My friend pours it straight from a chilled bottle into a chilled double-walled glass and after finishing three fingers' worth in one swallow, lets it linger, lets it reconnoiter through the warrens of gray matter, then says: "It's like a steel rod straight through your brain."
If you don't know why one would want or need a steel rod driven straight through the place from which thoughts stem, then perhaps you should stop reading this. Perhaps, Gentle Reader, you should return to that peaceable Holly Hobby tea table of yours where all of the brain's utterances are of positive purpose, levity and rectitude, where worries about the late mortgage or the kids' non-existent college funds or the cruel thing you said to your kind wife are no more than a fictional flock of dream-crows that morphs gorgeously, at your chosen moment, into a flock of doves.
Are drinkers alone in their attempt to annihilate the ego's incessant nagging? Clearly not. Hoping to erase the brain's moment to moment babble, monks around the world chant for hours each day, devoting their thoughts to the Absolute (not Absolut, you lush!).
Is it mere coincidence that the word "vodka" contains two-thirds of the word "God"? Yes, but such an uncanny connection might excuse a devotion to the liquor (be it Russian or French or Polish, be it grain or potato, I'm ecumenical) such as mine. Since discovering vodka several years ago, I converted and, as only a true monastic could, stopped consuming beer, wine and other spirits—although, I have been known to backslide. Such was the case last week when a friend opened a few magnums of Rioja left in his care by the famed chef Mario Batali. Just the sip of a sip, I said, already preparing to atone at home with a goblet of Russian water for a nightcap.
The hangover skull-pulse resembled a gavel smacking down over and over on its varnished block of wood, but the Chianti was found culpable. Although my scientific study is not quite complete (I have just finished a lengthy grant application for federal funds to extend the data-gathering portion of the study), I find that vodka hangovers are less debilitating than hangovers inspired by, say, rum or whiskey. Your average vodka hangover, for example, is a mildly troubling jangle that subsides after a cup of well-steeped tea, whereas your average rum hangover is the concussive combination of every teacher who ever abhorred you saying YOU-ARE-DE-SPIC-A-BLE, the syllables keeping time with your labored pulse.
If upon waking, "How did this happen again?" is the first question to enter your mind, then you are in the ballpark. However the answer is clearly not conceivable in your largely inert state. As you pull on last night's jeans and a final crumpled dollar bill falls from the inside-out pocket, do not wonder, "How did I spend that much again on vodka?" Instead, ask: "Would it be possible to convince a vodka company to sponsor me?"
This is the kind of thinking intense hangovers can provoke, and the kind which must at all expenses be indulged.
In the world of upland bird hunting, aiming into the middle of a flushing covey and pulling the trigger is a surefire way to come up empty handed, but I thought my circumstances called for some flock shooting, and so, after calling the 800-numbers at Svedka, Grey Goose and Chopin, and waiting on hold for a collective four hours, I let fly my best efforts via email to all three companies at once—in the writing world, this is called simultaneous submission. My form letter follows in its entirety:
Dear _____: I am an American poet who is seeking a sponsorship from your fine company. As you may know, many poets including the wonderful Tomas Tranströ¨mer relied on vodka for imaginative inspiration and sustenance, and I am seeking to continue this tradition with minimal expense to my already faltering bank account. My terms are simple: _____ provides me with five cases of product per year, and I will endorse the wonderful vodka by wearing a _____ hat and shirt at all public readings, and recognize _____ in print in all acknowledgement pages and contributors' notes where applicable. I am also available for an ad campaign of my own design: _____, The Poet's Vodka. Please contact me at your earliest convenience. Yours in Vodka, CD
In my queries to the higher-end Grey Goose and Chopin, I of course changed the poets mentioned to René Char and Czeslaw Milosz, respectively, and highlighted my Polish heritage with Chopin. I was stunned when weeks then months passed without a response from this triumvirate of companies. I blamed this communication lacuna on the slumping economy, then the holidays. At the three-month mark, after I had taken to checking my email a dozen times a day and scanning the driveway for a Fed Ex truck to appear with the pined-for cases, I sat despondent at dinner searching for a fingernail that wasn't already bitten to the quick.
My wife grabbed my arm and waited for me to make eye-contact: "Sweetheart, I don't think the vodka's coming."
What else to do but douse the flames of rejection with a cocktail or two?
The only bottle in the icebox was a well-frosted half-filled bottle of the Goose. Could I find it in myself to be consoled by the very bird that had denied me?
I could. I had been wronged, jilted, flat-handedly dissed by my favorite of all spirits, but with a modest pour dumped crisply down the hatch, eloquent words of forgiveness were already forming on my lips.
Unsponsored-as-yet Missoula-based poet and essayist Chris Dombrowski is the author of By Cold Water and the forthcoming September Miniatures with Blood and Mars.