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Let’s talk about alcohol, baby

Greg Yatarola | Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I have no problem with drinking per se. On the contrary, it can not only be un-sinful, but positively good. Enjoying a beer can make you a humbler, more grateful, better person. Ben Franklin said beer is proof that God loves us and wishes us to be happy. There are surely other proofs, like a baby’s smile, but good beer can help one realize that behind all appearances in this vale of tears, the ultimate reality is joy. Didn’t Housman write that ale does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man? Catholics can boast, among others, Chesterton and Walker Percy as able apologists for beer and bourbon, respectively. David Allan Coe couldn’t have written The Greatest Song Ever (“… I was drunk the day my Mom got out of prison…”) without some liquid inspiration. I trust teetotalers as little as I trust vegetarians (Hitler was both, by the way), and as C.S. Lewis observed, there’s a certain sort of evil man who wishes to deny others the honest delights he’s given up himself. We’re right to be suspicious about condemnations of drinking.

You’d have to be dumb or dishonest, though, to believe that recent condemnations of drinking in these pages – or those that appear almost annually – have been directed toward this sort of drinking, that goes with gladness of heart and bonhomie. Nor is it just the amount of consumption that’s been criticized. There’s all kinds of drunkenness, after all. There’s just-lost-my-job drunk, just-got-engaged drunk, serviceman-on-leave/liberty drunk, alcoholic/can’t-cope-with-life drunk, etc. The sort of alcohol abuse I saw most often at Notre Dame, though, and the sort people find most annoying, is look-at-me-aren’t-I-cool! drunk. And if you wonder how I can tell, I promise you it’s not too hard. Plus, I’ve been there myself.

The recent criticisms of alcohol abuse at Notre Dame – it’s unhealthy, it’s immoral, it’s inconsiderate, bad decisions often follow – have been somewhat amusing. News flash, Earth to responsible people: those whose actions you’re criticizing don’t care. In fact, these criticisms just reinforce their decision to drink. These consequences of drinking just make it all the more attractive to them. They think they’re being quite transgressive, after all. Do you think they really didn’t know someone else has to clean up their messes, and someone else has to listen to their noise?

What I’d argue instead is that acting like you’ve just discovered alcohol and want everyone to see, far from showing the world how cool you are, actually just suggests – strongly – that you were terribly sheltered in high school. Whenever I saw someone at Notre Dame who began half his sentences with “I was soooooo wasted…,” I thought, “Mommy still tucks him in when he’s home.”

I’m not suggesting it’s good to go through high school drunk. But better high school than college. The immaturity associated with binge drinking and related behaviors is more age-appropriate for high schoolers. High school’s largely a waste anyway, needlessly long and hardly challenging (I say this as a high school teacher).

But college should be different, right? I deeply regret that not every day I spent at Notre Dame was special, the kind I’d remember forever. I wish I’d made more of the opportunities I had there – even academic ones. With no fiber of my being do I wish I’d spent a single night stumbling around drunk at The Linebacker, acting like an ass, full of low-quality beer I didn’t even like, only to wake up the next day unable to remember that night or go to class. Yet people even brag about such escapades.

Besides thinking it’s somehow impressive, there’s another unfortunate reason so many college kids get so drunk so often. They can’t think of anything else to do, and only large quantities of alcohol can make milling around aimlessly in the dark at Turtle Creek, for instance, into something more than a deeply dismal experience. I learned long ago that even shop class could be fun with a heavy buzz. But shouldn’t college students be able to find activities that don’t require inebriation to make them enjoyable?

If you drink heavily because you truly enjoy it – not for your image, or to avoid boredom, or because you don’t know how to socialize sober – then cheers, tip a glass for me sometime. The rest of you might want to read C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”. Somewhere in there, he explains that the devils will draw us to hell by true pleasures, but they’d rather not. They’re much more delighted by the sorrows of those who realize only too late that not only hadn’t they done right, they hadn’t even done what they really wanted. Make no mistake, you can drink your soul dead, and that’s sad enough. But how sad, how pitiably sad, it’d be to drink your soul’s ruin, only to look back and think, “It wasn’t even really that much fun. I wish I’d just been bowling instead …”

I welcome the inevitable hate mail. But please, when you tell me how many kegs you and your buds have “killed”, or how much time you spend at whichever dives, explain why I should be impressed. And do try to write without the heavy snarky sarcasm – “You’re awesome, I wish I could be like you” – that lately has seemed like the only method of disagreement in this newspaper. It’s not very clever, or funny.

Greg Yatarola is a 1999 alumnus. He directs the discriminating drinker to the beer & wine place right next to the gas station on that road that goes out to T.G.I. Friday’s. It’s better than South Bend deserves. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.