready? Tuaca Bombs.
Tuaca is a vanilla-citrus concoction, the kind of sad, cloying, sickly, pointless liqueur that always ends up in shots bought for you by people who learned to drink fifteen minutes ago, and who don’t realize that the whole point of cocktail hour is to lubricate the conversation of damn grownups, not to stand around getting adult-onset diabetes from slugging back Kool-Aid-flavored drinkiepoos that would look more natural sloshing around sippy cups than highball glasses, thereIsaidit.
Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are the only other people in the joint. And as we’re sitting more or less across from them, they start interacting with the women in our group every now and then, in and among ordering more Tuaca Bombs.
(Oh, sorry: A “Tuaca Bomb” is a shot of Tuaca and half a can of Red Bull over ice. I can’t imagine a more shameful thing for two adult men to be drinking in public. If that were my preferred tipple, I’d drink those only at home, with the shades pulled, and all the lights out. In the basement. Inside the dryer, if I could fit comfortably.)
Both Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are visibly drunk. But Ball Cap has embarked on a state of inebriation for which the word “drunk” is insufficient. He is oiled. He is polluted. He is shnockered, three-sheets, ‘faced, stymied, sideways, bound for glory, pickled, arse-over-teakettle. He has reached that state of soused wherein the weight of his eyelashes is throwing his balance off and causing his head to wobble when he attempts to look around the room. He is, in the parlance of the misspelled text message once sent to me by a friend on New Year’s, “DRUMK.”
So naturally, he begins flirting with Miss L.
Ball Cap compliments Miss L. on her hurr, which is all did up for the wedding. He tries to get her to have a shot with him. He rises unsteadily, like a wounded bear, from his position on the far side of the bar, lurches ‘round to where we’re sitting, and puts his arm around her. He tries to buy her a drink again. He compliments her on the way she smells, which, according to him, is “purdy.” Again, he tries to get her to take a shot with him. He tries to get her to dance with him. He orders her a drink, despite being told by everybody including the bartender that Miss L. doesn’t want one.
Miss L. is taking it all with enormous grace, it must be said, thanking Ball Cap for the various offers, but no, thank you. However, he is standing between Miss L. and Miss B., bumping into Miss B. on occasion, and Miss B. is having none of it. (At one point early in this sad process, he lightly knocked Miss B.’s glass with some sort of careless flailing gesture, and she said, “Whoa, take it easy there, Whitesnake,” and maybe you had to be there, but it was kind of hilarious.)
Miss B. asks him nicely to calm his drunk ass down and be careful where he puts his hands. You will never believe me when I tell you this, but Ball Cap takes her calm reprove as a personal slur.
So now he’s standing between Miss B. and Miss L., flirting with Miss B. on his right, and occasionally disparaging Miss L. on his left: “Why can’t you be nice? Your friend’s nice. you oughta be [hiccup] nice like your [burp] friend. Your friend’s purdy.” And much, much more in the same vein.
Pause. I can be an angry fellow. Lots of things put me in urge-to-kill-rising state. Mostly those triggers are related to unsolicited rudeness, intentional cruelty, or that peculiar combination of abysmal ignorance and cocky self-assuredness that afflicts the terminally stupid. I can get angry about that stuff.
But I have the sense that I have never felt one-one-billionth of the teeth-clattering whiteout rage I would feel on a semi-weekly basis were I a woman. If I had to endure the standard-issue anger that results from being an aware person on planet Earth in the 21st century, and on top of that I also had to endure the bullshit foisted upon me by guys like Ball Cap at random intervals, I’d walk around with the urge to karate-chop a motherfucker in the larynx just barely held in check by the social contract. Maybe I’m wrong. But if I ever have a daughter, the first words she’s going to learn after “mommy” and “daddy” are “You looking to lose your nuts?”
Ball Cap’s disparaging of Miss B. is getting cruder and cruder, and eventually it culminates in some variation of “You don’t have to be a bitch,” or “Why are you being a bitch?” or “You’re a bitch,” or anyway “bitch” was in there somewhere.
Now, I’m not looking for a fight here. I just want to get this brain-dead mook off my friend. So I say, but laughing good-naturedly, “All right, that’s enough of that shit.”
Here’s the other part of the story you will never believe: He takes my statement as an insult to his manhood, and he begins yammering at me over top of Miss B.’s head.
You can imagine the dialogue yourself: “Why you laughing, what’s so funny, motherfucker, huh, you think yer tough, you wanna come outside, we’ll see how fuckin’ tough you are, you ain’t saying nothin’ now, are ya,” and blip blap blurp, all this delivered at top volume while he’s trying to give me the Thousand Yard Stare, only his vision isn’t quite tracking, so he ends up giving the stink-eye to a point in space three inches up and away from my left shoulder.
You see what happened, right? Poor guy. All he wanted to do was compliment a girl on her purdy hair and smell, and now his balls are on the line.
Strangely, across the bar, Porn ‘Stache is staring blissfully at the television while all this goes on, making no move to calm or support his buddy, which strikes me as a very odd way to pal around with a guy.
I’m not by any means what could be called a nonviolent person, but it’s been years since I threw a punch, and I’m not looking to do so again. I prefer to handle conflict with mild rapier wit. But Ball Cap has long since passed the point of receptiveness to my particular variety of dry, Algonquin-Round-Table-style humor.
So I sit there, not engaging, and I meditate upon what I know, from years of being a man and observing men gittin’ all up in each other’s grilles, a-huffin’ and a-puffin’ and on fahr with testosterone poisoning, is about to go down. And it’s a lesson I share here with all and sundry. Maybe you’ll never need to know this, but if you ever find yourself the target of drink-riddled macho blowhards, remember these things and you’ll be set.
Sit quietly. Say nothing. Do nothing to escalate the proceedings. If possible, do not make direct eye contact, but watch him out of the corner of your eye and note his body position. One of three things is going to happen:
1. He’s going to shout himself out of his worked-up state, and remove himself from your face of his own volition. This is, frankly, not likely to happen. He’s made a stand now, and walking away would make him look weak.
2. His brahs are going to come and grab him and lead him away. This is the most likely scenario. This will allow him to save face, and to tell himself and others later that the only reason he didn’t destroy you was because his brahs held him back, and that was lucky, ‘cause he woulda killed you, and you were shakin’ in your boots, etc., etc.
3. He’s actually going to work himself up into throwing a punch. This is the worst case scenario, but pay attention now. Here’s the deal.
If he does throw a punch, he’s going to have to work himself up into doing it, because you sat there emanating Zenlike calm while he pitched a bitch like a rhesus monkey shot full of lab-quality crank. This is why you take note of his body position. If you see him change his stance, or pull a shoulder back, or ball up his fist, you get loose, and watch for the swing.
If he swings, you move your head away. The object is to duck his swing entirely, or to shift your position so the blow doesn’t connect directly, but glances off.
Now, in the seconds following the punch, his center of gravity will be off. His upper body will be thrown up and forward from the follow-through.
And while he’s off balance, you climb on top of that little monkey and pound him until he hits the floor. Because when the cops show up, you want everybody in the bar to point at you and say, “He didn’t do anything until that guy [indicating the pile of teeth, hair, and fingernails being swept into the dustpan by the bartender] swung on him.”
Now, back to the story.
Surprise twist ending!: As it turned out, on this occasion I was wrong, and a fourth, unexpected thing happened. Not Porn ‘Stache, but rather the bartender, a fantastic woman about five feet tall with side-ponytail (holla 1989!) and a mouth like a sailor, came barreling around the bar after about two minutes of this clucking and bluster, and laid into Ball Cap comprehensively, jabbing her finger in his chest to emphasize key words, and backing his ass all the way up to the door:
“YOU’RE being an ASSHOLE, and these people didn’t do ANYTHING to you, and YOU were harassing HER, and HE tried to ask you to STOP, and I want your ass OUT of this bar NOW!!!”
And then came the great payoff: Ball Cap blubbers, “I’m sorry, Sheila, I luhve you!”
And Sheila the bartender yells, “I love you TOO, but you’re bein’ a DICK! Now GET OUT!”
As Porn ‘Stache came silently around the bar to lead Ball Cap back to wherever he calls home, Ball Cap yelled back at me, “I’ll be waitin’ outside, motherfucker!” (p.s.: He wasn’t.)
The wedding party stayed the rest of the night, drinking responsibly. And tipping generously.