I know little about alcohol. I think Jim Beam is a character from “The Grapes of Wrath.” I think Poland Spring is tonic water. I think golf is a sport. Friends worry about my ignorance because they believe, as a columnist for this newspaper wrote years ago, that “The Harvardian who has never been drunk, who has been too delicate, sensitive and yes, too scared to kneel before King Bacchus…has just plain missed out.”
Rubbish. You can buzz without a beerfest.
Not that I discourage drinking. The Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services says that four fifths of Harvardians drink. Only a Lemonade Lucy would try to change that number. Harvardians use hard alcohol more often than other students but also more safely. They binge less than a third of the time while their peers binge over two fifths of it. Besides, happy drunks are fun: “I had a vodka tonic and I feel delightful!”
No, my crusade is more modest: to suggest moderation. To my drinking buddies, intoxication is emancipation. It offers infinite benefits. For instance, “Alcohol makes you less awkward,” they tell me. Please—alcohol makes you more awkward. When you were sober, you said that girl at the party was into you. Now that you’re drunk, you’re slapping your wrist, thrusting your pelvis, and shouting “You gotta hit that s—, man!” in front of the freshmen. Thank goodness your dry friend is there to tell people you’re referring to schoolwork.
“Drinking would be more fun if you were smashed,” my buddies reply. Again, I need convincing. When everyone is hammered, everyone is volatile. We’re at a party and you look plastered, so our sauced friend says, “Hey buddy, let’s get you home.” You explode: “What do you mean ‘hey buddy’?” I stop the fight and bring you home, but because you’re sloshed, you insist that we walk through Cambridge Common—at midnight—as you ask me, “What is the highest virtue?” Or maybe those are just my friends.
“No need to play grandpa,” my buddies retort—they’re stubborn when they’re juiced. Alcohol is a truth serum, and honesty is essential to friendships. Sometimes you need to shed your inhibitions. True, but you should keep a few for good measure. When I ask if you like the girl who eyed you at the party, all I need to know is “She’s nice, but no.” I can survive without demon rum’s opinion: “Oh God, she’s fat, so fat, so very, very fat.” Drunkenness is awkward, aggressive, and boorish.
Yes, these examples are unusual. Most Harvardians drink responsibly. Even I have a gin and tonic on occasion. But a good time does not require that you forget it the next morning. You can be content with Bud Light—or Barq’s. That said, I’m not concerned about teetotalers. If you can’t stand up to your drunk friends, you’re spineless. Rather, I’m concerned about the need for a moderate lifestyle, one that mixes drudgery with frivolity evenly.
Some students oscillate between extremes. They work, work, work until all they want to do is get wasted. Freshmen typify this regimen. OAODS found that three tenths of them drink when they arrive in September, but by October half of them do. The majority drinks reasonably, yet half of alcohol-related admissions to University Health Services each year are freshmen. Almost all these cases occur between Move-In Day and Harvard-Yale Weekend. These students swing rapidly between “stuffed shirt” and “popped collar.”
This drastic shift happens only once. Afterward, Harvardians follow national trends in their drinking patterns. Yet the belief that you should “work hard, play harder” remains. Unfortunately, this lifestyle offers too much stress and too little sleep. You’re skimming 200 pages a day in reading period because you spent your Sundays during the semester hung over. Why not study during the day and drink at night? Why not play as hard as you work?
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” you think. Think again. Moderation is hard because it demands self-regulation. You sophisticates are more egregious than you realize. We’re playing beer pong when I notice you refilling your cups. “Haven’t you had enough?” I ask as you so urbanely chortle, “I can handle way more than this!” An hour later, you’re puking in my bag of Doritos. “You don’t understand,” say my buddies—there they go again—“It’s OK to have 12 beers if they loosen you up. Alcohol makes me witty!” Sure, and pizza makes me Italian. If you’re witty, be witty. Skip the blackout.
Here’s my friends’ morsel of truth: Everyone needs to chill. But here’s mine: To chill does not necessarily mean to chug. Whether working or playing, we should live moderately. And we should respect teetotalers. They drive us home from the bar.
Brian J. Bolduc ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears regularly.