Getting Drunk Without Drinking

There’s an episode of the old television series The West Wing in which the president’s second inauguration is coming soon and his speechwriter is suffering from severe writer’s block while working on the inaugural address: he’s glum, morose, depressed – totally lost. He’s literally putting a cigarette lighter to his drafts and burning them. He’s introduced to a new writer, someone who’s been sent to help him, and after confessing his problem to the new guy – a pretty surprising act for the speechwriter, who is far from the warm, fuzzy, sharing type – the new guy tells him, “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a night in Atlantic City.”

A few years back, The Curmudgeon was briefly dating someone who was waaaay out of his league and thought her boyfriend was a bit, shall we say, buttoned down. Once, sharing his fluency in Sorkin, she told him that “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a drink.”

Now that was a problem because The Curmudgeon is a complete teetotaler: no hard liquor, no wine, no beer, no wine coolers, no frozen sweet drinks in which the alcohol is barely discernible. Nothing. He didn’t drink the ceremonial wine at his own bar mitzvah, didn’t drink the toast at his own brother’s wedding.

Mind you, he has no moral problems with alcohol. Oh, he can’t stand to be around someone who’s drunk, but really, who can? No, this is just a matter of taste. When confronted with people who can’t comprehend or just refuse to believe it’s just a matter of taste, he asks them, “Do you like liver?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is a vehement “no,” accompanied by a disgusted look, to which The Curmudgeon responds, “Well, alcohol is my liver.”

They usually understand, although to be honest, The Curmudgeon suspects that many of them don’t entirely accept his answer. They seem certain, he believes, that there’s more to it, and that the “more” is a moral judgment.

The Curmudgeon remembers well his first encounter with alcohol. It was at a holiday dinner at his grandparents house, he was probably around seven or eight years old, and in mid-meal he needed to excuse himself to go to the bathroom because, well, that’s what little boys do. It was a tiny house, and he’s sure at least three or four people had to get up and move to let him out because he can picture the table as if it were yesterday and he was unquestionably in the seat least accessible to exiting in any direction; sometimes, adults have surprisingly little imagination about such things. In hindsight, the grown-ups should have suggested that he just crawl under the table – can you imagine a seven or eight-year-old who wouldn’t be delighted by such a suggestion, especially coming directly from his parents? When he returned, he took a swig of his orange soda – his grandparents were the only people he’s ever encountered who served orange soda – and immediately spit it out because it didn’t taste right. Everyone laughed: the “fun uncle” had spiked it with whatever alcohol was on the table.

That was a harbinger of things to come, though, because ever since, The Curmudgeon’s barely been able to hold any alcohol in his mouth, let alone swallow it. Does it taste good? Taste bad? He has no idea: all he knows is that it burns. He went through a period of years in his early twenties, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was rare to encounter people who didn’t drink – today, we’re awash in them – and it seemed as if everyone he encountered, and especially the women he encountered, were certain, absolutely, positively certain, that they knew the one drink, the one wine, the one cocktail that was going to change his mind and change his life.

They were all wrong. He’d try to beg off but eventually would give in, take a sip – and it would just burn. No taste, just burn.

These events came to mind recently when The Curmudgeon was in bed, listening to news on the radio and hoping it would bore him to sleep, which is entirely the point of listening to news on the radio at that time of night, when he heard a report about a new product, a powdered alcohol, that’s being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Actually, it’s not the powdered alcohol itself that’s being reviewed: the government is evaluating how the product’s manufacturer intends to label it.

Imagine: powdered alcohol. The mind buzzes with the possibilities.

Does it have any flavor? Would it burn? Could The Curmudgeon finally experience the effects of alcohol without the taste and the burn? Could he get good and drunk on it? Could he dissolve it in his morning oatmeal or put it in his morning chocolate milk (in addition to not drinking alcohol, he also doesn’t drink coffee)? Or maybe put it in what’s become, in recent months, his after-dinner cocktail: pineapple juice in a rocks glass?


Could he…snort it?

The possibilities seem endless! Bring on the powdered alcohol!

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