July 18, 2013

The Drinker’s Code of Conduct

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 6

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By Philip Michaels

“Luther said I could learn from you. I already know how to drink.” —Johnny Hooker, The Sting

Every now and again, someone asks me what’s the one piece of advice I can offer young, wet-behind-the-ears reporters after more than two decades in the news racket. My answer is always the same, no matter who’s doing the asking: Learn how to hold your liquor.

People usually laugh when I tell them that. “That Phil,” their smiles seem to say. “Always with the flippant answer.” Which would be a totally fine reaction were I not dead serious.

Reporters attend a fair amount of social functions at which a fair amount of drinks are served. And usually when a fair amount of drinks figure into the evening, someone can be counted on to say something they really ought not to, certainly not in front of someone inclined to dutifully report their Bacardi-fueled utterances to the world at large. They’re unlikely to say those things around you if they spot you clutching a glass of seltzer water. But normally circumspect flaks are inclined to be decidedly more loose-lipped once they think you’re matching them drink for drink—even if you’ve been carefully nursing the same whiskey sour for the last 40 minutes.

So yes, being able to enjoy the occasional cocktail or two while still being able to keep my wits about me has helped me both professionally and personally. I can go out, do my job, enjoy a refreshing adult-oriented beverage, and spend very little of my time the next day composing letters of apology to anyone I’ve wronged the night before. Come to think of it, “Learn to hold your liquor” isn’t just good advice for aspiring reporters—it’s a lesson that society at large could take to heart.

Because I see you out there in the bars, making a scene of yourself and causing everyone else in the joint to avoid making direct eye contact with you. Or at the ball games, well into your ninth watered-down beer while everyone in your immediate vicinity vows to just watch the game on cable next time. Or I can tell where you’ve been from the trail of your sick leading from whatever watering hole finally had the good sense to kick you to the curb to wherever it is you wound up sleeping off another night of regrettable decisions. If you are a resident of North America, chances are the second a drop or two of alcohol gets in you, the normal social contract governing what is and what is not acceptable gets declared null and void.

And you are making us professional lushes look bad.

Look, I’m not here to judge you. (Well, I am, just a little because making a rum-fueled ass of yourself when all the rest of us are behaving ourselves just fine, thank you, deserves all the scorn any of us can muster.) But I am here to help. A few simple rules of thumb, a few modest behavioral changes and that cocktail you’ve ordered can become something you can savor and enjoy instead of the accelerant in your bonfire of jackassery.

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