Hangovers, when I occasionally had them in my 20s, used to result from the perfect storm of too much drinking, too little eating, and too much fun, followed by too little sleep (sometimes because I opted for sex instead).
These days, I don’t even get the drunken privilege of debauching myself, and yet still manage to feel hungover, which doesn’t seem right or fair. Between exhausting child care, anxiety that wakes me up at 4, getting dehydrated in the summer heat, and these bizarre allergies I’ve only recently developed, I wind up looking and feeling exactly the same way I did when what I needed more than anything was a little hair of the dog that bit me. Complete with headache. Now if I tried to drink, that would about kill me.
Today was the classic example. I’m on Long Island visiting friends with my girls, and so am tired and unshowered, with sweaty, matted hair, looking much like I used to look doing a hungover walk of shame through Brooklyn back in the early ’90s–except 20 years older, of course. A couple of hours ago, I went with a friend for a quick grocery shop. At the entrance to the supermarket was this display of witchy-looking cinnamon scented brooms. I think they were meant to add pre-autumnal faux natural charm to any room in your home, but almost immediately after I inhaled the throat-closing fake spice, my right eye began to itch and gush and turn bright red. By the time my friend and I were in the chips aisle I was machine-gun sneezing. I wound up having to wait outside while my friend finished up the shop.
Still, folks wanted wine with dinner, so I put my sunglasses on to hide my zombie eye, which felt as if it was dangling from the optic nerve and throbbing cartoonishly, and went into the liquor store. I grabbed a couple of bottles of Shiraz and went up to pay. The old man behind the counter took a good, long, uncomfortable look at me. For a split second, I thought that maybe he thought I was someone he knew or that–ha!–he might want to see my ID. So I pushed my sunglasses up on my head, so he verify that I am quite legal, and that we’ve never met. Then I remembered my eye. I looked as if I’d been drinking for days but was only midway through my bender. Felt that way, too.
As I do when I feel self-conscious, I started to crack a joke. “I know I look like I’m hammered, but this is just allergies, really.” He nodded. He could give a sh*t, of course, but once I tried and failed to make him laugh, I simply could not stop myself from trying again. It’s a nervous habit. “Don’t worry–I’m not driving. Ha ha.” Silence. “These aren’t both for me!” I said, holding up the two bottles, in a last, desperate attempt to make the old dude crack a smile.
The other clerk, a man around my age said, took pity on me. “Yeah, no problem. You don’t look like someone we need to be worried about.”
I’m not so sure about that.