David Bruce: Alcohol Anecdotes

The Doubner Maggid once ate dinner at the house of a wealthy man, who urged him to drink. The Maggid drank one glass of wine, and the wealthy man asked him to drink another, which the Maggid did, despite protesting, “I am not accustomed to drinking.” When the second glass of wine was empty, the wealthy man urged the Maggid to drink a third glass, so the Maggid asked him to fill the glass to the brim. When the glass was full, the Maggid told the man to pour more, surprising him, because—as he pointed out—the glass was already full. “There is a lesson in this,” the Maggid said. “The glass is a lifeless object and it holds only a certain amount. This is even more true of a human being, who has life and will power and therefore should know the limit of his capacity for alcohol.”

In New York, reporter H. Allen Smith was sitting at a lunch counter when a filthy, drunken bum came in. The bum said, “Men, I ain’t going to ast you for money to buy a cuppa coffee. I ain’t gonna tell you that I ain’t eat nothing in four days. Men, I am an old-fashion drunk. I got to have booze. I tell you, I got to have it! You would be doing me a great favor if you would help me out a little.” Everyone at the lunch counter chipped in, and the bum walked out with a good amount of money. The moral, if there is one: Honesty pays.

Operatic tenor Leo Slezak knew an alcoholic who called every drink an “okrepa”—that is, a strengthener—so he called the alcoholic “Okrepa.” The alcoholic spent all his money on drink, and so he never bought a railway ticket. Instead, he would arrange to be in the dining car when the ticket inspector came, and instead of purchasing a ticket, he would draw the ticket inspector into conversation and buy him drinks. Unfortunately, this always cost the alcoholic much more than simply buying the ticket would have.

George Washington once signed a mock contract with his gardener. The contract provided money for the gardener to get drunk and specified for how long the gardener could remain drunk. According to the contract, the gardener was to receive “four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon.”

As a reporter, H. Allen Smith was able to interview many of the world’s celebrities, some of whom acted rather strangely. According to Mr. Smith, writer John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath, hated giving interviews, so before Mr. Smith arrived for an interview, Mr. Steinbeck got drunk. During the interview, Mr. Steinbeck occasionally broke out into bawdy song, singing, “With lecherous howls, I deflower young owls.”

A King invited his subjects to a banquet and told them to each bring a flask of wine to be poured into a large vat to be shared. One of his subjects decided to cheat and bring water, not wine, in his flask, reasoning that one flask of water in all that wine would be unnoticed. When all the flasks had been emptied into the vat, the King tasted the liquid—it was water. All of his subjects had decided to cheat.

Mrs. Sarah Siddons was playing Lady Macbeth on a very hot day. Being thirsty, she asked her dresser to get her a drink, so he sent a small boy to get her a glass of beer from a local pub. Returning with the beer, the boy asked where Mrs. Siddons was. Informed that she was on stage, he walked out in full view of the audience and said, “If you please, ma’am, I’ve brought you your beer.”

Miles Halhead was an early Quaker preacher who went from town to town, preaching. This meant that he was away from home very often, which upset his wife, who said, “Would God I had married a drunkard. Then I might have found him at the ale-house; but now I cannot tell where to find my husband.” Later, she had a vision that revealed to her that her husband was obeying the command of God.

A preacher talked about praising God through song and mentioned a few of his favorite hymns, then he asked the children of the congregation for their favorite hymns. One young boy said, “From the land of sky-blue waters”—which was the beginning of a jingo from a TV commercial for beer.

Famous people get food and drink named after them. In Johannesburg, South Africa, there was once a Markova-Dolin cocktail, named after the ballet pair, Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, but Ms. Markova confesses that she lacked the courage to drink one.

Sayadaw U Pandita is a Buddhist teacher. When someone asked him if it is ever all right to drink alcohol, he replied, “If someone ties you down and pours it down your throat, and you don’t enjoy it, then it’s all right to have a drink.”

John Steed, the sartorially perfect spy on The Avengers, does a lot of drinking—especially champagne—so of course he has a hangover cure, which we learn in the episode “A Touch of Brimstone.” The cure is to play the National Anthem because it “gets you to your feet.”

Jackie Gleason’s character of Reggie Van Gleason III was based in part on a rich drunk Mr. Gleason once got mad at for insulting a woman. While walking to Central Park to fight, the rich man said, “Not so fast.” Mr. Gleason thought this comment was hilarious.

Financial writer Andrew Tobias is often frugal. For example, he buys cheap vodka, then pours it into bottles bearing the label of an expensive brand. According to Mr. Tobias, “When it comes to mixed drinks, vodka is vodka.”

Zen master Muso Kokushi (1275-1351) had high praise for his student, the shogun Takauji, saying that Takauji put in long hours of meditation even after a night of heavy drinking.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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