Today is Festivus, a time for the Airing of the Grievances and the Feats of Strength, or, if you don't know what I'm talking about, a time to go watch probably the best episode of Seinfeld ever.
Before it was Festivus, today was what I used to call Christmas Eve Eve, which in my family was the last shopping day before Christmas because our festival of holidays lasted three days from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, after which time we'd eaten so much no one could move.
Christmas Eve Eve holds a special place in my memory because it is the anniversary of the first time I was ever drunk. I was a late bloomer as far as the whole drinking thing (I suppose I had to be a late bloomer at something to make up for my early and enthusiastic adoption of the sex, but I digress). My high school friends weren't big drinkers. I mean, they weren't tee totalers or anything, but most of us were more occupied with playing sports or music or both, and all of us would have been killed and eaten by our parents if we didn't keep up our universally excellent grades. College is where most of the group finally took to the sauce - I've heard stories of my brother running down the road barefoot wearing a flag as a cape his freshman year and I know I was drunk dialed more than once by Kelly and TupperDoug. It was not so for me. In a misguided attempt to please my family, I had started dating and subsequently got engaged to a bible thumping deliberate virgin, and under no circumstances would there be any pre-marital sex or drinking of any kind (the biggest fight we ever had is when some of the guys on his floor were watching porn and I was like "OOO! PORN!" and then found out that The Lord would smite me if I even thought about enjoying porn.) (oh also, even though I was only with him because I thought he was the kind of guy my family wanted me to be with, I found out later that they all hated him because he was an annoying know-it-all and they were all relieved when I broke up with him. So, gigantic waste of time then, except that it came in handy a couple of weeks ago at trivia when I knew who had the highest lifetime batting average in the MLB because he was a walking sports almanac and made me memorize that sort of thing. It was Ty Cobb, by the way, .367.) So that collegiate right of passage was ruined for me. Eventually I broke up with him because SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL?, but by then I had graduated and gone back to Cleveland, two years early because I had plenty of time on my hands for studying and going to class since I wasn't drinking or having any sex, and all my friends were still away at school having a normal and more awesome experience.
We would make it a point to get together over breaks. One year on Christmas Eve Eve, I believe in 1999, TupperDoug, Kelly and I realized we all had a little last minute shopping we needed to take care of. Kelly had only just gotten home so our plan was that she would have dinner with her parents and her sister and then she would call us when they were finished and we would go pick her up and head to the McMall. TupperDoug came over to my house where we hung out waiting for the call from Kelly. We waited. And waited. And waited. A number of hours went by and TupperDoug and I were getting a little bit pissy. Finally we called her and this is what she had to say. "I'm sooo sorry you guys, we totally lost track of time. See, we had a bottle of wine with dinner, and then we got to talking and we had another bottle of wine and......... listen, my whole family's drunk. Do you want to just come over here instead?" Obviously we did, so we hopped in the Tuppermobile and headed over, stopping along the way to pick up some beer or something from the liquor store. By the time we got there, a few other friends and neighbors had been called and were sitting around the table with Kelly, Simmy and their parents and they were all drinking toasts to, well, anything really. "Doug and Amber are here YYYYEEEEAAAA!" they shouted, raising their glasses to us and gulping down some wine. "Oh look and they brought beer YYYEEEAAAA!" they shouted, raising their glasses to us and gulping down more wine. TupperDoug and I got right to it. Someone poured me a glass of red and we joined in on what had basically become a "cheers to everything" drinking game. This continued for a long time, as more friends and neighbors kept showing up, because apparently they had called everyone in the address book and said "come drink".
And then the shots started. I specifically remember vodka and moonshine, which Kelly and Simmy's dad had been given by someone for a reason I never cared to find out. There may have been some tequila. Hell, there may have been anything really, I was already half plowed before the shots even started. Despite being the oldest and most experienced drinkers, and also being English, the parents (who are also my pretend aunt and uncle, though for some reason I've been calling them "Mum and Dad" for the better part of 20 years) were already annihilated (the several hour head start probably didn't help matters). So when Simmy's date that night showed up to take her out, her Dad immediately started pouring the guy a shot. What followed was a several minute struggle between the two parents, with Simmy's mother yelling "Stop that! HE'S DRIVING YOUR DAUGHTER!" while trying to pour the shots back into the bottle, even as Simmy's dad was tipping the bottle sideways and pouring even more shots. They bathed the table in spilled vodka.
In the meantime, I had completely lost control of myself. The alcohol hit me hard and also all at once, so I went from interesting conversationalist to totally incoherent in the space of one sentence.
Let's take a break from that and talk about family traits for a moment. You know how sometimes you can look at a family and every has the same nose or the same smile? In my family, we all seem to have the same set of personality traits. For instance, everyone in my family allegedly makes the same face when we are trying to make a point. This was christened "The [My family name] Stare" by the comic when we were visiting Cap and Mrs. Sizemore in St. Louis. Despite not knowing the term because he had only just made it up, Mrs. Sizemore instantly knew what he was talking about and the two of them collapsed into conspiratorial laughter. So there's that one. There's also another one: when we have been drinking we get Loud. My suspicion is that this is due to our collective thinly disguised feeling of smug superiority. When we've had to much to drink, we dispense with the disguise entirely, and because we believe what we have to say is really PROFOUND and IMPORTANT, we all very suddenly go to eleven.
This being the first time I'd ever been drunk we were all about to find this out. The moment I realized I was impaired, I was struck by the desire to inform everyone of the momentousness of the occasion. "YOU GUYS!" I screamed. "I am SUPERDRUNK! You can't let me drink ANY MORE. I AM CUT OFF! DO you hear me? CUT! OFF!" And then I poured myself some more wine and repeated this at top volume throughout the evening.
The "cheers to everything" drinking game was still going on, but now it had evolved (or maybe devolved) into "cheers to drunk dialing". It worked like this: Mum would call someone, the rest of us didn't know who (she may not have either) and then she would say some random thing and the rest of us would erupt with screams and cheering. Everyone would take a drink, mum would hang up, and we'd start the whole process over again. We were having a good time with this until she made one call that started with "Hello! We're all DRUNK!" A mighty roar erupted from the crowd, but then she continued with "So I just wanted to let you guys know that Amber probably won't be coming home tonight." She'd just drunk dialed my parents and then ratted me out. I was too drunk to be furious but had no problem being Loudly Incredulous per the family tradition.
The rest of the night I remember in patches, as drunks are wont to do. At one point my pseudo-uncle was sitting on the kitchen floor mumbling to himself, "Turn your head and cough!" and we have a lovely photo somewhere of my pseudo-aunt standing next to the table covered in empty bottles where she looks for all the world like a spree killer who just happened upon a herd of fresh prostitutes. As for myself, I learned another important lesson that night about me and drinking, which is that when I hit the wall I don't just run into it, I plow through it like the Kool-Aid man yelling "OH YEAH!" while bricks rain down on me. One minute I was fine, the next minute I had passed out on the couch and managed to vomit gallons of red wine onto my white sweater while remaining passed out. When they found me they did the only thing they could - pull my shirt off me, carry my ass to the bathroom and lay me on the floor. This would prove to be the start of something golden. To this day, if the stories told the next day don't end up with me sleeping on the bathroom floor, then I wasn't really that drunk. Kelly did her best to get me to sleep in a bed and also to put a shirt on, but I wasn't having it. I liked the floor and I wasn't moving, so instead she laid a clean shirt on top of me like a blanket and left me there to sleep it off. Around 7:00 a.m. I was awoken by TupperDoug, who had come to collect me before sneaking out.
It was now Christmas Eve, and by tradition we were all expected at my (real) aunt and uncle's place mid-afternoon for a ham dinner and to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus (really) before heading off to church (another fond childhood memory - before church started they would hand out little white candles for us to light and hold up at the end of the service when everyone sang Christmas hymns by candlelight. All the kids in my family would spend the entire church service warming the candles in our hands and between our knees to soften them up so we could bend them into odd shapes. One time my cousin Bryan managed to tie his candle in a knot). Upon arrival the five of us who'd been involved in the prior evening's festivities looked one another over and I have to tell you, we looked like shit. We felt even worse and the idea of ham or food of any kind was simply nauseating. But as much as we all wanted to die, there was a sparkle in the eyes of all of us as co-conspirators of what would become the Legendary Night of Christmas Eve Eve.
KELLY, DOUG, SIMONE and anyone else who was there and happens to read this: PLEASE leave your memories of this night in the comments. I know we will never be able to give a complete picture of the awesomeness to anyone who wasn't there but damn it, we can try.