Trigger warning: The following post tells the story of the first time I got drunk and mentions common topics of intoxication like lying to one’s mother, entertaining foolish possibilities, dancing on tables, and vomiting a retainer-like false tooth out of the window of a moving Oldsmobile going at least 70 mph on an Interstate Highway.
Here’s the sad story of the first time I got drunk, a tale of self-inflicted woe, a narrative featuring Brazilian exchange students and bad choices galore.
It occurred on a Saturday night in the late fall of 1969 when three Summerville High juniors and two Brazilian exchange students decided to skip the parent-sanctioned dance at the American Legion Hut and head to Folly Beach for some more sophisticated fun. My pal – I’ll call him Arthur – had connections, could get us in a Citadel Senior Party. We’d be posing as college students from Wofford in a daring act of James-Bond-like subterfuge [cue 007 guitars].
I was all for the change in venue, Folly Pier trumping American Legion Hut for sure. And who knows — it was not out of the realm of possibility — I could conceivably find myself in the arms of some jaded older almost-woman and receive backseat tutelage in the arts of love — about which I had only the slightest of cinematic clues.
It was possible. That very July we had put a man on the moon.
None of us were at the legal beer drinking age of eighteen at the time, but in Summerville in those days, that was not, as the sales clerks say, a problem. If you were tall enough to be able place a quarter and a dime on the counter of S_______’s Grocery, Mr. S________ himself would go back to the cooler and procure for you a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, place it in a brown paper sack, and presto — fun ahoy! – off you drove.
Our driver was the late Gordon Wilson, a capital fellow, and my other friend — I’ll call him Gene — was someone I’d known for so long we’d been playpen mates.
Two Brazilian exchange students, Paulo and Jacó, who were staying with Gordon, also accompanied us. As it turned out, these two would be our saviors, or at least Jacó would. Thanks to his anti-samba sobriety, his reckoning of his own safety, he volunteered to chauffeur us home (despite not having a valid South Carolina driver’s license).
Sure, he got confused about which way to go and got us stuck for a while in a sand dune, but with the help of Good Samaritans, we – make that the Samaritans — somehow extracted the Olds, and we made it home, not only alive/unparalyzed, but in my case, undetected by my parents, even though the doors were locked and I had to crawl through a window (and in my condition my locomotion would make Buster Keaton look like Rudolf Nureyev).
Okay, I’d be lying if I tried to turn the party into a coherent narrative.
Inside the Folly Pier. Bright lights. Beach music. Citadel cadets, their dates. Bottle-guzzling. Flirting. What you see when looking down from a table you’re dancing on at a Citadel Senior Party.
Slipping and falling and getting up laughing.
Now, I’m in the car. After a long time of not, the car is moving. What’s his name’s driving. We’re going fast. I’m puking out of the window.
I awake, not unlike despair-racked Satan on the burning lake of fire in Paradise Lost; only, actually, I’m in my bed in my underwear and desert boots.
No need for montage here. I remember all too clearly. It felt like someone had jabbed and twisted a screwdriver in the base of my brain after water boarding me during my unconsciousness with bile from Jackie Gleason’s liver.
I vaguely remembered something about my tooth missing. I felt with my hand. No, it wasn’t in my mouth, nor on the dresser, nor in either pocket of my wadded up Levis. Not in the front pocket of my vomit besplattered shirt, whose smell almost prompted a heave. No, my fake tooth was long gone, runover, crushed, obliterated somewhere along the shoulder of I-26.
I’ve never liked lying, and I’m not good at it. But on this occasion I lied to my mother. I told her I had gotten sick at the dance (technically true) and gone out to vomit (technically true) and lost my tooth somewhere outside the American Legion Hut (patently false).*
She asked me if I had been drinking.
She went to look for the tooth because I was in no shape to. I felt fearful and wretchedly guilty, my mother on a Sunday morning scavenging in vain among the discarded beer cans and cigarette butts in the grass of the yard of the American Legion Hut.
The next week, though, Mama got her revenge and tricked me into telling the truth.
The following Saturday, Gordon and I stayed out to 2 am, and when he pulled up to my house, I said. “I sure hope my parents are asleep.”
Like I said, Gordon was a capital fellow. He smiled and said, “Isn’t that them sitting there?”
There, there, very there, as Iago sort of says in Othello, sitting in lawn chairs on the edge of the yard, the tips of their cigarettes glowing orange dots. Gordon let me out without pulling into the driveway, and after offering a meek wave to my parents, drove off down Dogwood Circle.
No, I had not been drinking. I blew into their faces my untainted breath, whose purity did practically nothing to abate my father’s fury. He kicked me in the back of my legs as I walked up the steps. Mama told me that Gordon’s mother had told her Gordon had gotten drunk last week and so had I. I fell for it, cursed Gordon’s mother, which resulted in an “ah-ha!” Mama said she had made that up to trick me. Now I think of it, she probably was lying herself, covering for Mrs. Wilson.
Lies beget lies.
My punishment: I was told that I could no longer be me. I had to start dressing like a preppy and to change my attitude.
But, of course, that was impossible. Like Bob Dylan had sung in that record going on ten years old, I was beyond their command. I did, though, have to go to school without a false front tooth for a month. Being a redhead and freckled, I looked like a skinny Alfred E Neuman. (By the way, that’s actually my head photoshopped on the male hula-hooping dancer on the comic).
So I did suffer for my sins and still feel guilty for sending my mother on that wild goose chase. Let’s not forget that “The evil that
men boys do live after them./The good is oft interred with their bones.”
*See first comment below.