The Alcohol Conundrum


If we are to believe the current narrative, there are many among us who have become a little too fond of Happy Hour. And it is not difficult to understand. Depending on our situations of course, time can plod along at a snail’s pace. Though we fill the hours with real and imaginary tasks and projects, there are really insufficient stimuli to keep our brains fully afloat. As Winter drags on, we feel the weight of inertia, the mass of lethargy, and our wits go sort of slack from inactivity. We could call it an extended lull.

The days blend together. Our excursions are mostly to excessively tame and unexciting places, at which we mask up and don’t stay long. And there’s not much new to see there anyway. Our diversions are few, and one must admit that the days do tend to rather stretch out in front of us.

Socially, our company is mostly limited to people we live with. These are people we have lived with, in many instances, for a long time. No doubt they certainly still have things to teach us, but sometimes we’d just rather not be taught. Additionally, it is likely we have already seen them naked, so there’s not much going on there by way of anticipation.

It’s the Pandemic, it’s the Season, it’s Politics. Some days are just freaking bleak.

But I will speak up for the group here and say that, as a rule, we go to great lengths to be ‘productive’. To have something at the end of the day that we can look back on and say: “There. That’s done!” Something to hang our hats on and feel good about. Sometimes this is effective, but more often it is not. ‘Productivity’, on a day-to-day basis, is hard to achieve.

In my case, attempts at productive output are most often blocked by the Techno Gods. Thusly, a good portion of my days devolve into some form of shouting match with digital technology. I input the same information (BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WORKED LAST TIME!!) and Siri or Google or Alexa or one or the other of those Talking Heads, faceless bitches all, lyrically tell me, but in so many words: “No, sorry Uncle Duke. You are an idiot and now must go back to where you started. Or rather, you will not even be allowed to go back to where you started. I changed the procedure just out of spite, and you are now being shuffled off to some other place. And just so you know, that place will be a dead end too. Have a nice day.”

The point is that most days do cry out for high spots. Something to shoot for, to look forward to. You know, the old ‘Quittin’ time’. The whistle at the end of the workday. The bell at the end of Last Period. The tape at the finish line. Not a shutdown necessarily, but a transition from an active mode to a more passive mode. In the middle of grey, winter skies, one begins to look for a bright spot. Something to divide day and night. A reward for giving the World your best shot.

As day rolls into night. I myself am ready to flatline a bit. Not to check out, but to ease my foot off the gas and blow out a few of those candles. I am ready to pronounce that, ‘yes, yes I have done the best I can today.’ And it does seem to me that my earnest endeavors deserve to be rewarded. Furthermore, it occurs to me that a little caucus with my old friend John Barleycorn would be just the thing.

And as I feel the winter darkness settling in, I distinctly hear the sound of ice cubes tinkling in a glass. Or that wonderful ‘thunk’ sound of a cork disengaged from a delightful bottle of wine. It is the Siren’s Call, of course. Happy Hour in America. I won’t say that I count the minutes, but I am sometimes VERY aware of the relationship between the big hand and the little hand.

As the sunlight wanes, I see the drinking lamp being lit. It is being lit by a cordial looking fellow in an elegant top hat. He smiles and winks at me. The lamp has a comforting, soft glow to it.

And I feel the subtle call of my liquor closet. Which is a cozy and familiar little nook. I long ago named him “Larry”--short for ‘Larry, the Liquor Closet’--as in, “I think I’ll go see how ‘Larry’ is doing this evening.” We have been intimates for years, and he knows my particular tastes and predilections and remains generally well stocked.

What’ll you have, Uncle Duke?” he asks affably.

Oh, the usual, Larry,” I say, suavely.

Coming right up, sir.” He is polite and accommodating. It is a brief, civilized moment in an often-disjointed day.

This is of course the allure of Happy Hour. I generally try to dress for the occasion and actually consider it a genteel and proper little ritual that brings Diana and I together for some quiet moments. She sometimes partakes and sometimes does not, but we put our phones away, sit in adjoining chairs and condense the day.

But it turns out America may be embracing the practice a little too vigorously. It may be getting a little out of hand. Stay-at-home and virtual Happy Hours are more and more common and not always confined to ‘Happy Hour’. Wine and liquor sales are out the roof. There are indicators out there of significant morning-after issues, family dysfunction, substantial weight gains and a whole host of other complications as the country tries to adjust to this extended semi-shutdown. Americans may be adopting Happy Hour with perhaps too much enthusiasm and not enough restraint. Which is for sure our M.O.

And I don’t know what to say about this. I certainly understand the allure as well as the associated dangers. And I will not lie. Often, I feel the urge for a refill. The first tasted so-o-o damn good and the second, it seems, would just round off all the edges and smooth everything out.

I hear Larry beckoning from the dining room: “Would you like another, sir?” he asks genially. And I am for sure tempted. But almost always I recognize it as The Siren singing. The Dark Angel calling. The Devil brewing me up some trouble, luring me toward that fabled Road to Perdition.

I certainly recognize the dangers inherent in all of this. Alcohol and I have done our dance over the years, and I understand its treachery. I am aware that families and lives have been lost and that they are particularly vulnerable these days. That there is an inherent risk, a dark side connected to spirits, both shaken and stirred. Any attempt to escape and be liberated by artificial means is always a failed attempt. The artificial light at the end of the tunnel gets extinguished pretty quick, and darkness closes hard.

I am fortunate that I have a Moderator-in-Charge. A Hall Proctor on-duty. Since you ask, his name is Bro. Leopold. He wears a long, black robe and is a no-nonsense arbiter who recognizes when my brain is being a trickster, gaming me, leading me astray, down an alley I will regret. He is my Protector, a stern taskmaster, and not at all shy about cutting me off and pulling my plug.

Shut up, Larry,” he barks. And Larry does.

It is a complicated relationship, eh. These fermented fruits and grains have been a means of bringing us together and helping us relax and celebrate for as long as we’ve been walking upright and making tools.

And there is something to be said for ritual. For set aside times and social bonding. Anything that can bring people together is sure a blessing. And there are those also who say there is value in altered states of consciousness. And I would not dismiss them.

But then there’s that other troubling side. The side that can be a curse. The side that can become a deadly swamp, something to crawl out from under.

I’m afraid you will find no easy answers here, my friends. Pay attention. Be safe out there.