For someone who won't shut the hell up about how sad it is that so many people settle for less than what they really want, for what makes them happy, for what brings warmth to cold nights and what makes us shake with anticipation and makes us want to snatch the sun from the sky with our bare hands if only to preserve some fleeting ephemeral moment...
...I sure do drink a lot of Diet Dr. Pepper.
Nothing like your birthday to take an inventory of your hypocrisies.
But I really do think that's the main one. I was talking to Claire about hypocrisy earlier (she woke me up with a phone call at about 2:15 PM after I spent four hours watching King of the Hill after she, Caitie, and Wayne left at 3 AM) about a friend of ours that holds people to her own staunchly-held LDS standards, but takes no issue in going to dinner on Sundays, something that is clearly Not Cool in that context.
A few of my Mormon friends used to be Crazy Party Guys, but no longer are. Once every few months, though, they'll find themselves amongst a group of their old friends and will experience what some experts call revertigo, and end up getting plastered at the house of some 20-year-old girl who spells a normal name as if it were interesting (Ashleigh, Gennifurr, Suhmannthuh, etc.) and end up puking half a fifth of cheap vodka on her dog (Spotte, Phydeaux, etc.).
When our other Mormon friends hear about these bouts of behavioral regression, they generally aren't too pleased about such anecdotes. But they never get any crap from me. And I'm not saying this because I think I'm a better person than those more vocally-opposed friends are--I am better than them, but it's mostly because I have better taste in music/movies--but just because I think it's a lot easier to understand the appeal of something an evening like that if you've already been through it.
Claire mentioned something about how she's never really been tempted to drink. I can see that. I wasn't really ever "tempted" either, in that after-school special peer pressure kinda way. Nobody dangled alcohol in front of me like a carrot in front of a Loony Tunes character, nobody sat around telling me how boring I was for not drinking. My friends that didn't drink (Nic, Katie, Alex, etc.) didn't look down on people that did, and my friends that did drink (Naz, Anna, Kristina, etc.) didn't look down on people that didn't.
So when I was in Seattle back in September of 2007 during a bout of complete agnosticism and was given an amaretto sour (a sissy drink if there's ever been one), I drank it. And it was good. I didn't get drunk, I didn't order another, and I didn't instantly become the raging, obstinate alcoholic that so many Sunday School lessons--taught by people who think that Jesus only really drank grape juice because He followed the Word of Wisdom--taught me I would become.
And that's how the switch was always described to me. Sober to drunk, like garishly-painted 18-wheeler to Optimus Prime. A few clicks, some interior rearranging, and bam: self-destructive behavior. But that's not how it works. If it did work like that, then the whole world would've been burnt to a crisp by some guy drinking a Coors Light and hitting the Big Red Button, if not much, much sooner.
My beloved sister, brother-in-law, and badass, bespectacled nephew took me to Park City for my favorite food, the legen--wait for it--dary sweet potato cannelloni that has come to represent sooooo many things beyond just Americanized pseudoItalian food. The dish is served exclusively at the Park City Red Rock brewpub, which, coincidentally, also happens to be home to an equally exclusive black lager, my favorite beer. But last night, as my Twitter feed indicated (which you'd know if you followed me, you neglectful bastards), I got no black lager. Or other beer. No honey blonde, no hefeweizen, no oatmeal stout, no nut brown, no amber ale, no German pilsner. Nothing. Beerless.
And in a way, that made me feel the slightest twinge of something I can only think to call sadness. I miss beer. I've talked to some recovering alcoholics (and tried to recreate their stories) who have talked about their old 80-proof paramours as though they had gotten out of a romantic relationship whose volume of highs was matched only by the depths and frequency of the lows. They have that emptiness in their eyes when they talk about it, like there's a London Dry Gin-shaped hole in their lives, like amputees that feel the involuntary twitchings of phantom limbs. And that's not nearly as strongly as I feel about it, but jeez, there's a reason people drink beer, and not just because it gets you drunk.
I drank beer because it's good. It tastes like liquid bread and it fills you up and coats in the inside of your stomach like those Pepto commercials and porter has this hint of espresso and taste of crisp toast and it's cold on your lips and warm down your throat and invigorating on a hot day and comforting on a cold night. And like I told Claire, maybe beer objectively smells gross, but to me, if a friend is sipping at a Boddington's or an IPA or something with an actual aroma to it, I don't smell the beer, I smell the taste. It fires neurons whose strength always surprises me. That taste is so directly hard-wired into my brain now that it's hard to not try and manufacture an air-freshener to help me replicate it from my rearview mirror.
But today was the first birthday in two years where I haven't woken up with a hangover. Last Christmas was the first in two years where I haven't risen from a wavepool of self-loathing and re-entered the waking world with a throbbing headache and a chip on my shoulder. Last Thanksgiving was the first in two years that wasn't capped off with a marathon of Clint Eastwood and single malt.
Last night, after getting back to Provo, I put on my new suit for the first time, joined some old friends (and a handful of new ones) at Rice King for a Chinese New Years celebration, was sung to, drank a Dr. Pepper, went to Claire's show (and saw the surprisingly good Book on Tapeworm, although the singer, talented though he was, swayed side-to-side too much for my taste), went with Claire to say hi to Jessica, got to meet (and pet) Max, ate some ice cream, got the best birthday present in a long time from Caitie (a framed poster of Lucinda Williams, the hottest woman to have ever lived), ate some cake, watched six episodes of How I Met Your Mother, drank some Coke, and watched King of the Hill until 7 AM.
Some people talk about alcohol like a numbing agent. That word "numbing." I hate that word. Alcohol doesn't "numb" anything. It doesn't make you forget whatever pain you might be feeling, just like it doesn't make you forget whatever good you're feeling. If it did, why would people celebrate with alcohol? No, it's different than that. A strong buzz after a bottle of wine or a few gin and tonics feels like you're seeing things in the third person. You're still you, but you're living your life over your own shoulder. There's a little bit of distance between you and what you're feeling. And sometimes, that makes the good things better and the bad things a little easier, like they're happening to someone else.
But last night, I didn't once wish that I was elsewhere, sipping at a gimlet or a Manhattan. I was at home with people I love, watching a show that makes me smile more than Christmas, eating delivered birthday cake.
The last few years have been--well, they've been pretty shitty. I've had several runs of bad luck that I didn't deserve (in addition to a few that I probably did). The last few weeks, for any number of reasons, have been pretty all over the place, and I wasn't looking forward to today (or Saturday, Feb. 13th, the official Mormons In Provo Substitution Valentine's Day).
A lot of plans had been dashed and today isn't going to be what I thought it would a week, a month, three months, six months, a year ago. I'm a man doomed to living his life in anticipation of the future, and everything in my brain is an alternative timeline, a CouldBeShouldBeMightBe that exists solely under the thumb of the reality in which it has been constructed. And that's hard sometimes. It's a sure way to set yourself up for failure.
But occasionally, when you least expect it, when your Hypothetical Future Scenario ends up fails to come to fruition, the reality of what actually occurs catches you off-guard. Last January, I had constructed a potential spring break, the dissolution of which crushed me, but the reality ended up greatly surpassing even what my wild imagination was able to construct. Last June, I had a New Years Eve in mind that didn't come to pass, but it couldn't have been as perfect--and I don't use that word lightly--as the one with which I was blessed.
And this year, my birthday didn't involve any spontaneous road trips, profound moments of self-actualization, or tragically romantic accidents. And it may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I'll be damned if I'm not overwhelmingly grateful for the way you've all made me feel today.
Thank you, in chronological order (and at the time of this writing, when it's only 3:45 PM), to Kelly/Nate/Emery, Haley, Mindy, Whit, Tess, Rachelle, Kaley, Caitie, Claire/Wayne, Liz, Ernie, and Nic.
I'm full of a lot of love right now. And it's all yours.
Off I go to split the atom.