Better Gin than a Gun

What type of drinker are you?

Dan Dunn
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readApr 26, 2014

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I used to be a regular at P&J’s Tavern, a hole-in-the-wall in a down-and-out section of Northeast Philly known as Summerdale. P&J’s was the first drinking establishment I’d ever been to, and over the course of a long summer many years ago it’s where I became a pinball wizard, and honed my now-considerable pool, darts and shuffleboard skills. It’s also where I received a crash course in drunkenness, sex, obscene drunkenness, fisticuffs and all manner of other types of unseemly behavior. Not that I engaged in any of it firsthand. At least, not that summer. After all, I was only seven.

It was a different time, and one people seem to now think less enlightened. But I would argue that life was infinitely more interesting for kids in the 70s than it is now. I usually went to P&J’s with my dad. Back then, a heavy drinker bringing a first grader to a bar every day was no more frowned upon than that same guy driving the wee lad home after tying one on, then letting him play with lawn darts or listen to the Carpenters unsupervised. Dangerous, sure. Also really goddamn fun.

But irresponsible as it might seem now, spending damn near every day with my pops at P&J’s in the summer of 1976 is one of two truly meaningful father-son bonding experiences I can recall from my childhood. The other happened when I was five and he kidnapped me and fled to Maryland. No shit. I’m going to leave that story be for now, though, except to say that I honestly believe the guy had my best interests at heart. Plus I’ve got to set aside some material for my upcoming book, a weepy tell-all companion tentatively titled “A Heartbreaking Work Of Running with a Million Little Pieces of Scissors.” Oprah, I hope you’re ready.

But P&J’s. P&J’s was my indoctrination. That watershed moment that changes everything. No matter who you are and where your own personal relationship with alcohol has taken you, your first encounter with booze is a singular event from which there is no turning back. In that moment you are set upon a journey toward becoming one of four different types of people: 1) a person who drinks; 2) a person who doesn’t drink; 3) a person who wishes he could handle drinking yet cannot; or 4) a person who is dead.

And while I’m sure there are a few teetotalers reading this in the interest of getting a peek behind the curtain, I think it’s a good bet that most of the folks reading this story are, like me, firmly entrenched in the first category. It would be naive to rule out, however, that any one of us might become a 3 or 4 down the line somewhere. We’re all 4s eventually, after all. And as far as number 3 goes, my extensive field research has revealed a cruel irony: that a given person’s unwillingness to acknowledge their category 3 potential vastly increases the possibilities of it happening. Because alcohol does funny things to your brain. Sometimes it’s the ha-ha kind and sometimes it’s the peculiar kind. And sometimes it’s the “I take my first-grader to the bar then drive him home drunk” kind. Hilarious, right?

My parents divorced when I was three. It wasn’t amicable. Not by a long shot. Still isn’t, even here on the other side of the millennium. My father, as you might have suspected based on the above, is an alcoholic, and my mother is crazier than a paisley snowflake in Jamaica. Check that — my dad is a recovering alcoholic. And while the one-day-at-a-timers at AA would no doubt strenuously object to my saying so, I’d even venture he’s recovered since he’s not so much as touched a drop in over 25 years. Mom, however, is definitely not a recovering crazy person. Turns out manic-depressive disorder with psychotic episodes is a bitch of a hard habit to break.

Now, I’m not here to wallow in self-pity, or whine about how my parents fucked me up so badly it drove me to drink. That’s what therapy is for. And while there’s no doubt that my parents’ various issues have contributed to my love of the bottle, I’m not going to get all Freud on you. Instead, I’d like to address their impact on the type of drinker I’ve become. I remember reading a few years ago that England’s Department of Health came up with a list of the various types of problem drinkers. In my interpretation they go a little something like this:

1) The Pity Party Drinkers: These are the poor bastards who drink because their lives suck. Whether they’re bereaved, divorced, dumped, in financial ruin, or just plain old sad sacks, alcohol is a comfort to these guys; a form of self-medication used to help them cope with their miserable existences in a godforsaken world. On the bright side, they make other people feel much better about themselves.

2) The 5 p.m. Sharp Drinkers: These folks have high-pressure jobs and stressful home lives that send them running to the nearest bar the second the clock strikes happy hour. In other words, 90 percent of the adult population. They use booze to help them relax, unwind, and ease the switch between their equally hellish work and personal lives.

3) Bachelor Party Drinkers: These are the guys with such busy social calendars, they can only find the time to get together on special occasions (generally ones that involve strippers). But when they do manage to get together, they know how to make up for the lost time — and then some. The memories from their frat house days may have faded, but the bond of drunken sex with strangers lasts forever. Note: these are the people you want to go to Vegas with.

4) The Barstool-glued-to-their-ass Drinkers: These people believe that going to the pub every night is “what men do.” The bar is their second home, and it should be, since their tabs are about on par with their mortgages. We all know these people. They’re the cast of Cheers.

5) Desperate Housewives Drinkers: These are those for whom alcohol is company, making up for an absence of, you know, real people. Think Eva Longoria unwinding with a glass (or three) of vino after a long day of cleaning, cooking, and scheming. For these women (as the name implies, they are mostly women), drinking often marks the end of the day, when they’ve finished working around the house and are getting ready to work at pretending they can stand their husbands.

6) “Punch me as hard as you can” Drinkers: These are the macho dudes who have cultivated an alpha male persona revolving around their drinking prowess to compensate for their lack of brain, brawn, and overall appeal to women. These dudes feel a constant need to assert their masculinity — i.e. their ability to pound shots of Jager — to themselves and others. Also known as drunk assholes.

And last but not least, the old classic:

7) The Binge Drinkers: Everyone over the age of 14 has friends like these. Drinking excessively is their way of having fun, and as far as they’re concerned, the more drinks, the more fun. Which would lead one to believe that their idea of the ultimate good time is a five-hour blackout and a night with their head in the toilet. These are basically hedonists who use alcohol to release inhibitions. Hey, I didn’t say I was knocking it.

I know what you’re thinking. I was as shocked as you to find that they did not include a category for Professional Drinker. However, after pausing for self-examination, I have since determined that, as a consummate professional, I am actually a combination of them all. This is either a gut-wrenching tragedy or the all-time most towering achievement in the history of adult beverage consumption. And I honestly have no idea which.

No doubt some of these tendencies came from my mentally unstable mother, while I can thank my dear old formerly besotted dad for others. I’d like to think I brought some of these jiggers to the mix all on my own, though. After all, it would be humiliating to admit I didn’t learn something worthwhile during those six long years spent in college.

The psychological community appears to be in agreement that children who hail from bipolar and/or alcoholic households grow up believing emotional chaos is normal. And they say this like it’s a bad thing. Look, I recognize that long-term exposure to a delusional mother and a dad fighting a losing battle with Jack Daniels has, on occasion, left me feeling as unstable as weapons-grade plutonium. Still I’d take the high octane cocktail of contradictions that are my drunk self over being “normal” any day of the week. What the hell does “normal” mean anyway? Show me a “normal” person and I’ll show you someone who has never once snorted lines in Metallica’s tour bus or had mind-blowing unprotected sex with a total stranger in the stairwell at a Lake Tahoe casino. And where’s the fun in that?

So on second thought, I am going to give my ‘rents some credit for steering me toward the career path I’ve been wobbly navigating the past decade or so. Consider this a heartfelt thank you, mom and dad, for screwing me up enough to be “abnormal,” yet not so much that I wound up in an insane asylum, homeless or, worse, on a reality TV show. Sure I raise a bottle to my lips most days. Better gin than a gun, I say. Had it not been for my batshit-crazy mom and fall-down drunk pops, I might be barely making ends meet at a data entry job in a drab office building in Boringtown, USA, instead of getting paid a pretty penny (well, a penny anyway) to be a globetrotting boozehound. Score one for abnormality.

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Dan Dunn
Human Parts

Author of “American Wino,” “Living Loaded” and “Nobody Likes a Quitter.” Extreme whittler.