Ever since moving to Baton Rouge, I’ve been asked approximately 95,134 times why I don’t drink alcohol. Pretty remarkable, given that I’ve had about only 250 conversations so far. But that’s to be expected. After all, Louisianans tend not to drink only under a select few circumstances:
1) They’re recovering alcoholics;
2) They’re under the age of five;
3) They just turned 21 and retired from drinking;
4) They’re allergic to alcohol, making them only half as likely to drink;
5) Their church promises an invitation to the big kegger in Satan’s eternal fiery furnace (not typically enforced);
6) They’re physically unable to do so because they’re passed out for the night;
7) They’re at work. Sometimes.
None of these apply to me, so I’m constantly forced to explain myself. It’s an interesting trait to have to explain, because no one ever asks why I don’t smoke, eat cole slaw or fly kites.
As any five-second scan of Facebook profiles will show you, drinking isn’t just a social lubricant, but a full-on hobby. This also goes for its cousin, “DRANKIN’.” It’s as if “eating energy bars” was its own leg of the Tour de France.
How many times in my life have I had this conversation?
“So, what do you like to do, Ian?”
“Well, I like to ride my bike, swim, play Wii and Kinect, read, write, watch movies and hang out with friends. What do you like to do?”
[Spoken in a tone that suggests it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and that my omission of it ensures we’ll never hang out] “Drink.”
The truth is, I will drink occasionally. And when I don’t, I still don’t get huffy when others drink around me. Like with everything else, there’s a time and a place for it. But for the most part, I stay sober. Here’s why:
• Drinking is a sedentary activity. George Carlin once said you never see someone take a shit while running at full speed, and similarly you really can’t do much else when you drink. That doesn’t mean people don’t try, but beer-soaked softball is more about beer than softball, and I play to win. Which is precisely why people often tell me during competitive sports that I need a beer.
• I’m a picky drinker as well as an eater. People seem to forget or otherwise overlook this, but alcohol tastes weird. I suspect I’m what’s called a supertaster, someone who has more tastebuds than average; supertasters tend to sense a heightened bitterness especially, which makes them like fewer things. Beer is something I can tolerate, mostly through nostalgia (more on that in a minute). But beer, and hard liquor even more so, is not something I would drink for the taste. And I don’t consume enough to get drunk. Which brings me to my third reason:
• I don’t like to get drunk. Or, more accurately, I don’t like to lose control of my faculties. I know, I know, a lot of you will say that losing control is the whole point. But you’re failing to consider this:
• I already have no shame. When I’m out at a party, dance or club, people will often swear I’m drunk. When that happens, I have to think back to why they would assume that. And then it makes perfect sense — I’m usually the one showing the least inhibition, exhibiting a sparkly personality completely free of my daily shyness and coming off so goofy on the dance floor that obviously I’m not of right mind. But that’s called having fun, and if you’re not having fun, substances aren’t going to rectify that. And being able to turn back into rational Ian like a switch is a bonus when it’s time to go.
• I drank when I was a kid. I have many happy memories of sitting on my grandfather's lap and sipping on his Old Milwaukee. When I first saw “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” the scene where Clark shares his beer with Rusty (who chugs the whole thing) resonated with me. I eventually stopped sipping by 8 years old — but not before getting caught on video on Thanksgiving Day 1987 grabbing a Schlitz off the table, taking a huge swig and proudly brandishing it at the camera. I should point out that at no time do I recall ever feeling any sort of buzz. In fact,
• Only recently have I ever felt a buzz while drinking. This is because I am in better shape now than I was a decade ago. During my too-brief 7-year stay in college, I gained some flab weight. It wasn’t from beer, but many people thought it was (I sometimes played along because the truth was too depressing). I once drank three Bud Lights during a drinking game and felt nothing. Several years later in Missouri, where I was 20 pounds lighter, I had half a Budweiser and had to lie down. Today’s tolerance is somewhere in between, but does seem to go hand-in-inverse-hand with how healthy I am at the moment.
• Half the time, I have a hangover already. Even before I pursued strenuous activities, I was a ravenous water drinker. On the advice of my college cross country coach (who tells me she reads this blog every day — hi!), I began carrying around a bottle of water. While doing so kept me constantly hydrated, it also short-circuited my sense of thirst. To this day, I rarely, if ever, get thirsty, even when I go a long time without drinking water. Combine that with my love for swimming, biking and running in the illegal Louisiana heat, and I sometimes wind down the day with headaches. In those situations, I find myself reaching for all the V8 and water I can consume. It’s a full-on hangover, without all the awesome stories I can’t remember.
All of these reasons might explain why people like to get sloshed around me. I don’t blame them. Maybe from here on out I’ll just say I had too much last night.