St. Patrick's Day is this weekend, and I think that's as good an excuse as any to talk about my favorite drunken pastime. No, it's not darts, or pool, or even that old classic: Saying Things I'll Soon Regret. My favorite drinking tradition is the annual telling of the Drunk Stories. Nobody spins a vomit-soaked yarn as vigorously as an Irishman, but hell, maybe we can all put our favorites down here and see who can compete.
A good drinking story has to have a few key elements: First, nobody can get seriously harmed in it. Nothing brings a raucous bar tale to a screeching halt like "... and that's why she'll never walk again!" Second, the story has to be at your or a close friend's expense. I know every story needs a hero, but the hero in a good drinking story has to look like kind of an asshole for it to work. You can stick it to your boss in a drunken anecdote, sure, but the good ones aren't about the time you said something devastatingly clever to him -- they're about that time you threw up in his lap and took a swing at his dog. And finally, you need to have a good title that seems bizarre at first, but makes perfect sense by the end.
Here, I'll go first: This is the Tale of the Exploding Chili Flight.
I grew up in a small, rural town called Redmond, Oregon. It was laid out like every other small, rural town in the country: There was a main street for all the shops, a few satellite neighborhoods for all the houses, and a vast open wilderness for all the drunken teenagers. I pity you city kids. I have no idea how you guys got hammered. The lack of space seems like a huge logistical hurdle to me. Because, as small town kids, we could always just crash at Mother Nature's pad.
Plus if you get a few drinks in her, that bitch gets nasty.
Parents, in case you're confused about this -- and I really don't think you are; I think you understand the game perfectly and go along with it because it gives you a night to bone unimpeded by whiny adolescents -- but on the off chance that you're naive enough to take things at face value, your teenagers do not own a full set of camping gear because they love the great outdoors. Camping, to a teenager, is just code for "getting drunk in the dirt."
Everybody who grew up in a small town had a drinking spot 10 miles outside city limits, accessible by a hidden patch of dirt one could only generously call a "road." Here's a hint: Your spot does not count unless there was one patch of road that veered wildly over a boulder or down a gully and would completely take out your suspension if you weren't prepared for it. That's your drunken teenage moat, and it's absolutely necessary, because it lends you a false sense of security. I say false because, of course, it will not stop the cops from trekking to the end of the road to find you: They know how to get over it, too. Where do you think they did their underage drinking?
My particular camping spot was further protected: At the end of the dirt road, you had to clamber down a narrow path cut into a steep and rocky cliff. The path was difficult to navigate during daylight, nearly impossible at night, downright lethal while drunk, and absolutely murderous while drunk at night. Which is probably for the best, because it meant nobody ever left to drive home with a serious buzz. If you were sober enough to mountain-goat up that death-path by moonlight, you were sure as shit sober enough to drive -- if not when you set out, then certainly by the time you reached the top.
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And if you made it without spilling your beer, you were awarded 12 gold septims and a virgin bride.
So one night we were at the bottom of said cliff, drinking like only teenagers can -- which is to say, very, very poorly -- and talking about important teenage issues -- which is to say, how drunk we were, how drunk we were going to be, and how to work girls without a manual -- when somebody finally got a good fire going.
Now, there is a universal camping rule that applies to all ages and all states of mind, but is especially potent when applied to teenage boys with like eight PBRs in them. And the rule says this: If there are things around, they are going into the fire.
Any things, all fires.
Wood? Sure. Cardboard? Makes sense. A camping chair? Yeah, I was going to stand anyway. This Cat Stevens CD? Of course; fuck that guy. A half-full beer? Well all right, we all make some sacrifices in the name of Science. I mean, how else are you going to know what happens to stuff when it's on fire, if not by lighting it all on fire?
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Truly, this was all in the name of academia.
So there we were, post burning spree, standing on our now completely empty patch of dirt around our obscenely raging fire -- you know, having everything a man needs -- when somebody set off a bomb.
A chili bomb.
Some assholes had tossed an unopened can of chili into the fire, and as it raged hotter and hotter, fueled by the unique chemical combination of polyurethane canvas, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and easy listening, the contents pressurized and the can exploded. It was just an ordinary can, but the bastard blew like a stick of dynamite. Embers and bits of flaming detritus shot out in every direction.
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I can say without hyperbole that it was infinity times bigger than this.
Now, keep in mind that none of us, save two dickheads giggling in the forest, knew it was just a chili can. As far as the people standing immediately around the fire knew, we had just discovered that Yusuf Islam has a violent explosive reaction when combined with Coleman's esteemed Butt King Model Outdoor Seating Solution. I was standing right there by the fire, quite drunk, when I heard a massive explosion and felt something hit me in the back of the head, then reached up to find that my hand came away wet with bits of red pulpy stuff. I thought I was dying.
My fucking gray matter was leaking out into the dirt!
Judging by the panicked screams, at least a few others were stupid and/or inebriated enough to jump to that same conclusion. But when the terror died down, and we realized that our own brains probably did not smell of a delicious blend of beans and spices, everybody stopped worrying about cranial damage and started worrying about the real consequences: Somebody might have called the cops.
"Sure, I may have destroyed the part of my brain responsible for remembering math, but we've got bigger problems: Those guys might tell my parents!"
Massive explosion in the woods outside a small town? Everybody knows what that means: meth lab. The cops would surely be coming to investigate. We had to scatter, post haste. But, of course, we were all stuck at the bottom of a cliff, drunk, in the dark.
And so began my longest journey. That shit was like The Lord of the Rings: all fraught with peril and dramatic scenery, lots of slow pans and pleading stares, and I'm pretty sure there was an elf at some point -- although keep in mind that I was also quite high. To really drive home the stakes of this undertaking, let me veer off real quick to tell you another story:
I spent one St. Patrick's Day at the bottom of that cliff getting drunk with an esteemed fellow named Goat. We were chasing straight whiskey with a bottle of watermelon schnapps, because the running theme of this column is that teenagers are incredibly goddamn stupid and should under no circumstances be given things as nice as livers or whiskey. Then [scene missing], and I woke up bloody in a trailer.
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Coming this summer: Wake Up Bloody in a Trailer: The Story of Literally Everybody in Central Oregon.
According to eyewitness testimony, Goat and I spent the rest of that night emptying bottles and falling over. Somebody got the brilliant idea that we all needed to sleep it off at home, because it was too cold for camping. So our friends went about dragging us two black-out-drunk idiots up a cliff in the dark. Every four feet or so, either Goat or I would eat shit on the jagged volcanic rocks. Apparently, every time one of us biffed it onto a pile of spikes, the other would laugh and yell out, "At least I'm not as drunk as THAT guy!"
When I woke up in that trailer the next day, I looked at my hands, stomach, and knees -- all covered in blood and scrapes. Outside the window, I saw a cactus and a brown-skinned man with a leaf blower. Goat was asleep in the cot across from mine.
"Goat, are we in Mexico?" I asked him.
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See a tan fellow outside; assume you are in Mexico. Racist, drunk, stupid, or all three? THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU! (But probably not.)
Goat stood up, also looking like an extra from the prom scene in Carrie, and weaved over to peer outside.
"Shit," he said, "I think we are in Mexico."
Then he went back to bed.
It turned out we were not in Mexico, however. We were, in actuality, sleeping inside Goat's trailer. Where he lived. Which he not only did not recognize, but upon peering out the window, was actually able to confirm as a different country.
Seriously, at least I wasn't as drunk as THAT guy.
I relate that story to drive home the fact that I am an idiot, but also to illustrate how gnarly that cliff was in the dark with a few drinks in you. I still have the scars to this day. So when we got to the top unscathed on Chili Bomb Night, it was like a miracle happened. We probably should not have been driving, but there were surely cops coming to investigate the explosion, and again, what's the theme here? That's right: dumbass teenagers.
We immediately ran to our cars and hightailed it out of there. It was nothing short of divine: Surely, the gods were smiling upon me. They wanted me to make it out of these shenanigans and safely to my home, entirely unmolested by the cops that were right behind me.
There were cops. Right behind me. Sirens on.
"You know why we pulled you over tonight?"
"Because you're going to molest me?"
Shit. I pulled over, took a breath, steadied myself, and waited for the officer to approach my window. When he was halfway there, that ominous backlit shadow growing steadily larger in my rearview mirror, I realized I was still completely and utterly covered in chili.
Oh God, what was I going to say? I had to think up something clever fa-
"How you doing tonight, son?" the policeman asked, shining his little flashlight right onto my meaty face.
"Good." I said.
No! Wha- what the fuck are you doing? Say something else! Say anything else!
He stared at me silently. I stared back.
Say literally anything, man! You're covered in meat and spices, fleeing the scene of a rural explosion, you're not "good!" You were eating chili out of a cup while driving and swerved to miss a deer. You got in a fight with your girlfriend, and she threw chili on you! You work for Hormel and this batch is not making it past quality control! Fucking say any sentence! Subject! Predicate! Make your mouth work!
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"I'm sorry, officer: I don't speak languages."
Just ... words! Say words! "Solipsistic." That's solid. "Bureau" -- "bureau" is a good word. You know what? Call him a dick. Tell him he looks like a penis in a Dudley Do-Right hat. Say you have a bomb. Threaten him with high explosives, because literally any words right now are better than no words! Grim, steely-eyed silence is not going to bluff you out of being pulled over in a chili suit.
"You sure everything's all right?" He asked again.
"Yep." I said.
GOD DAMN IT.
"Well OK then," he answered after a skeptical moment, "I pulled you over because your license plate light is out. Might wanna get that checked."
And he walked. Back. To. His. Car.
Holy shit, I thought, it must not have been that bad. He probably didn't even notice the chili. It was dark, and come to think of it, I only felt the thwack on the back of my skull. I was facing the officer the entire time, of course, with the back of my head pointed away from him. From his point of view, I bet I seemed totally passable.
Then I got home, and looked in the mirror. The entire left side of my face -- the side facing the cop, the side staring up at him from the driver's window -- was covered in red sauce. There was hamburger in my hair. There was a bean in my ear. Just a straight up bean, hanging out in my ear. Plain as day. And a police officer pulled me over in this state, at two in the morning on a rural road. He took one glance at me, looking for all the world like I'd just given vigorous head to a barbecue restaurant, and he decided that he'd rather not do the paperwork.
I may not be Irish, but I've sure as hell stolen you bastards' luck for a night or two.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.
This St. Patrick's Day, keep your mind sharp -- you never know what's lurking right around the corner. For instance, it could be one of these 5 Animals That Could Take Over the World (If They Wanted To).