I first met Liam when I worked for a newspaper in Trinidad. He was part of a team of young interns in the publishing company. He was particularly charismatic, a very good story-teller.
He had a view about everything, and he was very open about his experiences, whether they were worth sharing publicly or not. His charisma I revelled in, but he was no exemplar. He shared one tale of a night of excessive drinking, the details of which made me nausous.
To make a long story short, he got drunk and returned to his parents home where they tucked him into his temporary bed for the night, the bath tub.
He repeatedly vomited over himself, and generally recalled the sick feeling with despair. I sincerely thought he almost died, maybe he almost did, but Liam shocked me with the closing lines of his story, “… but you know what? I will do it again!”
Liam loved alcohol, and it seemed like he loved it more than life itself. When he wasn’t talking, he satisfied his oral fixation with smoking, drinking or eating, judging by the size of his gut. His experience with alcohol and other legal, but age restricted, substances was considered the norm for a young man. Back then, when I didn’t drink alcohol, I was branded a woman or gay and made the subject of bar jokes and attempted insults.
Men who don’t drink alcohol generally don’t receive the hospitality of his friend’s drinking budget. “What yuh drinking, a coconut water? Nah man, I can’t go to the bar to buy chaser.”
My second choice drink was a shandy, a mixture of beer with a carbonated fruit drink or ginger ale. Both coconut water and shandies were generally considered a drink to be had at home or for women or children. So asking for either drink was a bit of a statement for an 18-year-old man.
I’ve had drinking buddies request that the bartender chase my coconut water with a shot of rum, which did wonders for his ego. I remember one guy implying that the drink needed a kick so that I could have a good time, numb my inhibitions, and most importantly, be a man. Not drinking alcohol meant a bit of social exclusion, even though I never questioned anyone’s choice of beverage when I did the purchasing, or had a problem contributing to a conversation with intoxicated men.
According to the World Bank 2002 publication entitled Gender Dimensions of Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol-Related Problems in Latin America and the Caribbean, there are significant cultural expectations of how, when and where men and women drink. For men, it can reaffirm their sexual social status as drinking gatherings provide a forum for elaborate discussions on their sexual virility and manhood (which ironically is negatively impacted by long-term alcohol abuse).
Women, on the other hand, are doomed to the brand of ‘baddists’ and even ‘promiscuous’. According to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission report on Comparative Analysis of Student Drug Use in Caribbean Countries 2010, the average age of first-time alcohol consumption in Antigua is just over 11 years. This is not surprising, given that male intoxication, though undesirable, is generally accepted as a natural condition of manhood.
In addition, how does the drinking man reconcile with himself when driving on an Antiguan road?
Frederik Ramm’s blog about driving in Antigua is hilarious yet disturbingly true. He notes, “I believe Antigua doesn’t have drink-and-drive laws. You can be drunk as a skunk for all they care, as long as you don’t cause an accident. That’s why some people go very slow sometimes. Antigua doesn’t have single track roads, so overtaking should not pose a problem. Unless of course the drunk guy in front of you chooses to drive in the middle of the road for safety reasons… .”
Ramm’s blog was written on October 23, 2002 and it illustrates huge contradictions in our culture. How can we not care if we go out, get drunk and drive off to the next location on a road populated by other drivers (some with unsecured children bouncing around on the back seat), pedestrians, men on kid’s bikes, and grazing cattle that appear unexpectedly? It really doesn’t make sense, and it’s simply dangerous.
Many men claim to be responsible drinkers and drivers. According to the Merseyside Road Safety Partnership based in Liverpool, England, the best way to exercise responsibility on the road is to not drink and drive at all.
In the UK, the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for driving is 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, the equivalent of consuming a 250ml glass of wine. Crucially, it will then take your body approximately four hours to remove this alcohol from your bloodstream, once it has been absorbed.
If you drank six 330ml bottles of beers, by midnight you aren’t fit to drive until 1 pm. That’s 13 hours later. That means when Liam woke up in a puke-filled bath eight hours after his binge-drinking and took a long one-hour shower, he would still need to wait it out for four hours before he could have driven on the road.
So my friends, in a country with no BAC, our resolutions as responsible men are to either designate a driver or call on the services of a taxi.