It is a grey Sunday afternoon here in the Haunted City, a wind that can’t make up its mind which way to blow is shaking the trees and tossing a light rain this way and that. The weather fits my current condition, but this story begins about 48 hours ago, on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, in the garden of a place I call the Pink Gambrinus Pub.
The Pink Gambrinus Pub has four things going for it: a very pleasant garden, low prices, and two very pretty waitresses. I settled in under the awning, opened up the ol’ laptop, and set to work. Before too long my phone rang. I decided to answer. “What’s up, big daddy?” came the cheerful voice. Angelo is many things, but quiet and subtle are not on the list. I had agreed to help him set up his Web site, so he agreed to come join me later. I turned back to the task at hand.
A text message came in. Another friend, wanting to get together for beers later. I sent messages of my own, trying to set up a meeting over beers to discuss a project. That didn’t work out, but Jose said he would come join me in a while. I turned back to my work, while the waitresses did their best to bring me beers faster than I could drink them. You have to admire that go-getter spirit.
Angelo arrived and was pleased when one of the waitresses remembered him (I was not surprised). I put away the laptop and we had a very pleasant conversation, his exuberant American loudness reverberating in the garden while he contemplated how to hit on the waitress that hadn’t met him before. We even talked about business briefly. Eventually it was time for him to go. As he was leaving I got a message from Jose that he was on the way. I pulled out the laptop and tried to get a little bit done, but by then it was not the interruptions holding me back, but the beers.
Jose and Adam showed up, taking Angelo’s spot, and more conversation ensued, along with the required beer. Fun was had by all.
Eventually we paid up and went our separate ways. I strolled back up the hill toward home, a route that takes me right past the Little Café Near Home. It was getting a little late, but I decided to pop in and see who might be there on a Friday night.
As it turns out, the joint was jumping (as much as a place that small can jump), and I decided to sit down and have a beer. I mean, why not? As I sipped my suds I was rewarded by the arrival of Iva (rhymes with feevah). I believe I’ve mentioned in these pages before a pretty girl who surprised the hell out of me by striking up a conversation with me a while back. It was good to see her again.
This time, however, she didn’t seem terribly interested in my presence. Oh, well, I thought. She paid and left, and I was lamenting to one of the Martins that she seemed to have written me off when she stuck her head back in the door and said, “Jerry, we’re going to another pub, you want to come?” In retrospect I expect it was another of the Martins who suggested she ask me along, but at the time I just knew that a pretty girl was inviting me for drinks. So four of us — Iva, her sister, Martin 2, and I — went to another place for a while. In this group I was very much the old man.
I’m rather proud of myself, actually. I realized that I was being pretty boring, but I also realized that I was drunk, and that anything I might do to not be boring was likely to be obnoxious instead. Somehow I retained the judgement to merely be boring.
Strašnice is a quiet town, and the pubs close early. Sometimes that’s a good thing. When the barman wouldn’t give us a second round I gave Iva the remainder of my beer. The chivalry! Then it was time to go, and I walked back to my pad, dropped my backpack, flopped onto the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch, and was instantly asleep.
That is part one of the story. The fun part. The experienced among you might recognize the crucial mistake I made. When drinking with friends, drink with them all at once, not one at a time. I had a big meal with the beers, and I’ve certainly had more alcohol than that on other occasions, but on this night I had definitely crossed over to the “too much” side of the line.
It was still dark when I first woke. I was still drunk, but the headache had already begun. Nothing too bad yet, but I could tell there was much worse to come. I went into the kitchen and filled my belly with as much water as it would hold and then a little more, but I knew I was closing the barn door after the horse had got out. I was going to have a hangover. I don’t like hangovers. It seems, however, that until Saturday morning I had no idea what a hangover was.
The next time I woke my headache was in full bloom. A full-bodied, multiphase headache, sharp in back, throbbing and explosive in front. On occasion there would be a feeling that can’t really be described as pain behind my eyeballs and I would throw open my eyelids and bug out the orbs just to make more space in there. That never worked, and so seconds later I would slam the lids shut again and use my hands to keep my head from exploding.
It was not just a headache, though, oh, no. This hangover was remarkable in its completeness. Everything hurt. All my muscles were stiff and sore, as if I had the flu. Then the stomach cramps set in, strong enough to double me over. I thought maybe throwing up might relieve them, but when that finally happened there was no reduction in the severity of the cramps. There was nothing in my stomach anyway; all the water I had drunk was now running down my skin in rivulets.
It was about then I got my first muscle cramp. My left calf knotted up like a baseball, flinging me out of bed to try to walk it off, all other discomforts temporarily eclipsed. I worked out that cramp and slid back between my sweat-soaked sheets when I felt the arch of my right foot getting ready to clinch as well. I managed to preempt that one.
I lay, breathing with care, hours dragging by while I tried to find a position, any position, that might take the pressure off my gut without increasing the chances of a muscle cramp. I needed electrolytes, I decided. I needed to eat, and by mid-afternoon I was ready to try. I knew that would be a dicey proposition, but in fact it was my first step on the road to recovery.
By evening I was repaired enough to manage a trip to the Little Café Near Home for a bottle of Coca-Cola (oh, sweet nectar — the girl there was the same one who had been working the night before; she gave me a knowing look) then back home to watch a bootleg baseball broadcast on the Internet. Then I went to sleep.
Now it is Sunday afternoon. I am still getting stomach cramps, though they are not as bad anymore. My head hurts, but it’s only meaningfully painful when I cough or try to think. I am generally sore all over, and my calf hurts in particular; I suspect the muscle was damaged when it cramped up. I’m still sweating more than is natural.
I wonder, in retrospect, whether a hangover is sufficient to explain the depths of my misery yesterday, and the lingering effects today. Food poisoning? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I don’t want to go through that again.