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Punch Drunk

The Hangover, Undistillled


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Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.
Kingsley Amis, "Lucky Jim"

Few, if any, have pontificated on the perils of drink better than the grand old man of English letters, Sir Kingsley William Amis. His studies of the physical (and more important, the metaphysical) hangover were only slightly less acute than his Herculean consumption and unrepentant carousing. Now I certainly don't have the gall or ego to think I'm anywhere near as good a writer as ol' Kingers, but I do know a thing or two about overconsumption. And if you'll allow me, I'd like to present some thoughts and painful introspection on the day, or in my case days, after.

Just don't expect any tips or advice on how to cure a hangover. Such a skill is unmasterable, and really, an effort that's just a foolish waste of time. Humorist Robert Benchley once famously wrote, "The only cure for a real hangover is death." While that may be a bit morose and overly fatalistic, I couldn't agree more — unless you insist on counting time as a cure. But that's just silly. Kingsley called the hangover "a great restraining influence on our civilization, the cure of which would have far-reaching and perhaps dangerous effects." Luckily, civilization is safe, as none of the old wives' tales or snake-oil miracle elixirs actually work, and that's the last we'll discuss of that.

Let's also clear something else up: People who say they don't get hangovers are assholes. Even worse, they're liars. (Or they just aren't drinking enough, which in addition to making them assholes, also makes them complete bores. So move along with your life, your Monument Avenue 10-K's and your restraint, and your "consistent day-to-day productivity." This column wasn't written for you, Mr. or Miss Perfect.)

Now, let's begin.

A true hangover manifests itself more deeply than a pounding head or heavy nausea. It cuts you to the core, makes you feel it in your soul. It forces you to re-examine every mistake you've made, every relationship you've squandered. A true hangover doesn't bring a foggy brain, it brings painful, brutal clarity — even if the images are a bit hazy. It brings a nagging embarrassment, an important errand left undone that you can't pinpoint. It brings nudity in front of a classroom of your peers, or at least it feels that way.

As Jim Harrison summed it up so nicely: "One of the curious effects of a bad hangover is that you think you're wrong whether you are or not. Not wrong in particulars, but wrong in general, wrong about everything."

Some days, another drink is the only thing to rid yourself of the gnawing fear that resides in your head, and that's where things get dangerous. So you sit and wait, you drink water, you futilely eat greasy foods — all for naught.

If there's anything I'm learning at 29, it's that forced productivity is a solid way to attack a hangover. But as we all know, doing anything hungover besides lying in bed, and maybe having a bit of the sex, is horrible. It's a Bataan Death March, a bloody keel hauling, a Chinese water torture. It's bamboo-shoots-under-the-fingernails-type misery. But it can help. Maybe try reading a book or something.

Constantly subjecting oneself to mornings and afternoons and entire weeks like this is obviously a poor decision. While it is known that Ernest Hemingway had a genetic predisposition to suicide, it was almost certain that the late-stage, chronic alcohol abuse made him end his life. And Kingers? He too succumbed to the booze, losing his wit and charm, becoming, in his words, a "curmudgeonly old shit." His death was a sloppy one, an inglorious end for a man who once had been the finest writer of his generation.

I guess there's always the option to stop drinking. Hell, I vow to do it a couple of times a week, but that's just not realistic, and quite honestly, I'd be too bored to sustain it. I have no children, I'm unmarried, and times spent at the bar tippling with friends are the best times I have. I imagine it will be that way even when I am married with children.

So we must gamely march on, the hangovers getting progressively worse with each tick of the clock, our self-worth, our sense of well-being on a never-ending roller coaster.

Anyways, who's up for some weeknight cocktails?

We'll worry about the consequences tomorrow.

'When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover.
Kingsley Amis


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