Vinum Omnia Vincit: Or All Hail Fermentation

It has been said that if alcohol had been discovered last week, it would be universally acclaimed a wonder drug. Booze, however, is as old as fermentation, and its use as a soul-expanding drug as old as mankind. Like other venerable institutions—gambling, prostitution, Harvard— it is periodically assaulted by aroused citizenry on the one side or freethinkers on the left. Yet the ingestion of alcohol will, in our time and far beyond, endure, and even prosper.

In the long history of alcohol a lifetime is no more than a flurry, and a fad, only a wink in midflurry. Today, according to mass media, alcohol is being replaced in its enlarging or solacing functions by pills, cubes, and fumes. Life imitates art—or media—and many young people (and some not so young) are abandoning booze for pot, hash, and acid. Tolerate them. It is only a fad, like the Empire bodice or breakfast, and in a few years we will till chuckle at the folly that was.

All the intoxicants of the new craze have been around as long as alcohol and have been tried and discarded by generations of fun-lovers reaching back to the caves.

LSD, to plunge to the heart of the fad, literally plagued medieval man with regular outbreaks of abortion, gangrene, and lunacy. It was discovered that spurred rye (ergot fungi) when eaten in bread aborted women, reduced circulation so that extremities became gangrenous, and made people crazy. (LSD-25 was synthesized from ergot fungi in 1938.) The last known epidemic of ergotism was in Lorraine in 1816, unless one includes the outbreaks in Cambridge and Berkeley around i960. Every peasant knew the perils of spurred rye and shunned it like, again literally, the plague. No sane lycée dropout said to his fille, “Let’s go to my hovel and get mad and gangrenous on some great fungus I got. The real stuff,” unless, of course, he wanted her to abort, in which case it rather makes sense.

Marijuana, hashish, and the derivatives of the poppy seed and the coca leaf have been used by man as long as alcohol, yet it is alcohol that endures and prospers—except for regions like Saudi Arabia and Kansas, where it is proscribed by religion. How has the marriage of mankind and booze survived so long with all those ardent harlots pouting in the wings? Because alcohol enlarges man’s soul, and the sirens want him only for his mind and body. Man may stray for a time, but he always comes home.

Consider the martini and marijuana. Taken in quantity they produce remarkably similar effects. One gets an initial high with both, a high that can be nursed through the afternoon and evening with lesser dosages. Martinis and marijuana abridge judgment and erode coordination about equally, so in the matter of automobile crashes and related accidental deaths, it is impossible to choose between them fairly.

But man has chosen the martini, and wisely. Over the ages he has learned that during private parties martinis don’t get ashes all over the sheets and that, should he nap off unexpectedly in mid-indulgence (pass out), gin won’t set the mattress —or straw or fur (we are taking the historic view)—afire, and burn or suffocate him.

Finally, Alice B. Toklas’ fudge to the contrary notwithstanding, to enjoy marijuana fully you must inhale it. This often leads to cigarette addiction and death. The martini, to be fully enjoyed, need only be cold.

Amphetamines are dumb. “Speed” induces a state of hebephrenia wherein the victim becomes exhilarated beyond the retention of identity. He may then do disagreeable things he would not consider if he were “himself.” The same screaming high can be achieved on brandy and coffee. (Although why anybody wants his heart hammering against his rib cage for three days is beyond us.) Put a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee in a cup with several ounces of brandy and add a touch of boiling water. Stir and drink. After three or four doses you will experience a tremendous exhilaration and start behaving like somebody else, somebody basically disagreeable who has taken speed.

The chances of heart attack and/ or stroke are equally high with speed or with brandy so served, but again the decision goes to alcohol, this time for reasons of economy. Amphetamines are synthesized, require a prescription, and are therefore expensive. The brandy for our recipe comes in pint bottles and retails for $1·35. it is shipped by greasy tanker from Marseilles and bottled in Linden, New Jersey. It is beastly booze, but it will pop the snakes in your temples as furiously as the best Metaxa and keep them there as long as the speediest amphetamine.

Grain alcohol and canned heat versus heroin. A sordid and appropriate pairing. Both must be cut to be ingested. The heroin is cut five or six times between Big Vito and your friendly neighborhood pusher; grain alcohol must be diluted, and canned heat wrung in cheesecloth and strained through bread. But one day —because you need him so badly and being needed makes him feel warm —your pusher gives you a bag of uncut stuff and you put it in your calf and presto! you are dead. If you forget, in your hung-over haste, to dilute the grain alcohol, or if you have wrung your heat through sandwich bread with holes in it instead of pumpernickel (oh, these foolish economies!), you may throw up in time, and, if not, you at least go out like Emma Bovary.

A word of advice about heroin: if you must take heroin, sprinkle your very first dose on a notched bullet and fire it in your ear. You’ll spare yourself a lifetime (about six months) of doddering helplessness alternating with excruciating cramps. Grain alcohol and canned heat will give you the dodders and the cramps, too, but they are booze and they like mankind and will let you live three to four years.

Kif and coca leaves make you forget hunger, and aching teeth, and how very long it seems to be taking you to die. They are commonly available in the poverty pockets of the North African Littoral and the Chilean Andes, respectively. However, freighter fare to either source is $400. Sneaky Pete, a naive and needled domestic muscatel of instant vintage, costs $.42 the pint, and two pints will reduce you, your echoing belly and blue teeth, to the numb mumbles. A not inconsiderable savings of $399.16.

Cocaine is a derivative of the coca leaf, and its effects are exotic. On the first sniff there is a blinding flash behind the eyes, followed by a blissful lapse of consciousness. The areas affected, chiefly the nose and mouth, later feel swollen and hypersensitive. The exact sensations of cocaine can be duplicated by a smash in the face with a Louisville Slugger. Just remember to keep the label up or you will break the bat.

Banana daiquiris and prune Alexanders versus peyote. Disparate as these may seem, they have one thing in common. They require a blender. The blender is necessary in the alcoholic drinks to render the alcohol palatable to the subdeb being seduced. Otherwise she will disappear to the ladies’ room and return all sweaty. Peyote must be sliced into a blender with milk and Bosco to render it palatable. Otherwise a dung beetle will throw it back up. Both concoctions should be dismissed out of hand. Nobody who is adult about drinking or taking drugs wants anything from a blender.

There is a gentle hallucinogen derived from peyote called mescal. It is liquid, and one takes it a few drops at a time in water. Colors become vivid, the countryside appears lush in the abundant light. Bosomy maidens with purple feet dance about. Suddenly one imagines oneself in a dark and sweating cave in coolest spring, savoring prime beverages. Bearded men in leather aprons bow and smile. If this seems familiar to many of you who have never taken mescal, it is because the same sensations can be enjoyed at an ordinary wine-tasting, with infinitely more grace.

If you must take a trip, don’t take LSD. Go first-class Alitalia. In either case there is a lapse between commitment (taking a cube, surrendering your luggage) and commencement of the trip. With Alitalia you discover yourself in a multicolored room with muted lights, seated on a deep divan, being served drink by a smiling young madonna in bizarre costume. Soft music, seemingly from everywhere, comforts you. When the trip starts in earnest, you seem to be on an enormous winged machine. A new madonna in a strangely military costume brings you more drink. It is all lovely until suddenly you have the sensation of hurtling headlong down a concrete strip. An unbearable roaring fills your ears. This nightmare dissolves into tinother time of peace, when the madonna returns with more drink. Then it all turns horrid again, and you have the sensation of wheeling and diving out of control toward the unyielding earth.

This is called a “bad trip.” You can take it infinitely more cheaply on LSD. But since you are probably going to take only one trip in your life, you might as well go first-class.

Finally, there is whiskey versus hashish and ganchi. It is a hell of a match. The last Robinson-Basilio fight comes to mind. If you assemble a group of congenial people in a decent environment, it does not much matter whether you serve them hash or ganchi or good whiskey. You will have a chatty, flirtatious, hilarious party, or so it will seem at the time. The jarring incidents will be exactly the same: a woman so sin she showers with her pants on will start to disrobe; one man will corner another to convey “a few home truths.” Some ninny will be immoderate no matter what you serve, and go wild or get sick and have to be driven home.

In further support of hash and ganchi, they can be made into fine little candies called majoum, and enjoyed fully. They need not be inhaled and consequently do not lead to the fatal tobacco addiction.

The decision here, while close, must again go to alcohol. Hashish and ganchi are illegal, must be imported great distances, and are therefore far more expensive than the best scotch or bourbon. More important, we favor whiskey out of reverence for history. It was not hash but whiskey that felled the forests and tilled the plains of America, not majoum but whiskey in the bellies of those brave men at Yorktown, Bull Run, ChâteauThierry, and Bastogne.

Fads are fun but booze endures. It will survive and prosper. Don’t worry about it.