Oberlin Blogs


December 31, 2009

Joe Dawson ’12

Let's talk alcohol. Well, I'll talk alcohol, you just listen. Write something in the box down there if you want. Anyway--

I turned 21 last summer, which makes me the official Most Popular Guy On Friday Night For Newfound Under-21 Friends. I've never been a big drinker, and I like to think that people are real cool with me not drinking at parties. I've never caught any crap for it personally, but I think that it is true that you kind of feel like you fit in better at a party with a little red plastic cup of something in your hand. The culture behind alcohol is so weird to me that I would honestly rather sit back and observe, anthropology-style, more often than not. Try this: go to a party and drink a little (or don't), and then take a step toward the bathroom. You won't even be able to start the stopwatch you carry with you to parties for this very purpose before someone yells "Don't break the seal, Bra!" Or maybe they're all yelling "Don't break the seal's bra!" It's irrelevant, really. The fact is that people at parties do want to let loose and have a good time, but there are scripts for this type of party that seem to suggest that everyone is much more self-conscious than it may seem. I really am all for dancing and singing and laughing and partying at the end of a stressful week, and I can even see the usefulness in (responsible) sexuality to relieve that kind of stress. If alcohol is an excuse to legitimize it, that's fine, but it's disheartening to see people succumbing to expectations so enthusiastically. College students think they are supposed to drink, so they do.

I don't drink much, but I still find myself around people that do. This works for me, although it might not for everyone. There are a million ways to deal with alcohol if you haven't before. Go the 'overzealous freshman' route: Drink! Everybody else is! You'll be fine for Monday morning (note: not everybody else is drinking, just most everybody in Dascomb is. And Sunday mornings are pretty great). The 'first year with foresight' path: the rule is moderation. These are my favorite people to hang out with weekend nights. They're actually present and alert for conversation, they don't yell "woooo!" too much. You can go a third route, and the third is...'Not eligible for catchy name but still cool in my book.' People who practice sobriety and normally have a good time hanging out with people like them. Oh, I got it! 'Sober Steves'! Sober Steves do not have to be named Steve or complete losers. There's even a Substance Free Housing option for those of you who like that kind of environment. Tess writes about it here. These awesome titles and brilliant descriptions are oversimplifications, of course. Pick one now and commit to it with every molecule of your being, just so you don't become an Untouchable, though.

When I was younger, I always wondered what the stuff tasted like that everyone was so nuts about. I was a bit surprised when I found out. Alcohol, any alcohol really, tastes bad. Awful. When I saw old guys drinking scotch on ads or frat boys chugging beer, I sure thought that all of it must just taste like candy, rather than gasoline. Vodka tastes like rubbing alcohol, seriously. How can people say that Grey Goose 'goes down smooth'? Maybe smoother than vomit that you don't quite vomit but catch in your mouth before it gets all the way out, but not smooth compared to grape Fanta, certainly.

I like drinks with dinner or a few drinks while talking with friends, not drinking just to get drunk. I did go out to a couple bars and got drunk-ish in Saint Louis this summer. I didn't feel especially cooler or have any more fun than I would have, I just felt off-balance and broke. Drinks are expensive in the big city. Incidentally, I think it's rather uppity of New York to call itself 'the city' like it's the only city in the Northeast US. You're going to the city this weekend? THE city? The CITY? Which damn city?

Item #1: What was definitely the best night of the school year last year happened during reading period before finals week spring semester. On this beautiful Oberlin evening, if you had ventured into North Quadrangle, you would have been terrified. Under the arms of the big tree on the south side of the quad, a group of about a dozen Oberlin Cross Country runners that grew to about twenty as the evening wore on (that sounds so nice I might just say it again, with your permission. "As the evening wore on") gathered in a menacing circle. Three members of our track team were running events at Nationals that day so we wanted to call Graham Wellman, our assistant track coach of mythical proportions, and find out how the ladies fared. We waited for a call from Graham, and discussed games one might play when one is bored. Kathleen knew one from her backpacking days called a 'hat match,' where a hat is placed on the ground and two people wrestle to try to get the other person to touch the hat. Thus began the Greatest Night of My Freshman Year, a round-robin tournament of anyone who dared enter the ring versus Nina, Cordelia, Kathleen, Saga, or Albert. Why the wrestlers mainly consisted of women, I have no idea. Something about spring air and a wrestling competition brings out the animal in a person, though, and I saw little, 5-foot-nothing, 90-pound Nina Cole fight like a tiger and squeeze like an anaconda that night in a way that makes me flinch whenever she comes to give me a hug now. We had other contests of strength, like handslap, rock-paper-scissors, giraffe-style neck fighting. A football appeared from Carolyn's purse, and we played catch until it was way too dark. The risk of getting hit in the face before you caught the football outweighed the pleasure to be found in playing catch with runners, the subset of the population with the worst hand-eye coordination. Just imagine giraffes (again) trying to win an Easter egg toss and you'll approximate what a game of catch with distance runners looks like. It got dark and I got scared, so we broke away from each other to prepare for forthcoming tests or watch Hugh Grant movies until life meant something again. Seriously, best night of last year. Zero alcohol.

Item #2: There is no Item #2. But Oberlin's incredibly cool, not just because we started the prohibition movement back in the day. People will respect whatever you choose to do or not do while you're here. If they don't, you can always get drunk and forget about them!

Responses to this Entry

Bold topic choice! I approve, though you're a braver cyberman than I. I guess to chime in a little bit, I've never found the drinking culture here to be super dominant, and the trips I've taken to visit friends at other schools (from Case Western to Dartmouth to Georgetown to UMichigan...) have revealed just how little drinking goes on at Oberlin compared to elsewhere.

That having been said, following my 21st birthday I definitely added the Feve to my list of hangout spots at Oberlin. I'm in a different but equally prohibitive situation from you, in that while I very much enjoy the taste of good alcohol I am usually too much of a snob to buy the cheap stuff. Which, as an impoverished college senior, means that I am generally very sober.

And on top of that, the innumerable hours that I've spent sitting in bars waiting for Like Bells gigs to start/end has afforded me many opportunities to talk with sad old drunks, in whose tottering footsteps I hope to never follow.

Posted by: Will on January 1, 2010 8:23 PM

Well thanks. I wasn't feeling particularly brave or anything, but yeah, I guess I am a pretty fearless cyber-guy. My ego thanks you much. Spending New Year's Eve in my hometown, home of the University of Missouri, has reminded me again about Oberlin's drinking as compared to other colleges.

I think finding a good bar may be the key to ending any ambivalence I have towards alcohol. Not that ambivalence is a bad thing, all livers considered.

Posted by: Joe on January 2, 2010 5:52 PM

Not that the Sco isn't awesome, but there *is* something special about having a place on campus that only half the juniors and all the seniors can hang out in. I did plenty of pre-21 drinking (much more in high school than in college, mind you) but got my fake ID taken away the FIRST TIME I tried to drink upstairs at the Feve.

You under-agers: do NOT try to drink at the Feve. THEY ARE SMART and will not accept a Pennsylvania license that has eagle heads and "Authentic" as the hologram.

Anyway, the Feve definitely ends up having a sort of Cheers-esqe appeal by the time you graduate, and any visitor to the Feve facebook page can see that alumni from all sorts of years miss it so, so very much. (And not just for the drinking; the buffalo shishtawouk is a heartbreaker, too.)

Posted by: Lillie on January 3, 2010 7:39 PM

Hey Lillie,
Haven't heard from you in a while. Thanks for the tips about fake IDs, although I'm glad I'll never ever have to worry about it. I recently discovered the Feve breakfast, and it was a banana walnut pancake supernova of tastiness.

Your comment also reminded me of a lecture from UC-Berkeley by a Developmental Psychopathology professor. He said that in France the drinking age is 18 technically, but practically 10. There is nearly no alcoholism as a result, probably because the fixation on alcohol isn't really there, and binge drinking is nearly nonexistent. Kind of reminds me of our repressive nature towards sex, sexual orientation, etc

Posted by: Joe on January 4, 2010 12:18 PM

Really, really interesting & fun post! Go you!

Tangentially related note: I was talking with some of my friends over break and I mentioned that coffee, alcohol, and vanilla are all substances that smell far better than they taste. One of them didn't believe me on the vanilla bit, so I poured him a spoonful of vanilla extract. He believes me now.

Posted by: Tess on January 5, 2010 1:54 AM

Yeah, I would add perfume to that list, unless you're keeping it restricted to foods. I hope it was a small spoonful of vanilla, or your friend has a very strong constitution.

Posted by: Joe on January 5, 2010 2:30 PM


"In order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon."

Posted by: Will on January 5, 2010 11:50 PM

Joe, I'm kind of jealous that you beat me to this one. One of my specialties in Admissions is that I'm not scared to talk about drugs and alcohol here, mainly because I transferred from a southern state school where I was actually harassed for not drinking. The best way to explain the party culture at Oberlin, at least in what I've encountered, is that we have many people here who make strong choices about their bodies: kosher/halal people, vegetarian people, vegan people, athletes, and people who choose not to drink and/or smoke, among others. If you say you'd rather not, it's unlikely that you're going to be facing the kinds of harsh social consequences I've seen at a few other schools. There are also just tons of other things to do on any given night, so Oberlin kids don't have to depend on alcohol for a good time.

Posted by: Brandi on January 6, 2010 11:19 AM

Hmm, and anyone can buy vanilla right? And anyone can buy Coke and have a killer mixed drink that tastes like vanilla Coke? Really really strong, throat burning vanilla Coke...

You're absolutely right. I spent about 20 minutes last winter at a party at the University of Missouri. Some guy kept yelling at me to get a beer in my hand, my cue to leave. The parties at Oberlin have access, but no pressure to use, alcohol, which makes for a really cool environment for those of us who choose to abstain.

Posted by: Joe on January 6, 2010 10:24 PM

Actually...one of the things I wish I'd known earlier is that it's totally okay to hang out at the Feve if you're under 21. Sure, you can't have alcohol, but no one will mind if you're just hanging out drinking Coke or whatever. Also, Feve food = delicious.

Posted by: Elizabeth on January 8, 2010 4:55 PM

Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries