Going on the Wagon in Tokyo? I’ll Drink to That!

by M. Guss

Making the decision to swear off  liquor is easy and often rewarding. It gives one a sense of direc­tion, of discipline and self-righteousness. But staying on the wagon in this town is something else again.

It is, in fact, enough to drive a man to drink.

Now, Tokyo is many things to many people, but it’s no place for a teetotaler. Too many temptations and frustrations along the way. Besides, it’s downright dis­couraging to wake up in the morning knowing that that’s as good as you’re going to feel all day.

However, the doctor says booze is bad for my ulcers. To my way of thinking, though, liquor is not nearly as tough on my constitution as is the high cost of pub crawling.

Sometimes I think it’s just as well that the waiter turns your check upside down in the bars and cabarets. Otherwise you might get a look at the bill while you were gulping down a Suntory and choke on it.

Anyway, the doc ordered me to go on the wagon – and I tried. I figured it wasn’t the whisky that I would really miss as much as all that action in Akasaka and Roppongi.

So, in a Solomon-like de­cision I switched to orange juice.

Have you any idea what O.J. costs at some of the places in this town? They squeezed more out of me than they ever did out of those poor oranges.

You see, they don’t just bring you an ordinary orange juice. They sweeten it with sugar, sour it with lemon, fizz it, frappe it, mix it up in sterling silver shakers and decorate it like an old fa­shioned. Then they serve it in coconut shells, hollowed out pineapples, even chill it in an ice bucket like a rare old wine. They seem to spare no expense in bring­ing me the finest orange juice that my money could buy.

After one such 1000-yen concoction, I needed a double whisky on the rocks to soothe my ulcers.

Nor were my friends any help in my battle with the bottle. Guys who never reached for a check in their lives began springing for drinks. People I hadn’t heard from in months were calling me up and inviting me out on the town.

But my greatest peril was my old cronies. Frankly, I find them easier to take after downing a few drinks. I discovered that my sobriety at a cocktail party stripped them of their sheen.

For example, the practical joker of the bunch who used to break me up   suddenly began to bore me. And for some strange reason the philosopher in the crowd wasn’t making any sense at all. So I have a couple and the good ole boys once more turn into the greatest guys in the world.

But the most treacherous of all is the City of Tokyo, which looks a lot better through a gentle haze of alcohol. It’s not so much the mercury in the water or the pollution and dust in the air that builds up a thirst within me as it is the every day frustrations and the obnoxious cab drivers that drive me to drink.

Like I discover that cute young thing is really serious about learning English from me. One for the road, Bartend-san! Or the cook lakes it upon himself to pour catsup on my scrambled eggs. Fill ‘er up! Or the landlady explains the facts of key money. Cheers! The train strike; set ’em up again, Joe! Or the mama-san at that interesting-look­ing spot says: “Sorry, Japa­nese only.” Kampai!

Yes, there are times when nothing placates the stomach like a drop or two.

They say whisky improves with age, and I believe it. Because the older I get the more I like it.

Sorry about that, Doc, but the road is just too bumpy. I’m getting off the wagon.

But I’m willing to com­promise. I’ll give up orange juice, instead.

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