my very first hangover

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hangovers, like girlfriends, acquire a certain luster as they fade into the distant past. A patina of romantic daring begins to dress up the grim facts of the matter; an invigorating sense of risk-taking adventure overtakes the more painful regrets. “Boy, I really tested the limits with that one!” you may hear yourself say. Eventually, the tenuous border between fact and fantasy dissolves altogether. For those of us not gifted athletically, there is little to boast about when recalling the days of our youth, so we turn to the creation of epic myths. What better material than tales of wretched excess?

My first hangover remains a bit of a memory blur, perhaps because at the time I was just five years old. A casual, Saturday afternoon cocktail party was winding down, the guests scattered across a “Leave It To Beaver”-ish living room, in my parents’ modest frame house on Long Island. The refreshments would have included bowls of pretzels and mixed nuts, along with my mother’s famous cheese log, which more closely resembled a cheese pancake, sprinkled with chopped pistachios. The drinks were probably potent versions of the popular favorites — dry martinis, gin and tonics, maybe rum and coke for the ladies.

I was in the early days of my training as kitchen help, assigned the task of clearing glasses. (Younger readers note: back in ancient days, children were expected to contribute labor to the household and, lacking proper legal counsel, frequently complied). Apparently, along with collecting the glasses, I made it my business to finish off their watery contents. (This was long before the concept of spitting had entered my consciousness.) In any event, after an unspecified number of glasses had been, uh, cleared, I began wobbling noticeably, and shortly thereafter passed out.

I wish I could report to you on those first, fleeting, precious impressions of my virgin hangover, upon awakening the following morning. Did I attempt to choke down my glass of milk with a little “hair of the dog” sidecar? Did I wobble gamely to my tricycle and set about a hard day of bug hunting with my buddy Dickie Gallo, whose father owned a fire truck and whose hedge contained a seemingly limitless supply of Japanese beetles? Or did I just groan softly and let nature take its course?

Can’t know. My mother, who first spotted me wobbling sink-ward with tumbler in hand, recalls that “you just seemed a little different; your balance wasn’t quite normal and you had this sort of funny grin on your face.” In any event, the seeds of a lifelong aversion to excess had been planted. It was many years (ok, and a couple more hangovers) later that I began investigating cures.

Recipes for hangover cures can be traced back at least as far as the ancient Greeks (one source cites fried canary as their pre-eminent remedy), but fall into three categories; basically before, during and after. First of all (“Hear him, hear him!”) don’t get drunk. The way you do this is a) eat lots of food, b) drink lots of water and c) limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages. Duh!

Historical footnote: it was the Vicomte de Mauduit (author of “The Vicomte in the Kitchen”) who first identified the five stages of intoxication: jocose, bellicose, lachrymose, comatose and morotose. “The first two,” wrote the Vicomte, “are not only respectable, but very, very nice; the third not quite so respectable and not quite so nice; the fourth not respectable at all, and not a bit nice. As for the fifth, well, it finishes one.”

Most “cures” focus on treating the dismal after-effects of stage four (stage five is pretty well self-ministering). At this point your head hurts at a cellular level. You feel weak and queasy, skin clammy and senses exceptionally attuned to sound and light. You are dehydrated beyond belief, barely able to limp into the kitchen to attempt a remedy. And what fabulous remedies you have to choose from! There are hundreds available in books and online, most featuring some bizarre combination of raw eggs, hot sauce, vinegar, lemon, honey and milk.

Etymological note: there are endless synonyms for drunkenness, but virtually nothing that can replace the word hangover. As a descriptive noun it has few, if any peers. So once you have guzzled, imbibed, nipped, sipped, tippled and quaffed; in other words, after it is already too late to avoid becoming besotted, crapulous, pickled, plastered, smashed, sodden, sotted or swacked; and you find that you are inevitably headed for a systemic meltdown on the unhappy occasion of your awakening the following day; your panicked brain, in a last gasp effort to secure for itself a pain-free future, may start blinking the word “HANGOVER” in bold, neon-red relief, attempting to attract what smidgen of consciousness remains on duty.

Apart from the preventive measures (now moot), this is where the most damage prevention can be done. Take this list and post it to your fridge!

1) Note to Self: Drink water. Lots and lots. NOW!
2) Do not take aspirin or headache medication until morning (your liver will be grateful).
3) Replenish vitamins and electrolytes (think Gatorade).
4) Check to see if there happens to be any extract of milk thistle handy (supposedly it soothes the stomach).
5) In the morning: More water! Avoid tea or coffee, which are diuretics. Now you can take your aspirin, and try some stomach-coating foods.
6) Massage your big toe (relieves headache, really!).
7) Post Memo to Self: “Next time eat more cheese log, drink more water.”


Anonymous said...

What do I take for the old girlfriend? :)

Anonymous said...

You lookin like a nasty beer drinker in that photo....

Joe Vinikow said...

Nice story. Maybe there's a new cocktail in there somewhere. The "Hot Toddler", perhaps?

On hangovers themselves, three observations; the first two preventive, the third a palliative.

-A glass of water with every drink.

-Continuous light grazing, the more protein the better.

-The morning after, a brisk walk or run. (Cycling to be avoided until gyroscopic abilities are restored.)

There's some actual science behind #3, as the alcohol must be metabolized from the body, so a sustained period of increased respiration most likely remains the most effective means of shortening hangover symptoms.

Short of Vicomte #5, that is...

And a very Happy New Year to all. May the bubbles remain in your glass, not in your head.


Anonymous said...

A Review By Courtney Linn (editor of Parents Magazine) of "My First Hangover":

Gregutt's hangover cure advice is sound and the delivery lively and entertaining - recalling the comedic voices of Ring Lardner, James Thurber and E.B. White. The article even poses larger, philosophical questions for the Post-Post Modern Parent: "How to Get Your Teenage Daughters to Lift a Finger Around the House?" Gregutt holds out little hope. In the end, we're left emptying the glasses of wine and emptying the dishwasher.

Riedel Wine Glasses said...

I'm guessing the most important thing is to drink water... Of course, I have to offer my own "remedy": Drink a little more in the morning. Perhaps a beer or a 12 ounce glass of rum and coke (easy on the rum). Not sure if it is really effective at "curing" a hangover but you can make your mind believe anything. Oh... And 5!!.. You were 5 when you had your first hangover!?!... Insane!

Post a Comment

Your comment is awaiting moderation and will be posted ASAP. Thanks!