There is a man underneath my bed.
It’s his own bed, as I am on the top bunk. Still, infantilized by my ailments, I wish that someone would come in to inspect under my bed, and tell me that he isn’t there. That these are only the predictable ramblings of my imagination assuming the worst.
Contrary to what college students in their junior year would have you believe, a hostel is no place for a hangover. Then again, twenty-year-old’s haven’t really experienced a hangover in its truest sense.
I was like them once. I used to boast about it at any number of the relentlessly festive and pleasurable theme parties I would attend with my throngs of friends in college. It’s one of the greatest perks of getting a degree in the performing arts. Yes, it’s a cold, harsh landscape upon graduating. Your studies have led you to (at least somewhat) believe that the whole world ahead of you is always going to be filled with joy, or even better, and endless rite in the name of Dionysus, and that you, his loyal follower, must conduct yourself in a manner befitting of the god of wine, sex, art, and madness.
So you do.
So you think.
Then, without warning, it’s your twenty first birthday. I was the baby of my crop of students at the University of Oregon, and as such, the last to reach legal drinking age.
“I just don’t get hangovers!” I would say sometimes the day after a party. As if my body and mine alone managed to bypass all biological comeuppance. As if Dionysus had selected me his chosen one from his grape filled gourd to carry on his message with impunity.
Then, newly minted with my fresh government sanctioned ID from the Oregon DMV, my girlfriend at the time organized a pre-gaming party at her house as a place for people to convene before we all went out to the murderer’s row of bars on 13th street. Over forty of my friends showed up to the initial soiree and an untold number joined us as the night progressed. It was a night fit for any antiquated Greek deity. There was copious amount of drinking, madness all around in the form of incessant revelry, art and discussions thereof in every direction, and a day filled with sex.
However, I learned the next morning that my hitherto long held belief in my immunity to the repercussions of alcohol was only as strong as my options.
When you’re underage, you can only have what you can afford and what your friend(s) might be willing to fetch you. Therefore, for the most part, you’re forced to stick to whatever particular poison you’ve bought. Consistency, you learn, along with hydration is the real trick to avoiding hangovers.
Yet when dozens and dozens of your beautiful friends are generously pummeling you with free shots and mixed drinks in every direction with such speed and intention it’s as if they’ve all combined to form the hundred handed beast Hecatoncheires, you find yourself in such a booze-soaked state that you wonder, even as your experiencing what’s happening, if this is all a dream.
Then you wake up, as I did, to the sounds of the veins on the sides of your skull performing a deconstructed cover of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Cannons and all. You’re both sweating and freezing at the same time. You stumble to breakfast at your local greasy spoon diner with your partner, who albeit understanding and kind, is getting a completely forgivable but intense kick out of seeing you like this after all you’ve bloviated about in the past. Her joy is increased tenfold by her thought that it would be a good idea to inform the server that it’s indeed your birthday, and they bring you the largest cinnamon roll you’ve ever seen that is soaked in an unwholesome amount of white soupy sludge they’re deciding to call icing. Then, the sight of said cinnamon roll demands that you sprint to the nearest bathroom to vomit so audibly the server’s entire section can hear you. Thankfully, the sounds of your endless bile-soaked heaving are drowned out by the thunderous laughter of your partner, who as an opera singer, could fill Wembley Stadium with the right belt.
That all said, I would relive that morning every morning as if it was a punishment dealt to me by a snide, heartless demon in purgatory if it meant that I didn’t have to ever have to endure one more morning dealing with the side effects of a night spent with the Hungarian brandy Pálinka again.
There have been dictators with more heart than this liquor.
There have been plagues more forgiving.
There are neighboring planets more accommodating to human existence.
Pálinka, for the uninitiated, is a brandy that is distilled Hungary and Austria. If you don’t know why that fact alone should keep you away from it, I kindly invite you to close this tab, open a new one and type the word “History” in to your search bar.
The flavor profile is soft and tannic at first, but you are swiftly hit with a sensation that is reminiscent of chugging diesel gasoline with one lone apricot dunked into the tankard.
Paradoxically, by the time you reach the third shot, as I did for practice before I sauntered out into the balmy Hungarian summer night, it doesn’t taste that revolting anymore. It’s actually pleasant.
That’s exactly where Pálinka wants you.
It lulls you in to a false sense of security, and then after you’ve let your guard down, you realize that you can’t remember the last several hours of your life, and that the kebab you ordered has exited your body the same way it came in and landed exclusively on your lap outside of a strip club.
Then the morning comes, but your mind is left in the dust of last night. It’s unfair.
It is also exactly what you deserve for daring to trifle with this spirit; inaccurately named, in so far as that we tend to think of the word ‘spirit’ in the same breath as we would a benevolent force.
But there is no benevolence. There is no bliss. There is only a tangible layer of sweat covering every inch of your skin, a deluge of horrible memories, and a man underneath your bed.