Skip to contents
Funbag

There Are A Million Ways To Avoid Calling Yourself An Alcoholic

FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And preorder Drew’s next book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about drinking, the suburbs, nice tomatoes, carnival ride horror stories, and more.

I was on vacation last week and took my youngest kid to Funland, an amusement park along the boardwalk. He wanted to go on the Superflip, which is one of those carnie-style rides that hangs you upside down and spins you around until you vomit black acid. It’s like going on a rollercoaster, without any of the fun rollercoaster shit. So I told the boy to go ahead and ride the Superflip on his own while I watched from the ground. That’s the fun thing about small amusement parks. If you’re in line or just in the crowd, you’re the audience for everyone who’s up on the rides about to die. You can see, in their eyes, the moment they realize they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Now, here is what I saw from the ground as my son got in line.

Before his group’s turn on this little judas cradle, another group of riders got on. I watched the Superflip spin around and twist upside down when, suddenly, a phone came FLYING out of the ride and landed on the pavement with a horrifying crack. It landed right next to me and I handed it to the attendant, mostly so I could take credit for being the person who found it. The ride ended and this one girl, who couldn’t have been any older than my own 15-year-old daughter, came out of the exit already in tears. I saw the attendant hand her the phone, cracked screen and all, and this girl looked like she had just been told her parents were dead in a car accident. She was fucking DEVASTATED. All her friends gathered around her in an impromptu phone vigil. Her face was beet red and stayed that way. I don’t think she moved from her spot for another half hour. Her buddies might have called for a very tiny ambulance to come take the phone to Applecare. I don’t know. My son, who loved the ride and lost nothing on it, wanted to leave Funland before I could get any closure to this tragedy.

Now this was exactly how I would react if my phone pulled a Conor Clapton off a roid-addled Ferris wheel. But it didn’t happen to me, so it was pretty goddamn funny. I hope that girl finds love with a new phone one day. I also hope that her folks sprung for the protection plan when they bought it.

Speaking of protection plans, let’s give a round of applesauce to Diana Moskovitz for filling in so capably a week ago. Alas, you’re now stuck with me and my bullshit yet again. I see you’re already as crestfallen as that poor girl on the Superflip was. Hang tight and we’ll get through this together. Or, more accurately, I’ll be fine and will continue to get paid while you do whatever it is that you do.

Your letters!

Adam:

I’m 37, married, childless, and work a white collar job. Before I got to this point, I went to college and developed drinking habits that a reasonable (though probably also WASP-y) person would consider acceptable and maybe even occasionally cool. As I’ve aged, I have devoted fewer days of the week to bar hopping and to house parties, but still chart out some social time each month to go to a weekday happy hour, spend a few weekend hours at a brewery/winery, or crush a sixer of tallboys on a friend’s back deck. 

But no longer can my metabolism recover from my concerted attempts at self-poisoning on a few hours of rest, a shower, and a greasy meal. Rather, if I drink more than four in a night, I’m waking up to a workday with a foggy mind that coffee can’t fix and an inability to do work above 50% of my normal level. If I let loose on a weekend, I wake up with heartburn, an unwillingness to do the chores I promised I would do, and a low-level case of anxiety about the shit I have to do on Monday. I’ve done the nerd thing and researched vitamins that might tamp down tomorrow’s agony, but I should have just gone straight to the experts. That’s where you come in, Drew. Because you’ve experienced both sides of the drinking coin, tell me: When does age and circumstance begin to make drinking pathetic, or at least untenable? 

I’m an outlier here because I quit drinking in the wake of a horrific injury that essentially forced me to do so. If that injury hadn’t happened, I’d still be drinking right now. I know it. Back in 2018, I had absolutely no desire to quit drinking at all. I figured I would one day retire to a comfortable existence of being pickled in brown liquor eight hours a day. Drinking was gonna be my retirement. Not every drinker quits drinking—most don’t—and I still believe that some of them don’t really need to. My wife drinks, like, two beers a week. I don’t think she’s in any danger of falling off the cliff anytime soon.

Despite drinking WAY more than her, I figured I was in similarly excepted company among those who didn’t ever have to quit alcohol. I stopped drinking for eight months after my DUI arrest in 2009, and I stopped drinking and driving entirely after it. I figured that was proof enough that I had a handle on my shit. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I didn’t drink during the day. I didn’t rage out or turn into a serial groper when drunk. I wasn’t blacking out like I was back in my college days. No one staged an intervention for me. And I could power through any hangover so long as I had Advil and a shitload of water on me. I was drinking on my terms, baby.

But that wasn’t true at all. I still drank to excess every night I drank. I found reasons to drink around every corner, and I oriented my entire schedule around it. If I had to pick my kids up late from practice or a friend’s house late on a Friday night, I quietly bitched because it meant I couldn’t drink until, like, nine. Then I’d finish that errand and throw down two straight cocktails right when I got home, to make up for lost time. I took that preventive Advil every time I drank and my wife noticed. I wrote off entire Sundays if I’d been out the night before. I routinely lied to doctors about how much I drank because I didn’t want them to tell me to cut back. And I was getting fat again. These are not signs that you have control over your alcohol intake. Quite the contrary.

For a long time—in fact, until the moment I wrote this—I refused to brand myself as a recovering alcoholic. I had certain prerequisites in mind for the diagnosis, but those are all probably illusory. I just didn’t care to think of myself that way, even though there’s absolutely no shame in admitting it. Even though I got arrested, and went to AA, and centered my life around drinking, and may have suffered a near-fatal brain injury because of it. Whenever I told people I was an alkie, it was always in jest. But that was a defense mechanism. I was a legitimate alcoholic, which means that I still am. I’ve never said that before, but I think it’s time I stopped fucking around. I couldn’t imagine my life without drinking, which means I had no control over it. That’s an alcoholic.

Of course, now that I’ve quit booze, I very much CAN imagine life without it. If you want to point out that I’m in the green-and-sober crowd and that it harms my credibility here, by all means do so. But at least these days, I never have to take the preventive Advil, which my inner organs are likely grateful for. I never have to worry about feeling like shit when I wake up in the morning. Whatever yearning I had for booze when I first stopped has long since dissipated. I can hang out in bars without being self-conscious that I’m the only person there not boozing. When I was in New York a month ago, I ordered a virgin passion fruit cosmo at a bar and the bartender openly laughed at the order. I didn’t mind. It was a ludicrous order, but I still enjoyed my little mocktail all the same. Both my parents quit drinking after my accident and now they too feel a million times better. When you’re in the middle of drinking, it can be hard to envision a booze-free being possible, and certainly not enjoyable. Then, once you’re in that future, it becomes both possible and all too obvious. Of course I feel better. Who the fuck wouldn’t?

This is long way of answering Adam’s question, because there’s nothing writers love writing about more than their own drinking habits. How will you know when you’ve reached the point where your boozing is no longer fun and it’s more sad and debilitating? You won’t. Not even when you reach that point where you feel like this isn’t fun anymore but you still drink anyway. You’ll need fresh eyes for a proper assessment, and those can be hard to come by since mankind is a drinking species. All I know is that I haven’t barfed in over three years and that’s a streak that I’m more than happy to maintain. You shouldn’t be spewing used beer at age 44.

Jack:

Rice as a burrito ingredient is bullshit. It’s just filler that muffles the great flavors of all the other ingredients. I know I am right so you can just publish my hot take and not even need to comment on it.

David:

My favorite MLB team went to all-digital ticketing. You can’t even print out a PDF anymore. Ticket stubs were always a favorite cheap and easy souvenir for a game or concert. Do you lament the loss of ticket stubs or is this strictly “old man yelling at cloud” territory?

I don’t miss ticket stubs. I’m not gonna collect them in a goddamn album. They’re worthless. I used to save them but was never very diligent about it. I would throw one on my desk the morning after a concert, being like, “I should save this.” Then, over the course of weeks and months, it’d get buried under a pile of scanned forms, old greeting cards, scratch paper with forgotten passwords on them, and bills I forgot to pay. Then I’d uncover the stub on a clean-up day and throw it out. I already have memories and pictures of every concert and game I’ve been to, and those do the job. A little perforated stub I gotta keep track of does nothing to enhance them.

Now, going all-digital for everything clearly fucks over people who can’t afford smartphones, or the data plans that go with them. It’s the same way that ending cash transactions in the New York subway system fucks commuters over. If you have a smartphone, you can easily take for granted how many people don’t. And it’s not because they’re too old or too Amish to have one. According to the Pew Center, 15 percent of American adults don’t own a smartphone. That’s gotta be like, 7,000 million people. Give or take. Some of these people might wanna spend some of their tip pool money on a night out at the ballpark to watch their hometown pitcher strip down to his ballbag for a Spider Tack inspection, and they will be DENIED by the nefarious scanlords at the ballpark entrance.

This is happening everywhere. If you go to a restaurant, you need a phone to see the menu. If you board a plane, you need to show the QR code to the gate agent. Phones have become mandatory now, but they ain’t free. [Bernie voice] This is BECOSS … we have a society in which the one puhcent … believe … that they are the ONLY puhcent.

Be that as it may, though, ticket stubs are still garbage. You don’t need them. Throw them out. If you’re the type who simply must keep evidence around that you were THERE the night Lamar Jackson left a game to take a ferocious dump, you need to chill the fuck out. Most sports fans lie about that shit anyway, because it’s fun to.

HALFTIME!

Logan:

My wife and recently gave up our close-in apartment inside the beltway for a house in the northern Virginia suburbs to prepare for the arrival of our first kid. I was dreading what I thought was part of the suburban experience in interacting with my neighbors. But it’s turned out to be nothing like what I was expecting. There are nearly 200 houses in the development and only three of the neighbors have stopped by to introduce themselves, and one was there to complain about grass clippings that 50 mile an hour winds had blown onto his yard. No casseroles, no plates of cookies over inane small talk, just aging boomers ignoring us. Are my expectations warped from too much television? Should I expect more interaction when COVID is really over? Either way, I should totally blow more grass clippings on that guy’s yard, right? 

Suburbanites in Northern Virginia aren’t as friendly as you envisioned, you say?

I spent the bulk of my childhood living in the burbs, and I’ve lived in the D.C. burbs for 15 years now. Every pop-culture portrayal of the burbs remains stuck in the 1990s, like American Beauty never reached its end credits. So yeah, your expectations were warped from the get-go. If you thought you were wading into a surreal territory where everyone is superficially pleasant but is actually part of a secret society of child-molesting weirdoes, you’ve spent too much time watching the “Black Hole Sun” video. You should know better. You lived through the Trump administration. You know that keeping a mask up is a thing of the past now. In the modern burbs, there are no pies on your doorstep. Bob next door isn’t bending over backwards to invite you into his golf foursome. School redistricting meetings are racial holy war. And any murder committed two counties over IMMEDIATELY triggers angry demands for the local police department to buy more plastique explosives.

That’s all there from the start. Anyone who wants to do the John Waters thing and pretend the suburbs are still a haven of phony, uptight squares who fan themselves at the sight of a dimebag hasn’t lived in the burbs since the advent of color television. I get pissy whenever I see that shit in movies or on TV. And that’s not because I want to defend the honor of the suburbs, but because it’s such a hacky way for any writer or director to announce themselves as insightful and rebellious when they’re neither of those things. It’s a cliché, and it ignores all of the interesting ways that the suburbs have evolved since that one Arcade Fire album dropped. The food is better here now, but the drivers are all still psychopaths. There are less white people here now, but segregation within the burbs is still rampant. My wife and I are friends with our own neighbors, but none of it was instant. It took some effort. There’s no more Leave It To Beaver shit here. But there ARE 50,000 more cops than necessary, Teslas with BYE GAS vanity plates, and a lingering threat of realness in the Whole Foods parking lot. But the Thai food is SENSATIONAL.

Michael:

Would you live the full Tom Brady lifestyle for one year (no strawberries, kiss children on lips, etc) in exchange for one Super Bowl victory, as a rostered member of the team with a very minor role?

Yes.

Mike:

I feel guilty sometimes when I buy the $6 cans of nice tomatoes instead of the $3 cans of generic tomatoes at the grocery store. This step-up in cost feels like a wild extravagance for a can of tomatoes, even though I wouldn’t blink at spending an extra $3 in any other context. Why can’t I just feel fine about spending $6 on tomatoes the way I would about spending $12 for breadsticks with pizzas?

Oh have you stepped up to the fabled San Marzanos, which are phony but also still pretty good? Don’t feel bad about that shit. It just means you enjoy nicer things. I just started wearing nicer shirts every day, because I looked and felt better in them. This is the same reason I buy the same notorious cans of Cento maters that you buy. NO DIGITAL STUB NECESSARY. The dad in me scoffs at paying more than three bucks for anything, but I’ve been training myself to let those miserly ways go. My wife and I bought a nicer minivan than our old one, and that’s been a huge improvement. I started drinking Spindrift instead of normal seltzer, and now I feel like I own my own private island. And I buy the organic strawberries because they taste better. All that shit has been worth the money, and I don’t feel guilty about it. Just because you can find something for cheaper doesn’t mean you NEED to, nuh mean? You can live well. Given how shitty the world can be, treating yourself is one of the better forms of therapy out there.

Mike:

What’s the cutoff for celebrity? Like if someone says that the most famous person they ever met was while they were waiting in the security line at LAX and Lisa Kudrow was in front of them, okay yeah, she’s famous. But what about the guy who plays the barista on Friends, does he make the cut? I don’t know his name or remember the name of the character he played, but he had a speaking role in one of the biggest TV shows ever. What if we cut to commercial and bump into Flo from the Progressive ads or one of those two guys who’ve done those Sonic Drive-In commercials since I was in high school; are they “celebrities”? 

Excuse me but that barista’s name is Gunther and judging by his appearance at the Friends reunion, he’s most definitely a celebrity. People in the audience were SUPER horny for their Gunther fix. Actor James Michael Tyler—who plays Gunther—may be able to hit the grocery store unnoticed every so often. But when a Friends nut spots him out in the wild, he’s FUCKED. He’s gonna lose a solid 20 minutes of his existence dealing with that fan, and I guarantee he runs into those kinds of people more often than he prefers.

That’s the difference between being TV famous and being any other kind of famous. When you were a bit player on a TV show that just happened to be watched by 20 million people every week, you’re gonna be more famous than, like, David Brooks. It’s a lock. When millions of people can recognize you out on the street, and when they go home and tell their loved ones YO I JUST SAW WHATSHISFACE FROM FRIENDS, you’ve made the cutoff. You are famous. Just like Ernie Johnson. Just like Flo. Sometimes I wonder when Flo is walking around the airport if people who see her sigh and go “Oh Christ, you again?!,” but they don’t. They’re like, “Holy shit, Flo! I love your ads!” even when they’re lying. That’s the difference. That’s when you know you’re a star, baby.

Bob:

For the past five years I’ve lived in a townhome that lines up to a small park in the DC suburbs. Since last summer, the park has been overrun with people and dogs every evening from 4:30-7:30, with the owners letting their dogs run around and play and blow off steam while they do the same. Every day, day after day, I lose any expectation of quiet in my home during this “yappy hour” (as they call it) – despite the existence of AN ACTUAL DOG PARK a couple blocks away. Are the dog owners jerks for taking over the only green space in town and turning it into a dog park? Or am I a crotchety old 34-year-old man who needs to come to terms with this and realize that things will be different from here on out?

It’s the latter. Every dog owner thinks their dog is exempt from all the usual dog laws (leashes, curbing, not biting people, etc), and that mentality can rear its head in all kind of fun and EXTREMELY FUCKING OBNOXIOUS ways. However, you’re talking about dog owners congregating for a few hours in the late afternoon in the middle of a densely populated area. They’re not doing this at 2 a.m. while you’re trying to doze off at a cabin by the fucking lake. That would be rude as shit. If you still can’t tolerate them, I suggest you buy your own dog, bring it to yappy hour, and command it to eat all the other dogs.

Or you chill the fuck out.

Email of the week!

Brian:

I have an acquaintance who is almost universally liked by our friends and peer group. He is smart, kind, funny, and a joy to be around. But he is a pathological liar. He lies about small things, he lies about big things, so much so that it’s really hard to have a conversation with him at times. At a party one of our friends was really drunk and called him on these lies. Rather than defend them, he grew very somber and said, “you’re absolutely right”. What followed was about 20 minutes of him coming clean about his entire fabricated existence. His dad is a crystal meth addict, and used his tuition money to supplement his drug habit a couple of years ago. This made him incur debt, so he says he has graduated college when he has not. (The part with his dad and drugs is 100% true; our friend’s father arrested him and another friend’s mom is his probation officer. We live in a town of 600 people; no one has secrets). 

He went on to address other lies, pretending that he had a lavish lifestyle and was in the company of women. He mentioned that he frequently battles depression and anxiety, and pretending to us and on social media that his life is better than it is it’s sometimes all that keeps him from going to a dark place. He apologized profusely for this, but the last thing that he said before he left has stuck with me, to the point of haunting me since: “lying about my life is the only thing that has kept me from ending it”.

Again, I vouch for the quality of this guy. He is the type of person that will wake up in the middle of the night and come fix a flat. A friend’s mother got very sick with COVID and he stayed up all night making food to take to her. He sends homemade to all of our moms on Mother’s Day. But some people view the lies as a deal-breaker within our friend group, others do not. How would you address the situation? Would you continue to be friends with him or cut loose? And I guess my bigger question is, in a world where people constantly misrepresent themselves online, what do you make of someone who says that lying is literally the only thing keeping them alive?

I believe him, and I’d try to get him some help.