–BASED on a true story–
Quote of the Day:
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” Ernest Hemingway
It all started out so innocently. Sweet came out of his eye exam, eyes dilated, vision blurry. The clerk had pretty hair, of that he was certain, a pleasing voice, and a friendly, outgoing personality. He drew out the process of settling his bill and ordering his contacts, making small talk, putting on the charm, because back in the day Sweet could roll like that.
A couple of days later he went back to pick up his contacts. The girl had a pretty face to go with her hair. He couldn’t tell much else because she was seated behind a glass window. I say “much else” because he could see the telling gleam in her eye–she wanted to give him her number. And so he got it, because back in the day, Sweet was the man like that.
That weekend TB came to visit, the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Sweet said he’d talked to this girl he recently met a few times on the phone and she was pretty cool. She even had a friend and they wanted to do something that weekend. Sweet stepped out and said let’s go down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and see the Endymion parade, so he called her and she and her friend were willing and so we set off at a moment’s notice, because back then Sweet was like that.
We stopped at the 7-11 and picked up a case of beer, a bag of ice, a styrofoam cooler and some Rolaids, because even back then, Sweet was like that. As we pulled up to the girl’s apartment she saw us coming and stuck her head out telling us to wait just a moment. I turned and looked at Sweet and he grinned hopefully, but not without uncertainty. The girls came out laughing and hopped in the car. I was in luck–the friend was really good looking. The girl….I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly. I’d never encountered anything quite like it before, or more precisely, quite like them. I kept trying to get a better look and it took awhile because I didn’t want to get busted. Sweet kept glancing blankly in my direction from the rearview mirror. He’d seen it/them too. A few beers later we all needed a pit stop. When Sweet and I had a moment of privacy I pulled him aside. “Are those cankles?” Sweet just shook his head in resignation. “I think so,” he said dully. “How could I have known?”
So we all loaded back up for the rest of the drive and Sweet recovered quickly. He was like that back then. After all, the girl was cool and her friend/my designated target was hot so Sweet shifted deftly into the role of friend guy/wing man, a seldom played role for him, but one he could willingly take on when necessary. It turned out to be unnecessary because the hot girl viewed me (I must assume) in much the way Sweet viewed “Cankles.” No matter, we all somehow realized how things were gonna be among us and silently assented to having a fun evening as pals.
For some reason on this night, maybe it was because I held out hope for the friend, I had decided not to go overboard with the beer. Overboard, back then for TB, wasn’t easy to do. I could pack away a lot of beer. Really, a lot. So I was probably only on about my tenth as we made our way down to the parade route hauling a Hefty bag full of beer and ice–the styrofoam cooler made it less than ten steps from the car, so we improvised. Back then we were like that. The hot girl was lost in the crowd, probably looking for her boyfriend. Sweet was slapping Cankles on the back like an old construction worker buddy ahead of me as I took my turn dragging the Hefty bag. Cankles was playing along, laughing and joking–she was well accustomed to her role too it seemed.
We found a likely spot for viewing the parade. Sweet and Cankles were carrying on, dancing in the street, sloshing Bud Light on one another occasionally, keeping enough daylight between themselves to satisfy any junior high dance chaperone. I stood back from the crowd, sipping my suds like a gentleman, thinking on how I might turn the tide with the good looking friend. Suddenly the crowd began to part and all eyes turned to a girl marching down St. Charles dressed as a nurse and holding a twelve pack of beer in one hand and a funnel in the other. “I can outdrink anydamnbody here!”, she shouted repeatedly. “Who wants to funnel with me? I’ll drink anydamnoneofyou under the table.”
I chuckled to myself. A twenty-four and a half year old pre-professional, I’d outgrown such shenanigans but could still freshly recall the times I’d have taken up her challenge. That’s when Sweet accosted her. “You can’t outdrink everybody here!” The nurse stared back at him resolutely, mutely challenging him to back up his statement. A thousand eyes watched Sweet, including mine, as he paused just a heartbeat before replying. “He can outdrink you!” Sweet’s index finger and a thousand eyes turned to me. The nurse glared in anticipation of another conquest. Well, I wasn’t gonna take that crap. “Yep”, I said in a calm, assertive voice. “I can outdrink you.” The nurse smiled and said “I’ll go first.”
She funneled a beer, then poured one for me and I sucked it down. Within another minute we’d finished number two and in another couple of minutes went numbers three and four. After four, the nurse had had enough. The crowd was cheering, I was in the zone. It was time to claim the victory. “Give me another.” I drunk it down. The nurse wasn’t even paying attention now but the crowd was cheering. Sweet was taunting her one moment like Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South, and tussling my head in celebration the next. “Give me another.” The crowd roared. Sweet rubbed my shoulders. The nurse was on her knees. If I was gonna be challenged by God, by a girl no less, there wasn’t gonna be any doubt over the outcome. I put away number 6 and after that my memories of the night are soundless and few.
I’ve never been one to pass out for too much drink. I black out. I go catatonic. I do crazy ass things, at least I did back then when I was like that. There are a few hazy images that survived the night in my memory. I remember the hot girl coming back and perching recklessly on my shoulders to watch the parade. I remember KC and the Sunshine Band. I remember the pit stop in an alley and the cold ride in the bed of a random cajun’s pickup truck. I remember a gray Motel Six hallway. And I know I had one of the worst hangovers of my life the next day. But Sweet took care of me, we made it home, and on this story I’ve gotten my props now lo these many years. Sweet’s like that after all. As for me, I retired from funneling after that day. That hangover must’ve been really bad. It’s funny, I think, and telling, that the memory of how it came about lasts longer than the memory of the pain. Hangovers are like that, and that’s one helluva silver lining.