“I shall write about drinking, because it is high time somebody approached this subject in a specific, constructive way.”
This sentence, written roughly 90 years ago, holds special meaning. These days, there’s not an abundance of what I consider to be specific, constructive writing on the matter of drink.
When I began this blog a few years ago, I wanted to add a little civility to the subject, perhaps some knowledge and context to this pastime called drinking. So I put my life’s drinking experiences to paper, proffering stories, research, and a touch of humor to a topic often put down as unnecessary, irresponsible, or just downright wasteful.
My modest goals were, unbeknownst to me at the time, somewhat similar to those of Lois Long, a little-known name outside serious literary or Jazz Age American historical circles. For it was Ms. Long who, during the Dark Ages of American drinking culture – Prohibition – pseudonymously brought the world of drinking to the eyes of her readers in the pages of a then start-up magazine titled The New Yorker.
But it wasn’t simply her writing for which she gained notoriety, it was her lifestyle: hard drinking and hard partying at the hottest clubs and speakeasies 1920s New York City offered. Long prowled the city’s nightlife looking for a good time; in her words: “Here I go plodding around, in my conscientious, girlish way, to all kinds of places at all hours of the night with escorts only reasonably adept at the art of bar-room fighting, and nothing ever happens to me…”
Although occasionally disappointed at the lack of fisticuffs, Ms. Long quickly developed an epic ability to balance publication requirements with her apparent non-stop boozing. As British historian Joshua Zeitz writes,* “She wasn’t above sauntering into work at three or four in the morning…dressed to the nines, and flushed from hours of heavy drinking… In hot weather, she’d casually strip down to her slip and clack away at her typewriter.”
Granted, when compared to Ms. Long, I can’t hold a candle to her astounding ability to drink all night and then, without sleep, stumble into the office to bang out an article for publication. Sure, I pulled my fair share of all-nighters studying and writing in undergrad, but with none of her frequency and vigor, and certainly not after so many hours of cigarettes and gin.
Yet it wasn’t only Long’s production ability that stood legendary in those first years of the Twenties: her idea of what it meant to “holds one’s liquor” was impressive in its own right. “‘If you could make it to the ladies’ room before throwing up,’ she chortled, you were ‘thought to be good at holding your liquor…. It was customary to give two dollars to the cab driver if you threw up in his cab.’”
Lois Long was a modern, professional, hard-partying woman long before those terms found their way into modern lexicon and practice. She was a woman with sharp prose and boundless energy, even before her attractiveness; someone who’d make a great drinking companion today. However, her thoughts on Prohibition prove most entertaining, proving that blaming “kids these days” is not a recent invention:
“Prohibition would have never been a necessity, Lipstick [Long’s pseudonym] claimed, had young people ‘learned to drink with aplomb’ rather than excessive debauchery. ‘The answer,’ she proposed, ‘lies in the nursery and in the classroom… We will teach the young to drink. There would not be so many embarrassing incidents of young men falling asleep under the nearest potted palm or playing ping-pong with Ming china if little Johnny at the age of six, had been kept in regularly at recess to make up his work because he had failed to manage his pint in Scotch class…’”
*All quotations from Professor Joshua Zeitz’s book Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. A whirlwind glimpse into the early lives of Zelda Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel, as well as the infancy of a little town called Hollywood.