Three Days of the Hangover

Pittsburgh International Airport. When I asked for a coffee a moment ago, the man must have misunderstood that for “unmanageable cup of molten lava.” I am now trying to push the integrity of the cardboard sleeve meant to protect my hands from 3rd degree burns. Problem: my hands are shaking. I put the coffee on a table and remove the lid.

A moment ago I was finally able to speak without actively pursuing advanced lexicon like “and” or “also.” “Please kill me” took five whole minutes, and I was fortunate enough that my friend had driven off before I could get it out.

I am in a confused daze, as if the world has suddenly upgraded to include a new dimension that my inner-technology has not prepared for. They call my flight. I give up on the coffee.

This is day one of the three day hangover.

Pittsburgh visits are always a bacchanalian visit to the good old days. Three days of beers, shots, sandwiches, and very little water; sensible choices were treated like the monsters of fairytale lore. And I knew what I was doing. Each shot was another nail in my coffin. Each beer would be answered for in the future.

The flight from Pittsburgh to Newark involves about 45 minutes in the air. If it were longer, I would be requesting a parachute from the drink cart.

Half of the jokes made by people over 40 is that things get harder/easier/harsher/ after that age. Heading that list is the hangover. People who could drink their weight in tequila at 21 and run a marathon the next morning marvel at how their 43 year old body barely deals with four light beers. I am in that camp. This is probably why I don’t overdo it that often. Oh, I still go out for beers with my friends and I’m never the one to turn down a shot. (Read: I am the one who suggests the shot). But in my day to day life, I can have drinks once a week and remain a reasonable member of society. Unlike my 21 year old self, it now takes a day or two to fully recover. A Friday night session means a Saturday of bad movies and overhydration. A really big Friday might means a Sunday of ibuprofen and poking at my liver.

But an epic session like the one in Pittsburgh is going to take its toll. Twinges of disconcerting pain in my lower and mid back suggest that my organs are trying to pull off a revolt, but are unable to do so because they’re attempting to process all the poison I’ve sent their way.

I know myself well enough to avoid any declarations of future sobriety and prudence. Never again! or I’m done with drinking. I will not allow myself. Plus, I’m pretty sure that in a week I’ll be eyeing up a bottle of brown liquor as if it was wearing a thong stuffed with ones and spinning around a pole.

Ninety minutes in the car is hell. I get home and drink copious amounts of water, I choke down an orange. My dad, whose life goal can now be summed up as trying to get people to bring him sugar, suggests an I buy you fly arrangement for ice cream sundaes. The very suggestion of operating a motor vehicle makes me break out in a cold sweat. This topped with the very real possibility of getting a DUI if pulled over are factors in my refusal. I wrap myself in a blanket and we watch baseball. I am on a course of water and a box of Flintstones vitamins I have found under the chair. My google searches: Can you feel your liver? Do kidneys regenerate? How old is Hal Linden?

Day two of the hangover is the anxiety day. The worst day in my opinion. Day one’s reaction was physical, nausea, headaches, stomach pain, and the total shutdown of my large intestine. It called for replenishment of fluids, ibuprofen, vitamins, and fruit.

Day two, though, is the attack on my peace of mind. Any veteran of anxiety knows what it is to worry obsessively about something that isn’t concrete. Like being stung by the unkillable ghost of a hornet over and over again. Vague worries and dreadful state of mind metastasize as more tangible attacks throughout the day; they’ve been brought to the surface as if they are part of the brain’s own detoxification process. Life choices. What is success? Self-awareness. Past regrets.

I spend the morning on Facebook and the afternoon considering deleting my Facebook account. I have started reading a book called The Passage, which is a phenomenally good book, but it depicts a dystopian future brought about by an apocalypse caused by vampires. It does not quell the demons having a barbecue in my psyche.

To escape dystopian vampires, I work out. A good sweat will assist the cleanse. Part way through the workout I realize that squats have caused me to lose the current thread of my anxiety. While I should breathe a sigh of relief, anxiety outwits me by making my brain search for the lost source of the anxiety as though searching my brain for the just out-of-reach title of a song. Once I pinpoint the source of the worry, I am back to the anxiety in time for my lunges.

I go back to my blanket and watch a steady stream of baseball for the remainder of the day. My google searches on day two: Am I successful? Stupidest google searches ever. Does everyone have regrets? How many Flintstones vitamins is too many? What to do if you’ve overdosed on Flintstones vitamins?

When I wake up on day three, I groan at the presence of the hangover, the way you might at a persistent rash. Day three’s hangover manifests itself in a low grade nausea, a minor discombobulation, and the non-ironic sudden realization that I am 43.

The evidence is all there. My salt and pepper hair is becoming saltier every day. People call me sir for no good reason. Though I am in the best shape of my life (beyond 22 that is), my body is a series of fault lines, ruptures, and mysterious aches. Reading on the tram for twenty minutes can put my neck out of whack for a week. Stepping off a tram last week caused a spasm in my lower back so severe that I thought I’d been stabbed by the octogenarian behind me. When going into a squat to stretch my knees this morning, they cracked with such force that it sounded like bubble wrap. There’s no doubt about it, I am 43.

Day one is physical. Day two is anxiety. Day three is the realization that I am storming towards death on a runaway train whose conductor has leapt off into the tumbleweeds. Plus nausea. I begin identifying with Beckett plays and T.S Eliot’s poetry. Fuck Michelangelo. A title comes to me. The Hangover of Death. The Hangover as Death. Death’s Hangover. It sounds Beckettian so I google it. It’s not.

How did I get here? When my dad, reading the Recent Deaths page on Wikipedia, begins announcing notable people who’ve died, italicizing the suicides, I grunt bitterly and cover my ears. When he suggests we go out for steaks, I grunt happily, a caveman who’s just stumbled upon a litter of unattended Saber-toothed kittens.

At dinner, I have a root beer and a ribeye the size of a throw pillow. A loaded baked potato and creamed spinach bring me back to life. I decide an act of bravery is required. When we get home I suggest an I fly you buy arrangement for sundaes. It is eagerly accepted.

Later, as an ice cream sundae with extra maraschino cherries mitigates the horror of another Phillies’ blown lead, I put things in perspective. Sure, I’m older but I’m smarter. Sure, I’m going to die, but not yet. Sure, my hangovers last three days, but in a decade when I’m suffering four day hangovers I’ll look back at this time with nostalgic yearning.

Google searches: Why are people happier in their 40s? Steak poisoning? Did Beckett drink? Why do the Phillies suck?  

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