Back when our parents were warning us about the evil reefer, it was common for us to accuse them of hypocrisy because they drank martinis. They countered that it wasn’t the same thing. They said they just enjoyed their martinis, and it wasn’t like a drug at all.
I didn’t do any accusing, personally. My parents didn’t have martinis. Or the occasional glass of wine. Or anything else, except once a year when they’d uncap the fusty old bottle of cheap Taylor sherry and have themselves a little nip. When it came to the proper acquisition of bad habits, my parents were horrible role models.
Nevertheless I soldiered on. I didn’t like beer. Not until I went to live in London, where the beer was a whole lot better. That’s where I made a study of it, and Guinness in particular. “Tall, dark, and have some,” it said on the billboard, and I did. Oh, honey. It was gorgeous. It had a creamy head you could write your initials in and still see them at the bottom of the glass, in case you forgot who you were. Golden curls of goodness roiled and frolicked beneath the foam. Bubbles sidled along the glass like an ever-renewing fountain of yum. It was delicious. And most of all, it solved everything. It filled up all the tiny holes: all the pits and pocks of my muttering soul, all gone smooth again.
We dope-smoking hippies were right: the alcohol really was a drug.
I’m not complaining. This isn’t an anti-alcohol screed. I think alcohol is a good thing, until it’s not. Our parents (well, maybe your parents) drank to take the edge off. It works. It’s good medicine. It gets to be a problem when there are too many edges, and it takes too much medicine to smooth them over. If your soul is shot through with little holes, no amount of alcoholic spackle can be enough. When I came back to America, I located a decent beer–Narragansett Porter–and began taking the edge off at ten in the morning. That would be what some people might have called a red flag, but some of us need more flags than others.
The other thing I came back with was a recurring happy dream. I’d get it once or twice a year. In my dream, I’d take a few steps down from the street into a London cellar pub and have a wonderful local brew and shoot darts with the locals. Then I’d come back into the sunshine (in my dream, London had sunshine), walk another few blocks, and step down into a different pub. And repeat. For thirty years this was my happy place dream.
Meanwhile, I concocted some of my own spackle and began to put my soul back together. I made it out of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. A little music, a little truth, a little walk in the woods, more than a little time.
I haven’t had that happy dream in years. I can walk out my door right now and partake of any of a hundred different local beers in a matter of a few blocks. I’m living the dream in the best beer town in the world. If your soul has a few pits and pocks in it, it will take the edges right off.
But if you don’t have too many edges, it will just put a doily of joy under your big tumbler of life.