You never forget the first time you learned that the phrase “pissed drunk” is not just a colorful figure of speech. For me it came in the mid-nineties, in a small one-bedroom unit on the outskirts of Aspen, Colorado. I’d gone there intending to visit a college friend for a few days on my way to “finding myself” in California, but for a variety of reasons best left to my eventual biographer, I decided to stay a while. In the beginning there were four guys living together in extremely tight quarters. Rent: $300 each for the two fellas sharing the bedroom, $200 apiece for the “living room boys” — Joe and me.
It happened after yet another long day of Phase II drinking. Phase I is where you can still count the number of drinks you’ve had; Phase II is where you just count the hours you’ve been drinking, figuring your burn rate is about six or seven drinks an hour (it’s not unlike the drug guys in movies who weigh the money instead of counting it). And it had been a ski season filled with too many Phase IIs.
That time, it was Jägermeister and cheap beer slam-dancing in my cranial mosh-pit, and I had to go something awful. Unable to move, I opened the floodgates right there on the living room floor, relief mixing with animal shame. Bad enough in any case, but worse then because the living room floor doubled as my bed every other night. On the “other” other night, Joe took the floor. As soon as he found out I’d soiled the carpet, however, Joe rightfully laid full-time claim to the sofa and from then on, the floor was all mine.
We didn’t get evicted for nearly four months, so I had plenty of time to become quite familiar with my own waste. The last thing I thought of every night before I passed out was urine, and it wasn’t the scent of fresh-brewed coffee that roused me each morning. When I finally peeled myself off the floor after another hard night, I put full faith in the Prayer of the Eternally Wasted: “Dear God, please let there be enough cash in my jeans to purchase at least one Bloody Mary.”
Despite my pleading and well-constructed appeals to their better natures, the fellas in the bedroom wouldn’t clear a space for me in there. They told me they paid extra so that they could have some privacy, and left unspoken that only a fool would allow a bed/floor-wetter into their personal sleeping space. Eventually it dawned on me that they didn’t want me in their room because they were afraid I’d do something to it. Something out of the ordinary, that is. It’s a shock to find that even relatively weird people — the sort nowhere near the mainstream — can be worried that one is capable of behavior horrible beyond reason. It’s another shock to realize they probably have a point.
Joe and I brought a fair share of women home — no small feat given that neither of us had any money. We were poor because we didn’t have real jobs. In those days I worked 12 hours a week babysitting skis at a slope called Buttermilk Mountain for $6 an hour and, more important, a free ski pass. Joe was a busboy at a local restaurant and, on occasion, a professional gigolo. The little money we made we spent on alcohol. A shitload of alcohol. And we worked the system. There were several joints that offered free happy-hour food, so we survived on that and the surprisingly filling pretzel mix at our favorite dive.
On one occasion I was driven to wonder aloud why, despite the myriad reasons they shouldn’t, women would now and then go home with guys like Joe and me. Kate the bartender said it was because we were ski bums. “Tourists love ski bums,” she explained. “They’re like trophies. Rites of passage. A notch on their belts.”
I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended at being called a bum, so I did what I always do when these sorts of dilemmas arise: I ordered another shot of whiskey. It was 11:45 pm on a Monday, I was still in my ski clothes, and a cute blonde was giving me the eye. I thought, “My God, Kate’s right!” Then I opted to invest even more money in recreational pursuits and bought the blonde a cocktail.
I lived in a run-down motel-turned-housing complex for employees of a fancy hotel where I made money carrying rich people’s bags. It would be considered decent digs in most towns, but in Aspen it was the ghetto. At one point I shared a studio apartment with four other guys. Housing five grown men in a 300-square-foot studio was a clear violation of safety regulations, not to mention the Geneva Convention, and in order to avoid detection by the property manager, we always had to keep the windows shut and the blinds closed. It stank like hell in that place, but hey, it was home. Rent: $150 a man.
Most nights seemed to involve some sort of minor altercation in or around one of Aspen’s many nightclubs, followed by the nagging thought that maybe I had started it. I’d often slip and fall on the ice after last call, which explained the ever-present welts. If I were with a woman, I’d usually execute a precautionary vomit in the men’s room in an effort to avoid any ugly incidents once I got her back to her place. And they say chivalry is dead.
Anywhere else in the world, this sort of behavior would warrant an intervention, and likely even incarceration. Not in Aspen. At least, not in my Aspen. In my Aspen, it passed for normal, and if you had the stamina to hold forth on the virtues of casual sex while balancing atop a barstool at closing time, well good for you.
Our merry band’s existence centered on skiing, but celebrated a post-collegiate lifestyle that may seem reckless from the outside and looks like a sick and frantic survival trip from the inside — especially as one realizes that the real world does not exactly condone any of it. This became evident from time to time, as did the sort of attention-deficit problems associated with the party life. An example: Shortly after we were evicted from the aforementioned apartment—you know, the one with the pee-soiled carpet—I ran into the landlady and we talked. She had asked us to leave rather nicely, citing “countless” violations of the lease, and we had complied without protest. There are times when you just know it’s best to move on. She even came over on the day we packed up to wish us well.
“I hope this place was good to you guys…even though you did have too many people living here,” she said, recounting one of those countless violations. She added, “I guess you got some use out of that sofa bed.”
We had a fucking sofa bed? And to think I spent all those nights on that stinking floor in my own…ah, screw it. Other people might say they pissed themselves laughing when they heard that. Not me. I know the downside of such sayings.
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