Of all the various and sundry head-spinning consumables we Americans devour on an hourly basis, none enjoy the social cachet and cost of dear old alcohol. It’s our soma, our legal high, indulgently allowed us by our wise, gentle leaders. Giving sex appeal to the plain, balls to the meek and an incessant stream of half-intelligible chatter from the otherwise introverted, alcohol is almost a panacea to us. Unfortunately, it’s also the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for 85,000 mortalities in 2000 alone. Not to mention lesser emotional as well as physical injuries (although tobacco takes the cake, causing 435,000 deaths that same year- just over 18 percent of the national total). I guess Homer Simpson put it best, “Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all life’s problems.”
The word itself derives from the Arabic al-kuhul, meaning “kohl,” a cosmetic used to darken the eyelids (think Cleopatra). Its first use in English was in 1543, meaning “a powdered cosmetic produced by sublimination.” Within a century the usage had broadened to mean any subliminated substance, or the pure essence of any substance. It was not until the mid-1700s that it was used to denote ethanol, in the phrase “the alcohol of wine.” Soon the wine part was dropped and the term was extended to other fermented beverages.
In the present day, the only word I can think of that brings together the worlds of alcohol and cosmetics is the well-respected “beer-goggles,” which entered the language in 1964 on a trans-Atlantic liner originating from Portugal.
In addition to making your gut smaller and the circles under your eyes invisible, alcohol has another great benefit (at least to the folks who sell it). According to Women Today magazine, college students alone spend around $4.2 billion per year on alcoholic beverages, which is more than the cost of operating campus libraries, college scholarships and fellowships combined. Hey ?” that’s the incredible American higher education system at work!
Despite the puritanical rednecks at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and their savagely ignorant zealotry, the production of alcohol here in our fair, green state, is an ever-growing segment of our economy. Of course, alcohol has been part-and-parcel of the Oregon experience ever since Thomas A. Pinchenecken, of Jacksonville, Ore., first slipped and fell head-first into a pile of rotting apples (Johnny Appleseed grew apple trees for cider, not for pie, after all) and thought: Hell, I can sell this stuff!
We are proud to be at the center of the “Microbrew Revolution,” with Portland having more breweries per capita than any city in the world (is that why Portland chicks are so hot?), and the valleys to our west and south the site of a revolution in the wine world due to the expatriation of the 퀨͌_ber-French, Pinot Noir grape. Annually, alcohol sales in Oregon bring in about $300 million ($289 million in ’03-04), and generate about $120 million of revenue for the OLCC (whence the money can go straight to expanding video lottery gaming and preventing gay folks from marrying one another).
But the real reason alcohol is so great? I fucking love it. Give me the darkly luminous splendor of a molasses-sweet Oregon August evening, the sun still red in the cirrus, a breeze suggesting the Pacific kissing the back of my neck, my fiancee at one hand and an ice-cold bottle of Blue Boar at the other. Give me the rainy lash of a January midnight, when the fir trees outside my window writhe and dance, flinging boughs onto our stoop, and my belly is warmed by a big fat bowl of Cameron Clos Electrique.
In “The Subterraneans,” the holy drunkard Jack Kerouac wrote of “the sudden gut joy of beer when the visions of great worlds in rhythmic order all in one giant archangel book go roaring thru my brain, so I lie in the dark also seeing also hearing – the flow of river sounds, words, dark, leading to the future and attesting to the madness, hollowness, ring and roar of my mind which blessed or unblessed is where trees sing.” Go, Ti Jean! That brother was onto something, delirium tremens notwithstanding.
In the final analysis, like cars, or freedom of expression, alcohol is deadly ?” and can be a hell of a good time. Prost!