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Adventures of a 7th Grade Drunk

Most teens are happy with a little alcohol, weed or sex. But after after his first shot of Tang-and-Vodka, this writer realized he was a different breed.

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By Ian Morgan Cron

10/04/11

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It was a criminally cold January afternoon and we had been given a day off from school because of a snow-and-ice storm. That’s how five seventh graders, whose IQ in the aggregate was nineteen, found themselves hanging out in a house with no adult supervision. It would have been safer to send an eight-year-old with a pack of matches into a garage filled with accelerants. 

Grant, Jim, Daniel, Wiley, and I were in Grant’s basement, watching reruns of Scooby-Doo, when Jim made the fateful discovery. 

“Hey, come look at this,” he called from the top of the stairs. 

Jim had been looking for Froot Loops in one of the cupboards in the pantry and discovered a cabinet filled with every intoxicant imaginable. The only thing missing was a drip bag of propofol.

“Jeez, Grant, your parents are boozers,” Daniel said. 

“Shut up, you idiot,” Grant said, nearly shoving Daniel down the staircase. 

A group of children not suffering from oppositional defiant disorder would have closed the cabinet door and taken advantage of their snow day to get a head start on a science project or an English essay. We were not in this category. In terms of moral development, we were late bloomers.

Grant’s face lit up. “My parents make this drink with orange juice called a ‘screwdriver.’ Want to try one?” he asked. 

We were gripped by indecision. We knew that this act represented a significant step forward on the evolutionary ladder of deviance. Our hesitancy was short-lived. 

“Let’s just have one,” we said, pleased with ourselves for being so temperate. A few of us would say these words a million times in the next twenty years, to diminishing effect. 

“First, we need orange juice,” Grant said, rubbing his hands together and opening the refrigerator. Grant moved every item on every shelf, trying to locate the Tropicana while we anxiously peered over his shoulders. “Shoot, I don’t think we have any.” 

“How about we use this?” Daniel said, holding up a jar of Tang powdered orange drink mix he had found on the lazy Susan on the kitchen table. 

At one time Tang could be found in just about every home in America, but it’s hard to find in supermarkets anymore. The good people at Kraft Foods offer an interesting statement on their website: 

We have heard that some consumers have used TANG Drink Mix to clean their dishwashers. TANG does contain citric acid, which can act as a cleaning agent. 

TANG Drink mix is intended to be a food product and Kraft Foods does not advocate its use for any other purpose. 

This disclaimer goes a long way toward explaining why it’s not always easy to find Tang anymore. People don’t drink detergent if they have other alternatives. 

But I digress. 

We knew how to make Tang, but we were uncertain about the correct ratio of Tang to vodka for the perfect screwdriver. Half a glass of Tang and half a glass of vodka? One-third vodka to two-thirds Tang? Vice versa? I have no memory of what we decided. From this I infer that we erred on the side of more vodka than Tang. 

“This tastes great,” Daniel said, making a controlled flop onto the couch so as not to spill his drink. 

“It sure does,” everyone agreed. 

I had a different reaction to the Tang screwdrivers. None of the other guys drank enough of it to get drunk—maybe giggly, but not loaded. I was different. 

The more I drank the more I felt at home in my own skin. I was relieved of the unrelenting self-consciousness that dogged me. For once I wasn’t a problem that needed to be solved or fixed. My chronic sense of apartness disappeared. Now I understood why my father drank as hard as he did.

“Whoa, Ian—slow down or you’ll puke.” Jim laughed.

I would have listened to Jim except I was busy downing more and more Todka (the name we adopted for our new cocktail) and fantasizing about all the other cool ingredients vodka might taste good with, like furniture polish or weed killer. 

The Greenwich Times did not print my name or the details surrounding my need to be transported to the hospital by ambulance for alcohol poisoning. Nor did they report that my bloodstream was so full of Todka that it could have caught fire like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. 

My first experience of drinking was a harbinger of things to come.

***

I now know there are two kinds of people in this world: those who have dimmers and those who have on-off switches. 

People who have dimmers can regulate how much they drink, smoke, exercise, have sex, eat, work, or play BrickBreaker on their Blackberries. They can “dial it back.” They can “take it or leave it.” Their motto is “Moderation in all things.” We need these people. They become actuaries and veterinarians. Our pets would die without them. 

Other people are born with on-off switches. They are all the way on or all the way off; there is no in-between. Their motto is “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” They drink like the Taliban have taken over the country and plan to turn every liquor store in the nation into a mosque. They can’t jog the occasional two-miler. They won’t be happy until they cripple themselves overtraining for an Ironman. They can’t eat one Oreo. They have to eat twenty, like a Hoover set on deep shag. If the doctor prescribes one Percocet every eight hours, they take two every four and sit drooling on the couch, watching Jeopardy reruns. 

I am an on-off switch. 

This article is an adapted excerpt from Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…Of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron, a well-known author, speaker, Episcopal priest, and retreat guide. 

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