Sundays are opportunities for adventure. The perfect excuse to do whatever whenever: stay in pajamas, go for brunch, hide out at the movies, haunt bookstores, all of the above, none of the above. Your choice.
Last Sunday, I spent part of the morning wandering aimlessly on the Internet, with no purpose or destination in mind. It’s fruitful sometimes, although industrious, serious-minded people tsk, tsk at the sinful waste of time. Well, ignore them. Those pointless meanderings have a way of turning serendipitous on you.
I tumbled onto the review of a book I’ve no intention of reading, by an author I’ve no interest in trying. The review, I’m convinced, was the better choice. The book’s entitled Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever, daughter of John. The review, however, was the work of Christopher Buckley, son of William F. The guy is tremendously talented — witty, sharp, original. No slouch he.
Did you realize the colonists were pie-eyed a lot of the time? I didn’t, but I hadn’t given it much thought. Cheever did, though. She’s a recovering alcoholic and claims the colonists drank nearly twice as much as we do today. The Mayflower landed on Cape Cod only because they’d run out of beer (or needed to do laundry, she was undecided). The militia at Lexington was drunk. Ethan Allen jump-started the day with a rum-and-hard-cider concoction. We didn’t just tipple, we guzzled. Isn’t that hilarious?
Alcohol has been a big player in the course of American history. And not without consequence. Lincoln’s bodyguard, for instance, had abandoned his post at Ford’s Theater to go drinking. Some of JFK’s security detail were busy hoisting a few in “the wee hours of Nov. 22, 1963.” As a result, they were surely less than sharp — things were missed, mistakes were made.
Even Nixon was a drinker, albeit a lightweight: one cocktail and he’d be hammered. Kissinger, it seems, spent an inordinate amount of time rescinding “cuckoo bombing orders” from a sozzled Nixon.
The details were one thing, the way Buckley framed them was the beauty part. My fear, and the reason I don’t plan to read the book, is that a study of liquor consumption in America sounds drab and humorless. Buckley’s review gave a wildly amusing nutshell version, which was the perfect degree of enlightenment. Besides, he had some valid issues with factual errors and wobbly assertions. He wasn’t sniffy or judgmental about it — just candid.
You should read the review for yourself. Or, even better, one of his books. They’re a trip.
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