The hangover. An appropriate topic for this time of year. The comedian Sinbad said once that when you are over forty the one thing you cannot do is break a bone. Because over forty you will never heal. I beg to differ. When you are over forty, approaching fifty, the singular thing you cannot do is get a hangover. To do so is to enter an experiential definition of "endless".
That being said, there is SOME likelihood that one or two Epics may find themselves in need of some instruction in this subject. From a master. Not me. Rather, no less a personage than Kingsley Amis. In the marvelous anthology "Everyday Drinking". Simply put, this book is intellectually stimulating, urbane and hilarious. Vintage Amis. Thus far, the Epic Bookshelf contains only four "must have" volumes. If you never take another piece of Epic literary advice, go out and get a copy. Stop reading. Do it now. Then pour yourself a toddy and continue. Unless you have a hangover. Then skip the toddy. For now.
It does not take a long venture into this little book to realize that you are in the presence of a master. Of prose. And of drink. I will have more to post about Everyday Drinking later. At present, his ruminations on the hangover are a more than adequate appetizer.
Amis postulates that a hangover is two phenomena occurring simultaneously. The "physical hangover" ("PH"). Of which imbibers are well familiar. And the more insidious "metaphysical hangover" ("MH"). The trick is that you have to defeat both syndromes at once. NOW I finally understand why hangovers are so horrid. From apparent long experience, Amis sets forth a plan for conquering first the PH:
Immediately upon waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This, known as George Gale's Paradox, recognizes the truth that if you do not feel bloody awful after a hefty night then you are still drunk, and must sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.
A stroke of genius. Nothing worse than to wake up only to realize the hangover has not yet begun. I'm glad I have not experienced it. That I recall. After revealing this ancient truth, Amis announces his disdain for the "go getter" sort of morning-after person...
...I must assume that you can devote at least a good part of the day to yourself and your condition. Those who inescapably have to get up and do something can only stay in bed as long as they dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower...breakfast off an unsweetened grapefruit...and coffee, and clear off, with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as they dare.
Further components of the PH treatment are to stay in bed "until you can stand it no longer"; avoid cold showers "at all costs"; skip bicarbonate of soda, food and smoking; then...
By now, you will have shot a good deal of the morning. Get through the rest of it somehow, avoiding the society of your fellows. Talk is tiring. Go for a walk, or sit or lie about in the fresh air...You can start working on your MH any time you like.
About 12:30, firmly take a hair (or better, in Cyril Connolly's phrase, a tuft) of the dog that bit you...By now, one way or another, you will be readier to face the rest of mankind and a convivial lunchtime can well result. Eat what you like within reason, avoiding anything greasy or rich. If your PH is still with you afterwards, go to bed.
Amis goes on to address the "under forty/over forty" paradox I mention above...
At this point, younger readers may relax the unremitting attention with which they have followed the above. They are mostly strangers to the MH. But they will grin or jeer at their peril. Let them rest assured that, as they grow older, the MH will more and more come to fill the gap left by their progressively less severe PH. And, of the two, incomparably the more dreadful is the metaphysical hangover.
Goodness. That means that it gets even WORSE after fifty. I did not think that anything could eclipse in dreadfulness the effect of a full-on PH. Amis is certainly correct on this point. As I have made increasingly serious efforts to limit my exposure to the PH, my exposure to the MH has increased proportionally. The only variants from when I was twenty-five are a decrease in the volume of intake. And an increase of twenty-five years.
Amis' first step in attacking the MH is to convince yourself that what you have IS a hangover, not a minor brain lesion, and that
...you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk. If this works, if you can convince yourself, you need do no more...[to defeat the MH]
Assuming that you do not succeed in convincing yourself that all that is really wrong with your life is that you have a hangover, you must then proceed to a specific course of hangover reading and listening, both founded upon the principle that "you must feel worse emotionally before you start to feel better. A good cry is the initial aim." To this end, Amis recommends reading Paradise Lost, Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, battle poems, etc. Followed or accompanied by music such as Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique), recommended because it "evokes total despair". Or my countryman Sibelius' score for the play Pelleas and Melisande which
...carries the ever-so-slightly phoney and overdone pathos that is exactly what you want in your present state.
Nor is vocal music ignored. The recommended tonic here is Brahms' Alto Rhapsody. Which begins with the words "who is that standing apart? His path is lost in the undergrowth" and ends with a plea to God to "open the clouded vista over the thousand springs beside the thirsty one in the desert." Amis says of this sugary lyric and its utility in dispatching the MH that
You can restore some of your fallen dignity by telling yourself that you too are a [person lost in the undergrowth]. This is a piece that would fetch tears from a stone, especially a half-stoned stone...
Cap off your treatment of the MH with some jazz. Amis states that slow Miles Davis tracks are just the thing...
It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be. There is also the likely bonus to be gained from hearing some bystander refer to Davis as Miles instead of Davis. The surge of adrenalin at this piece of trendy pseudo-familiarity will buck up your system, and striking the offender to the ground will restore your belief in your own masculinity, rugged force, etc.
This should give you not only a feel for this fine and useful book, but also some insight into the terrors of the PH and MH and how to treat them. The perfect initial weapon in your arsenal for striding ahead into 2oo9. The thoughts of a man of obvious vast experience and intellect. Presented as my Epic New Year's gift to the imbibers among you (us). Carry on...