I had to explain what a hangover was to Josie on Saturday and I felt marginally proud that I’ve been able to conceal them from her for eight years.
During those eight years I’ve had hundreds of punishing bouts with that self-inflicted misery. I used to think that one day the hangover would be nothing but a nasty memory for me, that I’d mature or stagnate to a point where I didn’t feel like staying out too late, laughing too loud or drinking too much.
It’s hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to.
I’m among the last of the relentless and unapologetically convivial people on the planet. Rare is the day or night that I don’t want to spend at least a portion of my time sipping beers or bourbons and yapping about the events of the day with jolly friends or alert strangers.
“The only reason I write stories is because nobody will pay me to lean against a bar and mumble them.” That’s what the great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote and it’s something I’ve always embraced.
Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and many of our greatest American writers were robust drinkers, too. Of course, the only thing I have in common with those historically accomplished giants is a fondness for cigars and spirits, but to the I.R.S. we’re all lumped in together as “writers” so the association, however diminishing it is to them, must stand.
Writing is a lonely business. You’re all by yourself. There’s no team. No cubicle chatter. No chummy camaraderie.
But to be a writer you need access to lively people and stories. And you get that at most any neighborhood tavern. The one I go to -- the one that’s strategically located directly below my office -- is a stew of mill workers, cops, tradesmen, lawyers, accountants, heroic veterans, Republicans, Democrats and a motley mix of deadbeats, racists and incoherent drunks who’ll test the skills of even the most polished debater.
So I like to go there for what you could call for professional reasons. Bar time provides a cerebral sort of mingling I couldn’t get if I worked above, say, a coffee shop or a place that sells shoes. Of course, there is the collateral risk that once in a while I wind up drunk, all in the line of duty.
That’s what happened Friday night on a day that started with an ambition-squashing afternoon of televised October baseball. It’s very difficult for any normally convivial person to stay up in his or her office when many of his or her buddies are downstairs quaffing beer and watching playoff baseball.
And it’s way too difficult for someone like me.
So, there I was at 4 p.m. drinking my first beer and philosophically closing the books on another work week of subpar productivity.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Val and I had planned to meet friends -- convivial folks all -- at a local restaurant. I followed the afternoon beers with cocktail bourbon, followed that with cabernet and followed that with still more Tennessee whiskey.
Had I found room for a splash or two of Ouzo or some other cordial, I’d have hit the liquid equivalent of all four major food groups.
And if you’ve ever been a convivial person, you know what happened Saturday morning. It was a hangover or as Val explained to Josie, “Daddy has the beer sickness.”
Josie jumped back as if she thought “beer sickness” could jump from me to her. So I told her all about the convivial person’s curse known as the hangover.
“Is it catchy?” she asked.
I told her no, but I’m really not so sure. I know there are many days when I wake up with beer sickness that many of my convivial buddies wake up suffering from the same symptoms. Who knows? Maybe it is contagious.
“Will you ever get another one?” she asked.
I ran through in my head the remaining schedule for the baseball playoffs. “Probably next Thursday morning,” I said.
I am, after all, a convivial person, one who is conscientious about his professional conduct.