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The first time I got drunk was in . . . 1976? I would have been close to 15 and a bunch of us were in the basement of our friend Kathy’s home. Her father made home-made wine in these big scary, grey plastic drums that smelt like what I imagine rubber products made in the USSR in the 1950s would smell like — diesel fuel and sadness.
But, of course, the winemaking equipment and its contents were catnip to us all, so we tapped some of its contents into plastic kitchen glasses. It was deep black red, and I remember asking where Kathy’s dad got the grapes from to make it, and Kathy said the grocery store. Of course that’s where one obtained grapes in the middle of a Vancouver winter in 1976. The wine’s aroma had a complex terroir of linoleum, mothballs and ping pong table, and I had an anticipatory stomach spasm as it dawned on me I would shortly be drinking it and there was no turning back. There must be some sort of Darwinian reason for peer pressure; I certainly succumbed to it, and thus I drank the black red plonk.
OK, this doesn’t end prettily. It ends on a snowbank along with some corn and spaghetti leftovers, bed-spins and a life-long dread of red wine. Red wine became my trauma beverage and I’ve learnt over the years that everyone has a trauma beverage. The most common one seems to be tequila. The second most common one is swamp water made from whatever’s in Dad’s liquor cabinet while he and Mom are out for the evening, and almost always includes a bit of crème de menthe — I think it’s actually the crème de menthe that’s the catalyst for beverage traumatisation. Or rye. Or schnapps. There also seems to be an unwritten law that in order for swamp water to be classifiable as swamp water, there has to be a minimum of three counterintuitive varieties of alcohol mixed together in proportions that are, in some way, unholy.
Your trauma booze is the dietary equivalent of that movie you saw when you were 12 that you shouldn’t have seen and you didn’t sleep for a month, and the memory of it haunts you to this day. Hello red wine.
I wonder why it is that young people see booze as glamorous but the more I think about it, the more I realise booze really is glamorous. So are cigarettes. Life is odd.
Working in Tokyo, we’d have to go out after work and get hammered almost every other night. There were the guys who pretended to get drunk and the guys who really did get drunk, and they’d wake up the next morning in a back alley alcove in Toranomon caked in their own mess and zero possibility of ever rising up the company ranks. Booze is the actual secret of the Japanese business world. Forget morning rooftop callisthenics and zen. Bosses get their staff loaded and pump them for dirt and secrets, which they stockpile for use when necessary. It’s actually very cultish, but that was back in the era of lifetime employment. These days young people do mushrooms as they skip from gig to gig to gig dressed like Sailor Moon in bondage while they contemplate five more decades of the same thing.
The other day a restaurant put some grapes on the table and I ate a few and thought to myself, “In one day I probably consume more grape DNA than I do any other: potato, chicken, wheat, cow or pig.” So I looked at the remaining grapes thinking, “Sorry kids, I’d much prefer you fermented.”
A few years back I was flying to Stockholm via Heathrow, and every man, woman and child boarded the plane carrying massive jeroboams of Absolut vodka. So I tweeted, “Boy, Swedes sure do drink a lot”, and the next morning the daily paper had a headline above the date saying, “Douglas Coupland thinks Swedes are alcoholics.” The moral? We really dislike it when others monitor our intake — nobody likes a scold.
I always lie when my doctor asks how much I drink. At least I’m honest about lying. Lately, when my head gets a bit fuddled, I’m unsure if it’s booze or the internet causing it. It’s easier to blame the internet. By the way: booze and the internet don’t mix, especially between 11pm and midnight, which is when men over the age of 34 make their largest online purchases. “Honey, why is a truck delivering a boat on to our driveway?”
Drinking only white wine is like being able to see, except you’re colour blind, so I’m working to fix my red wine trauma. Someone suggested I get a tequila trauma that’s worse than the red wine trauma, and then it won’t be the worst any more. I’m not going down that road again and, besides, a good friend makes an amazing Pinot Noir in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, so there’s still hope for me yet.
Photograph: Ken Mayer Studios/ Douglas Coupland