Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Art of Solo Drinking

The world loves to save the lost and there's nobody more lost than the solitary drinker, alone in his tiny room, seated at a table under a dim yellow light with a bottle of whiskey and a highball glass. Those saviors see solitary drinking as a sign that something's gone wrong—the only type of people who would drink alone must be hopelessly addicted, the mail bomb builders, the chronic compulsive masturbators.

But then there are those of us who've discovered the joy of drinking alone; a pure, unalloyed form of imbibing that chucks the crowd and gets down to the business of getting loaded—just you and the booze. 

Just like marriage is the enemy of love, crowds are the enemy of joyful inebriation. Of course, that seems counterintuitive. Booze applies grease to the gears of societal gatherings. Touchdowns are cheered, ref's calls are booed. You sure don't go to the sports bar to share green tea with the gang. But what happens when everybody gets into their fourth tall glass of Bud? The dynamic changes. Things get a little awkward as each guy in the gang tries to restate what he has already said five times about what a stupid trade the Chargers made at the beginning of the year. It soon becomes drudgery that not even the shots of Cuervo can save. The hangover and regret you have the next morning force you to swear you'll never do it again—until you do it again. (By the way, the Finns have a word for the combination of hangover and regret: It's called morkkis.) 

"I've never been lonely. I like myself.

I'm the best form of entertainment I have." - Charles Bukowski. 

Booze opens up lines of communication between people, certainly, but few people know it also facilitates communication with yourself. It lets you get to know the real you, the one you always knew existed, the one deep down in your subconscious, but never had the chance to let out. But you're never going to get to know the real you while your sitting in a crowd of people and inane chit chat and blasting jukeboxes. The inner you is the one that knows you best, someone you can sit with in comfortable silence without straining under the labor of small talk. Close the door, grab a bottle, and get to know you. 

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads him to himself," the poet Hermann Hesse once said, and he was right. To most people, their inner self is some sort of dark and hairy fanged monster that you flee from in fear. Which is exactly why you need to go and have a drink with him. Plan ahead. Stock up on your favorite booze. You don't want to be getting up for another beer run just when things are getting good. Turn the goddam television off. (I dropped mine off in the alley behind my apartment long ago, even duct taping the remote to the screen to increase its value to the crackhead who would later find it and sell it at the swap meet.)

 "If god had intended me to drink with other people

he wouldn't have made me such an asshole." - Hugh Blanton

Recumbent on the sofa with a whiskey bottle is good for the solitary drinker, maybe a dim light from a corner lamp to create ambiance. Sipping straight from the bottle, cap off/cap on between sips, avoids spillage. Some solitary drinkers like to have music on, and I used to listen to tunes late into the night with headphones. However, that stopped after a neighbor came over at three in the morning wondering if Mariah Carey was in here, caught in a bear trap. Silence is best. But whatever drink you prefer—wine, beer, cocktails—you'll soon discover that the annoyances of bars and crowds are gone. No jabbering from the blighter on the stool next to you and going through the "I buy/you buy do-si-do" before he hands over his band's demo CD. Last call is whenever you decide; it could even be the light from a rising sun. No bartender to ignore your empty glass as he chats up the fresh-from-the-salon hotties at the end of the bar.

The submerged you rises to the top like an angel from bondage when you drink alone. Social norms and the dissembling that goes along with it is banished within the four walls of solitude and a bottle. While it's pretty much impossible to achieve ideological purity (even the bearded guy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel had a wart or two), the lone drinker is as close as you'll get, a person truly in love with booze. Even before George Thorogood's 1985 anthem "I Drink Alone" I was stealing away to secluded spots along the banks of the Cumberland River with my shoplifted bottle of Beam to enjoy the cold starry night with my thoughts and my inebriation. Loners have the advantage of picking up little bits of wisdom here and there that the crowd never will (self analysis is impossible while immersed in the crowd) and the best thing I ever learned along the way was solo drinking.

If one were to total up the number of faux pas made while drinking with the crowd, the number would be somewhere in the vicinity of a million and one. Some of my own involve grabbing unwilling bar patrons for dancing, breaking wine glasses, whispering too loud. But the worst came about after I went to my favorite dive bar at opening time, 7 in the morning. From time to time throughout the morning, various people would stop in for a pre-work shot of their favorite liquor before starting their workday. Some time later I noticed that I had been asked a couple of times by different people, "You're still here?" I looked up at most recent person who'd asked me that and recognized him as one of the people who'd had a pre-work shot. It was 5:30 PM and I was still on my barstool. I could overhear their conversations at the other end of the bar on my lack of a useful life. No such humiliations occur when one drinks behind the locked door of their own room.

Of course, complete avoidance of the crowd is impossible. People will beseech you to meet them at the bar and they'll assert that it's important, i.e., it's been too long, a favorite celebrity has died, etc. As the jabber progresses and becomes more inane, steal a glance over at the mirror behind the bartender and think, "Next time it's just you and me, buddy."

Hugh Blanton is a truck loader who combs poems out of his hair during those times he can steal away from his employer's loading dock. He has appeared in Bottom Shelf Whiskey, The Dope Fiend Daily, Terror House Magazine and other places.