Rum diary

It occurs to me, suddenly, in the middle of Month Four of 2012, that I might drink too much.

I don’t mean that I’m in that Leaving Las Vegas, pints-of-rum-with-my-cereal league, not yet anyway; most of the veins in my face are still, as of now, not visible. I just mean, well, let’s just say that in London there are two pubs whose bartenders know me by name, three by face and one or two others by reputation.

I don’t drink in the mornings, and unless it’s Friday or Saturday (or Monday… or Tuesday…) I don’t drink in the afternoons either. But it’s amazing, in this city, how much one’s social life revolves around alcohol.

After work, I’ll meet a friend or colleague for drinks, or I’ll grab drinks after a movie, or I’ll stop by a party with an open bar, or I’ll stop by for drinks to make notes for blogging about stopping by for drinks.

I don’t think too much of this typically, considering it’s all second nature. The major appeal for me of going to a pub is the social aspect. Except for when the appeal is solitude, which, I realise while writing this, means the reasons I like going to pubs are to be with people and to be alone, which I guess just about covers everything.

Shit, that doesn’t sound good… Tell you what, just forget that last sentence, I’m screwing up my own point, let’s start over…

It’s just that I don’t really think I drink that often, and I never figured those close to me thought I did either. True, when old friends visit me, they often mention that they don’t remember the last time they were this drunk, and then they remember it was the last time they were with me.

I think that’s because their lives are relatively boring, what with their celebrity-handling jobs and random sexual encounters and all.

Anyway, it’s not like I was ever thought of as the class drunk, the guy who has sudden attacks of rage when he has a few too many rum and Cokes. In fact, there was a long period of several years when I didn’t drink at all.

I always considered myself the drinking buddy, the person who was always willing to throw back a few with friends, always happy to lend an open ear to a mate in need of counsel or just someone to talk to. And usually they opened up more after a few beers, or a few shots, or maybe just some ether.

Nevertheless, I have a feeling people are starting to talk. More and more, I’m receiving ominous comments from all corners.

I always remember that when I changed jobs a few years back, my friend Clare complained that she was worried about me leaving because “who will stay out all night drinking with me now?” Now, in my current workplace, I had a new member of staff come to my department asking for me by name. “Talk to David,” he’d been told, regarding a staff social evening at a nearby pub. “He’s hardcore.” Mr New Guy was pleased to meet me because he fancied himself a bit of a boozer and figured he could drink anyone under the table.

So it seems that people have been classifying me as a “heavy” drinker, though, I must say, I greatly prefer the term “accomplished” drinker.

I hit the nadir last week. I met up with the suspiciously seldom-mentioned Kate, and we were out, of all things, drinking, when she, with a straight and really not all that concerned face — well, I think she might have been drunk — asked me, “You’re not an alcoholic, are you?”

When someone who you sometimes think of as a somewhat of an occasional admirer, for whatever sick, sadistic reasons says this to you, you tend to stand up, pay attention and look deep inside yourself.

Or at least you order another drink and laugh off the comment with a pithy, wiseacre comment about the shakes being gone and that’s great, not worried anymore, ha ha, then change the subject to how lovely she looks, yes, yes, quite lovely, and then try not to think about it until it unexpectedly and entirely inappropriately shows up in your next blog, oh my, hehehe.

All this said, I don’t think I have the intestinal fortitude to become a bona fide we’re-all-worried-about-David alcoholic. I think I started too late. I didn’t drink until my 20s — my fellow nerd friends and I always felt that we didn’t “need” alcohol to have a good time. God, how silly and naïve we were.

The first time I ever had a sip was at a party at journalism school at which I literally had rum forcibly poured down my throat while I was already taking medication for a head cold. At the end of the night, if I may blatantly steal a Woody Allen line, I tried to take my pants off over my head. Even then, though, I never really got on the booze bandwagon, and even though I was drinking a bit by the end of it… well, jeez, it was uni, so give a brother a break.

Anyway, I’ve slowed down a bit, even if I have graduated from scraping pennies together for a pint. But, you know, it’s hard in London, hard not to drink. I don’t know how my old housemate Mark, who has never sipped alcohol, could possibly do it; the guy goes to a pub and orders a Coke every time, though, to the bartender’s credit, he always has to say it twice, as if that couldn’t possibly be what he actually said.

I mean, if I gave up drinking, I’d have to give up all the things that drinking allows me to do, like convince myself my conversation is actually interesting… or dance… or karaoke… or, for that matter, sex. I don’t know if I’m willing to make those kinds of sacrifices, even if my reputation is starting to become a bit more soiled than I’d like it to be. There are a million different pubs in this great city, each with their own stories, their own people and their own price for pitchers.

So bring it on, New Guy. I accept your challenge. Let’s just keep it between us, OK? People are already starting to talk…

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Pants on fire!

I lied to a journalist last week. It was not a sneaky misdirection, not a subtle not-quite-the-whole story, wink, wink. I flat-out, bald-faced (where did the expression “bald-faced” come from, anyway? As a 30-something-year-old who looks a lot younger, I’m pretty much bald-faced all the time), between clenched teeth, lied. Bore false witness. A falsification, a fib, a pulling of leg.

Now, as a journalist myself, I’m aware that if there’s one profession you don’t want to lie to, it’s a journalist. When they’re not piss drunk, those guys are crafty buggers, and they’ll find you out. It’s a tough game, interviewing people, being interviewed, and to survive it, you need powers of manipulation that I’ll never have.

Mind you, it’s not like we were discussing cancer research or nuclear fission here; my lie didn’t hurt anybody, and it was inconsequential enough that I shouldn’t even be worrying about it. She probably knew I was lying, and she probably didn’t care. Yet still it bothered me. She was nice, had written something nice about me in the past, and I thanked her by lying to her, even making up details to cover it up.

My mother loves to tell the story of the first time that she realised her darling boy was, in fact, capable of lying to her. I was about five, and we were having a family get-together at my grandfather’s. There was this cat, you see, and this cat was bothering me, meowing too loudly, biting too harshly, scratching too fiercely. Sitting next to this cat was, of all things, a can of white paint, open, with a brush lying tantalisingly just to the side. When you’re five, you don’t think, oh, shit, this jar of goo is something I shouldn’t mess with, and you certainly don’t consider the possibility that taking that brush and spreading it all over the cat is the type of matter that might potentially displease someone. The idea must have dawned eventually, though, because when the cat came stumbling out of the garage, smelling of paint and more than a little petrified, and the mothers came out accusing their own and each others’ kids… the one no one’s eyes were trained on was me, because I said I didn’t do it, and Mum knew I could never lie to her, and she told all the other mothers so and that was that and that was all.

Of course, when my mom’s sister-in-law noticed a certain white substance dripping off my trainers and a certain embarrassed downward glance from a totally busted 5-year-old, the game was up. Mum says she cried for two days afterward, and she never quite looked at me with same trusting innocence again.

I’m proud to say my lying-to-my-mother skills improved considerably as the years went on. (No, Mum, honestly, I was pulled over by violent, drooling scumbags who forced me to put those condoms in my pockets. Seriously!)

One of my least favourite claims people make about themselves is that they’re terrible liars, as in, “I tried to lie, but I’m just rubbish at it. I couldn’t keep a straight face.” This is supposed to, in their eyes, clue us into the fact that they’re essentially honest people and just couldn’t mask their inherent sincerity. This is, of course, total bullshit; the only difference between them and everyone else is that they’re incompetent fibbers, not that they’re reluctant ones. We all lie, often, daily, most likely to the people we care about most and listen to us closest, because we’re human beings and, with the possible exceptions of nuns, human beings are amoral, hedonistic, self-serving arseholes.

This calls into question even our most dear friendships, because the people who are supposed to know us best, the ones we pour our hearts out to, have probably been lied to by us more than anyone else. They’re probably little lies, harmless ones, I got a 30 rather than a 27 on my scores, that sort of thing. No, I didn’t sleep with her until the second date, small stuff. We tell our friends lies because they like us, and we want them to continue to. We try to paint ourselves in the most positive light, because, well, it’s hard to find people who like you, let alone like you the way you actually are. It comes to the point sometimes that I’m more honest with you, the reader, in this blog, than I am with my closest friends. I already know you don’t like me; no need to try to impress you.

Yet one of the most common questions I’m asked about this blog is, “Is all that shit you write about true?” Now, ignoring the fact that such a question accuses me of the most base of journalistic ethical breaches — I mean, we’re talking about writing something that is not true — but, well, wouldn’t that take all the fun out of it? I mean, what’s the point of writing a blog about my own life if I’m going to make shit up? What kind of depraved, desperate-for-attention human being would fabricate stories about being an idiot? How unbelievably pathetic would a person have to be to scream for help in such a primal, degenerate way? (Don’t answer that.) Of course this is true.

But where do I draw the line? In one article some months ago, I mentioned being selected one of London’s “20 Most Eligible Bachelors” by GQ magazine. Now, that’s obviously not true, since I threatened them with a lawsuit if they published my name. What single guy wants to be considered one of the city’s top eligible bachelors, anyway? But you knew I was joking when I wrote that, right? Do I have to make that clear? Do I lose credibility?

I was thinking about all this after I hung up with the journalist. I just fibbed to her. If she knows I’m capable of lying on the phone, doesn’t that call everything I’ve written into question? How can she believe anything I say again? Plus, I started feeling quite guilty. It’s not fun to lie to people; it leaves that nasty ashamed aftertaste, like sleeping with a girlfriend you just broke up with. Like that keys-and-phone song from Britain’s Got Talent, I couldn’t make it leave my brain.

So I called the journalist to make amends. After leaving a message, at last I got hold of her.

“Hey, listen, Leah… you know that thing you asked me about earlier? Listen, I’m sorry, I wasn’t completely honest about that whole thing. I was trying to keep our secret going, but I didn’t have to lie to you to do it. I just feel like an idiot. So, outside of this interview, friend to friend, I’m just really sorry.”

“OK.”

“Oh, but, um, everything else I said… that was all true. Honest.”

“Yeah. I understand. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

Sigh. I haven’t read the story Leah wrote yet, but I hope it makes me look like a real prick. I figure I deserve it.

The garden cycle

Last weekend, with the trees not quite fully leafed out, the sun’s unabashed rays filled my back garden with Spring’s bright light. The place glowed with a certain timbre, like the soft glare off old early risers, the little plants that will mature and set seed before the canopy forms.

Until the garden grows and mulches the soil with its own shady cover, there’s an inordinate amount of weeding to do. The soil is moist and crumbly and the weeds came out easily. I grasp stem and leaves at ground level, rock the plant slightly to one side with a slight pull just barely beyond the point that the plant resists, and the root pops free. I shake it to free the soil still clinging to its roots. It’s good to have dirt under my fingernails again!

Weeds enjoy a success that’s astounding. Our efforts to eradicate them are a little comical — there is no way we’ll ever win. The weeding’s not unpleasant, though. It’s a chance to get a feel for things again, to check the soil’s tilth, and to get new green matter into the compost I’ve just started. I’m surprised at how much I think about that compost pile. The balance of nature’s uncontrived give and take creates a balance that our plots don’t usually enjoy.

What we ask of the garden is often more than we compensate it for, and then fertility declines. You can feel it: a thinness, even in heavy soil. The colour is wan. Composting is essential.

From what I remember from my 4H Club days, one-part to two-parts proportion between green materials and brown is a good rule: grass clippings, garden trimmings and weeds; brown leaves and hay. The addition of healthy garden soil and farm manure helps the composting process along. The vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and other miscellaneous kitchen waste I put in seem to amount to nearly nothing.

Adding them to the pile seems hardly worth the effort. Every couple of days, though, I add the odd kitchen scraps. It’s valuable for its minor nutrients and the microbial diversity it encourages. I push my garden fork into the pile once a week or so; When it seems to give, I turn it, move the dark, crumbly stuff into the garden and return the rest to the pile. Good compost can be slow in coming, and there’s little we can do but attend to it.

The work nurtures me, though, maybe as much as it nurtures the plants — this giving back to the good earth. Shepherding the utterly common along its way to fostering new life offers a glimpse of the wondrous side of living.