Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting Drunk For The Holidays

Dear All Of My Students,

I know that teachers are supposed to be role models without prior lives or criminal histories.  (Elementary school children think we never eat, poop or cry and older kids force themselves to believe we procreate through adoption.)

In fact, when we are actively teaching, most licensed professionals guard their licenses with their LIVES by revealing nothing of themselves. We proffer advice through metaphor. 

But to me, there is no advice more credible than that which is grounded in personal experience.

So here and now, I wish to advise my many college freshmen and sophomores plus one personal offspring at Salem State … to NOT engage in hedonism -- or drinking -- during winter break.  It's been my personal experience to return to campus each January looking like an internment victim, back from a 30-Day War.  Although these "returns" were pretty atypical: I was returning to multiple campuses, throughout several decades. 

I am like a coffee table book, Tuition Through The Ages, or Credits From Round The World.

By the time I’d collected, from various continents, sufficient credits for a degree, I was sufficiently “aged” to have spawned four kids. They ranged in ages from 13 to 3. It was roughly in this timeframe that I experienced my Golden Age.

One morning in early January, one of my college-peers was sipping coffee back at the Non-Traditional Student Lounge where the aged and infirmed were segregated.  She took one look at me and gasped, "My God.  You look worse than you did in September."

“What do you mean, Katie? I thought I looked fetching in autumn, loitering in the Book Store line.”

“Well you didn’t. Not then and certainly not now.  It’s all that ‘vacation time.’ Haven’t you noticed how bad we ALL look after Christmas? But especially in September. Spending an entire summer with offspring makes us wrinkle.  And you thought it was the sun.”

I raced to the nearest ladies’ room to examine my crow’s feet, newly deepened by the Spirit Of Christmas-Passed.  Katie was right.  I was the apocalypse.

There in front of Stall Number Three I decided I had had enough ‘offspring devotion.’ I determined that, come next Christmas, I would preserve my youth by doing things that I found fun. 

When the next Yule Season arrived, I did not take the children skating. I sent them to my mother’s with electric guitars and an amp.

If an offspring asked, “Can I sleep over Daniel’s house?” I only said yes if I could throw a party while he was gone.

Instead of wallpapering a child’s bedroom, I wrote graffiti on the sizing:  “For a good time, leave home now.”

I was an aspiring hedonist.  Why not?  By then I’d been attending college since 1976. Pretty much sober.  And except for those offspring-wrinkles I hid with bangs that covered my face, my appearance had not changed. (It was helpful that Army Boots and long hair were back in style.)  I wanted to avoid Christmas Break Wrinkles because I enjoyed being mistaken for Spawn of the 80s.  

This is called "identity crisis." Mine began the same semester I'd committed to hedonism.  I was taking notes in a philosophy lecture on morality and ethics, when a student leaned over and asked, "Hey, how wasted have you ever gotten on Jell-O Shots?"

Before I answered, another student cross-whispered that she had once been hospitalized from eating Jell-O Shots and I said, “Oh! Are they like hooch brownies?”

Both of them stared.

“You know.  Marijuana brownies.”

“How old are you?”

“I was born in the Eisenhower Administration.”

“He was a president, right?”

“Jesus, Angie, take a media course.  Eisenhower invented PHOTOGRAPHY.”

“Excuse me ladies.  What ARE Jell-O Shots?”

They exchanged glances.  The one with the pretty nose ring began speaking, very slowly.  “Do you know what a Jell-O   J I G G L E R   is?”

“I DO. I have a strawberry triceratops in my purse. Do you want one?”

They didn’t explain the rest.

When I got home I asked my 13-year old about Jell-O Shots. 

He looked like he’d just found me beneath bread mold.

“Mom,” he said, maintaining eye contact, lest I get distracted by a TV Maalox ad, “Jell-O shots are made – are you listening? – with ‘booze.’  You eat them at parties.  You know what those are, right? And you get D R U N K.  Drunk is when—“

“Shut up, Nicholas.  Do your homework.  Or turn on Def Zombie.”

“WHITE Zombie.”

“Shut up.”

I knew what drunk was.  And I intended to do it again, at a New Year’s Eve party I began organizing that day, for our dearest, oldest friends.  To revisit our youth and feel ‘energized!’

We even invited my mother to ‘chaperone’!   :D

Moments before the crowds poured in, regrets poured in, instead.  I was moved by the physical affliction, Acts of God and personal loss described.  One friend was hallucinating (she could produce a note from her neurologist).  Another’s living room had caught fire (he forgot where he kept his wood-burning stove).  Someone phoned in a Third-Marriage Proposal Engagement-Ring Stuck To An Arthritic Finger story.  It involved gangrene and an ambulance.

I was so upset I ate a plate of vodka dimetrodons.

We invited 40 people.  Three couples came.  But thanks to a bourbon triceratops, I saw three of everyone.

It was probably the dinosaurs.  No one looked familiar.  Buck “Harley” Richards had changed his first name to ‘Reverend’ and Jill, my best childhood friend, brought a boy I sent out to play.  She said he was her husband.  A newlywed couple no one knew came at 6:30 by mistake trying to find another party.  I passed them each a tyrannosaurus rex and wouldn’t let them leave.

That’s when Mrs. Reverend Richards, a lay paleontologist, got drunk and launched an Attack of Gin Stegosauri. She made them JUMP into her husband’s mouth. I tried to save him by stabbing at them with hors d'oeuvres skewers just as they reached his lips, but a tray of the Reverend’s Cocktail Franks and my mother’s Spinach Balls distracted me. I impaled each with a skewer and re-named them Picks In Dicks And Geneva’s Balls.

Mrs. Richards started laughing and slid to the floor, but Reverend Buck glanced at his watch, ruminating about church the next day.

Jill fed her husband’s arms into his snow suit and off everyone went, followed by the newlyweds, so blinded by anxiety, they struck and maimed a deer as their car bolted from our street.

We were alone by 7:02.

I surveyed the aftermath.  It looked pretty bad to me, but everything I tried to focus on moved. I suggested we split into teams to contain the mess.

In twelve seconds, I’d disposed of three damp beverage cups, Mom rinsed a plastic fork and my husband asked if bent napkins he found could be re-used.

It took an hour to wrap leftovers.

I was bored sober.

“Is anyone hungry?” I asked.  My husband brushed past me with a tray bearing nothing but a pterodactyl toe.

It seemed we were not speaking.

“Hey kids!” I chirped.  “Parcheesi??  Mother, Anagrams?”

My mother glanced protectively at a spinach ball cradled in her lap.  She turned away and pretended to read old scratch tickets.

The kids put on their pajamas.

I was thinking I should paint a red A on my chest for Ass-O-Holic when Nicholas threaded his arms through mine and hugged me.  “Mom thanks! What a party. My friends think YOU are cool! And they love your Mega-Deth tape.  We played ping-pong for a while, but then we switched to poker.  Oh, and we tried to raise Elvis’ spirit until someone said he’s not dead.  More like… cryo-vac’d somewhere. But everyone especially liked the food.”

“Really, Nick?” I beamed.  “What did they say, what did they EAT?”

“Everything!  Cheese curls, pretzels, orange soda, Fifth Avenue Bars.  It was awesome!”

“Did they try any of the hot foods upstairs?”

“There was food upstairs, too?!  Wow, Mom!”

I looked at my watch.  It was 8:15.

“Well, “ he said.  “I’m going back downstairs.”

“Oh honey, don’t worry about the mess. It’ll all pick up tomorrow.”

“What?  Mom, I just came up for ice. My girlfriend said her coke was warm,” then he went to the cooler and headed for the basement.


I followed him.

As we wound down the stairs I thought I smelled incense, then I detected a familiar murmur, which grew stronger and louder as we reached the family room door. A chill ran down my spine. The door – a thin veil separating me from doubtless, unspeakable crime -- was opened by my child just as casually as if he were opening my mail.

I was transfixed by the mayhem.  Milling throughout the turns of my house’s foundation was a human chain of what I guessed were likely thousands of 13-year-olds, bound in party bliss.  There was such a conspicuous lack of personal space, I suspected they were brain dead from breathing each other’s exhale.

The floor by the wood stove was occupied by a writhing circle of girls in the throes of some séance climax, wringing their hands and chanting, “Sevil Sivle”or Elvis Lives backward.

Sequestered around our ping-pong table was a nearly naked co-ed group playing strip poker. 

A Goth Gang in leather was head-banging to that holiday-favorite, Burn Me, Fuck Me, Death Sublime.

“Jonathan!  MOM!” I screamed. “COME QUICK!”

“Oh, would you look at this!” said my mother.

“Jesus,” my husband prayed.  Then he smiled. “Boy can we throw a party.”

My Mom grabbed a handful of Pez, then head-banged her way to the poker game and snagged an empty chair. “Dudes,” she shouted to Jonathan and me, “this game needs CHAPERONES,” then she leaned toward a girl wearing nothing but a coat and asked, “Does a Royal Flush beat Three Of A Kind?”

Mom lost the game and her body heat in forty minutes.

But we had gained something.  Something that had maddeningly escaped us, though we had it all along.

I clicked my red party stilettos together three times and gleaned the wisdom that, no matter how much we craved young, exciting identities, like, “Baby Booming Jiggler Shooting, Glue-Sniffing MORONS” – what we really were … was parents.

Awesome parents.  That threw cool parties.  And a gnarly gambling Grammy they called Black Jack Geneva.

We were the envy of the Eighth Grade.

Anyway, sweet ex-AMSA tots: please avoid collegiate holiday hedonism during your own winter break.  Save this experience for your third or fourth decade.  You’ll learn so much more, I promise.