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Absinthe Makes the Head Grow Fouler

Soundtrack: "It Ain't Me Babe" by Bob Dylan

Van Gogh, a hardcore absinthe drinker, driven to artistic insanity. (Musee D'Orsay, Paris)

For some reason, everyone who drinks absinthe believes that they'll somehow instantly become Vincent Van Gogh or Tolouse-Latrec, creating thujone/alcohol inspired masterpieces the likes of which the world has never before seen.

Saldly the truth is that drinking absinthe will no more transform you into Van Gogh than becoming an alcoholic will turn you into F. Scott Fitzgerald or hating women will turn you into Dostoevsky or Hemingway. And being a misogynist has the distinct advantage of not burning wormwood-shaped holes into your brain (though there is still the chance of losing your ear).

Most absinthe drinkers end up like Bernie Miller, an amateur painter who considered himself a genius on the level of Van Gogh and decided to drink absinthe like one. His meteoric rise to fame never seemed to materialize, due in part to his permanent drunken stupor, and also due to the fact that I just made him up right now to prove a point. And my point is this...

Actually, I can't really remember my point. Keep in mind though, I have been drinking absinthe.

This is about as dignified as you can look on absinthe. (Musuem of Advertising, the Louvre, Paris)

Having said that, a number of shots of absinthe--even dodgy Brit absinthe tragically short on thujone-infested wormwood--can do odd things to your hearing as well as your memory. For example, it can make the phrase, 'Hey Stu, how about you take a shot of tequila with us, and then polish it off by shotgunning this beer as a chaser instead of using lemon like you normally do," seem like a perfectly reasonable request. They all, individually, are activities that I'm willing to do without thinking, and the absinthe burning holes in your brain doesn't allow you to put the pieces together and do a proper translation, i.e.: "How about you top off that extremely potent shit you've been drinking with some other extremely potent shit, and then bludgeon your stomach with cheap cold beer until you throw up in a trashcan and embarrass yourself in front of that pretty girl you've been talking to all night and seemed genuinely interested until your dinner decided to relocate to a more hospitable climate?"

(On the plus side, in retrospect, perhaps the girl wasn't quite as interested as I initially thought. For instance, before, when after talking to me for awhile, she got up and put a song on the jukebox. While my initial thought was, "Hey, she just put a Bob Dylan song on, this means something, man!" perhaps my thought should have been "Hey, she just put Bob Dylan's 'It Ain't Me, Babe' on. Maybe she's trying to tell me something.")

In any case, I had a perfectly refreshing bit of time hunched over the most public bin in the hostel thinking, "oh yeah, this is what it feels like to retch in front of everybody I know within a thousand miles, I'd almost forgotten that from the last time I was in this situation."

This not-so-subtle reminder was followed by my dawning awareness that, if I were going to be throwing up in the future, in public or not, I'd have to shave off my beard--my pride and joy, a feature that adds five years of maturity to my appearance and has been virtually untouched since I started growing in in the last semester of university, barring a couple of light trims every couple of months and a beautiful Aussie Delilah with serious mental problems who set my beard on fire on a lark (on the upside, she kissed me to apologize. On the downside, she wound up going home with John shortly afterwards). The reason I'd have to trim it? A beard works like a scratchy sponge on your face, soaking up things both entering and exiting your mouth.

So, at that point, hunched in over a public bin with a beard like a sponge, I decided to give up vomiting. I'm on the vomit wagon, so to speak. What's more, unlike most resolutions I've made under the influence of alcohol, I stuck to it, even after sobering up.

But to make matters worse, the morning after vomiting in a bin in front of most of the people I know, I discovered that the other Stu in the hostel had an interesting night as well, getting very naked in a crowd that were about equal in size to my spew-crowd. And since nothing travels faster than rumors of iniquity and stupidity (except, perhaps, proof of iniquity and stupidity), by the time I struggled out of bed the next day and come to grips with my traitorous stomach and pulsating head, everyone in the hostel had heard at least one of the stories of the previous night, even if they occasionally did get their stories crossed.

"So, Stu..." people would start, "I heard you had quite a night last night."

"Yes, I puked in the fucking bin, okay!"

A confused pause, then, "While you were naked?"

But since nakedness and public intoxication are de facto elements of a night at Prince's St. Backpacker's Hostel, the individual stories soon faded into the general seedy aura of the place.

After awhile, nearly everyone has at least one of those stories attached to their name; you'll know it's your turn when you wake up the next morning with no clear memory of the night before, and everyone greets you with a knowing smile and the question, "How are you doing this morning?" After you respond with something general, they'll smile and nod cryptically. You will be asked the same question a half a dozen times again, always with a different word emphasized. "How are you doing this morning?" "How are you doing this morning?" "How are you doing this morning?" etc. Always with it subtly implied that, however well you're doing, you don't deserve to be.


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This page last updated on 29 July, 2002, and has been freeloading off me ever since.
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