Archive for November, 2022

Drinking out of Other People

I played rugby back in college about 249 years ago. And if my foggy recollection is correct, we had a bit of a drinking problem. There were drinking games and there were drinking songs. There was something of a drinking Olympics, but I don’t remember who won. Or if there was a winner. Or if this actually happened.

Somewhere along these times, we ended up in possession of a prosthetic leg. It was from the knee down. And to whom it had once been attached to was never fully discussed, but as no angry person ever hobbled after us, I’m guessing it was just one of things you gather from either someone’s basement or attic. You know how it is. Old books, a few army medals, the Declaration of Independence, someone’s leg.

We took to drinking out of this leg after games. I suppose we did this because it seemed like a badass thing to do and we were, after all, rugby players, so we should do badass things. What I did not know is that we were more or less carrying on a 15,000 year old tradition of drinking out of other people’s body parts.

People have been drinking out of each other for 15,000 years. Gough’s Cave in England serves as the first archaeological evidence of this practice. While it’s not exactly known why whoever was around at that time did that, it’s clear it happened. A skull was found with scrapes in its bowl and smoothed out edges for consumption without cutting yourself.

Though the practice is attributed to the Vikings, and seems to slip in easily to explain the cheers ‘Skol!’ it seems that the Vikings were about the only people not doing this. The Chinese date this practice back to 453 BC, when the winners of the Battle of Jinyang made their enemies’ skulls into winecups. The ancient Xiongnu of (present-day) Mongolia did it too. Laoshang killed the king of the Yuezhi around 162 BC, and in accordance with their tradition, ‘made a drinking cup out of his skull’. Later, they would drink blood out of it with Chinese ambassadors. I’d like to call your attention to ‘in accordance with tradition’ a phrase which suggests this had been done for a long time. Ancient Mongolia sounds like a fun place to visit.

In Buddhist tantric and Hindu tantric rituals in India and Tibet people drink from skulls but they never belonged to an enemy. In fact, the skull’s previous owner doesn’t matter much. To them. I’m guessing the former owner would have two cents to add to its use.  

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Life on Mars

It’s Monday morning. I have my normal morning, which involves waking up at 5 and working before work. Today, I am finishing an article for a kids’ magazine about what living on Mars would be like. I get caught up editing a few sections and before I know it, it’s time to walk out the door. I do with a glum demeanor on my mug.

I know, I know. Monday. Case of the Mondays! But that’s not it. I don’t mind Monday. I don’t like Sunday. What Monday has going for it, is that it’s not before the week, it’s during the week. This logic relies on the understanding that no matter how unpleasant a Monday morning can be (and this one is epically bad, with freezing rain and skies so gray they look like the side of a steel ship), at least you’re getting the thing over with.

A woman slips in the mud in front of me and I don’t even smirk. Madness. Three boys do a routine reminiscent of the three stooges. Not a grin. It’s clear – I’m depressed. It’s no doubt the article I’m writing. What would life on Mars really be like?

When I  was a kid as far as I knew, actually living on Mars was the domain of sci-fi writers and Marvin the Martian. It was oft-depicted taking place in huge bubbles with three moons in the background. A happy family in sleek Martian spacesuits stood smiling at their nice red lawn which was in front of a decidedly futuristic house. I figured it wouldn’t be bad. I liked the moon. Now I’d have three.

But times have ushered in the actual discussion of colonizing Mars. And suddenly Mars lost its sci-fi allure and became a place that was 300 million miles away and where I couldn’t get a decent cheesesteak.

When I began writing the article, this vision grew far worse still. We’d have to live underground in lava tubes or caves. Our houses would have to be thick protective shells to keep us safe from cosmic radiation. The atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s, so we’d have to wear spacesuits all the time. All the time! What if we had to poop? By the time I get to Mars, I’ll likely be in my 70s and I feel like pooping is going to be both a daily priority and necessity. Amazingly, it gets worse. Mars only has 38% of Earth’s gravity, so we wouldn’t be able to move very fast. Since I’ll be in my 70s that’ll be fine with me, but I’ll miss watching baseball and football. I’m sure Martian supervisors will introduce something like slow baseball and anti-gravity football and then try to sell us on it, but it won’t be the same. And I’ll be the old man bemoaning the ‘real’ sports of ‘my day.’ And then I’ll crap in my suit.

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The Club

I have recently been reminiscing about Little League. We played at a local set of fields at a community owned park called Hilltop A.A. Aside from having the most dangerous left hand turn in all of Pennsylvania, Hilltop is the home for a number of memories for me – hitting a solid liner to the outfield, sliding into third in deep thick red-brown dirt. Playing shortstop, enjoying my first grounder to the scrotum, then my second, then third, then my deep wonderment about why I would play a game so damaging to my chances of procreation. There was a concession stand that I can smell to this day – the warm scent of crinkle fries and hotdogs and microwaved hamburgers with scalding hot cheese. The red ketchup squeeze bottles. It was great.

Despite my utter joy at these memories there is one that even does more to tweak my hippocampus. When the games were over, the kids would go home with the moms and the dads would go into the bar and have a few beers. Occasionally we kids were sent to deliver messages that would remain obscure until we were old enough to crack them “Tell your father, the couch,” or “Tell Dad, 9 at the latest and tell him that 9 doesn’t mean 10,” or “No shots.” We would go and deliver our messages, recounting them on fingers so as not to forget. It didn’t matter, though, as we would have delivered radium if it brought into the bar where the dad’s were. Sancto sanctorum – the club.

The club smelled of sweet staleness and cigarette smoke; there was enough flannel in the room to put on a travelling revival tour of Braveheart. But there was something elite about it. We drew out our messages as our eyes scanned the room and took in as much as possible. This Buds for You. Captain Morgan. Grab a Heinie. Tequila Night. Eventually our time ran out with our drawn-out syllables, and we were shuffled out the door with a “thanks buddy” and a few snickers and jokes we couldn’t understand.

Of course the draw was the club. The drinking club. The place where us kids weren’t allowed. Like sneaking to the top of the steps to lie in our pajamas and listen to our parents’ parties. There was such a thrill to be let in on the secret world of adults, and in some way we didn’t understand, this was especially true when they were drinking.

It’s in these last days that I have been thinking about this. For the substack I write – Hammered History – I try to link alcohol to a historical event. On November 10 1775 the United States Marine Corps was founded in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern by Samuel Nicholas. I expected to be writing a post on the Marines and the importance of pubs throughout history. In my research, however, I found that more was coming out about societies of drinkers, secret, hedonistic, and ancient.

The Dionysus Club in ancient Greece and the Bacchanalia in Ancient Rome were ways for (often, but not always) thirsty members of society to try to reach the gods by getting shitcanned on wine. They also believed in the level of intoxication they reached they were able to speak to the dead, communicate with animals, and tear humans to pieces, and I for one only have to say: been there, done that. Little did I know, that in college I was in a Dionysus Club of my own, membership – me. Further on the British Gentlemen’s clubs allowed men not only a chance to be in a place where their kids and wife weren’t, but also to let down their (very short) hair. In these places it was common to play games, tell stories, and to gossip – an activity looked down upon nowadays, but which then showed you to be a man in standing. The more information one had, the more of a mover and shaker he was. These clubs were a place men could free themselves from the strict rules of being a “gentleman.” Though they didn’t seem to have trouble doing that in boarding schools.

Through the years there are so many more clubs. And in many veins. Nineteenth century book clubs were mostly an excuse for people to get drunk, taking part in a book discussion was secondary – they didn’t have enough copies for everyone anyway(it was the 1800s). The Ancient and Honorable Order of the E Clampus Vitus in order to make fun of stuffy British men’s clubs. Mark Twain was a chartered member, their motto: Credo Quia Absurdum. The Hollywood Vampires Club made no qualms and made no move to hide their intent, as they were a celebrity drinking club in the 1970s. Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Micky Dolenz and Harry Nilsson rank among the club’s primary members. John Lennon, John Belushi, and a slew of other musically inclined booze hounds listed as members too. Before admission to the club, a potential member had to outdrink all of the members. Let’s hope it was on a night when Keith Moon was sick.

I suppose that every bar is something of a secret club. There is a portion of society that can’t, won’t, or simply don’t go inside. That leaves those within to the same revelry as those in the past clubs – tell stories and tall tales, enjoy comraderie via booze, and create unwritten rules, bonds and friendships. Hopefully nobody is speaking to the dead or tearing humans limb from limb. Well, not until tequila night, anyway.   

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Midsommar from the Next Room

(spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen Midsommar and don’t want to find out how dolphin sex sounds in Sweden can freak you out from 23 feet away, stop reading and go eat a chocolate bar)

On Sunday I awake with some joy. It’s a rainy morning, which I like if I don’t have to go outside. Next to me, the dog is lying on her back and looking at me from upside down, sort of resembling a baby seal. Burke is brewing coffee, and the machine percolates and clicks in the kitchen. Joy. But then I remember it was Sunday.

Despite the facts that I’m not obligated to wear pants, Sunday is among my least favorite days of the week (I’m looking at you, Tuesday). Ever since I was a kid, I have always seen Sunday as the anti-Friday. If Friday is the day before the blissful free period of the weekend, then Sunday is the day before the stressful days of the work week. It’s a day when I have to sit at my kitchen table and trudge through edits, lesson preparation, and emails. Basically, it’s a return to reality. And there’s nothing I dislike more than returning to reality.

After a breakfast of leftover KFC (not quite back to reality yet), I sit at my kitchen table and I put in my earphones. I edit and work and listen to Folksy Christmas (yes, I’m that guy, but it’s also a good album and who doesn’t need a little acoustic Santa Baby in their lives?). I am deeply entrenched in an editing issue, so when I realize that my earphones have lost power it’s too late. No, I am hearing something else.

Burke has an entirely different view on Sundays than I do. It seems that she’s one of the psychopaths who can live in the here and now and takes a leisurely approach to her Sundays. As if it’s still part of the weekend. Insane. At around the same time I walked into the kitchen with my laptop and a soul crushing sigh, she was setting up camp on the couch and flipping through her Netflix options with a life affirming moan. What I am hearing now is a series of high-pitched moans not unlike the way we all imagine dolphins to sound during intercourse (yes, all of us, I’m not weird).  

I mosey into the living room.

“What’s this?”


“What’s it about?”

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