My first semester of college, I only had the balls to make a few purchases using my fake ID. Taking great pride in my affinity for whiskey (how many 18 year olds did you know who were that refined), I figured it would only make me more sophisticated if I kept a bottle of bourbon in my dorm room, just in case I needed a night cap or something. In my efforts to establish my high-brow cred, I lunged on the marked down price that the liquor store had on Jim Beam Black Label. Back then, I would have sworn to you that I could taste each of the 10 years that the bourbon was aged, as well as the impact of the barrel that housed it for a decade. In reality, it burned like every other liquor does to a teenager, the only difference was its tree bark-like aftertaste.
I opened up the fancy looking bottle that night, pouring a healthy dose into my UCF shot glass and trying not to make a contorted face as I swallowed it down. To Jim’s credit, the bourbon did go down very smoothly and it had a great flavor that was completely over my head at the time. After verifying that the liquor was enjoyable, I put it on top of my bookshelf and let it collect dust, waiting for the day that a friend would come over and we would drink shots and talk about where we were going to find girls that night. If you haven’t read much of this blog yet, I will tell you that day never really came.
A couple of months later, I was on the verge of turning 19 years old. My celebration of miraculously lasting so many years despite my poor adolescent decision-making skills would take place in Pensacola, as I was home for Thanksgiving break. It was November 22nd and my birthday wasn’t until midnight, but I had no intentions of being sober when the clock struck twelve and I had a very special mission for myself that night. With a full bottle of fancy Jim Beam bourbon (minus the one, above mentioned shot) in hand, I arrived at my friend’s house where soon all of my high school buddies would gather. On this night, I announced, I would be doing 20 shots. The math of course being 19 for each year, and 1 to grow on. It was an ambitious and impressive goal, but I was confident that it was attainable and Jim promised to make it enjoyable (at least for my taste buds).
My friends were very supportive of my goal and they alternated leading the way. They were drinking ‘Raging Bulls’ or something along those lines. I’m almost positive they just made it up. It was a mixed shot of bottom, bottom, bottom shelf tequila and Red Bull. When they did a mixed shot, I did a heaping double shot of my Bourbon. I can’t tell you how they fared throughout the night after the breakneck pace that they set, but I can tell you that my last conscious memory was holding up a double shot and slurring ‘This will make 12!’ The next morning, the tale was unanimous: I reached 16 shots in under an hour. After the last double, I mumbled something about sitting down before settling into a face down sprawl resembling many of the corpses on television crime procedurals.
Unwilling to let the birthday boy’s unconsciousness kill the mood of the party, my friends continued on around me, commandeering my camera to immortalize the night for posterity. I was good humored about all of this, and I felt genuinely loved and cared for when the guys told me about how every so often my closest childhood friend would tell people to ‘Go kick Brantley and make sure he’s still breathing.’ When I would flinch and/or groan from the stimulus, they would give the all clear and go back to drinking.
Being the competitive spirit that I am, I was disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal that night. I came pretty close considering my lack of strategy and pace. The defeat nagged at me for months until I put together a game plan and set out to climb that mountain once again.
Flash forward to Spring Semester: The ping pong table and fake ID are seeing regular use, I think I have friends, but really I just have people excited at the prospect of drinking beer in my dorm room a couple times a week. All in all, people in my building and community are interested in getting to know me. Strangers come over to my room and leave as friends even in the absence of us having anything in common. Some of the people I’m partying with will be a mainstay in my life for the next year and some will introduce me to people who will become some of my closest friends in the world. I’m battling social anxiety, but my confidence is growing beer by beer, night by night.
My 20-shots defeat has followed me all this time, and I know that it’s time to get that monkey off my back.
On that fateful night, I bought a handle of vanilla vodka and a 2 liter coke. I had a big cup of the soda with my dinner and topped the bottle off with 20 shots of vodka. I shook the now-vanilla coke (with vodka) up a bit to stir it around, and then let it settle in Ben’s Booze mini-fridge.
As people gathered for the nightly mischief, I proudly announced my intentions for the evening’s slate of beer pong. Rather than filling my cups with beer, I would be drinking from this bottle of Coca-cola. Should I finish the bottle, I will have consumed 20 shots of vodka, accomplishing an ambitious dream that I had fallen short of back in November.
With the support of everyone around me, I got underway. Game after game of beer pong progressed. I won some, I lost some, but none of them really mattered. The sugary syrup in that bottle got lower and lower. The giant cocktail was the precise strategy necessary for conquering this challenge. As I finished the bottle on a particularly dramatic final showdown, my beer pong partner hugged me and congratulated me. We had won the game, and I had accomplished my goal.
The night was young and my drinking stamina was adrenaline-fueled. I celebrated my 20 shots with a shot of Jack Daniels before consuming 6 more shots over the course of additional beer pong games.
The fact that I never blacked out is a testament to the time period over which this all took place. Later on, I would hear the term ‘brown out,’ which I guess is where you remember every period of time, but not really clearly enough to make sense of it. A friend who worked for the Housing department was on duty that night, working 12am-8am patrolling our community. He dropped by to congratulate me, and then he used his keys to get us onto the roof of my dorm building. My head was spinning like I was the girl from The Exorcist and I don’t care much for heights to begin with, so this probably wasn’t the best night to get such a spectacular view of our dorms.
Pictures documented the whole night including those moments on the roof. In each photo, I appear extremely pained by the flash. My face is slack as if I’m having a stroke, but underneath the sloppiness, I’d like to think that there is a spark of pride, a burgeoning confidence in a guy who set out to tackle a challenge, defeated it, and continued surging forward. Of course this is all self-serving optimism.
Regarding optimism and ‘brown outs,’ the next morning I awoke with two of the girls I was drinking with crammed into my twin bed with me. At the time, I wished I had blacked out, so I could carry a suspicion that I had a threesome that night. Given who these girls turned out to be in my life, I’m extremely happy to know for sure that nothing happened.
“How can you be so sure?” you might be asking. Well, I will tell you: That night, my liver kicked around inside of me as if I was a pregnant woman drinking a habanero smoothie. My head felt like I threw it off the roof of the dorm and then later kicked it around as I tried to retrieve it and put it back on my body. As I was unable to toss and turn due to the overpopulation of my bed, I got to feel the epic hangover as it descended upon me throughout the night. I dozed off occasionally, but only long enough for the girls to leave while I was out cold.
The next morning, I puked up yellowish green stuff in the shower. To this day, I have no idea what that was all about.
It’s tough to find a useful lesson in this one. Everything I can take away from the situation is so painfully obvious that it would be a waste of time to type it out.