by Laurie Lindeen
I grew up in the 1970′s in Madison, Wisconsin–number one party town in the “If it feels good, do it” state. Being able to drink with the big boys was a cultural expectation:
“So here’s to sister Laurie, sister Laurie, sister Laurie. Here’s to sister Laurie she’s with us right now. So drink motherfucker, drink motherfucker, drink motherfucker…” At sixteen, I was doing everything within my power not to puke up the Pabst Blue Ribbon I guzzled in front of everyone who was anyone in my high school. The beer tasted like it smelled, and I wasn’t good at drinking yet, so my stomach lurched and my throat constricted. But I couldn’t boot in front of everyone; I’d never live that one down.
By the time I was in college, I had gotten pretty good in the drinking arena. I threw up a lot in the dormitory bathroom in the wee hours after overdrinking, and that probably saved me from alcohol poisoning.
After I dropped out of college for the umpteenth time, the only job that jived with my drinking habit was to play in a rock and roll band (of course there were many other forces driving me toward that career choice).
“You mean you’ve never tried Jagermeister?” My bandmates and I stared at the British journalist in utter disbelief. Someone–a drinker, no less–who’d never tried our black gold, our show business enabler, our nightcap du jour, Jagermeister?
That was then, this is now: I’m the author of the memoir, Petal Pusher, a wife, and the mother of an eleven-year-old boy. I hold an MFA in creative writing, which I now teach. I don’t get around much any more by choice and have tempered my wayward drinking.
Last spring, I was a literary guest at a charming small town Midwestern university. In the company of two talented writers—one, a poet, the other, a writer of fiction–we read, discussed the writer’s life, and spoke to classes. The college was old enough and the town small enough to inspire that feeling of being immersed in another era–a feeling I love.
After a fun day spent talking shop and fielding questions by on-fire up-and-coming writers, we’d unwind over a beer and cheese fries at said town’s campus watering hole, which also happened to be a sports bar during the ever-popular NCAA basketball tournaments.
As night two came to a close, and we were all scheduled to return to our homelands the following morning, one of our hosts muttered, while looking over our shoulders and rooting for Memphis, “I know this great seedy bar downtown.”
Maybe it was the sports bar thing, or the old rocker in me, or the tired busy mom sprung loose and basking in the glow of professional attention that made the idea of a seedy bar sound appealing. It had been some time since I’d been taken to a good seedy bar; I used to love them for the camaraderie amongst the regulars, as well as for the jukebox and décor.
It should be noted that I adore alcohol and nicotine, and for those reasons, I keep a tight reign on myself a majority of the time.
But that night I told myself, “When I drink, it’s not like I make bad choices that jeopardize my relationships, or anything.” (Never mind my weak justification, all that really needs to be said here is yes indeed, I was game.)
After endless glasses of strong ale and half a pack of American Spirits, our once high-brau/low-brau literary/cultural conversation became increasingly snarky and unintelligent. Fittingly the bar was named after an obscure lit. snob villain — was it Grendel? And thankfully, it closed.
Safely re-deposited at our “guest” dorm,, I offered a hyper-enunciated “Goodnight” to my colleagues that I hoped said, “Really, I’m not that wasted,” and I closed my door behind me.
I couldn’t make it to the toilet fast enough. A silver pipe attached to the throne jutted out of the wall, my knees dug into institutional bathroom tile, and I heaved and hurled off and on until early morning. When the polite graduate student who would be driving me to the airport knocked on my door, I was still shaky and uncertain as to whether or not I could hold it together for the forty-minute trip.
Ghostly, dizzy, and still churning, I gripped the dashboard. After five minutes I rasped, “Can you please pull over now?” How cute is that: Mrs. Roper ruping on the side of the road after tying one on in a seedy bar with a pretentious name. This scene occurred twice.
The rosy shades of embarrassment and self-disgust brought color back to my face and I apologized and over-joked for the remainder of the ride. Poor guy—my driver was so cute; he actually tried to make me feel better by claiming that he’d been in the same predicament earlier that week.
After checking in for my flight, trembling and pale, I administered to myself a steady stream of Tums, Pepto, a plain McDonald’s cheeseburger and diet Coke, just like I had in the old days.
By boarding time, my crisis was under control, though I looked and smelled like a middle-aged celebrity DUI mug shot minus the celebrity.
Lesson learned: There’s nothing cute, charming, or witty about a middle-aged drunk writer. Sad, yet comforting realization: I don’t still have it in me.
In spite of the fact that I feel like I’m twenty-two on the inside–all wild, enthused, and energetic–I’m not. And I can’t party like I used to. That, I conclude with wary resignation, is a very good thing.
Laurie Lindeen is the author of Petal Pusher, A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story. She was the lead singer of Zuzu’s Petals. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone’s anthology Altarockorama and the online magazine, The Morning News. Find her on the web at www.laurielindeen.com