Learning to leave the party early | AspenTimes.com

Learning to leave the party early

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

To tell the truth, I miss the drinking and the running around. When you’re dialed into that kind of lifestyle, there isn’t much thinking about what to do on weekends, or weeknights, either. One thing’s for sure, though, I never met a hangover I liked, and I’d rather crawl for miles down a wind-scoured ridge in 20-below-zero weather than face another hangover, but who wouldn’t?

I grew up bumming a sip of beer from anyone who’d cooperate, which allowed me to cultivate a taste for hops and barley. About when I was in junior high school, I discovered my great-uncle Tom’s stash of chokecherry wine in a bathroom closet and learned to chug that “Dago Red” straight from the bottle, just like any number of “chugaholics” I’d seen in the movies.

As a sophomore in high school ” and I’m not bragging ” I set the then Aspen High school high-jump record at a meet in Delta with a hangover, something I’m not really proud of, and then went on to place second or third at the state championships, abstemiously. The “sobering” thought to my young mind (if one can use such a word in an essay about drinking) was that it appeared possible to do anything, in any condition.

Going out drinking is similar to writing a column. Once you get started, you can’t be totally certain of where you’ll end up. A vow to have only a couple at the Tavern after work could likely find you at Maroon Lake in the moon glow at 3 a.m., skinny-dipping and shivering in the water as you clutch a woman whose name you’ll never remember, if you ever knew it. Romantic? Give me a break.

There were signs along the way that I was losing the grip on my party-boy reputation. The unopened 12-packs of Budweiser I’d bring back from a weekend retreat at my cabin were one of the most troubling signs, but there were others. A broken heart used to be good reason to salve my pain with smooth-sipping whiskey, but the last time I felt that kind of anguish, I screwed the lid down tight on the jug and haven’t looked back, although I know precisely where it is.

I didn’t exactly quit drinking. I just sort of walked away from it. Fortunately, too, I reckon. There was no hitting bottom, no epiphany of any significance, no dark depressions or stupid acts of potentially life-ending proportions. There were all of those things, to be sure, but they weren’t the motivation behind my drinking cessation. At least not that I can remember.

I quit smoking about 10 years ago, and, as much as I loved sucking up nicotine, I knew full well if I ever found myself in a smoke-filled bar with too much whiskey in my belly, the demon-driven quest for oral gratification would overtake my mind and I’d be back to square one. As much as I liked to drink, I hated smoking even more, so I enthusiastically gave up the mind-altering alcohol.

Really, now that I’ve thought about it, I don’t miss the drinking a damned bit, although it certainly can be beneficial in helping lubricate the sometimes awkward and bashful wheels of a fledgling romance. But then too much lube can spoil the intricacies of almost any assignation; and, besides, any woman who would curl up with me is likely more articulate than I could ever hope to manage, so why would I want to muck up a good conversation with the ramblings of a slurred and besotted brain?