The Lush Chronicles: Playing the Friend to Drunk Strangers

The Lush Chronicles: Playing the Friend to Drunk Strangers

Being a lush is, like writing, a fundamentally solitary activity. Perhaps that's why so many writers have had famous drinking habits. Most people feel uncomfortable going to bars alone for a variety of reasons. Women don't like to go alone when they don't feel like being hit on, and even then it's far less troubling to invite advances with a friend at one's side. Others simply don't enjoy alcohol enough on its own merits to seek it out, in public, on their own. Bars are strange places. Like hotels, they're deeply social places wrapped in a conceit of privacy everyone knows is mostly imaginary. The lush is, among other things, a person who has come to terms with the concept of drinking alone in a public place. The lush likes alcohol for what it is and not necessarily as a social lubricant or cure-all for emotional despair. And so, the lush, finding a way to remain calm and dignified while getting high in public, finds himself often surrounded by those who are at the bar for different reasons. In this scenario, the lush is a drunk's best friend, whether the lush likes it or not.

The lush knows his own limits, which puts him in a rarified category at the bar. He can get exactly as drunk as he wants to, which usually means (ironically enough) getting less drunk than most of the other people at the bar. Amateurs don't know themselves and they sure as hell don't know their drinks well enough to make a plan of the night. They can sail through the highs and lows of the unexpected, letting all the welcome weirdness of losing one's self to liquor wash over them. The lush, though? He knows exactly what each drink will do to him. He knows when he'll start to think differently and act differently, when he'll start to make a fool of himself and make mistakes. But unlike the amateurs, the lush knows that he can't really blame his bad behavior on the booze, so he actually has to feel bad in the morning. That's why, most of the time, the lush knows how to stay sharp when the hard stuff starts flowing.

Whether he likes it or not, this easy lucidity under the influence makes the lush the designated driver of emotions and behavior at the bar. Frankly, the bartender is too busy to corral all of the people he poisons, especially when it's so easy to just keep serving them or kick them out when they start to cause trouble. The lush in front of the bar has a different responsibility. The drunk amateurs are in the grasp of a chemical they don't understand. It's bad form and even spiritually reprehensible to take advantage of them or join them in their behavior. The lush has a pact with alcohol, a certain level of professional respect. It's a hell of a gamble for him to get careless knowing just what a beast booze can be.

So, the drunk amateur and the addicted sod alike will entreat the lush to "come sit over here" or "let me buy you a drink, friend" but the lush is honor-bound to refuse. Let the amateurs enjoy one another's company. They can make their mistakes together. But the lush shouldn't pretend that the amateurs can do what he does. They can't maintain a stable personality through pools of liquor. They can't conduct themselves with dignity or hold off on tomorrow's regrets. Just like it's a kind of rape to have sex with someone who's only interested because they're drunk, it's harmful to be friendly with those who are only interested in bar-side companionship because they're drunk. The lush should keep his seat and accept no gifts from the amateurs or the alcoholics. That's giving up control, which is dangerous when a man's got a habit that naturally limits inhibition and has addictive properties.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Once in a long while, two lushes meet on a sodden night. Every now and then, the lush needs to make a mistake. It keeps him honest, keeps him informed about his habit. But he shouldn't make a habit of playing the friend to drunk strangers. There's only hurt and danger down that road.