Demon Rum, Part I

by guest on February 18, 2010

demonrumby Deirdre Sinnott

Muscle memory is strong. And my stomach muscle remembers rum better than my brain muscle. Even as I write this, I can feel an uneasiness roiling in my belly. That’s because my two tangles with the demon rum were total routs.

My first battle with this sweet adversary was in the summer of 1977. I was sixteen and working at the Playhouse on the Hill, a summer stock theater on Hamilton College’s campus in Clinton, NY. For $70 per week, I worked from morning deep into the starry nights, and loved it. Production Assistant was my title, but backstage theater-rat is a more apt description.

We put on seven shows in ten weeks, with one show having a two-week run. During the longer run, the shop workers got their only day off. That day happened to coincide with a party hosted by Lenny, a dashing high school friend who piloted gliders and grew up to fly big jets.

At the top of a hill behind Lenny’s house, a huge bonfire blazed in the cool summer evening. David, a friend who drove me to the party, and I chatted about our summer jobs as we climbed the field to a line of trees. Flickers of firelight revealed blankets, chairs, food, and a drinks table in a loose circle around the fire. The sun, already below the horizon, lit a few stray clouds brilliant red. It was all very primeval.

“Are you going to drive me home later?” I asked David. He spotted his girlfriend Rose on the perimeter of the scene and waved to her.

“Sure, just come and get me when you’re ready to go.” He walked in her direction. I watched as they kissed. A pang of jealousy soured me. I longed for an actual permanent boyfriend instead of the series of awkward encounters I had with boys from school. I even had a list, printed neatly on a 3-by-5 index card, of everyone I ever kissed — Mark, Doug, Ron, George, Dale, Dave, Pierre, John, Jeff, Mike, Bob, Chet.  David and Rose were one of the long-term couples, together for the last two years, not just names on a card.

People all around me sipped from plastic cups, their eyes darting, occasionally making eye contact with the objects of their interest. Boys hooted, girls laughed, and the entire tribe seemed to be revving up for an intricate mating dance.

I approached the drink table. This wasn’t my first time drinking. I’d had episodes with beer, vodka, and a few inglorious mixtures stolen from the liquor cabinets of unsuspecting parents. None of these capers led to real drunkenness.

“Here,” said Lenny, “try this.” I put the glass to my lips and took a swig.

“What is it?” I asked as my face twisted in displeasure.

“Rum and coke. It’s good,” he answered, toasting me. I took another swallow. It reminded me of being sick. My mother always made me drink warm cola to settle my stomach.

“You got anything else?”

“Beer,” Lenny said, looking over his shoulder to a keg. Several boys attempted to pour themselves some, but were rewarded with plastic cups of foam. “Pump it!” yelled Lenny and the boys obliged; still, it produced only froth.

“Guess I’ll stick with rum,” I said, sipping. After I finished the first drink, the second went down more smoothly and even tasted better. Everything seemed easier. Conversation and witty repartee issued from my lips. I felt like the center of the universe. If two drinks helped so much, then it made sense that more would be better. I returned to the drink table uncounted times, refilling my glass with generous splashes of rum and jiggers of cola. Eventually the ice ran out, but at that point it didn’t matter to me. I was drunk.

Things got blurry. My face got numb. I danced and shouted. I remember kissing someone, but I don’t know who. David and Rose found me necking among other couples on the blankets. I tried to stand, but my legs were totally useless. David and Rose tried to help me by slipping their hands under my arms, but I wriggled away and began to crawl on my hands and knees down the hill.

“Deirdre, let us help you,” said David as he tried to slow me down. I continued to dog-walk through the long field, feeling quite happy to be under my own power despite sharp pokes in the palms and knees from the cut hay. I only rose to get in the car. The ride home was a blur. I remember seeing stars slide by. Street lights blinded me and each turn scrambled my stomach. At some point, I hung out of the passenger side window and vomited.  After a while I lost consciousness.

“Deirdre, wake up, you’re home.” David got out and walked to the passenger side. “Oh God, gross,” he said as he saw the damage I’d inflicted. I staggered out and sat on the steps of the terrace.

“You got a hose?” he asked. I pointed to the garden hose attached to the house. David sprayed down the car. “You want me to spray you down, too?”

Vomit encrusted my right arm and hand. “Sure,” I said. He carefully sprayed me and got some of the vomit out of my hair. The cold water revived me somewhat. Now awake, I noticed that the world spun more quickly than normal.

“I’m going. Will you be okay?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said as I reeled toward the house. After that it’s a blank. I was too far gone to process memories. My head pounded the next morning when I went back to the Playhouse for work. Numb, I sat around moaning, no help at all. My first hangover.

And my stomach would never be the same. Too bad I wasn’t ready to learn a bigger lesson from my behavior at the party, but at least rum was off the menu for almost 20 years, until…. Stay tuned for Demon Rum Part II.

Deirdre Sinnott is a regular contributor to Drinking Diaries. She has also written “Beer” and “The Grinder.” “Demon Rum” is based on an excerpt from her memoir Drunk Dreams. Much more information and other stories can be found on her website,

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