Earlier this month my friends and I bought three cases of beer for our tubing adventure down the Apple River in Somerset, Wis. That amount seemed normal, if not excessive, for six people who would float for three hours.
But as the day rolled on we realized our provisions were moderate, even frugal, compared to the other floaters. Our party witnessed some disturbing events, all likely linked to an excessive consumption of alcohol; the most mild consisted of reckless flesh exposure, of which I am sometimes a fan, I admit.
My band of drifting compadres and I witnessed a very sloppy fight between two ego-toting men amid the halfhearted protests of their friends. The men — one of who was at least 40 years old — stumbled around each other against the shallow, slow-moving river current. Both had puffed their chests like exotic birds when they neared their respective targets, and, with the first aimless punch, a full-fledged brawl broke out among their friends.
These guys tripped over each other, fell down in the water and slapped each other’s enemies with sloppy wet hands. Throughout the entire fight, the participants shouted such intelligent retorts, such as, “Oh, yeah?” and “I’m gonna kick your ass!”
Another few turns of the river revealed a college-aged guy, eyes closed, head slung down onto his chest, puking all over himself a white, frothy bile. Mmmmmm.
His friends, their tubes all tied around his, immediately broke into a drunken cheer for this fellow’s show of overconsumption. The whole group couldn’t have been happier about this event, as if his outburst signified the greatest achievement of their day.
Bare-chested, rosy-cheeked, and about 18, they raised their beer cans in a rowdy toast to the toasted young man, whose posture and expression clearly reveled a state of unconsciousness — not to mention that he was puking on himself and made no attempt to direct his bile over the side of the tube.
This event troubles me more than the fight. I can understand enemies who might revel in another’s misfortune, but it’s unsettling that so-called “friends” would cheer instead of help this guy sober up.
It is no laughing matter when someone is that drunk. It’s hard to imagine why folks would even want to severely intoxicate themselves after the overexposure the media has given to the topic as of late, especially concerning college kids and alcohol.
Does the name Scott Krueger ring a bell? He was the 18-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology freshman who died of alcohol poisoning at a house party in 1997. What about 26-year-old University of Pennsylvania alumnus Michael Tobin who fell down a flight of stairs after excessively drinking in March?
Even closer to home is the 1998 alcohol-related brawl at Grandma’s Bar and Grill which killed 22-year old University student Nicholas Schultz. These young men lost their lives to the deadly, yet very commonplace, habit of underestimating the effects of alcohol. Yet people still continue to disregard the headlines, the warnings, the statistics.
Most people, obviously, don’t think excessive drinking will ever result in death of their friends or themselves. It’s always someone else, right? Just ask the friends of Krueger, Tobin or Schultz. It does happen. Unfortunately, it happens all the time because of the very attitude expressed by these cocky men in their floating bar.
College-aged people are particularly at risk according to the research. The Harvard School of Public Health’s College Alcohol Study reported from a 1997 survey that 43 percent of college students were classified as binge drinkers — those who consume more than five beers at one sitting. Of all students who drink, one-third said they drink to get drunk.
While not everyone on the river fought or barfed, nearly everybody was in some state of intoxication, myself included. What does this say about our culture? It says that we can’t even enjoy a beautiful, sunny afternoon floating down a lovely river without getting messed up along the way.
At least the band of drunkards only passively floated down the Apple River in inner tubes instead of racing down the St. Croix in speed boats. The July 5 boat crash that claimed the lives of five people resulted from excessive drinking. Medical examiners found that both boat drivers had twice the legal limit of alcohol in their blood.
Perhaps we’re all a little to blame for the troubling events witnessed on one summer afternoon. Alcohol is glorified in the movies and commercials as much as it is denounced in the headlines and medical journals. And young, insecure people are only too happy to look only at the former and not the latter as an excuse to escape life.
Everything in moderation: That’s my motto — unless it comes to random flesh shots while drifting down the Apple River. Nothing wrong with that, I reckon.
Emily Dalnodar’s column usually appears on alternate Fridays. She welcomes comments to [email protected]