Straight From the Barrel: Finally! A Self-Help Book For the Drinking Man

No, Frank Kelly Rich's The Modern Drunkard, A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century (Penguin, $14), won't wean you off of whiskey, but rather purports to provide advice to the committed drinker in a world where he is getting mixed signals at best. Nor is this book a list of cocktails. Instead it's a compendium of all things booze, from bar etiquette to drink management strategies to dealing with those who would have you quit.

But mostly The Modern Drunkard is hilarious. Offbeat and refreshingly politically incorrect, the tome is a "backlash against the army of self-appointed nannies who believe any manner of fun shouldn't interrupt the long, gray lockstep toward the prison of death." Woof! Heavy. Rich cites William James in his argument for the power of positive drinking: "Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes."

His rules, while humorous, are nevertheless trenchant ("drink one girly drink in public and you will forever be known as the guy who drinks girly drinks"). His advice also runs to the parsimonious ("never complain about the quality or brand of a free drink" and "if there is any confusion, the fuller beer is yours"), even when touting alcohol's effects as a social equalizer ("when you're in a bar and drunk, your boss is just another guy begging for a fat lip. Unless he's buying").

Hopefully, Rich's sage counsel on barroom manners will help to rid the drinking world of inevitable louts ("if you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to drink in a bar. Go to the liquor store" and "if there is a line for drinks, get your goddamn drink and step the hell away from the bar"). His advice is meted out equally to boors of every stripe. For the out-of-control he points out, "If you think you might be slurring a little, then you are slurring a lot. If you think you are slurring a lot, then you are not speaking English." To the effete he says, "Nothing screams "nancy boy" louder than swirling an oversized brandy snifter."

The book celebrates all things alcoholic -- even hangovers ("if it were all good times every jackass would be doing it") -- and suggests accomplishments to which boozers should aspire, such as visiting the source of your favorite drink, buying a crowded bar a round and opening and closing a bar.

Rich also helps drunkards to solve common problems, such as when your host tries to cut you off or when you unwittingly awake from a blackout in the midst of a wedding -- your own.

For those not so conversant in drinking, there's a boozer glossary that defines such technical jargon as shelf jumper (someone whose taste improves from top to bottom when someone offers to buy him a drink) and beer queer (a straight man who will pretend to be gay so as to solicit free drinks from an unsuspecting homosexual). Rich also chronicles great moments in the history of hooch, from drunken Sumerians to teetotaler presidents who invade Iraq.

And, of course, there are drink recipes -- one for each day of the year -- and excuses to drink them. As if we needed them.


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