It wasn’t raining anymore, so that was nice. But it wasn’t not raining. The world outside Rich’s living room window was a dismal suburban haze of wet and grey. Enough to dampen our already subdued enthusiasm for Watts Fappening ’23. It’s not that we weren’t looking forward to it. I very much was. Dare I even say I needed it. It’s just that we both had enough on our plates in the days leading up to zero hour that planning and hyping and even feeling it just weren’t in the cards. Which left us less in that place of “Let’s do this!” And more at “I mean… we’re still doing this, right?”
Subdued or not, we hopped on our bikes and left the dry warmth of Rich’s house with all of the aged confidence of being masters of our own adult destinies, able to make autonomous decisions and pull arbitrary plugs whenever we chose. Shit, we could even just have one beer at the first stop, hope no one else showed up, then go back to his place and watch a bad movie.
Nine hours later….
For the uninitiated, Watts Fappening is an ill-conceived bar/brewery crawl that happens annually (or not) on the mean streets of Charlotte, NC during the doldrums of February. Named, for no real reason, after me.
It’s really a very big deal.*
Because my cultural literacy is simultaneously broad and parochial, I actually had to google “fap” the first time Rich put the Fappening out there. I thought it was just phonetic nonsense wordplay. He could have easily called it “Watts Happening” and left it at that. But nooooo. Not Rich. Fap. And I have to admit… not a fan. But whether we like it or not, that’s often what makes a title stick. Like when he calls me “Wartz.” I don’t like it. For all the childhood PTSD reasons that none of us like witticisms related to our names. Like when my clit-piercing, professional dominatrix friend Laurie christened me “Twatts” in college and I made the mistake of visibly bristling. Which only brought a delighted twinkle to her eyes and the simultaneous softening and escalation to “Twattsy.“
Ummm… I love to drink.
This from a guy who used to be straight-edge.
And yes, I know that’s not a particularly trendy or popular thing to declare these days, much less a healthy one. Quite likely, it’s bonkers problematic. But bare with me…
First and foremost, I’m beyond lucky, in that whatever hardwiring I have on the scale of addiction is at about a “five.” Depending on how you look at it, I either do pretty much everything in moderation….or I’m just completely moderate at pretty much everything I do. Outside of the sometimes oppressive, but always pervasive cosmic level boredom that I feel living in Greensboro, NC… I drink primarily because I legitimately enjoy the taste and tone of alcohol. And possibly even the act itself; a bizarre and deliberate controlled poisoning. Like something out of a John Hawkes novel. How very droll.
But it really is less about needing that dull, muddling buzz and pushing the darkness into a corner so I can sleep or breathe or function (it is, sometimes)… and more about a texture. I like the strange and difficult flavor of alcohol in its various forms. In the same way I tend to crave the complex bitterness of arugula or broccoli rabe.
But I’m not going to fucking binge eat it.
Of course, I’m told that’s just the addiction talking.
Certainly outside of simply navigating the complicated eddies of our daily lives, a large part of our muted enthusiasm for the Fappening was the current climate of alcohol awareness. Books. Articles. Podcasts. Deaths. Lots of friends near and far are getting sober. And while we’re all paying attention, and I would never disparage people’s strides toward self-betterment… I have thoughts.
There seems to be a general… turning up these days. Everyone’s knob is resting somewhere just past eleven. It’s why memes like this not only abound…
… they resonate.
It seems like we’re living in a new Age of Anxiety. And while sobriety can undoubtedly be a useful and healthy step in addressing that for some people… I can’t help but feel there’s some deeper examining to do. And I question if we even have the capacity for that kind of digging. Instead there just seems to be this frenzied scratching at the surface. Publicly discarding a visible macro only to secretly nourish a slew of hidden micros. Less a focused, self-aware step and more a desperate and vain scrabbling. Fasts and keto and ice-bath plunges, where simple, quiet, common-sense habit changes would have sufficed.
It’s why even your sober friends seem as batshit as ever.
This will likely be a thing I repeat many times on this blog in vain attempts to clarify it in my own head, but more than anything, I think that the current human condition is mental illness. Specifically, a kind of cognitive dissonance inherent and implicit in the dot we presently inhabit on some transcendent graph; A volatile intersection of time, circumstance, and cognizance. Our ability to process the universe and our experience therein, while more advanced than some animals, is still extremely limited, and we’re unable to truly collate big pictures and process that information in a sane way. And our world is only getting bigger. We’re exposed to more information previously hidden from our meager lives, abilities, and experiences than ever before… which leads to a cascade of mental issues: anxiety and depression chief among them.
At the profound but abstract level… there are the arduous mental gymnastics employed to try and reconcile the increasingly tacit reality of our small, fleeting existence with the grandiose, ignorant myths we created about our place in it all.
And at the simple but palpable level… once upon a time you knew you wanted more out of this life than you were getting, and likely had vague ideas about what that might look like… but now, through social media, you have a million daily affirmations that you not only fucked up, but are still fucking up. It was one thing to watch movies or look at pictures in magazines and yearn for the lives of some half-real demigods… but another entirely to bear daily witness to some dim, disingenuous, sycophantic, human cipher halfway across the country seemingly live the life you fucking deserve.
It effects a burning angst… and in the absence of clear action, a desire to douse it with whatever we can get our hands on. And alcohol… is often that.
So. Is alcohol the issue? Or should everyone just get the fuck off their phones and drink more water?
All of the above, I suspect.
But I digress…
As is typically the case, a Fappening swells. Sputters. And grows again. Until it inevitably explodes. It was a smaller crowd this year. Possibly because we did very little in the way of broadcasting and hyping it. Probably because drinking to excess is less cool than ever. And definitely because who the fuck is Watts, and why is he Fappening? (Gross.) Rich and I were alone for the first half hour. Sitting at Lower Left Brewing, shoving Puerto Rican food in our faces in anticipation of a rough night. And they started to arrive. First some familiar Fappening faces… Then more… And more….
From Lower Left to Triple C to Wooden Robot, where Rich was summoned away by his boarding kennel to pick up his errant dog. On to Fonta Flora and a vast, crowded food court for drunk dumplings. To Birdsong, where we reunited with Rich. Giving ourselves a two beer pass. To the Spoke Easy, where quantities became muddled. Across the street to Big Ben’s Pub, where Fappening scholars identify the point of explosion; Dread Fiyah buying us dark and stormies. Which led to another shot of something. Probably more rum, which can seem so sweet and pleasant in the moment, but is, in fact… not. To Devil’s Logic, of which I have only the vaguest of memories. And finally to Lucky Lou’s; the best worst strip mall bar within stumbling distance of Rich’s house…
I actually felt pretty good the next morning.
Until I didn’t.
A slow, creeping hangover that built to a powerful noontime crescendo. A precipitous nausea exacerbated by… everything. One that didn’t wane until mid-afternoon, when we were more than halfway through 40 miles of gravel roads near Rock Hill, SC. A ride which included at least one pit stop along the route so I could take drunk-shit number seven in some haggard, rangy woods off the side of the road. (A thing for which I am always prepared.) The kind of hangover that tells you in no uncertain terms that you just took at least a year off your life.
Prior to the Fappening, I’d listened to a Huberman Lab podcast all about alcohol and it’s effects on us. I highly recommend it to everyone. Not to give away any spoilers, but as it happens, there are no net-positives to drinking. Even the most moderate consumption does the brain and body zero neurological and physiological favors, long term or short term. And yet…
Without trying to be the kind of stupid asshole who digs in and tries to hold their ground on a shitty, fallible position, I do think it’s more complicated than that. In a world awash with prescribed medications for mental and physical well-being, all of which have a laundry list of dire side effects ranging from heart problems, to stroke, to anal leakage, to death… I think drinking has the potential to be… maybe not so bad? But, shit, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone has any misgivings that it’s making us better or healthier. But it might not be fucking us up as bad as some of the other myriad substances we’re ingesting… or habits we’re cultivating.
That said, it’s complicated. And there are a lot of factors involved; genetics being a huge one. The fact is that some people just can’t handle alcohol. In the same way some people can’t handle wheat. Dairy. Shellfish. Dust. Stress. Communication. Porn. Accountability. Life. A gentle loosening of the tongue and lessening of crippling social anxiety is one thing. Completely losing the ability to respect and understand the word “no,” getting into fist fights with your friends, and unleashing the rapey piece of shit that apparently lives inside you… is another.
And while we all have regrets about things we’ve said or done while drunk (or sober), I’d hazard to guess most of you know which side of that spectrum you fall on.
Which is also why I sometimes struggle to feel celebratory about people’s abstinence from a thing they know makes them a problem in other people’s lives. But then… maybe the difficulty is less with the abstinence and more with the mawkish self-congratulation. A tentative “Do you know Bill W.?” replaced with “Hey everyone, come see how good I look!” But that’s in all facets of our life these days. And that’s not a judgment on sobriety. We all know that it’s probably one of the better decisions any of us could make. It’s more an admonition to just… commend ourselves a little less.
And to once again put down the phone. Which… is definitely one of the better decisions any of us could make.
Also, let’s also be honest; brewery “culture,” moreover drinking culture… whether it’s craft beer, bourbon, scotch, white-woman wine-chic, hipster dive-bar fetishism, “mixology,” singlespeed dumbfuckery, or what… is complete fucking garbage. We all know it. But that’s what happens when people take the vague softness of a thing they enjoy and turn it into a platinum hard facet of what they perceive to be their personality. It’s the same reason “Gravel” in all its iterations… is complete. and utter. shit. Mistaking banality, myopia, and tone-deaf selfishness as some laudable permutations of triumph, inclusivity, and accomplishment.
But again… I digress.
The past few years have been… not hard… but dim. Boring. Small. Myopic. Even the sunshine seems grey of late. So the brief moment of getting to ride bikes to too many bars with new and old friends felt like a coup. However trite, and however unhealthy.
To be sure… the Fappening might be the most physically taxing event I do all year. If I had a Garmin or Whoop or whatever, it would probably tell me to recover for at least 365 days.
That absolutely works for me.