Drinking and the games it inspires

When I was growing up, in the seventies, attitudes towards drinking were obviously different than today's. Here in Kansas I could begin legally drinking beer when I was eighteen, but even before that, when I was as young as thirteen, my mom would get mad at those few waitresses who refused to serve me a glass of wine with dinner. "I'm his mother," she would patiently explain. If that didn't work, she would say, "All right then, I'll have two glasses." Sticklers. I can remember Mom asking if she needed to pour Dad a fresh cocktail as they prepared to drive out to the Lakeshore Club or Lancers for dinner on the weekends; and in my mind I can still see my dad driving his giant Buick down the bypass, with his C.B. radio handset Velcroed to the dash, a Fuzzbuster blinking overhead, and, in his hand, a scotch and water in a highball glass with a wet paper napkin wrapped around the bottom.

Mom and Dad didn't drive around loaded. They weren't alcoholics or monsters. That's just how a certain class of people acted then. Today, of course, in the aftermath of zero tolerance and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they would certainly confront more compelling obstacles than a disagreeable waitress if they publicly ordered their thirteen-year-old a glass of Blue Nun. But things were different then.

Including high school and college. In those days, getting blind was the stated mission of any high school function conducted after dark. Ordering breathalyzer kits was not a part of the preparations for homecoming. Urinalysis was not cheerfully administered to the king and queen. In those days liquor was available to all but the least industrious of students, and we had any number of tricks to help us obtain it. When it was my turn to buy the cherry vodka, my favorite trick, since I was obviously underage, was to lie so hugely as to hope to appear to be lying more than anyone could believe I would. That is, I wouldn't claim to be just twenty-one, the legal age for spirits; I would claim to be twenty-eight, to own a Cessna Citation, and would explain to the clerk that that's where my identification was: locked in the Citation. This actually worked. I once completed a sale by demonstrating a familiarity with the Maya Angelou book the clerk was reading. Another preposterous tactic was to buy a relatively expensive bottle of wine; I don't know why people fell for that. We couldn't have pronounced any two words off the label, but, in global terms, my friends and I had massive amounts of available cash and an any-port-in-a-storm mentality. We would take the wine out to the car, push the cork in with the car keys, and drink it directly from the bottle.

By the time we attained college age, it was ridiculous to think that we couldn't buy a bottle of tequila immediately upon deciding that we wanted to. I can remember, in one liquor store in Lawrence, claiming to be twenty-one and then incorrectly guessing twice what year I would have to have been born in for that to be true, before getting it right the third time and being sold whatever it was I had brought to the counter. Getting liquor, in those days, was the easiest drinking game of all.

Drinking Games

A friend of mine told me once that she was thinking of going back into graduate school and that she was worried about explaining what she had been doing with her life in the year since she had last gone. It made me think: What had I been doing, not with just the past year, but with the past twenty-five? Wasn't there some sort of goal I should've been working toward all this time?

Of course the goal that my friends and I had been working toward was to stay alive and to make the voices in our heads less accusatory. That's how it is that I happen to know a lot of drinking games. These aren't the kind of drinking games that typically result in making out with strangers or in penalty shots, although on a bad night the worst of them, I Never, can play out like the third act of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? These are more like drinking activities, developed or stolen by me and my group of friends back when drunkenness ceased to be an end in itself.

I Never

Now that I've invoked it, we'll waste no time in getting I Never out of the way. I Never is like an ugly, ruthless cousin to Truth or Dare; although it generally begins benignly enough, it's an ideal staging ground for mercenary revenge and should only be played among people you're getting to know, not those you know well. If an ex is present, rest assured that someone will soon start crying, throw a drink on another player, or walk nine miles home.

I Never requires four to eight players. Play begins with any player and goes in turns around the table. The beginning player makes a truthful statement beginning with the words "I never..." For instance, the player whose turn it is might say, "I never worked at McDonald's," provided that he really never has. Anyone at the table who has done whatever it is the speaker hasn't – in this case worked at McDonald's – is obliged to reveal that he has by taking a drink. Then the turn passes on to the next player.

I Never cannot be won. I used to play I Never with a group of journalists I was hanging out with for a time in clubs that I remember not being old enough to legally enter. (In retrospect, I can't think of a worse profession from which to cull I Never players unless it would be something like military intelligence.) These journalists told of a fabled I Never game in which a couple on a first date ran into some of her co-workers at a bar. They all began playing I Never. When the guy got his turn he said he had never slept with the woman, and all the other men at the table drank. For reasons like this, I Never should be considered a non-spectator game. If you insist on playing it, you can marginally protect the innocent by banning the use of names.

Free Association

A less punishing way to get to know people is Free Association. We started playing this game at parties in Lawrence because we were just learning about Freud and Jung and what it meant if you dreamt about trains – not to mention the Surrealists with their automatic writing and emphasis on the subconscious – and I think that we imagined that we ought to actually get college credit for playing it. It wasn't just fun, it was somehow instructive and thus good for you, and so much cheaper than a psychologist. (People didn't go to psychologists back then anyway. We saw the need to seek therapy as being exotic and glamorous, like heroin addiction, because we didn't yet have The Road Less Traveled, The Prince of Tides, or even Trainspotting – only Suddenly Last Summer, Ordinary People, and Naked Lunch.)

The theater crowd was crazy about Free Association, not only for its arts-and-psychology bias, but also because you can show off a little bit when you play it. (Not to mention flirt; to do this, position yourself just after the intended recipient of your attention so that you can pause and say "wow" after he's spoken and then steer everything back to him.) Free Association is a pointless game that no one wins.

Free Association needs a group. (You can play with just two, but don't forget to use protection.) Play begins with any player and moves in turns in a circle around the group. The first player begins by saying any word that comes into his head. The next player says any word that the word just given reminds him of. Play continues for as long as you like.

The Ten Worst Movies Ever Made

We'll have more drinking games in the coming weeks, but for the time being we'll wrap up this week's entry with a really esoteric item: the Ten Worst Movies Ever Made.

The Ten Worst Movies Ever Made was spontaneously invented by my friend Brad one afternoon at Kirby's Beer Store when he suddenly cried, "Let's play the Ten Worst Movies Ever Made!" Pens and paper were distributed, and although Brad never explained more, those of us present found that we already knew how to play. We took our papers and, while guarding them from the view of others, jotted down our choices; when we were all done, we took turns reading our titles in ascending order.

If you think the Ten Worst Movies Ever Made sounds like a loser, just wait until we get to P-- H----, What Am I?, and Schenectady Match. There is no winner when the Ten Worst Movies Ever Made is the game; although I personally have always enjoyed a round, it's also true that Brad and I once went to see Death Wish 3 twice in one day, paying full admission both times. We love that stuff. We cherish the scene, for instance, where the Kaprovs, a salt-of-the-earth, older, Jewish couple, use the semi-automatic weapon Charles Bronson's character has provided them with in order to defend their Brooklyn home from a street gang. "You got one!" Mrs. Kaprov cries.

Brad's the only one who's always predictably up to a game.