It feels like an omen when I hear the pina colada song on the drive up to Kearny Mesa. I nod along to the easy rock, one of my unironic favorites. It’s a soothing mix of white man funk and yacht rock, and the lyrics are creepy in a way that you can’t put your finger on. (“I was tired of my lady” is a hell of an opening line, and I don’t mean that with admiration). The full title of the song is called “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and it was the last number one hit of the ‘70s and yes, I too hate myself for knowing so much about this cursed song.
But it’s not the easy melodies that feel serendipitous today, nor is it pathos of the song’s two main characters and the inadvertent passion that befalls them when when they set out to fuck other people.
The song feels like an omen for the simple reason that it’s about an alcoholic drink and I’m on my way to get drunk.
A year ago, my scientist friend Scotty told me about a study that his work conducts which monitors the effects of alcohol on the body: how it impairs mobility, the blood alcohol concentration that results from x number of drinks in an hour, how long it takes to sober up, and so on. It was all very scientific, but given my ability to hear only what I want to, all I heard was “I sometimes get drunk at work.”
I demanded then and there that Scotty let me know if his work ever conducted another one of these studies. I’m not skilled at much, but weaseling into things is one of my gifts.
Perhaps it’s sad that a grown man in the twilight of turning 35 would be so excited to drink on the clock, and I don’t disagree. It seems that every other week, I hear about a friend who’s decided to quit drinking, a decision that I fully admire. Unless the reason is to lose weight (you’re giving up a vice to look better? Is somebody paying you? Have you been cast in the next Marvel movie?), every reason to give up drinking is better than drinking.
But also, uh, booze rules? I still wonder what sober people do at night when the weight of the day—nay, life—feels insurmountable. What do they do to get through family events? How do they cope when the mere act of being in a crowd make their armpits sweat? I sometimes think of booze like star power in Super Mario Bros: a power-up to get through life’s difficult sections.
So when Scotty informs me that there was an opening to participate in the next alcohol study, I jump at the chance.
I arrive at the designated location at 8 a.m. It’s a large, stark administrative conference room with neutral colors, fluorescent lighting and utilitarian office tables. The room gives me strong high school classroom vibes, which makes this endeavor feel extra rule-break-y.
There are about 15 other participants, and we’re each assigned a handler of sorts, someone to monitor our progress and make sure we don’t escape.
“We once had a woman who got so drunk that she ran away,” Scotty says. “She was bored and just decided to leave.” Apparently this was during a study where participants could drink as much as they wanted during the course of an hour. They don’t do those all-you-can-drink studies anymore.
My handler is Emily, a scientist based out of Orange County. To establish my baseline blood alcohol concentration, she makes me blow in the Intoximeter, a breathalyzer that looks like a ‘80s computer printer with a black hose attached to it. Kinda Lovecraftian. I place the hose to my mouth and blow. A little progress bar fills the digital screen, and I feel my lungs strain. Somehow, I fuck it up and have to do it again.
“Curses. Rob’ts!” I say, using the pronunciation favored in old Twilight Zone episodes.
Emily gives me a pity laugh. I want her to like me given the fact that she has to be sober and spend a day with drunk me.
I blow correctly the second time, and am relieved when the rob’t says my BAC is 0.0. “Good job. Nothing in your coffee this morning,” Emily says.
Still sober, I perform a field sobriety test in front of one of two visiting CHP officers, who would check off a number of qualifications if they were cast as police in a low budget movie: man/woman partnership, both ruggedly good-looking, good cop/bad cop personalities. I’m thankful that my first sobriety test is with the woman officer because she makes eye contact. Even in a controlled environment with no legal consequence, performing in front of cops is fucking nerve-wracking, and the man officer isn’t helping my nerves by the way he looks at everything passively, with a tight jaw and a face made of silent scorn.
I walk nine steps, heel-to-toe, pivot, and walk back. I balance on one foot while counting aloud. I tilt my head back, close my eyes and guess 30 seconds in my head. Congratulations to me: I’m sober.
Around 9:30 a.m., the drinking begins. “You’ve been deemed the ‘heavy drinker’ and you will drink the most alcohol today,” Emily says. This classification is determined by the height and weight that I had provided beforehand, and it’s very cool and not-at-all embarrassing reminder that I’m scientifically classified as a large boy. Everyone else had picked their booze of choice, but somehow I’m stuck with vodka cranberries. I lean into it and chug the first cup of cran-vodka like a college frat kid nicknamed “Trashcan.” The drink is strong and pulls my face into a de Niro grimace. Scotty gets whiskey and the brown liquid in a scientific bottle looks exactly like the urine of someone who has eaten nothing but ramen all day.
“Wow,” Emily says and refills my cup. I have to drink six more of these within an hour.
Halfway through the drinking hour, I’m feeling it. I blow in the Intoximeter again and this time Emily won’t let me see my BAC results because she says people sometimes get competitive about their numbers. I get it. Perhaps if I were a little more drunk, I’d tell her about the New Years Eve when a friend brought out an over-the-counter breathalyzer and, in an act of drunken competition, I got it up to 3.something, which instantly changed the mood of the night and turned it into a celebration of feeding me bread and water.
Between drinks three and four, I do another field sobriety test. This time, the man officer watches me, but the chemically-enhanced cranberry nectar has dulled my fear of him. I strut the nine steps and kind of wobble when I do the pivot, but, hey, close enough for government work. He makes me guess 30 seconds in my head, but it ends up being, like, 43. Still, I pass the test. The cop tells me that I’m not going to jail today.
After the sixth drink, I mentally declare that this is the best day of my life. I have another date with Intoximeter. I ask Emily if I can take a picture of the digital screen when it says “PLEASE BLOW.”
Don’t pass the final field sobriety test. Don’t really care.
Scotty sets up karaoke (he’s a KJ and a scientist), and we duet Queen’s inspirational “Under Pressure” to a room full of disinterested people. Perhaps if we had sung “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” or “Margaritaville” or another scenario-appropriate song, there’d be more enthusiasm. Or maybe we’re just bad drunk singers? No no no, it’s everyone else who’s wrong.
The officers leave during our performance, and it makes me kind of sad because at some point I’ve drunkenly convinced myself that I could get the man officer to sing karaoke in an effort to really get the party going.
I ask Emily what her go-to song is, and she tells me that she’s never done karaoke. I say we’ll start her off with Smash Mouth’s “All-Star.” She looks at her watch. No one else in the room is into karaoke, and it dies as fast as it’s born.
Time feels amorphous, marked in 15-minute increments where I have to blow in the tube. Emily escorts me to the bathroom whenever I have to take a piss, which, unfortunately for her, is a lot. “No, not in there!” she says, stopping me from accidentally going into the women’s restroom.
Suddenly it’s lunchtime and someone has brought in at least a dozen Costco pizzas. I declare to nobody that I love eating at Costco. “Slice of pep and a churro,” I keep saying to anyone in my radius. I eat no less than five slices of pep.
The booze wears off and lightheaded bliss begins to fade, giving way to a slight headache and boredom. This is the point in the party when someone usually makes a beer run, but there are no more alcohols to be had. We’re not allowed to leave until we blow a .02. I don’t think I’ve ever been awake during the metabolizing part of intoxication, but now I know what purgatory is like.
I play a few rounds of Scattergories, and it’s pathetic how bad I—a supposed writer—am at the game. I begin to look forward to my trips to the Intoximeter, which has become a constant during this journey, ergo a friend. Every 15 minutes, I give that rob’t a nice blow and wait for the result. My BAC drops about .003-.005 each time. Every time I see the decreased number, I pump my fist like a kid who has learned that their birthday will be at Chuck E. Cheese.
As the light shifts to evening, the weight of the world drapes its loving hands over my shoulders. The increasing sobriety unearths memories of Ghosts of Drunken Past, including a shameful run-in with the law nearly 13 years ago. I had been DJing at a club in Salt Lake City, which surprisingly isn’t the most shameful part of this memory. I had been drinking, of course—as you do when you’re a low-rent DJ playing for free drinks. Upon leaving the club, I turned left on a right-only and rolled over a median. Blue and red immediately flashed in my rearview. That sight will go down as the most galvanized I’m fucked experience in memory.
It was a Utah winter night and I shivered on the sidewalk as the officer made me do the field sobriety test. I blew a .081 on the first try, but sometimes the cold can affect the results, the officer said. I blew again and this time it was .079. The officer then he looked at my friends in the backseat who were visibly more drunk than I. “I think you’re over the limit,” he said. “But you won’t be by the time we take you in. Just get these people home.” And he let me go.
Scotty says to always deny the breathalyzer. He’s a scientist, so he knows these things. The police will take you in, but you can deny the breathalyzer there, too. He says the only way they can forcibly measure the alcohol content of your blood is granted by a warrant from a judge, which sounds so sci-fi and dystopian. [Sober Scotty edit note: “refusing the breathalyzer will cost you every single shred of goodwill the officer might have toward you.”]
I wonder if I had known Scotty’s advice on that cold winter night in Utah, would I have done anything differently? If the officer had brought me in, would I still be drinking alcohol today?
These are the thoughts that I have after coming down from a 1.3 BAC drunk and I do not recommend them.
It’s nearly 5 p.m., and Scotty is the last one to breathe a .02, which means he can stay drunk the longest. More bang for your buck, I tell him.
Before leaving, Emily says that I’m a “lovely drinker,” which lifts the dark cloud of introspection from my mind. It makes me feel good in a strange way. Being a lovely drinker is not a great point of pride, but sometimes I have to take what I can get. If I was a better person, perhaps I could get through life without chemical assistance, but sometimes we all just 🎵neeeeeed an escape🎵.
A QUICK WORD OF THANKS
Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who subscribed to AWKSD last week. The amount of support and encouragement I’ve received since then has been incredibly humbling and I’m just so touched. Thank you thank you.
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THE ONLY CONCERT CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™
Wednesday, Oct. 2
OPTION 1: Stiff Little Fingers, Avengers @ House of Blues. Gah, it always pains me to recommend shows at House of Blues because it’s a garbage venue that takes great joy in gouging you for every penny. However, Stiff Little Fingers are punk legends and their early songs have only gotten better with age. “Suspect Device” is one of those iconic classics that can speed up the ol’ heart rate just from the guitar intro.
OPTION 2: Grieves, Mouse Powell, Riston Diggs, Bodie @ Soda Bar. In this trap-heavy era of hip hop, Grieves sounds charmingly straight-forward. Expect Eminem-style delivery, big beats, and a touch of horrorcore
Thursday, Oct. 3
OPTION 1: Earth Groans @ SPACE. Honestly, the must-see show tonight is Oblivion at Brick By Brick, but that show is sold out, so you might as well look elsewhere to get your hard music fix. And really, you could do a lot worse than hardcore bruisers Earth Groans, who sound a lot like the Victory Records bands I used to listen to in high school when I was mad at my parents.
OPTION 2: Vampire Weekend, Soccer Mommy @ Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre. I find it really bold that Vampire Weekend came back into the spotlight after practically inventing white privilege. That aside, there’s no denying the band’s infuriating talent, and even though I haven’t really given their newest album Father of the Bride very much time, I begrudgingly love Modern Vampires of the City. But don’t miss Soccer Mommy, who’s the real star of this show.
Friday, Oct. 4
OPTION 1: Okilly Dokilly, MC Lars, Digital Lizards of Doom @ Soda Bar. Everytime I see or hear about the Ned Flanders-themed metal band, I laugh. The concept transcends post-modernism, dadaism and just about every type of art form. It’s brilliant and dumb and amaze-diddly-azing.
OPTION 2: Iron & Wine, Calexico, Natalie Prass @ Humphreys Concerts By the Bay. I’m not too familiar with Iron & Wine, but the few songs I know are rich, emotional rides, and I always like a musician who can be vulnerable. I also really liked their gentle cover of that Postal Service song “Such Great Heights”.
Saturday, Oct. 5
OPTION 1: Crasher, Cheap Charms, and Alek Barkats @ San Diego Content Partners. David Mead—drummer for a lot of good local bands including Deadphones, Cuckoo Chaos and Exasperation—is stepping out from behind the set to sing and play guitar in the noisy-punky Crasher. Props to David for stepping out of his comfort zone, but as a drummer myself, I only have one word for you: traitor. (This show is at SD Content Partners, which requires you to message them on Facebook or Instagram for the address).
OPTION 2: Cigarettes After Sex @ Observatory North Park. Dream pop for cool people who probably shop at H&M.
Sunday, Oct. 6
OPTION 1: Bit Maps, Strange Ages, Adeumazel (matinee show, 5 p.m.) @ Whistle Stop. Jesus, there are so many good shows on Sunday, but your best bet is to head over to the Whistle to see the best Beatles-inspired indie-pop this town has to offer. Plus, matinee show! Hell yeah for being in bed by 10 p.m.
OPTION 2: Dwarves, DFMK, Slaughter Boys, The Stalins of Sound @ Soda Bar. Honestly, I’ve always been scared to go to a Dwarves show. These punkers know how to thrash, and I’m sure someone’s going to get hurt, but it’s gonna rule. Also, Stalins of Sound are by far my favorite anti-fascist electro punk band ever, so arrive early for them.
OPTION 3: Vivian Girls, Great Grandpa, Reckling @ Casbah. Vivian Girls are back! That sentence alone is reason enough to hit up this show.
OPTION 4: Bad Religion, Dave Hause @ Soma. Bad Religion’s newest album Age of Unrest is their best, angriest album since... well maybe since the ‘80s.
OPTION 5 (!): Morissey, Interpol @ Pechanga Arena. I don’t get the fervent love for Morrissey. The dude’s an idiot who can’t talk without putting his foot in his mouth. But he’s written some good songs, and if Nick Cave can look past his problematic antics, then I guess I can too. Also, Interpol are good.
Monday, Oct. 7
OPTION 1: IDLES, Surfbort @ Observatory North Park. There’s only one show you need to be at tonight, and it’s IDLES. I saw them destroy the Belly Up earlier this year, and I left that show feeling inspired and hopeful for the human race. It’s hard for a band to beat you up while mending your heart, but that’s what IDLES does.
Tuesday, Oct 8
OPTION 1: Deaf Club, OhCult, The Gay Agenda, Modern Love @ Soda Bar. Fuuuuuuck, this show is gonna rule. Deaf Club is a new blast-beat/thrash/hardcore project fronted by The Locust’s Justin Pearson, and OhCult and Modern Love have both made names for themselves this year as hard San Diego bands that’ll tear you up. And The Gay Agenda are wild and there’s really nothing I can say to prepare you for their show.
OPTION 2: Black Lips, Blue Rose, Rounders @ The Casbah. I lived in Brooklyn between 2008 and 2009. It was an era that history books will probably define as “Peak Hipster.” A lot of people were very into Black Lips then and every show I saw in Brooklyn that year seemed to have Black Lips on the bill. I don’t know if that was actually the case, or if every band sounded like Black Lips that year. Nevertheless, I was into it.