The title of this column is misleading. In reality, I came to terms with being the drunk cousin of my family years ago. I remember the exact moment I realized that I was the drunk cousin. It was hours before my cousin’s posh wedding in suburban Phoenix back in May 2011. I was sitting at the outdoor bar of the Montelucia, sloppily eating a $20 hamburger in the shadows of Camelback Mountain and regret. The hangover was so severe that I didn’t even mind grossly overpaying for an exceptionally mediocre burger, because at that point I needed something, ANYTHING, in my stomach. If I had come across a dead coyote before reaching the bar I probably would have laid down next to it and started sadly gnawing at its jowls as I weakly swatted away greedy birds of carrion that were impatiently awaiting their turn at the carcass. It was the type of hangover that had me seriously considering stumbling over to the pool, sticking my head beneath the surface, and swallowing as much water as I could physically consume, or possibly just drowning myself to end the misery. I opted against the latter if only because this was my cousin’s special day, and I didn’t want to upstage her with a hangover-induced suicide. Never be hungover in Arizona.
To this day I contend that the whole thing wasn’t my fault. The person who pushed me over the edge to claim the drunk cousin title was, of all people, my own mother. That’s what happens when you don’t breastfeed naturally; your kid runs from one bottle right to the other. Just kidding, that joke was gross and I spent the last four minutes throwing up at my desk because of it. What actually happened was that a day earlier my family and I arrived at the Montelucia and sat down for a late lunch at the same bar/dining area I would find myself at 24 hours later, staving off the grim reaper with a Vitamin Water and sheer alcoholic willpower. You’ve been here before! SACK UP!
When we first arrived, I had no intention of drinking until the rehearsal dinner, which was a few hours later. Though, to be fair, once the rehearsal dinner started there was no debate about whether or not I was going to get bombed. My liver isn’t Syria. Still, until then I was completely content with sitting around, getting dressed, and then letting the party start at a reasonable hour. I was being responsible, dammit! My mom, however, was in full on vacation mode and wanted to have a beer with lunch. Not wanting to be the only one drinking, she of course turned to the person she knew she could most easily convince to drink, and asked if I would join. I was on the fence about it, and she pushed me over. “C’mon,” she said. That was enough for me (I’m not saying she had a tough time helping me reach drunk cousin status). Either way, I figured one drink couldn’t hurt. Since the thermometer read like it had just been pulled out of the devil’s rectum, because Arizona, I opted for a refreshing gin and tonic instead of a beer.
I ate, I finished my G&T, and everything was looking good…for about twelve seconds, because moments later a group of cousins and uncles returned from a golf outing, and they wanted to continue the fun. Then a few more aunts, uncles, and cousins found their way down to the bar from their rooms. Then the Cuban cigars came out and fuck me it looked like things were starting early, because when Uncle Jim breaks out more Cubans than a homemade but seaworthy raft, you’re obligated to stay and partake. Couple all of that with the fact that I wasn’t paying for a thing and a shit show was inevitable.
“Waitress, another seven gin and tonics, please.”
About fifteen or twenty of us sat around, laughed merrily about Osama bin Laden’s recent death, and drank until it was time to get changed for dinner. By the time I got back to my room to iron my shirt for the rehearsal dinner, I was already so drunk that I wasn’t actually capable of ironing my shirt for the rehearsal dinner. After an ironing attempt that amounted to me slapping at my oxford with a hot iron like a bitter, alcoholic divorcee who had never learned how to take care of himself, I returned to the bar to find all of my cousins, including the bride to be. The bride, because she’s awesome, had planned for all of the cousins to take a party bus to the rehearsal dinner. It became immediately evident to me that a perfect storm was forming. The liquor was the sea, my dignity was the catch I’d never come home with. My body was the boat and my pride was George Clooney. It was all going down.
The last fully conscious memory I have is during the speeches at the rehearsal dinner, at which point, sadly, there was still daylight. It was a nice dinner full of nice people and polite company, save for this asshole. At one point, someone from the groom’s family was speaking, and they told a joke. It was a cute joke, not hilarious, but worth a polite chuckle, so I chuckled. Well, I thought I chuckled.
After I laughed, my cousin Carrie grabbed my elbow and whispered harshly, “What the hell is wrong with you?!?”
I had no idea what she was talking about. She informed me that what I thought was a polite laugh was actually more like this:
Everyone at the rehearsal dinner was staring at me, though I didn’t have any idea. I just shrugged it off and went back to shoveling table bread into my mouth like a starving Victorian orphan who snuck into a fancy dinner and had no clue about the customs and manners of refined society. The rest of the night is a blur of switching from beer to Red Bull vodkas to keep myself from passing out, being cut off by the hotel bartender, arguing intensely with my mom about my drinking habits (that she was
totally partly definitely like 5% to blame for that day), and my (much soberer) brother and I almost getting in a fight with some guy who was creeping on a few of my female cousins. I’m still not sure if that was even necessary, but I’m leaning towards “no.” At that point, I just wanted to watch the world burn.
The next day was a pretty quality combination of pain and shame. My brother, who was in the same fraternity as me in college, described my previous day’s intoxication as “game day drunk.” Realistically, it was worse than that. At least on game day I know I’m going to be drinking all day. In this instance, I was ambushed. I had no idea how long I’d be drinking, and thus no sense of how I should’ve paced myself. I was flying blind, though to be fair, it wasn’t too smart of me to put my foot down heavy on the gas, so I have no one to blame but myself for rocketing aggressively into a blackout vacation drunk wherein I treated a 5-star resort like it was a Holiday Inn hosting a regional sales convention. It’s a miracle I escaped the evening without any arson charges or losing miserably to a cactus in a fistfight.
That, of course, wasn’t my first instance of drunk cousin-ry — it was just how I claimed the title. I had made quite a case for myself before then. All the way back in high school I had my cousin Julie, a contender in her own right, buy a bunch of kegs for a party I threw at my house when my parents left town for the weekend. That news spread quickly through the family. From there, it’s all a blur of wedding shenanigans (such as DEMANDING the DJ play “Badd” (Bad Bitch) by the Ying Yang Twins, despite their adamant refusal, until I was banned from requesting songs), New Years Day cocktails, bringing a fifth of vodka into a Chicago Denny’s late night after a funeral, visiting my orthopedic surgeon uncle multiple times for drunken injuries that resulted in broken bones, and cleaning out coolers on the Fourth of July.
Nowadays I embrace the title, though you sort of have to when nearly every greeting involves being informed of where beer is before being asked how you’ve been. I’m not complaining, though. My relatives aren’t being offensive or presumptuous. I really do want to know where the beer is, and they know me too well. Besides, nobody wants to catch up in the foyer anyway; we’ve got all day or night for that.
The title of drunk cousin also affords certain freedoms. No one is surprised by what I do anymore. Rob cleaned out all the Bud Lights? That’s just Rob being Rob. Rob’s partying in Dallas with his cousins who are still in college? Rob being Rob. Rob hooked up with one of those cousins’ friends? Rob being Rob. Rob invited his fraternity brothers to the wedding after party at the hotel bar and bought $300 worth of shots for everyone? Of course he did. Coming to the end of this paragraph, “certain freedoms” is now just starting to sound like “lowered expectations.” Eh, semantics.
The drunk cousin is a functional cousin as well, though, which is something I’ve recently come to realize. Is there a new boyfriend being brought around the family who looks wildly uncomfortable? Introduce him to the drunk cousin. Running low on booze for the festivities and have no idea what to restock with? Ask the drunk cousin. He will give you a detailed list off the top of his head. Underage and need someone to buy you booze? Boom, drunk cousin (thanks Julie!).
I wasn’t the first drunk cousin in my family. My older cousins were in fraternities and sororities, attended public universities in Arizona, etc. They no doubt threw down plenty hard as I sat around playing N64 and wondered why everyone older than me was having such a great time. Likewise, this will not always be my mantle to hold. There are some real up and coming 5-star prospects. My youngest brother comes to mind. He spent that Arizona wedding almost as hungover as I did. In fact, on that Saturday I woke up to the sounds of him puking, which, for a moment, I assumed must have been me while I was having some sort of near death experience, soul out of body moment. I also have a cousin currently attending TCU, and she is, from what I’ve seen and heard, a force of nature, a real fireball.
So really, being the drunk cousin isn’t so bad. At least you aren’t the drunk uncle.