Like many of the people around me, I struggle with the tension between my inner monk and my stinking drunk. The notion that your body is a battleground is equally true for suicide bombers as it is for crash dieters, though admittedly they struggle through very different abuse curves. But for me, like a lot of friends my age, it’s not a belly full of chocolate or a waist wrapped in explosives that’s the worry – it’s the demon drink.
I’ve done all sorts of stupid things. I once pissed in my girlfriend’s shoe. Or so I was told, because I have no memory of this. I thought I’d made it to the toilet. Apparently, she awoke –horrified, naturally – to find me quietly micturating in the corner of the room. She screamed at me to stop, to which I replied, ‘You’re mean.’ Oh the horror, oh the shame. Another friend of mine was recently discovered by his girlfriend passed out asleep on the toilet (snoring), pants around ankles. Later, as a way of saying thank you for being undressed and put to bed by her, my friend… vomited in their bed. Yet another friend of mine used to regularly complain of waking on post-bender Sunday afternoons with sore knees and incredibly dirty fingernails. ‘The only thing I can conclude from this,’ he told me, ‘is that I crawl home from the pub, and don’t remember.’
I struggle with binge drinking like a lot of people; I’m not as good with it as I’d like to be, but I’m better than I was a few years ago. Most of the time, being broke, busy and needing to be on-the-ball is enough to keep me out of trouble. Occasionally, there are lapses. Sometimes, once a year, there are catastrophes. But it’s getting better – these days, my girlfriend’s shoes get to stay piss-free. Man, I’ve been so good, I deserve a reward… cheers! But the other night, I met a man drunk enough to keep me out of the gutter for… a good couple of months, at least. The other night, I met Barry.
I was drinking in one of those inner-north pubs in which the question of ‘a quiet few’ or even the possibility of ordering a shandy or light beer is rendered absurd by the atmosphere of studied, practised and (for the most part) incredibly skilled and deliberate heavy drinking. Let’s call it the Mayflower. The Mayflower is the kind of place where drinkers go to drink: the kind of people who’ve ruined their livers, their love lives and their pension plans in pursuit of the deep, abiding, reliable comfort of Australia’s most trusted pain reliever. I like the Mayflower: the beer is cheap and fresh, the place is full of ‘characters’, and provided you don’t piss in anyone’s shoe, nobody minds if you’re drunk.
But Barry was something else: a medium-built man blown balloon-wise by diabetes and booze. He walked up, tapped me on the shoulder, introduced himself, then started talking at me. I could tell straight away that this guy was tanked, soaked: the kind of deep, whole-body drunkenness that only a five-decade alcoholic can endure (and still keep drinking). He started at me, and straight away you knew that the guy was pretty much on autopilot, but what little there was left that was conscious and volitional veered dangerously between self-pity, aggression, self-congratulation and maudlin teary nostalgia interspersed with spasms of self-hatred. Barry was the pretty much the walking, talking, reeling id of White Australia – and it ain’t pretty. So anyway, Barry asked me for a sip of my lady’s water bottle. I poured him a beer from the jug and said, ‘Just have a beer, Barry.’
‘Nah, ga’an, give us a sip of yer water.’
‘I’m sorry, Barry, but it’s not mine to give.’
And his whole face turns. He rounds on me.
‘Yer all the same, you know. You fuckin’ Arabs.’
‘Where ya from?’
‘Don’t gimme that shit. You’re all the same, you foreign cunts.’
I somehow kept my cool, saying things like, ‘Barry, that’s quite strong. You don’t actually know me.’ Sure enough, two minutes later, Barry was profusely apologising, even begging to buy me a beer. I just said that I’d prefer if he left me alone… and of course, he got aggressive again. So when he went to the toilet, we moved to the other end of the room. For a while, it seemed as if he’d totally forgotten about it: me, the water bottle, and the insults. But then he tried it on again, with me, then with several others there. He was awful, despicable, pathetic – then when the bartender politely asked him to leave, he turned on her, growling,
‘Yeerrrrr a DOG. A DOG! A FUCKIN’ DOG!’
After twenty more minutes he got the message, but only after the regulars in the bar turned on him, yelling, ‘Go home Barry, get the fuck out!’ I caught flashes of myself at my worst, and although I’d never shown drunken abuse to anything more sentient than a souvlaki (at least as far as I remember), I thought, good God, this is where it ends up. Three more decades of bingeing, and that’s where I’ll be. It was a sobering thought, a frightening thought. Enough to drive you to drink. So that’s what I did. As soon as Gary left, I picked up the twenty dollar bill he’d foisted on me (during one of his apologetic moments) and I bought my companions a jug. And it was delicious.
in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked
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