The sobering truth about drinking

I sometimes wonder what you guys must think of me.

Well, actually, I didn't until Mail Tribune Editor-in-Chief Bob Hunter stopped by my desk the other day to check up on my physical and emotional well-being.

As the resident overlord, Bob spends most of his days coordinating this strange operation from his office on high. When he's not doing that he stalks the newsroom, tossing out sage advice and threats of impending doom like so much Halloween candy.

This particular day found Bob in a caring mood.

"Say, Chris, I liked your column last week, but all that stuff about drinking and self-destruction is, um, just an act, right?" Bob said. "I mean, that's what it is, isn't it?"

I didn't know how to answer this.

What could I say?

"Yeah, actually, Bob, it's completely fake. All of it. Wow. That must feel great running a newspaper full of not-actually-true news, eh?"


"No. It's all true. The booze. The despair. The corn dogs at Lumpy's. All so very real. Like throat cancer real. By the way, how does it feel employing a suicidal alcoholic with a tragic exhibitionist streak?"

I just gave a short laugh and a shrug.

"Don't worry, boss," I said. "Just as long as they're reading it everything's groovy."

Bob seemed satisfied with this and returned to his office.

Then I got to thinking. Do my few and cherished readers think I'm a hopeless drunk?

The short answer: No.

The longer answer: I probably could've been.

I've heard alcoholism is imprinted in our genes through the generations. If your daddy liked nothing better than to pound a case of Old Milwaukee in the garage after work, then the probability is there that you, too, may do the same.

Makes some sense. But then again it really doesn't. My family is chock full of lifetime smokers. I smoked one pack of Marlboros my sophomore year in high school and never picked up another.

Alcoholism led to the death of at least three of my closest family members and will probably fell two more before it's all said and done. But it's not going to get me.

The first time I tied one on was January 1996. I was a high school junior. My buddy Mike managed to score a gallon of Distiller's Pride vodka and two cartons of IGA Orange Drink. Not juice, mind you. Orange drink.

We sucked down these watery concoctions while playing penny poker and listening to Nirvana's "In Utero."

The next morning I made a solemn vow to never drink again.

The promise held until my first year of college, and then all bets were off. I hit it pretty hard for a couple of months before I started to see the results of binge drinking on my classmates. Not pretty.

I settled into a groove of social drinking, gradually tapering even that off when I started graduate school in fall 2003.

It got tiresome chugging Miller Lite and Coors until — as Edward Abbey described the ritual of cheap beer in "Desert Solitaire" — I became more full than drunk.

And then I came to Oregon and was introduced to Michael Bluhm, a fellow grad slave from Wisconsin who introduced me to the world of microbrews.

Damn you, Oregon.

Black Butte Porter. Rogue's Dead Guy Ale. Cinder Cone Red. Jubelale. Walkabout's Workers Pale Ale.

I had at least two pints of each one of these upon my first visit to an Oregon bar.

The experience reminded me of a flashback scene in "The Simpsons" where Homer pressures the Harvard-bound Barney to drop his studies for one night and have a couple of Duff Beers.

Barney takes one sip of Duff and instantly dissolves into the town drunk he is destined to become.

"Hey, where have you been all my life," he slurs to the bottle.

My love affair with microbrews was short-lived. The hangovers were torture. Mel Gibson doesn't suffer as much in all his films put together.

I think these increasingly bad hangovers as I get older are a good sign, though. Be concerned when they stop, I've heard.

In recent weeks I haven't been hitting the bars quite so much. I still like to have a drink after work, but I've learned to enjoy waking up without that old familiar brain fog.

So, no, dear reader, I'm not an alcoholic. But there have been times in the past when I thought drinking made life inherently better, when in fact it enhances some nights and evenings and simply causes others to disintegrate into mindless waste.

Even in light of library closings, condemned schools, the specter of Hillary Clinton in the White House and all the terrible news printed in this very paper you hold in your hands, I do not condone the actions I've written about these past few months.

But I can certainly understand them.

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