|Before writing The Grapes of Wrath and sojourning to Stockholm to snag his Nobel Prize, John Steinbeck was a man very familiar with hangovers. Of course, this can be said of a preponderance of famous writers -- and many not-so-famous ones -- and even of many who can't read or write at all. Today, however, we won't be dealing with literature or Steinbeck's magnum opus chronicling the depression-era struggles of Tom Joad. We will, however, be addressing the essence of an even greater problem that has been the very bane of mankind since time immemorial: the dreaded hangover. The proverbial morning-after-the-night-before.
If you happen (like many drinkers) to be a religious sort, you may be accustomed to serving penance for your sins. You might even feel that a hangover is your just and deserved punishment. Don't fret unduly about your sins. Sinning is very chic and fashionable nowadays. And people have always endured great travails in order to be fashionable. So just think how damned fashionable you are. You're hip. You're now. You're hung over. (No matter how bad you feel, it's good to be fashionable, right?)
Sure, you might have cause for momentary worry about the brain cells you killed the night before. But it's important to realize the scientific facts: incontrovertible studies show that even the most intelligent humans NEVER use more than 10 percent of their total brain capacity, so all mankind has been endowed with a 90 percent buffer zone to play with. Coincidence? I think not.
First, let's define some terms. If you think a hangover is a slight headache after tippling a shot or two, or if you're one of those who takes two aspirin and drinks a big glass of water before going to bed and feels fine the next morning, you can stop reading right now. Your pedantic panty-waist attentions are not required. Turn the page and be gone with good riddance. You have not earned the Purple Heart commendation necessary to know the true hangover.
We're addressing those who have courageously braved the dangerous grounds of a serious hangover, one of mankind's greatest maladies. We're talking about the aftermath of prodigious drinking bouts -- Bacchanalian revelry of mythic proportions -- whose result is tantamount to a no-holds-barred guerrilla war waged on your body's meager defenses. We're addressing those of you who, after having been snot-flying drunk the night before, have honestly questioned your desire, nay, your ability, to go on living. Sure, we know that it's politically incorrect in today's frigid and judgmental moral climate to discuss wanton drinking binges. We simply don't give a shit. And no one likes frigidity. Judge not lest ye have staggered a mile in our alcohol-besotted moccasins. Hangovers are real. We didn't invent them. If you can't take reality's cold slap in the face, then go pour yourself a glass of milk to have with your cookies and write a letter to the editor. Got milk? Then get a life.
The horror, the horror!
Now that we've winnowed out the undesirable Puritanical elements, we can carry on. So, you drank too damn much again, huh? Woke up with a hangover of monumental proportions: a queasy, sour stomach, body and sheets well soaked with the steamy sweat of alcohol-rich perspiration and a head so swollen it feels like Vesuvius about to erupt. Of course, while your skin is soaked with sweat, your insides are as dry as the Sahara and your tongue has molted its skin and started growing a winter coat. There are certain questions that need to be addressed when you first begin the Herculean task of opening your blood-engorged eyelids to face the miserable day:
1. Where are you?
2. Who are you?
3. Who is that next to you?
If you can answer these questions, then you can probably safely roll over and try to go back to sleep. But if your fiendish little friend Mr. Hangover is terminal -- if even your hair hurts -- then your pain will be far too acute for slumber. The only thing for you is a trip to the bathroom. Unfortunately for most of us that means getting out of bed, unless, of course, Bacchus shined upon you with such good fortune that you actually passed out curled around the soothing coolness of the porcelain toilet-temple. Sure, the distance seems prohibitive. And even though you really don't want to undertake a long journey at this critical juncture, the human bladder can be a pesky little bugger. Suddenly it seems well worth the trip. (Some effective strategizing during your sojourn to the bathroom can really keep you occupied en route.)
Now that you've expunged some chemicals and fluids from your body, you're even more dehydrated and can actually feel your pulse in your head. This is not good, you think. You're right. So it's time to get some fluids back into your body. Purists will opt for water. Many may choose Coca-Cola, which was, after all, originally marketed in 1886 as a stimulant and hangover cure. Alka-Seltzer was also once promoted as a hangover remedy. You might even try coffee if you want to be wide awake and alert for your agony. Gatorade is probably the premier non-alcoholic choice. After all, big time athletes quaff it after grueling physical endeavors and, let's face it, your titanic hangover is about as grueling as the Iron Man Triathlon. Think of being hung over as your own personal marathon. No pain, no gain. (It's good to grasp at straws when you're suffering, even though it may well be grasping at straws the night before that put you in said condition!)
There are always those incorrigible people who say they actually like to "go out and get some exercise when they're hung over, to sort of "sweat things out of their system." If your friends are this type, then it would be a good idea to start making new ones. Studies show that [the only thing this does for you is... make you sweaty. You can just as easily sweat in the comfort of your own home. Caution is called for in these situations, and you'd really be much safer on the couch, which has the added benefit of being close to the television. The good thing is that your brain is suffering from such intense alcohol-induced paroxysms and has been so thoroughly ravaged that no matter what channel you choose you're not likely to find anything that's beneath your current brain-damaged state. Channel surf until you find something no more demanding than Baywatch. If it's good enough for the rest of the world, it's good enough for you.
It's just about this time you start thinking of the proverbial "hair of the dog." If you actually feel so bad that you couldn't imagine feeling worse, then you've got no place to go but up, right? A little time-honored "pick-me-up." Suggested potations include the much-heralded Bloody Mary, which boasts the advantage of containing several important food groups. There's also the Red-Eye (or Bloody Beer), a beastly beer and tomato juice concoction that people have even been known to toss an egg into. The breakfast of drinking champions. If you're a sophisticate you might try a Ramos Gin Fizz, another way people have found to drink their eggs, blended and poured over easy with a tipple. The best course of action is to start with a good beer -- a micro-brew or German beer is the best choice, as they're likely to be brewed with only barley, hops, yeast and water. You really can't aspire to any libation that sounds healthier. Once you've consumed several beers, the drinking-decision-making process proceeds much more, uh, fluidly.
Even with all the health-restoring grains in beer and/or the vegetables in a well-constructed Bloody Mary, at this point you'll probably need to think about food (if the mere thought of it doesn't make you retch). The first thing you should seek is pain relief. It's best to avoid aspirin and the increased stomach irritation that goes along with it. I opt for Tylenol, Aleve, Advil or a similar non-aspirin pain reliever. Choose your favorite by which product's commercials annoy you the least. Once you've had your own appropriate dose of these little gems, your appetite may return. Beware: you need to avoid health food at all costs. You don't want that healthy crap fighting it out with the booze. The alcohol is likely to just kick a rice cake's ass and send it scurrying off in shame. What your body needs is grease. There are two schools of thought here: if you awakened any time before noon, you probably want to go with breakfast. A side of link sausage or bacon is mandated, as your grease intake is vital; if you were lucky enough to wake up after the crack of noon, you should opt for a greasy hamburger with a dripping order of fries. Both of these foods are good because they cohabitate well with the alcohol in your system. Harmony is important. Pizza is acceptable, too. The best kind is one that's delivered to your front door.
Nurturing yourself thusly may help alleviate the pain of your hangover slightly. Okay, probably not. The truth is there's no guaranteed relief. But think about all the fun you had the night before and the fact that you may have killed off the brain cells whose evil job it was to remind you of how bad you feel the morning after. You earned your suffering, right? Try and savor the enjoyment and fulfillment you get from being right, because you're not likely to have many more fulfilling moments during the course of your monolithic hangover. Nothing but time, punctuated with lots of groaning and torturous suffering, will make you feel better. Deep in your dark heart of hearts you know this. But self-denial runs strong in the human animal. He who suffers and denies it lives to drink another day.