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In the beginning of college, I was a drinker more than a student, but as I got in to my third year, I realized I needed to do some work to help me stand out to folks who would hire me after graduating. So, I started studying to get my GPA above the 2.76 it had been following my sophomore year. And then I decided that an internship would also help.
Finding an internship as a drunk, exceptionally average college student is remarkably difficult. It turns out that free labor is readily available and people fitting my bill are regarded as criminal threats moreso than the future workforce. So, after some looking, I managed to talk two biologists in to letting me do an internship on a research cruise of theirs. This meant they wouldn’t have to spend 7 weeks at sea and I would have to do a good enough job of collecting samples that they’d be able to publish a paper based on the results.
The boat was set to leave on February 2nd and return on March 24th. This in 1998, so the most horrible part for me was missing UNC’s dream season and then getting back just in time to watch it all fall apart. My parents were good enough to record the UNC Duke game from that year when UNC won by 27 and Vince Carter barely missed what would have easily been the greatest dunk in UNC history.
But more importantly, I was briefed by the two scientists a week before leaving and then, rather than returning to school for my spring semester, I flew out to San Diego, where I made my way to the Naval Yard. The boat I would spend the next 7 weeks on was 224 feet long and would house 28 of us – mostly permanent crew. There weren’t too many rules – the only one of any significance was “no beer.”
Now, there is simply no way to put in to words what life on a boat, never seeing land, for 7 full weeks is like. While there were 28 people at sea, we all worked alternate schedules and there’s something just not quite right about the kind of person who chooses to make a career of being a misanthrope. Just because you and them are in the same room doesn’t mean they want to talk to you any more than they want to be in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. So most of the 7 weeks was spent in my wet lab, working 18 hour days, in the dining area talking to the 3 other scientists, or in my room sleeping.
The first day out was probably the toughest, as we were immediately hit with 25 foot swells during an El Nino storm. Once I got my sea legs, that was no problem, but to be clear, time does not pass quickly at sea. We pretty much immediately left the Pacific Time Zone, and went to whatever time zone is next and then to another and another – I never had any idea what time it was. But that didn’t matter because you worked when the boat arrived at a research location, regardless of time of day. The captain would page your room or the wet lab and let you know that it was time to get out on deck. Sometimes it was 110 degrees and the sun was blazing down and sometimes it was the middle of the night and you were dodging petrils that were crashing into the boat, drawn by the lights.
After 2 weeks, I had forgotten most of my social skills and had pretty much withdrawn into my quarters to spend time alone. I had become squirrely. I took a journal with me out there and some of the entries suggest that I am capable of bad things. Very bad things. By the 4th week, routine had set in, and while I was still not socializing with anyone aboard the boat, I was coping with the routine rather than pacing my room or thinking about jumping from the ship.
Then in the 5th week, while on our way back to port from the equatorial Pacific, the cooks informed us that there was no more meat in the freezer and that we’d be eating pasta, beans, and whatever we managed to catch. One guy had brought a hand line set up to troll for marlin, so that was set up off the back of the ship. I had a pole that had landed some mahi and tuna at some of our stations, but in transit was only good for jigging squid. We at a lot of squid in those final 10 days. I no longer like squid.
Finally, at dawn on March 24th, we arrived back in San Diego. This was the hardest part of the trip for me. You see, now I could see land again for the first time in months and we had to clear customs. That doesn’t mean we got to get off the ship and walk somewhere. No, some guy came aboard to check our stuff. I had places to go. Beer to drink. Women to talk to. Beer to drink. And this guy is moseying from room to room without a care or worry in the world – just another day or him. I’m pretty sure I was the 28th person he met with and cleared to enter the US. It was almost 10am – 4 hours I had sat on that ship, able to get off the boat, but not allowed to.
But then, when I was cleared, my first thought wasn’t to go FedEx the samples I had collected for these other scientists. No, the first thing I did, at 10am on a Saturday, was go to a bar to play pool and drink a beer for the first time in nearly 2 months. San Diego is full of great bars and I was basically next to the gas light district, so that’s where I went.
It was a typical day in San Diego – sunny and 80. I went up to the first bar I got to and ordered a drink. It was so good. I think I had like a Coors Light or something that was the cheapest thing they had (I was still a poor college kid that needed quantity not quality). I may have ejaculated. It was fantastic. It was certainly less than 10 minutes later that I had another 20 ounce beer in my hand. Then another. And another. And another. This is a theme. I honestly don’t know how many beers I drank at that bar, but I was politely asked to leave shortly before 1pm because I had become unruly drunk.
So, I staggered up the sidewalk to the next bar, where I was refused service. On to the next bar. They were willing to let me drink and so I settled in there to spend some time. UNC was due to play that afternoon, so I wanted to be at a sports bar for that. I drank a few more beers and tried to play a few games of pool with other lesser drunks, but being as drunk as I was, I was neither winning games nor losing well. And so it was that I was politely asked to leave my third bar of the day around 2pm.
I was pretty sure UNC was playing in half an hour, so I went to the big sports bar where I could reasonably well blend in and watch it. And that worked. I picked a spot and was willing to take a break from drinking. Still wobbly, I thought it might be wise to eat something to help sober me a bit so I could stay out at night. But that proved to be a mistake, as I wasn’t able to slur clearly enough to remain at that establishment. And that made 4 bars before 3pm.
I stumbled down the road, a wiser man, realizing I should sit quietly and without food or drink at the next sports bar to avoid being tossed. And that is what I did. The game ended, I was ecstatic, I then decided that my two hours of virtual sobriety were up, so I went to order a beer and some food. And, sure enough, I was deemed ok. I finished that beer and another while waiting for my food and was slipping right back in to my stupor.
I had this bar right where I wanted them – they had started cooking my burger, so they couldn’t kick me out until I got it. It was delivered to me in a to go box and I was asked to take it with me as I left because I had started making the other patrons uncomfortable. Fine by me. That was the 5th bar that had asked me to leave and it was just about 5pm. I went and sat outside of another store and finished the burger, trusting that I would sober enough to be able to stay in a bar for a while.
After I finished, I continued down the block, finding the last bar in the stretch, the only place I had yet to try to go and was potentially still welcome. I walked in and it was massive. The place was a giant pool hall with several bars to accommodate all of the people there. So, I wandered around to some tables to see if there were any quarters tables or if all of them were rent by the hour deals. And sure enough, all rent by the hour, which meant I’d have to offer to pay for part of a table to find a playing partner. It had also been 7 weeks since I got laid, so you can imagine who I was asking if they wanted to shoot together.
After several quizzical looks and flat out rejections, I finally came to a table with one guy and three girls. I somehow managed to talk the guy in to letting me play – no doubt because someone as drunk as I was would be easy to beat making him look better. To make matters worse, it was also obvious that at least one girl was scared of how drunk I was. But I pressed on because some girls find a poorly functional drunk attractive for a one nighter. I asked if I could share from their pitcher, which they agreed to though the one girl warned that I had already had enough.
And then the game started. It turns out that I’m still pretty good at pool even when I’ve had way too much to drink. That didn’t make me popular with the guy. Coupled with the snarky comments I was getting from the one girl, I got a little defensive, which it turns out, was a stupid thing to do. Somehow, and I can’t stress enough that the entire night is a little hazy, the trash talk that was getting a little chippy got completely out of hand and yours truly was literally dragged by two bouncers from that table, and out the door.
Here’s the thing. While those two were clearly not my friends, one of the girls that was there with them was at least sympathetic to my position if not interested in helping me out. But that was all lost as I was being forcibly removed from my 6th bar before 6pm.
This good sumaritan, however, followed me outside and explained why I was being kicked out and that the two of them were just overly sensitive. I was so drunk none of this stuck with me. Instead, I proceeded to use her as a crutch to keep me from crumpling to the ground. She told me that I should probably go home and sleep it off and then come back out the next night. I agreed, having worn out my welcome in every bar in the district. She got me a cab and I told the guy where I needed to go and then we parted ways: she was expecting to see me the next night shooting pool and being more sober and I was on my way to Mexico.