Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the big easy is really hard

...mostly on my liver. also, on my heart.
i have a good relationship with my liver. we are not the kind of friends where i ask him to come out with me every night, but i know when i need him he will show up and be a trooper. and he is a really good pinch hitter. there for me in the clinch, doing workmanlike service for as long as i need him. which is never very long. i'm a drinker by circumstance. i can go a month without having a beer, tho if i do it's prolly cuz i've become a hermit. but when i'm hanging with my drinking friends (of which i have plenty, all over the country) i'll put away anywhere between a few and many every night for a week or more. and whether my liver feels put upon and/or annoyed by my asking of favors after long silences, i will never know. that guy is cheerfully up to his task precisely because i don't wear him down day-in and week-out. my liver is not like a muscle that needs training to stay in shape. he doesn't ever become a light-weight when i ignore him. (or maybe it's that he never becomes a heavy-weight when we are attached at the hip) either way, there is no falling off, and his consistency is a blessing.
the reason i mention this relationship is because i just spent a week taxing it and i'm trying to decide if i need to apologize for my behavior or chalk it up to circumstance.
because, in case you weren't aware of this, nola is a drinker's paradise. or inferno. depending on how you look at it. there is no law prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in the streets, nor is there a law about bars needing to be closed for a certain portion of the day. so you could conceivably spend all day walking around town (and when i say 'town' i mostly mean the french quarter, cuz this is where the drinkers congregate) with a beer in your hand, stopping in at a 24 hour bar whenever you need another one, and they will put it in a to-go cup and send you on your way. or you could sit down and spend the *entire* night on a bar stool swilling abita amber or whatever your poison is (and i use poison literally btw, cuz if it weren't for our helpful liver friends, we would die from drinking alcohol) and not think to go home until the sunlight comes pouring in the doors. without a 'last call' to alert you to how much time you have spent shooting the shit with your friends and messing around with your liver, you can easily have a moment, at what feels like the middle of your night out, where you look up at the clock and it says 4:53am, and then catch the bartender's eye and order one last beer. and after that, one for the road. easily. it's kinda scary.
this is why the idea of the vampire is set so strongly in the minds of new orleaners (nawlinsians?). it's totally possible to never see the sun. i became one for a few days, drinking till 5:30am, going to bed at dawn, and leaving the house as the sun set to head to a bar for 'dinner' and drinks. one thing that saved me from oblivion was staying at a place 3 miles away from where i was drinking most nights, cuz i was walking to and from, which sobered me up and helped me burn off the large number of empty calories i was ingesting.
thing is, like i said, i'm just a product of circumstance. and i was only in nola for 4.5 days. if i lived down there, i would have to rethink how to function. since i don't, however, i just worry about my friends who do. and this is where the heart trouble comes in.
i have 3 good friends down there. the first has been there for a couple years and seems to do fine, except that the week i was in town he had taken off work for a holiday vacation (read: bender) and i only saw him for a short time one evening cuz he had been drinking all day and it was past midnight and he was falling asleep in his chair. the second seems to be doing okay herself, she moved down there 6ish months ago and has a good group of friends which, not surprisingly, revolves almost exclusively around this one bar in the quarter. however her boyfriend is having a hard time adjusting to the move--drinking hard and messing up at work, which sucks cuz he was one of the most professional bartenders i've ever met.
and then there is my third friend. who is actually the first cuz we've known each other since he was a freshman in HS and he is one of the loves of my life. he is an alcoholic and i have always been worried about him, to different degrees, since we were young. a year and a half ago he went into rehab and spent 7 months sober in LA and seemed to be doing really well for a time. and then he moved to new orleans. of all fucking places. this is so him tho, to make the strongest, most difficult choice possible. he is one of the more brilliant actors i've seen on stage or screen for this exact reason and i know he has to do things like this, but i wish he could learn to make life easier on himself. if i, who am the exact opposite of an alcoholic, have a hard time regulating myself in nola, i can't begin to understand how hard it must be for my friend to function there.
and it's clear to me that he doesn't function particularly well. we had a night of drinking (one of many) at a bar not too far from his house (1.5 mi) that i enjoyed up until 4am because there was karaoke and a pretty bartender, but which was definitely the night i over-imbibed to the point of actual drunkenness. as did my friend. what i didn't realize was that he had also been drinking hard for hours with friend #1 before he met up with me around midnight, so what should have been dee-runk was actually black-out-incoherent-ragdoll-passed-out-in-the-gutter drunk. but of course that didn't become apparent to dee-runk little old me until he had fallen down the 4 concrete steps outside of the bar and smashed his face on the sidewalk. actually, it only hit home (and by 'home' i mean that spot in the very center of you that tends to shatter and hurl shrapnel into both your heart and your gut) when i knelt down where he was laid out on the ground, rolled him over, and couldn't get him to open his eyes no matter how hard i shook him or slapped his cheek or called his name or threatened to kill him. it was one of the hardest moments i've had in years and i hated him the whole time for not having to share it with me. cuz it lasted a long time. it was a 4 hour long ordeal to get him home. it was a process of propping him up and letting him sleep while i dozed, keeping my spidey sense awake since we were just sprawled on the sidewalk of the garden district, then hauling him onto his feet and getting him to walk a few blocks, all the while looking for a cab and wondering if i could physically get him inside one, then allowing him to collapse again and sleep for a while before repeating the process until the sun came up and we were 8 blocks from his house and i was so fed up and had to pee so bad i just held out my hand for his house key and walked away, telling him to stay right there, i'd be back with the car. (i was finally both sober and coherent enough to think about driving him home in the rental car) when i went out looking for him he wasn't where i'd left him and i circled around for a while before giving up and finding him in his bedroom. i crawled into his bed up against the wall while he curled up near the edge and we slept till 4pm. he started work at 5pm. and afterward went out drinking (not with me) till 6am. lather, rinse, repeat.
my heart is a strong little champ. he's really used to getting bruised and broken on a regular basis, but we have an understanding of why that is important and necessary and he is always up for the challenge. his love muscles are very strong and elastic and i exercise him hard every day of my life. but this episode left him wrung out--sweaty, dehydrated, and frankly, exhausted. in fact, he was still kinda worn out and sore the next day. there are types of love exercises that are good for your heart, and i will continue to do those, especially in relation to my friend, but the kind i did that night were not healthy for my heart, me or him. so the next day i treated my heart nice, as i did my liver, drinking water and hanging with friend #2 and her crew instead of him. but the night after that was new years eve and the other thing my heart is besides strong is loyal.
but not blindly loyal. eyes-wide-open-and-willing-to-stare-you-down loyal. cuz my heart is not a pushover. and my friend may be a fucking good guy and worthy of my love, but he's also an alcoholic who needs the kind of love that comes with a mirror and boundaries.
nola may be hard, but it's not impossible. i plan on making sure of that in february. fyi--that's mardi gras season, folks. yup.

1 comment:

Polly said...

I have never been there but I understand why so many good zines come from that soggy storied place.