Drinking with the cat's meow

I've mentioned before that sometimes I envy heroin addicts. Not for the whole monkey-on-me-back-Trainspotting-flesh-eating-bacteria thang, but more for their ability-to-get-that-high-on-a-regular-basis thang. Devil be damned, they probably say, I'm shootin' up and going to my DMV appointment.

I got a taste for their good life when I was in the hospital recently, recovering from surgery. They give you this Jeopardy button-pushie thingie that releases Dilaudid or Demerol or one of those "D" drugs — you know, the ones that adhere to your opiate receptors like Tom Cruise on Katie Holmes. I pushed that sucker every 10 minutes like a lab rat rootin' around for a reward pellet. Even if a mild electric shock were involved, I would have endured it to get to the drugs. They were that fucking good.

I remember distinctly sitting up in bed at 3 in the morning, having just returned from a jaunt around the ward. The doctors make you get up to walk every three hours to prevent the formation of blood clots. The staff first check to make sure your gown flaps aren't revealing your bare buttocks (surely a nurse's most important task) and then help you push along your intravenous coat rack on wheels. I had been partying a few rooms over with the extended family of a Saudi woman who had undergone a hysterectomy. All of the women in the family were veiled and covered, and there I stood, naked but for a hospital gown. Yet, gentle reader, we were of one people, because I was blitzed out of my mind on downers. "Come on by Room 3224 on your way to the cafeteria!" I exclaimed as I took my leave. "I have In Touch magazine!"

So anyway, when I got back to my bed and tucked in, I pushed my button about five times in rapid succession and then just sat there and analyzed how amazing I felt. Psychologists say we can have no sensation of happiness without first feeling sad, so I must say what I felt was a mixture of both. I was at once nostalgic, in love, and content. I was joyful and melancholy. It was what the Portuguese call saudade, the basis for their most famous export, the gentle music known as fado (please read the last few sentences with a Ricardo Montalban accent. Thank you).

Upon arriving home, it was time for weeks of liquid Vicodin. Mind you, I stopped actually having any pain around the third day after surgery. But I had a few refills and a few months off work, so I figured what the heck, I'll live like a junkie and spend most of my days with Kubla Khan in Xanadu. Still, the outside world kept calling, and I knew I must go out for Bouncer at some point. I chose a new bar called Kitty's in Emeryville because I wouldn't need to drive there. I could walk or take the bus, and, like the lugubrious strains of the clement fado, it has a decidedly Portuguese theme.

Kitty, who is indeed a real person, is Portuguese. Some may know her from her KALX show on Wednesdays; still others may know her for her various DJ gigs that feature obscure old-school soul and funk. She has been a bartender at the Ruby Room in Oakland and myriad other places and has finally opened up her own spot along Hollis. Since Kitty formerly hung her hat in dark hipster dungeons, one might be surprised to see how "mod" her new place is — big windows, fuchsia walls, and a steel and wood designed outdoor sitting area. There are Old World European touches like gigantic fleurs-de-lis painted on the walls and a bar made out of polished, uncut timber. The international influence also shows up in the bar food, which is an awesome selection of Portuguese tapas.

Every time I've wandered in, the place has been packed, which just goes to show how much this area needed a good bar. On this evening I found only one available seat at the bar, right next to a bearded young man in a Bayer Corp. fleece hoodie. He patted the stool so as to invite me to sit down, as only a drunk can do. This guy was loaded. I interrupted him midrant, as he was talking about how cheap it is for a bar to not fill a martini glass up to the top. "We have big martini glasses," Kitty said, trying to state her case, "so even though we don't fill them to the rim you are still getting a large drink."

"No, no, no!" he replied, banging his palm on the bar playfully. I took him for a regular who was giving Kitty shit, and she, like a Portuguese breeze, was flowing with the zephyrs.

"You seem like a lot of fun, I like you," he said to me. "Have a drink." I answered that I couldn't drink but that I was gonna have a virgin Bloody Mary.

"No, no, no!" he said again. "Come on, let's get drunk together."

"Dude, I'm on Vicodin, isn't that enough?"

"Oooh," he said, offering me a reverence that goes with the hierarchy of substance abuse. "Cool."

My Bloody Mary was fucking amazing. I also nibbled some manchego cheese and olives. The Vicodin was sending waves of warmth through me. Etienne de Rocher's record was playing. A couple to my left were on their first date. I felt great.

"I gotta go to the bathroom," said my pal.

"OK," I said back to him, "make sure to go in the men's room and not the women's."

"Thanks for the vote of confidensch," he slurred.

A group of two guys and two girls came in and headed to the bar, squeezing into the space that my pal had left. As they were ordering, I noticed something very odd. One of the men was wearing a sleeping mask on his forehead. You know, the kind Joan Crawford probably wore to cover her eyes. It was green and pushed up his bangs somewhat stylishly, all of which led me to wonder if it was indeed a fashion statement. Maybe it was the drugs, but this guy looked ridiculous. I was just about to point this out when my pal returned from the bathroom, feeling his way across the area.

Then it hit me: Getting high or loaded is not something to share with the rest of the world. It is something to do alone in your house, surrounded by your own filth. Plus, I'm glad to say, it started to get old. Addicts are not pretty. And I was merely playing the part of the drug addict. In reality, I could quit at any time, cliche be damned. Like happiness, which must first be introduced by sadness, inebriation must also be equally tempered with sobriety. After I finish my last bottle of Vicodin, I shall go back to the cruel world. I promise.

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