Monday, November 22, 2010

A Thanksgiving Tale

[ Originally posted November 20, 2006 on MySpace ]

NOTE: This story may not be appropriate for my mom. Mom, perhaps reconsider reading.

Sometime last week, a few coworkers got into a laugh-filled banter fest near my desk. I had been tuning in and out of the conversation, until I heard these words: "It's like showing up to a test drunk." Everyone laughed. How preposterous! Who would show up to a test drunk? Well... I didn't laugh...

To my memory, there have only been two times that drinking made me sick. This is the story of the first of those times. And for those of you who are squeamish, don't worry. I won't be detailing the color and texture of vomit, or anything like that.

It was the fall semester of my senior year of college. By this time, I was scheduling all my classes for the afternoon or evening. Mornings were a thing of the past, except for the nights when I stayed up late enough to see dawn. Most of my evening classes were at a separate institution, Pittsburgh Filmmakers; but occasionally, one of my liberal arts requirements would be on the main campus.

And oh, what a campus. Point Park College [ note: now University ] was all of three buildings, and each of those building were connected. Everything you needed was indoors. If it weren't for those Filmmakers classes, I never would've had to go outside.

The centerpiece of Point Park was Lawrence Hall, a 23-story former hotel, bought out and turned into a college in the '70. Food was on the 3rd floor, laundry was on the 8th, and home was somewhere above that.


I was taking an art history class, which I believe was two floors below my dorm room. Despite being a required course, it was only me and three other guys. It always felt very informal. We'd look at some slides, talk a little biography on the painter or sculptor, and then end class early or sit around and talk. Being a 6 PM class, off-campus people sometimes brought dinner with them (I had usually stopped on 3 beforehand). There were so few people in the class, with so few questions, that the teacher's lectures would always end early. Sometimes we'd watch videos from A&E to fill in the extra time.

When it came to Thanksgiving, college classes were always suspended starting the Wednesday before. Art history class was on Tuesday. In the evening. Needless to say, nobody was expecting much to happen during this last-class-before-break. In fact, as I would discover, nobody was even planning on showing up other than me.

I'd finally made it to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It had been a long, uh, fraction of a semester, and after grabbing some dinner on 3, I decided to start vacation early. I had some Firewater Schnapps in my dorm room, left over from a summer spent in Squirrel Hill wherein the only way to get my girlfriend to join "the party" with the rest of us housemates was to offer her something that didn't taste like alcohol.

For those of you who've never heard of it, Firewater is no light drink. It's an impressive 100 proof. It's a bright, molten red color and has the precise taste of those Fireball jawbreakers. The strong cinnamon flavor disguises the alcohol.


I presumed this last-class-before-break would be a whole lot of nothing. We'd probably just check in, say hi, and be on our way. Maybe we'd watch one of those A&E shows. So I did a shot of Firewater with some friends who were still stuck in the dorms with me. And then another. And maybe one more. And then it was getting close to 6 o'clock, so I grabbed my notebook and headed down two flights of stairs.

Now, at the time, I was a guy who could hold his liquor. Just ask my friend Paul about the time I drank half a bottle of Bacardi during the running time of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, however long that is. Three shots were not going to do much of anything except get me warmed up for the more drinking I anticipated doing after class. I would just sit in the back of the room, keep my eyes open and keep my mouth shut.

But a strange thing happened on the way down the stairs. Those three shots really started to hit me. "Oh well, who cares? We're not going to be doing anything anyway. The teacher will probably let us out after 15 minutes. Just hide in the back of the room, let the other guys draw attention away from you, grin and bear it for as long as it lasts, and then get back upstairs."

When I got to the classroom, no one else was there. It was just me and the teacher.

Caroline was short, with wide eyes and long, fading-blonde hair almost to her waist. She had a great sense of humor, but one that required close attention. She sometimes came off a little flaky, and I often considered the possibility that she might live in some sort of aging hippie commune outside the city limits. But she made the class both fun and interesting, and I enjoyed talking with her. Unfortunately, the friendly nature of our relationship was about to bite me in the ass.

She greeted me with a smile, a joke about no one else showing up, and then dove right into a conversation. I knew that the more I talked, the more I was going to reveal myself as drunk. But there was nothing either of us could do. We were the only ones in the room, so we couldn't ignore each other. And we couldn't pretend that we didn't have a history of easygoing conversation. So we talked. Certainly it didn't take her long to note the state I was in. This realization caused me to drunk-giggle at inappropriate moments in our conversation, only confirming what she must have already suspected. This ship was sinking fast.

We finally came to the conclusion that no one else was going to come to class that day. Relieved, I made for the door. "I guess I'll see you next week. Have a good Thanksgiving."

"Well," she hemmed, "I had this quiz for you guys."

Was she fucking with me?

"Shouldn't it wait till everyone else is here?" I said, as the room buoyed behind her.

"You can take it now. The rest will lose some credit for skipping."

Harsh. For all of us.

Defeated, I surrendered my knees, and they dropped me into a seat. Caroline placed a sheet of paper in front of me. It had five simple questions typed up on it. I began giggling to myself again. I had no idea how I was going to take this test.

Long since exposed as being under the influence, I started making light of the whole situation. I read the questions aloud, causing Caroline to laugh. As I wrote my answers down, I recited each individual word, drawing out everything I was saying as I wrote it. When you're drunk, these are the kinds of things that make sense to do.

Then a funny thing happened. Noticing that I was getting some things wrong, Caroline started correcting me. I looked up from my test to make sure I was understanding the situation. Was she seriously giving me the answers? She was. I began scratching out words and replacing them with what Caroline said.

I went on to the next question. This one stumped me completely. Before I even attempted an answer, Caroline started coaching me. "Remember when we looked at that slide of Donatello's David, and we determined..." We began a conversation, and talked our way through the answer. I wrote it all down.


We got to the end of the test. When I put the last period on the last sentence, Caroline graded my paper on the spot, giving me full credit. "Good job," she said. I felt a little guilty and awkward, but came to the conclusion that I was probably getting full credit just for being the only one to show up. Before I left the room, I shook my head apologetically and laughed some more. Then, with a "Happy Thanksgiving," I left.

Back upstairs, friends started catching their rides away for the holiday one at a time. It was then that I made probably the single most critical error of the night - I did one more shot of Firewater, which I immediately regretted. It did not sit well.

With most everyone gone, I headed back to my room and watched the Peanuts special, "The Mayflower Voyagers." Just as the Schulz-rendered pilgrims started getting seasick on their boat, I myself started to feel a discomfort in my stomach. The Firewater was coming back to haunt me. So I drank some water and decided to sleep it off. Halfway through the night, the Firewater woke me up and sent me running for the bathroom.


And the Firewater still wasn't through with me. The next day, I had to catch an early-morning Greyhound up to Erie to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Head pounding and stomach grumbling, I walked a half mile in a bitter cold autumn dawn through downtown Pittsburgh from my dorm to the Greyhound station. By the time I boarded the bus, it had been more than 12 hours since I drank. Regardless, I had to make use of one of those obscene on-board facilities twice during the trip, dry heaving into the acrid, no-flush chemical toilet.

The moral of this story? Schnapps is evil. It tears your stomach apart, and it has the potential to ruin your holidays. Now, I was lucky and experienced two Thanksgiving miracles that year: an understanding teacher and an amazing total recovery by the time the bus pulled into the Erie terminal. But you may not be so lucky. So this holiday season, I implore you, DO NOT DRINK SCHNAPPS!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

1 comment:

KarenG said...

Joe,

Well if I were your mom I would think ok, at least he learned his lesson! I don't see a place to follow your blog but I'll follow you on twitter.

KarenG