Drink, Grovel, Fuck: London
A businessman once told me the secret to international flight: buy a sackful of hotel-sized liquor bottles from duty-free and pour yourself drinks with impunity. I purchased four nips of Jack Daniel’s in Vancouver International intending to knock myself out on the red-eye to London, but this amount of booze — plus three additional doubles — proved insufficient. This was partially attributable to the fact that I was seated next to the most attractive woman on the airplane, who made an astounding effort to talk to me, a long-simmering fantasy that rendered me excruciatingly body-aware for the nine-hour flight, and partially attributable to the fact that I’d stayed up ’til five in the morning the night before doing lines of Dexedrine and playing cribbage.
And so I arrived in London at noon local time, half-drunk and un-slept. In a dissociative fog, I navigated myself through customs, into the tube, and onto a bus eyeballing other travelers as half-real intruders on my as-yet-phantasmagorical journey to Europe. With eyes glued on Google Maps GPS, I found my friends’ flat in Battersea and buzzed up, suddenly aware that my trip had officially began and that I was going to have to socialize for four days straight.
Upstairs I was given a cordial welcome by Milkbug, an old mate from my study abroad semester eight years prior, and Skullet, a woman whom I at first thought was Milkbug’s girlfriend but turned out to be very obviously a lesbian. (Note: nearly everyone I’ve encountered socially in England goes by an either obtuse or blunt nickname, mine being Codpiece.) It then being around two in the afternoon on a Thursday, we acquired 12 Stellas to drink in Battersea Park while we waited for the rest of the British crew to get off work. In the park, in what turned out to be the last day of the English summer, I managed to keep up a stream of nervous natter that delved into various legal horror stories about my family and second-hand atrocity tales from my sister-in-law’s tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such diversions are common when I find myself in socially uncertain situations; I felt the usual perverse mixture of white-trash pride and experiential vampirism, and made a vow to really knock-off this sort of behavior.
But in any case, it was enough to get through the afternoon.
We then headed to Brixton, a trendy foodie area on the upswing from urban decay, where we met up with another old mate from my university days, Mack, and his girlfriend, The Worm. I had already taken several Adderall in an attempt to keep awake and cogent, but the effects of sustained multi-day drinking and jet lag had taken their toll and the rest of the night is a bit of a hash. I remember fried chicken wrapped in boutique packaging in a booming food arcade, swigging tins of Carling, attempting to be polite and engaging.
We wound up back in Milkbug and Mack’s flat (Skullet had gone home at some point) with another dozen tins of beer and after the others had gone to sleep I wound up pouring out a tale of iniquity to Milkbug about my encounter in Oregon with methamphetamine, heroin, and the sex trade, all to his nervous but empathetic avowals that these dalliances did not in fact soil me as a human and that I’d instead tested myself and come out on the other side a wiser and more interesting person. I pontificated on the banality of evil and the incrementalism of moral decay, and the possibility that nothing anyone does actually influences the behavior or decisions of anyone else, which idea was not pleasantly received by Milkbug, being a schoolteacher. Milkbug went to bed and I finally passed out on an air mattress.
Milkbug and I awoke in the early afternoon. We had five hours to kill until a much-anticipated benefit party at a wildlife preserve, to be hosted by a seafood restaurant managed by Rod, the third and final of my old London mates. We lunched with Mack in Piccadilly, smoked stress cigarettes with Rod in Chelsea, and set off on foot for the only London attraction I could think to visit. On the way I had to make a jaunt into a pub due to sudden gastrointestinal distress and wound up in several awkward confrontations with the Eastern European bar maids regarding bathroom keys.
Rain had cleared out London Zoo, and Milkbug and I veered through the exhibits, maintaining a pleasant conversational flow through the conduit of animals, of which we were both constitutionally interested. Milkbug, who has an undergraduate degree in zoology, told me the tale of an elephant seal researcher who stepped on the fin of a tranquilized animal that reflexively bit off the man’s entire scalp. I pitched Milkbug on the recently published theory that human beings arose through the successful mating of a chimpanzee and a pig, said theory solving nearly every flaw in standard evolutionary theory, including upright locomotion, cranial size, vascular structure, vocal capacity, and mammary morphology. Milkbug did not buy this pitch. I was badly startled by the statue of a gorilla.
From the zoo we headed to the benefit party, by way of Regent’s Canal, a filthy canyon cutting through central London, thronged with the young and derelict smoking pot openly and drinking in tribal klatches. We were among the first to arrive at the nature reserve, a sheltered few acres of bushes and bog adjoining the canal. Drinks were obtained and we were gradually joined by the likes of Mack, The Worm, Skullet, Harry Potter, Tiny M, Dr. Inksmate, and others whose names/nicknames I can’t recall. Now that there were a bevy of cross-acquaintances, the pressure was off me to provide much in the way of conversational interest, and I retreated into milking the disorganized benefit operation for as many free first cocktails as I could manage. The lighting was inadequate, and the atmosphere grew jungly as the sun set. I tried my first half-shell oyster in front of a hungry crowd, and absorbed their scorn as I nearly vomited the mollusk back into my hands.
We eventually arrived back at the flat, equipped with another dozen beers, and kept drinking while amusing YouTube videos were presented for viewing in a cultural universal. At some point in the evening, I had heard that Skullet once had a long-term boyfriend before she came out of the closet, and I became determined to try my luck should the opportunity present itself. At 3 a.m. I took a bite of Viagra while in the bathroom, and at 4 a.m. I asked her to discuss her previous relationship with a man, and at an arbitrary point nudged her and asked her if she was up for another shot in as joking a way as possible while still maintaining the essential seriousness of the proposal. Nope. Not even a little bit. Not even 1% was she attracted to men. I had pinned my hopes on that 1%.
I woke up at 2 p.m. At this point, I should have been hungover, but the magic of international physiological displacement and regular Adderall ingestion had prevented a serious comeuppance. Skullet and Milkbug were watching Dumb and Dumber in bed in a tensionless platonic arrangement that made a further mockery of my deluded stunt of the night before.
At 5 p.m. drinking recommenced at a birthday party at a pub near Vauxhall and I was again vaguely braided into an existing social system in which my input was welcomely inconsequential. I picked up rounds where possible and answered questions about my European trip in a dully matter-of-fact fashion, given that I had no particular goals or interests to point to and figured metaphysical self-excoriation should be kept to a minimum. New names and faces washed in: Cakes, Fun Time, 15th Century, Lamprey, Max, Weasel-Teeth, etc. A long-departed friend of the group had just arrived back from Australia, and she was pretty snookered. Spirits were strong all around, and it was decided to pick up a regiment of booze and head back to the flat.
I sat in a chair against the wall of the living room, drawing a dim satisfaction from the continuity of relationships enjoyed by others. Many of these people had known each other for over 15 years, and were living in a settled universe where friendship existed as gravity. No one ever seemed to get bored or uncomfortable with the people they’d seen on a bi-weekly basis since pubescence. I was properly faded at this point, and could not achieve orbit. After midnight someone proposed the procurement of cocaine, to general encouragement. Phones were worked but no nearby contacts were roused. I mustered myself and suggested handing out Adderall instead. To my shock this drug was completely unknown to the British cohort, and I tried to explain that chemically speaking Adderall was to methamphetamine as cocaine was to crack. This was met with skepticism but as time passed and no cocaine was forthcoming, a number of the party accepted little blue pills. I grew hopeful that I and others would rally and I would spend an evening as truly and wholly part of a group having an unalloyed good time.
I spoke to the woman called Cakes about a connection she had at the London Zoo and the leading cause of death of sloths: they mistake their arms for tree branches and fall to their deaths by self-climbing. It occurred to me that there were several seemingly unattached women at the flat party and I bit off another chunk of Viagra, determined to make an appropriate pass this time around. Rum espressos were consumed, voices raised, the ass-end of youth celebrated.
I woke up at some point in the night shivering on a wide windowsill. Two Brits were passed out in an embrace on my air mattress. There were no spare blankets available. I stomped around the apartment in a blind, impotent rage before lying back down on the sill and wrapping myself in my coat.
Milkbug woke me at 3 p.m. and immediate drinking and Adderall held off a colossal hangover. We met Mack, Rod, and Skullet at the Plumed Arms, or something, where they’d been drinking mimosas all morning. I was secretly afraid that Skullet had told them of my wrongheaded attentions, but knew better than to ask. From there we hit Dog and Castle, the King’s Ulcer, Candle Pike, the Lost Peacock, etc., whatever. Milkbug left for a family dinner and came back. Rod and Mack’s girlfriends joined us. We ended back up in the flat with another flagon of beer. Someone put on a reality show about educating problem youth in Yorkshire. Louis Theroux’s documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church came and went. People defected for bed or home. I was left trying to fish amusing YouTube videos out of my drunken miasma, and came up with human-dog romance shorts that were not well received.
My alarm woke me at 11:00 a.m. so I could drag myself to St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris. I had dim memories of Mack and Skullet prodding me to drill a goodbye into my wrecked personage. After showering for the second time during my stay in London and discovering a colossal and unremembered bruise on my leg, I jammed my belongings back into my luggage and slunk out of the flat. I tried to smoke a cigarette several times and almost vomited. As I waited to board the train I could feel my organs weeping in my bloated torso. I couldn’t remember saying anything particularly funny the whole time I was in London, which is the biggest sin of all with the British.