Monday, November 26, 2007

Jeff's Birthday and the Technicolor Yawn

Over the weekend, I had another opportunity to face my mortality.

The week previous saw several very pleasant Thanksgiving meals with my family and Amy’s and an unpaid day off from work where I was able to clean out my email and start work on the special Splatter Movie DVD teaser for Sirens of Cinema subscribers. Also worked on proofing some of the pages for the new issue due out in December. All in all, a good day.

Saturday we attempted to help Amy’s sister Liz move into their new place but situations prevented that—nothing on our end, oddly, but everyone else’s, including the woman who was moving out of the new place. But the climax of the day was the surprise party for your friend and mine, Jeff Waltrowski. This party, a landmark celebration to mark Jeff’s 30th year on Earth, has been in preparation for almost two months, thanks to his girlfriend, Brittney, and Amy and Tara assisting. In a whirlwind of stress and Machiavellian co-ordination, the plan was to tell Jeff that we were meeting for dinner at a bar in Oakland, while, in reality, maneuvering him to pick Brittney up at her house in Mt. Lebanon, where all of his friends would be crouching in the dark, waiting to yell surprise and, hopefully, induce in Jeff a comedy-rich heart attack.

My job, which was thrust upon me by circumstance, was derailing any other plans Jeff may have made for Saturday, mostly involving preparations for his upcoming movie, Conscience. An elaborate green-screen SF extravaganza, Jeff had planned, for Saturday, a test shoot with his partner Steve Tolin (Strange Girls), his DP Jeff Garton, and their lead actor, Jason McCune. I spent a couple of days convincing him to move the shoot either earlier in the day or making sure he’d cut it early enough in the day to keep the schedule on board. Then he decided it might be better to move the shoot to the following day. So I spent the next couple of days convincing him that he was going to be far too hung over to shoot anything, for we would be doing shots well into the wee hours of the morning. That much, of course, I had planned to bring to fruition.

Meanwhile, during all of this, Amy, Brittney and Tara concentrated on contacting all of Jeff’s friends and getting them directions to Brittney’s house. Some of these guests including out-of-town folks, including his longtime friend, Carly, who lived in Florida and was proving to be increasingly difficult to get ahold of. Jeff, for his part, was making things even more difficult by inviting these same friends to the Oakland bar—including people he just ran into on the street. At this point, I became convinced that Jeff knew what was happening and was just trying to make life miserable for the girls.

Amy and I got over to Brittney’s about 6:00 – Jeff was due over at 7:00. Tara, Dave (who did the make-up and photography for the Feast of Flesh cover, respectively) and artist Jacob Ross were already there, putting up the decorations for the party. A running gag amongst the Hero Headquarters/Happy Cloud clan is that Jeff attempts to win every argument by saying “Oh yeah? I have more Picards than you!” referring to his vast Star Trek action figure collection. It’s as good an argument-ender as any, really. Following this Jeff-logic, Tara printed up 30 images of Patrick Stewart with numerous Jean-Luc Picard paraphrases to commemorate this memorial event. I suggested everyone has to salute one of the posters and do a shot with Patrick Stewart. When everyone whole-heartedly agreed with this suggestion, I believe I was being humored.

The night progressed dangerously. I mixed myself a rum and coke, determined to take things slowly. Tara mixed duplicate drinks for Amy and Brittney, not taking into account that everyone has my tolerance for RUM! and coke. Rather than let the drinks go to waste, I took them.

Fifteen minutes later, they were ingested because, quite frankly, I’m an idiot.

And I didn’t get any smarter as the night progressed.

At any rate, we were all aware that anything could have gone wrong during the last few months. That no one had come right up to Jeff and said “What time is your surprise party?” was, in point of fact, a miracle. We had all the cars hidden in the dead end street around the corner, the house was dark, we were ready for the GOH’s arrival. As the rum began to hit me, hard, I made the suggestion that as soon as Jeff got there, we hurried him into the darkness, told him to be quiet and made him wait with us, crouching in the dark, for another half hour, just to see what he’d do.

It was a neck-and-neck race, as he was pulling into the driveway just as Ron and Stacy (also A Feast of Flesh) were finding a place to park. Jeff beat them to the door and didn’t see them. Brittney let him in, turned on the lights—we shouted “Surprise!”

And Jeff just gave us a look like, “Well, why wouldn’t you all be here?”

So, thus, the anti-climax had arrived right with him. I knew he’d been suspicious, but I didn’t think he’d figured it out. I’d underestimated Jeff again. (Just as we had when he was studying long division in high school.)

More guests began to trickle in as the evening wore on. Stacy walked in with the announcement, “See? I came to your party!”—referring to Jeff’s blowing her off for her Halloween party the month before (the lame excuse about “check points” between her house and his, when really, all he wanted to do was stay home and do other things… like Brittney). Aaron and Nikki showed a little later, and then his lead actor, Jason McCune, showed about 9:00. By this time, my head was swimming, even though I’d stopped drinking and was limiting myself to straight coke. Except that suddenly, there was a “Chow Yun-Fat” in my hand. A “Chow Yun-Fat” is the name he gave the Tequila and Ginger-Ale concoction Chow drinks in Hard Boiled. If you like Tequila, it’s a great drink. If you don’t, it tastes exactly the way it sounds. We were all doing them to toast Jeff.

I will refer you to my earlier blog where I explain why I don’t mix when I drink. If I stick with rum, I’m the happiest guy on Earth and even if I overshoot my Irish Buzz, I can usually get back to that point with some patience and revelry. Introducing other drinks into my system, particularly vodka, makes me depressed. Introducing beer or hops-based drinks after rum makes me very tired and head-achy. I had no experience with Tequila on top of rum, so it wasn’t until I had downed the horrible thing that I realized that this was the equivalent of Red Kryptonite. What the hell would it do?

Oddly enough, all it did was make me drunker. And I was aware of this, so I returned to water and coke and worked to stave off getting sick. And a few minutes later, I had forgotten that not getting sick was the ultimate goal. In fact, things started to get completely hazy. In fact, I’d magically forgotten why the hell I was even there! Apparently, as things were pieced together for me the next day, I’d had several in-depth conversations with multiple members of the party. The topics: “Is Ron gay and it’s okay if he is”, “Why Painmaker, our next project, will be the pinnacle of human-based art”, “Why Brittney should not be allowed to wear that many colors in one shirt at the same time”, “Why Tara should be placed in an empty room devoid of breakables”, and, of course, “Why Jeff is the luckiest guy on the planet with so many people who love him and why I am a piece of shit in comparison”.

None of these conversations, however, live in my memory.

However, by my count, I had only three rum-and-cokes and one “Chow Yun-Fat”. I was aware I’d bypassed the Irish Buzz and was officially hammered. So, of course, reasoning was not something I was capable of.

Tara, however, gave me one more piece of vital information the next day, as I attempted to do everyday things like walk and speak and function like a carbon-based life form.

Apparently, another round was mixed for people. What I was given was not a rum and coke. I won’t mention names at this point, but I know who mixed this, and when. Why is another matter. It was, in point of fact—and I actually do have a dim recollection of this now—a mixture of rum, coke, Tequilla, peppermint Schnapps, vodka and—the motherfucker—maple syrup.

Why the person did this is a mystery. In his defense, “Let’s fuck with the drunkest guy in the room” is a royally fun game, and I enjoy a good gag even when I’m the butt of it. Apparently, again, Tara tried to stop him from doing this, but it was too late. I had downed it in a single swallow and…

That’s all I remember. Around 4am I found myself out at our car, dressed more or less in pajamas—no coat, but shoes, at least—getting our home pillows out of the trunk and finding my way, successfully, back to Brittney’s guest room. Which, at that point, I swear I’d never laid eyes on before. I was, however, still very drunk. So I downed another full glass of water and figured I’d be run down, but no worse for wear in the morning.

And I wasn’t. Until I sat up. The wave of sickness that washed over me announced that I did, indeed, have alcohol poisoning. Hangover cures like grease and sugar would likely take care of it for the most part, but I was in for a terrible day.

At this point, I didn’t remember the McCune concoction. I remember him handing me something towards the end of the night, with a supercilious grin on his face, but I didn’t remember the aftermath. This wasn’t a black out; images were coming back, but not conversations. I could see myself talking to people, but not what I was saying. So a day of making apology phone calls was obviously on the itinerary.

Leaving Brittney’s was a challenge. I felt slightly better in the cold air but every step was an effort. There’s an awesome greasy spoon in Bloomfield, so we headed there for breakfast. I was sick immediately upon exiting the car, then again in the rest room of the restaurant. Which left me embarrassed but, at least, hungry enough to eat.

Twenty minutes into our hour-long trek home, the sickness hit me like a hammer. We were driving with the windows open so that I could cool off my face and stave off being ill.

It didn’t work.

Remember the “Mr. Creosote” sketch in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life?

It was a lot like that.

The last time I’d ever thrown up in a moving car, I was six years old. Sun poisoning from an ill-fated trip to Lake Erie.

I’ve experienced ptomaine poisoning, bad reactions to medication, multiple bouts of stomach flu and Montezuma’s Revenge, not to mention acute alcohol poisoning in my earlier, stupider days. But I’d always managed to get the car door open in time. This bout came without warning. And we were still half an hour away from home without a gas station or rest stop along the way.

Uncomfortable, sick and humiliated, I spent the next hour helping Amy clean up the passenger side of the car. And, of course, I’d left the keys in the ignition all night, so we woke up to a dead battery this morning.

I’d called Tara in the morning to yell at her, but it was more good natured than angry. Really, it was no one’s fault but my own. Until she told me about the Mystery Concoction.

Again, “Fuck with the Drunk Guy” is a fun game. I’ve played it. I’ve been the object of it. But usually, the other parties were drunk too. I doubt harm was meant by it and there’s no way he could have known about my Red Kryptonite drinking condition.

I love partying with my friends. I like the safe, affectionate atmosphere. I enjoy getting together and drink and watch bad movies. And while I really, really enjoy getting drunk with my best friends, I’m also not a complete idiot. I don’t intentionally drink to the point where I’m falling down. And since October’s Wasteland, I intentionally avoid mixing my alcohol. Had I been conscious of what was in that glass, I never would have thrown it back. I don’t have anything to prove and don’t give a shit about that “ah you coward, drink that!” mentality. I don’t embarrass easily. And I’m not a fifteen-year-old-kid experimenting with alcohol consumption.

As sick as I was yesterday, unable to do anything more than lie on the couch and lick my proverbial wounds, I was more angry than anything else. Angry at myself, primarily, for being stupid enough to drink a foreign substance handed to me by a guy I didn’t know. Again.

I’m not “swearing off alcohol”. And I can’t very well swear off stupidity. I am, however, pledging allegiance to moderation because I refuse to ever feel that way again through my own idiocy. This isn’t one of those “I will never do that again” empty and hollow morning-after pledges. This is one of those “You will not do that to yourself again” situations. And while it’s real tempting to blame the unknown integer in the party equation, I didn’t have to knock that last drink back. I’m going to work pretty fucking hard to make sure that I never allow myself to get that bad ever again.

(… But the baseball game went well.)

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