The Port City Chronicle is the continuing story of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way. Here's this week's episode:

When You’re So Pickled it Feels More Drunk to be Sober

“The advantage of beer over the Patriots is it’s always playing,” Ethan said, as Tim and Milagros came over to watch a show on St. Patrick’s Day about free agents on the NFL network. It was Ethan’s excuse for missing 15 minutes of talk about the Patriots for an even greater cause.

“I’m so thirsty I’m going to have to run out and get beer and drink it right in the store.”

He saw no reason to be sober after 4 o’clock, halftime in the game of daily life. By 4 every day, he made a play for beer and started working his way toward the end zone until 8 or 9, when the buzz was over and real life resumed again until the earth spun back around to 4 the next day. He was guaranteed to get a touchdown, and since it was a pick-up game, Tim and Charles could always play too if they happened to be around.

Except this time Charles was left out because he was trying to quit drinking, despite the difficulties, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. “It feels different to be sober,” he said grimly, when Ethan returned with two 64-ounce growlers of beer.

“I know, it’s sobering,” I said, trying to cut back myself.

For the first time ever, Angela wanted Ethan to copy Charles.

“Why don’t you try cutting back too?” she asked him. “You’re planning to drink all this on top of whatever else you had today? You’re already red faced, you know.”

Ethan shrugged. “That’s just a sunburn.”

“How could you have a sunburn when you’ve barely been outside?”

“I must have been burned by the lamp in here.”

Angela sighed in disgust and Ethan ratcheted it up a notch.

“Listen Miss Muffet,” he said. He always called her that when she was nagging him about something. “I’m not cutting back on St. Patrick’s Day.”

“What do you have against Miss Muffet, anyway?” Milagros asked.

It was a good question considering Miss Muffet is fairly innocuous to most people since she doesn’t do much but sit on a tuffet.

“She’s so complacent,” Ethan said.

He was already annoyed with Angela because she nixed going out to a bar.

“I thought we’d go to Gritty’s for your beers today,” he said to her at lunch. But she didn’t go for it.

Ethan couldn’t see a problem with getting a buzz every day, whether through beer or other chemical substances. “That’s the reason we’re so much water,” he said.

It wasn’t a good atmosphere for Charles to try to reform himself.

“What’d you get?” he asked, eying the growlers.

“A 9%,” Ethan said. Those were all the details he’d absorbed.

“How do you know you’re going to like the taste?”

“I like the taste of 9%.”

He applied that same philosophy at bars that failed to display their ABVs. We’d recently faced off with an innocent hipster young bartender in front of a chalkboard showing the list of craft beers with their poetry and geography, but without their crucial weight and height.

“Which is the strongest?” Ethan asked, squinting at the writing for the sake of appearances like a guy scanning women’s faces when all he’s really after are big boobs.

The bartender stroked his beard as if he totally knew where Ethan was coming from.

“This Thirsty Dog is really strong — hoppy but not acidic, big bass tones, intense flavor, great finish. Definitely the strongest beer in this line up. I highly, highly recommend it.”

Ethan was unmoved. “Uh, huh,” he said pensively, trying to piece together an ABV from that description. Just because a beer acts strong doesn’t mean it is strong, as he’s often told me.

While the bartender gave a detailed description of every beer on the list, Ethan was plotting his escape to avoid unwittingly drinking a mere 5%. Finally I opted to shame myself by asking point-blank how big the Thirsty Dog’s boobs were or Ethan would have walked out despite all that effort by the bartender.

With the growlers, on the other hand, we knew only the boob size and nothing else.

“I think it’s a sour,” Tim said, sniffing one of them thoughtfully. He likes to have a little poetry with his buzz.

“What does a sour taste like again?” I asked, not liking the sound of it.

“Like a samurai just buried a sword in your tongue.”

That didn’t stop anybody except Charles, who was still sticking to his New Year’s resolution to cut back. “I feel like it’s affecting my memory,” he said glumly.

Ethan took a big gulp to punish Charles for being a spoil-sport.

“That’s why I need to drink more,” he said. “I have too much memory left.”

But Charles wasn’t dissuaded. “I’m so pickled it feels more drunk to be sober,” he added gloomily. Not that it looked like a fun drunk.

“My New Year’s resolution was to hike the Appalachian Trail,” Ethan said. He was making a point of some kind to Charles about New Year’s resolutions. Of course, considering Ethan would have to quit his job and leave his wife and kids for six months to hike the AT, it was obviously impossible, but I figured it was still more likely than him cutting back on beer.

Anyway, it backfired right away.

“Me too,” Tim said. “I made the same New Year’s resolution. If you’re going to do it too, we might as well do it together.”

“No, you go ahead,” Ethan said. “I’m going to start 10 minutes later than you.”

It wasn’t a great start to the year for anyone who was hoping for world peace. Or even peace of mind. But apparently Ethan had good reasons for wanting to take a hike that had something to do with the 9% ABV and maybe a few other things.

“I won’t go into it but I’ve had a stomach ache for months and recently it hurts to drink beer,” Ethan admitted to me after making me promise not to tell Charles.

“For the last week I haven’t been able to have my beers before dinner or my nightcap before bed. I’ve missed it, but on the other hand, I’ve lost weight and I’ve noticed I feel a lot better in the mornings. That said, it’s evening, which is the time of day when Mr. and Mrs. Reingren usually drink heavily on the prospect of spending a little time together.”

I could see why he didn’t want Charles to know any of that. As bad as it might be to hike the Appalachian Trail with Tim, it’d be worse to dry out with Charles, especially if you had to do it sober.

Even more important, he didn’t want to give in to Angela.

“Who spilled wine on the cat?” she asked, heading through to the kitchen to make dinner.

Ethan was caught red-handed. He’d switched over to wine to avoid a stomach ache from the beer.

“You stained her,” Angela said.

She looked at the near-empty growlers and the half-drunk bottle of wine.

“I’m surprised you can even stand any more.”

I worried there was going to be a fight despite the holiness of St. Patrick’s Day. But Ethan was no longer bothered by Miss Muffet as he downed his third glass of wine. Even Charles had stopped annoying him, though Ethan was still bugging Charles. That’s one of the great side-effects of beer and the major reason it’s always playing.

“The trick is to pace yourself,” Ethan said happily. “First I only had 2 pints, then only 2 12-ouncers. So if you think about it, I only had 56 ounces of beer today.”

He took another drink to demonstrate.

Then, wobbling a little, he had to sit down on a tuffet.


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