|I swear this was the only time!
Teaching Flat Jon a few bad habits
|Those who lead the way
Another one down the hatch
|Wow, what a night! I’ve just come home from a night of fun
and drinking with my friends, and I’ve set a personal record.
Before I moved to Washington DC, I never really drank much. All
through high school and university, I hung out with the drug crowd more
often than the drinking crowd. If I ever ran for president, there is no
way I could get away with saying I didn’t inhale. I did, and often, but
that’s not what I’m writing about tonight.
Tonight I was out with the drinking crowd. First we went to dinner at
a cool Russian restaurant, Yolki Polki, then, after the tasty meal, we
went looking for a good bar. The fact it was Tuesday night didn’t stop
us. The fact that the bar we wanted to go to was closed didn’t stop us.
Not even the Smirnoff outlet store stopped us! Ok, it would have stopped
us, but their bar was under remont.
After a good walk and a round of public urination (one of the few
benefits of being a man), we made it to Vermel. After finding a table, a
miracle on the weekends, we sat down and started some serous drinking.
In true Russian tradition, we went for vodka,
and a lot of it. We started with what one guy called a lemon drop, a
shot followed by a lemon slice coated with sugar. Of course, the
Russians among us though we were sissies. Any Russian will tell you that
a vodka shot can only be chased by a pickle, a slice of bread, or the
scent of a good woman.
I know, you think I’m kidding about the last one, but I’m serous.
It’s an old tradition to do a shot, then deeply inhale though the nose,
the scent of a woman’s hair. The tradition goes back to the time in old
Rus, when a woman’s hair was thought to be a corrupting influence,
tempting men to do evil things. These days, its done more for fun, but
still you should know the woman you sniff, lest you find her
boyfriend/husband looking at you funny.
So there we were, doing the second, then the third, then the fourth
round of the firewater, getting louder and jollier with each douse.
Oddly enough, no matter how drunk men get, I’ve never seen a drunken
fight here. In the states, all it takes is a six-pack and two men to
have an argument, but in Russia, a bottle of vodka (or two) makes the
room come alive with laughter. Maybe it’s the 70 years of gulag
punishment if you were rowdy, maybe it’s the hard life that takes out
all the fight, or maybe it’s the cold night that awaits all who even
come close to fisticuffs, but when the bottle opens, the troubles fade
After the fifth round, we ordered some food, so all this vodka
wouldn’t be sloshing around in our guts. I don’t remember too much about
the food, we were a bit past the functioning taste bud point, having
given up the lemon chasers somewhere around the third or forth shot. As
we ate, we signaled for the next round by flicking our necks. Odd way to
get service, but we are in Russia, the only place in the world where
this tradition could evolve from a poor man’s choice. The story goes
something like this:
During the time of the Tzars, a poor peasant somehow saved the life
of the Tzar. The Tzar offered the man a reward for his service to the
‘Do you want gold?’ asked the Tzar. ‘No,’
answered the peasant.
‘Do you want land?’ asked the Tzar. ‘No,’
answered the peasant.
‘Do you want women?’ asked the Tzar. ‘No,’
answered the peasant.
‘Well, what do you want? Asked the Tzar. ‘My only wish is
for all the vodka I can drink!’ answered the peasant.
So the Tzar tattooed his personal seal on the neck of the peasant,
and from then on, the peasant would walk into a tavern, flick the tattoo
on his neck and shout ‘We drink!’
Two hundred years later, Russians are still flicking their necks and
drinking, and now I too, have this habit.
Shots six through nine were done too fast for the obligatory toast.
Usually, we say a toast before each shot, starting with a toast to the
present company, and then extending out to whom or whatever you desire.
I do remember one toast, made for all the tea in China, which was topped
by a toast to everyone in the world, except us. The Georgians are said
to have toasts so long that your arms get tired, and I hope to look into
that when I travel through Southern Russia this summer.
By shot ten, I was amazed at my drinking ability. I’d made it this
far without passing out, what I usually do somewhere around shot six. If
you do the math, at 50 cl a round, I consumed half a liter of vodka by
then. Half a liter! And when I stood up to walk tot he toilet, I
realized that my legs were more drunk than my head.
Shortly after shot ten, and a tall glass of water, I stumbled to the
taxi for a ride home. After two ice cream bars, a long phone call that I
hardly remember, and a half-attempt at cleaning off my bed, I was sound
asleep. The next morning found me devoid of altitude sickness (I could
stand without my head exploding), and after a long shower, I was off to
work. Oh yeah, did I mention this was a weeknight too? No rest for the