Monday, October 10, 2011

Pop! Fizz! Glug! Drinking in the morning? What an Alcoholic is and What it is Not

Imagine the sound of a can of beer being popped open. Pop! Fizz! Glug! 



Imagine that the first thing out of the mouth of that person holding that beer and popping it open is "Good morning to you!" Pop! Fizz! Glug!   

Imagine that this scene is happening at dawn... Perhaps 5 in the morning. Pop! Fizz! Glug!

Imagine that the person popping open that beer at 5 am is saying "Good morning" Pop! Fizz! Glug! And he's chugging it down and smiling. 

That person is me. Is that person an alcoholic?

No, there are more details you need. I have actually had this experience many times. You see, this is my dream in life. When I retire, I want to do this everyday of the year. Pop! Fizz! Glug!

Where am I in this scene? I am on a deep-sea fishing boat out in the Pacific Ocean a hundred miles from the coast. I am with my friends. We are on vacation. We left the harbor late last night and the fishing boat is just arriving, after a 10-hour journey, to the fishing spot.

It is a beautiful day. We are out in the middle of the Pacific ocean. There is no other humanity around excepting us on that boat. The boat's engines stop. The boat floats. We gear up our fishing poles and drop line waiting for fish (and drinking more beer). It is heaven. Pop! Fizz! Glug!

So, I ask again, is this person an alcoholic? Nope. Just on vacation and just fishing. It is wonderful.  

Drinking and fishing is good enough for Babe Ruth
so it's good enough for me! (Oh, but the Babe
had a serious drinking problem it seems!)

A few posts ago, I put to blog my thoughts on "What is an Addiction?" From that post, I have received many mails from people asking me what I thought about various addictions such as nicotine addiction and my take on the casual drinker.

Those were all tough questions to answer and, I suppose, like I stated in my article that since each chemical affects different people differently, then I guess it goes to reason that each person's method of abusing their body will affect those around them differently and how they (and their "amusement") are perceived.

Even if one's self-ordained medication doesn't seem to bother the partaker to the point of failing in their work and home duties, if it affects the thinking of those around, then I suppose, using my logic, it must affect their human relationships.

Once again, to recap what an addiction is for those who missed the first article, in a sentence or two from What is an addiction, consider:

Addictions are not the problem of alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex or whatever. Addiction is not a problem of the substance abuse in and of itself... Addiction is a problem of human communication.

For example, drug addiction is not a problem of drugs. Drug addiction, like all addictions is a problem of human relations. This is the part about addictions that people fail to recognize for what it is. Drug addiction, like all addictions become a problem when they start to interfere with your human relations and communications with the people around you.   

So that article discusses what an addict is. This discusses (with a hopefully humorous story) what an alcoholic (or addict) is not.

So, what isn't an addict? Now there's a tough question to answer!

It's only the middle of October and Christmas and New Year's are just around the corner. With this story, I cannot answer the question as to "what is an addict"? But I sure can answer what it is not. 

I'd like to share this humorous true story with you about exactly what isn't an alcoholic but is perceived as one. 

Perhaps I can get away with this unseasonably untimely article because I saw, at Tokyo's famous and extremely fashionable Takashimaya department store, people already lined up for New Year's "Oseichi Ryori."

Lining up at the start of October for Oseichi Ryori for January 1!
Crikey! The Christmas stuff wasn't even out yet! 

But, as I often do, I digress...

Trust that if you never drank alcohol or ever took any sorts of drugs at all, and you witnessed someone doing so in the early morning or sneaking off to do so where they wouldn't be seen, you'd think they had a serious addiction problem. That's happened to me... At my wife's parent's house.

That's the story today.

But first, let me recall my very first New Year's Day in Japan. It was in 1980. I was in Japan for vacation and visiting my then, and soon to be, first wife's house. I didn't know it at the time, but my soon-to-be wife's father was the president of a construction company and they had a dormitory. Several (many, all?) of the workers lived on the first floor of their house which was that dormitory. I stayed on the second floor of their house during my entire three week stay in Japan.

I didn't know what was going on with all these people living and staying at this house (my fiancee wasn't good at explaining things) so I thought this arrangement was a bit bizarre and figured that these people were all workers and/or family members. They were all very nice people and were always friendly to me, though I didn't know exactly who they were.

One day, it became New Year's morning, at about ten am, I went downstairs to the living room (I'm sure with a hangover).

When I got downstairs there were eight or so men, who worked at my girlfriend's dad's company who were passed out on the floor - drunk. I stepped over them and wanted to go to the bathroom... There was my wonderful future mother-in-law Komako and she smiled at me. She said,

"Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!!" (Happy New Year!) and she offered me a drink of sake.

"Wow! I love Japan! What a wonderful country!" I thought. "People drink from the morning and enjoy life. I love this place!"

That was my very first New Year's in Japan. It was a wonderful memory and I'll never forget it.

Later I would soon learn that the Japanese had strict societal "rules" about alcohol drinking. It was considered fine to drink on holidays and special occasions from the morning, but to drink during the week, during work hours, or to drink so much that one missed work, was totally forbidden (though, of course, some people are alcoholics and do that). 

Japanese people who are gainfully employed still, to this day, and to my knowledge, never drink during work hours. This, as opposed to Americans who are known to have two-martini lunches (I sure did before I came to Japan - and those at my bosses' behest!) 

That New Year's day had a profound effect on me as to so-called "responsible drinking."

Fast forward at least twenty three years later...

I was a producer of many TV and radio shows and had gone the rounds with the people who are gainfully employed in the mass media. Let me tell you, those people can drink.

I have learned a few things about working in the mass media and sales in Japan (if you are in the mass media, then you are salesman, if for nothing else, selling yourself) then you have to drink. And that means drinking a lot. Drinking  a lot nearly every night of the week. The weak drinkers and faint at heart need not apply. If you want to succeed in those businesses, in Japan, then expect to drink heavily.

Let me give you one example. Mr. Sugiyama, Taro, Mikey and me. Four of us. Start drinking at 5 pm. Finish drinking at 8 am when the bar owner kicks us out. By then we have consumed 5 pints of beer each and between us downed 6 liters of Korean liquor that is 25% alcohol. I was so drunk that I couldn't walk. 

It wasn't the first time I'd been that drunk. It wasn't the last...

I do hope, though, in my old age, that I don't do that again...   

Now, I am a responsible drinker... 

But there are still two people who think I might be an alcoholic. Those two are my wife's mom and dad. 

They don't drink alcohol.

They don't smoke cigarettes. 

They don't gamble.

They live in the country and there's nothing to do there except go for walks and, for exciting entertainment, go to the one and only department store for miles around. Woop-dee-doo!

So, it used to be, I dreaded going there because there was nothing to do. They live out in the middle of the sticks. Even going to the department store is a good 8 minute drive by car... Walking? Oh, there's a 7-11 convenience store about 8 or 9 minutes walk from their house... I'd guess it's at least 1 kilometer away (about 3/4 mile or so). 

This 7-11 convenience store would be the exact cause that my in-laws think I am an alcoholic. Here's what happened:

It was New Year's Day. My son wasn't yet born and wife and I had gone to stay at her parent's home for the holidays. I was dreading that because, like I said, they don't partake in any particular, shall I say, "escapisms." In fact, they are very serious people and quite conservative about many things. 

I love my in-laws and they are good and kind to me, but they are definitely quite the prim and proper middle aged Japanese couple: Little sense of humor; he was the former president of a large Japanese corporation and she was the head dietician for all elementary schools in all of Kanagawa prefecture. (Imagine a person who was head dietician for all elementary schools in, say, Texas and you get the idea). They both had received numerous awards from Japanese prime ministers and came from strong and upstanding families and all that.

Me? I am a lowlife American who liked to drink to excess with friends at work nearly every night and smoked cigarettes and loved to gamble.

It was New Year's morning. I prepared for it by buying two large cans of beer from the 7-11 convenience store the night before. I knew that I would be the only one drinking at that household and that I would have to control myself; that's why I only bought two cans. I figured that I could probably drink the two cans really quick, get a buzz (maybe) then go back to sleep until it was time to go to the shrine and then food!

I sat at the dining table. It was about 10 am. I opened a beer. "Good morning to you!" I said to my mother-in-law. Pop! Fizz! Glug! She sat down by me looking very worried,

"Is it OK that you drink so early in the morning?" she asked.

I replied, "Oh, sure! You kidding? My friends and I drink much more than this!" I think I shouldn't have said that. My mother-in-law looked on with a worried face as I drank the next can of beer immediately. Pop! Fizz! Glug!  

Later on, my wife got mad at me and told me not to drink in front of her parents. She told me that they think I have a drinking problem.

"What!?" I said, "I only had two cans of beer!" 

"I don't care!" My wife said. "My parents don't drink at all, so if you are going to drink, go do it somewhere else!"

"Nonsense!" I thought. 

Later that day, I decided that I wanted to drink and smoke. Couldn't do it there at the in-laws house so I told them that I was going to "take a walk." I did. I grabbed some money from my wife and headed down to the 7-11. 

The 7-11 is a good walk down a fairly steep mountainside... The coming back up hill would suck, but I still wanted the booze... And there's not much to stop a man who is bored out of his mind, in the country with nothing to do, at a house where people do not drink or gamble or smoke, so I took the walk.

It was a brisk afternoon. I entered the 7-11 like a kid in a candy store. "Oh boy! Booze!" I grabbed a few large cans of beer and some cigarettes, paid for them, and walked out of the store...

When I walked out, I looked for somewhere to sit. Somewhere that I could leisurely relax and enjoy the sun and my cigarettes and beer. There wasn't any place good, so I popped open the beer and lit a cigarette in the parking lot.

"Wow! Drinking in a parking lot!" I thought. "Just like when I was a university student." It felt good!

I took another large swig of the beer and then walked over to the street corner to look around at Stickville. Nothing! Nothing to the left of me, nothing to the right of me excepting rice fields as far as you could see and closed shops and houses.

"Shit!" I thought. I took some more puffs and downed the beer. I put the empty can back into the vinyl bag and opened another. Pop! Fizz! Glug! 

Then it happened.

Just as I was standing on the street corner downing the second beer, they came. Right in front of me. My mother and father-in-law drove by in the car and they were looking right at me! They were shocked and had their mouths gaping wide open. I could read their minds. They were thinking,

"Oh, my god! Definitely Mike does have a drinking problem! He is sick! Our daughter married an alcoholic! What shall we do? He's standing on a street corner drinking like some homeless person! Oh, the shame!" 

They drove by gaping at me. I saw them too and probably looked like a deer caught in the car's headlights. I quickly tried to put the beer behind my back as they drove past. I tried to look nonchalant and smiled as I waved with my other hand that was holding the vinyl bag with the empty beer can. It was probably obvious that there was an empty in the vinyl bag from the way it looked.

Eyes wide open and staring at me. Their mouths gaped open like baby chicks waiting for their mother to feed them. They turned the corner and drove down the street in the opposite direction.

"Shit!" I thought. Pop! Fizz! Glug!  

Later on, when I returned home, my wife told me that her parents didn't want me out drinking in public because they didn't want the neighbors to see me and know that their daughter had married an alcoholic foreigner. They said that if I insisted upon drinking, that I should do it at their house where no one would see me. My mother told my wife that she thought I might need to seek professional help.

No thank you. I know how to drink. I don't need a professional teaching me how to do that.

That's been at least 7 years ago. In spite of what you think, I am not an alcoholic. I deny that completely.

Why can I deny that? Because we go to my wife's parent's house several times a year. I have come to enjoy going there now. I control myself and don't drink when we go there

Why? Well, when I go there,

I don't drink alcohol.

I don't smoke cigarettes. 

I don't gamble.

In fact, whenever I go to my in-laws house, I usually go three or four days in a row without any of the above (I take lots of naps). It's kind of like doing a body cleansing. I do feel much better whenever I return from visiting the in-laws house.

It's when I get home that the process repeats. 

Pop! Fizz! Glug!

1 comment:

Andrew Joseph said...

A great story Mike! Love it! It's all about perceptions, isn't it?
I really love the lines:
"No thank you. I know how to drink. I don't need a professional teaching me how to do that."
I laughed so hard I had beer fly up out of my nose. Since I couldn't find a straw, I just had to lick the table dry.
I, too have in-laws who never touch smoke or booze. My parents don't smoke either. To them, I don't smoke. Sucks having to hide who you are.

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