By Goody Niosi
I’d been drunk before in my life – oh yes. Very drunk. I’d been falling-down drunk and head-hanging-over-the-toilet-bowl drunk – but never like this.
And it wasn’t my fault.
It happened like this.
My husband, Pete and I were both hired on to a film crew to shoot an A&W commercial in Mexico – a series of commercials actually. Pete is a producer; I do continuity. A handful of us flew to Mexico City from Vancouver. We picked up the rest of the crew there.
We started work as soon as we arrived, shooting a “Tarzan-of-the-jungle scene with a half-clad Mexican hunk wrestling an alligator that only wanted to have a nap and that was so docile it didn’t have to have its jaws wired shut. The shooting when smoothly except for trying to make the beast look fierce. The director finally decided that the danger aspect would have to happen in the editing. A little CGI perhaps?
Back in Mexico City and with a day off before flying to Durango for the “Western Shootout” ad (Don’t ask – something to do with a good guy and a bad guy arguing over root beer), the client decided we should celebrate. So he reserved a table for a dozen at the best restaurant in town. Don’t even ask me to name it – could have been El Cardinal or Contessa or something else that started with a C.
As was far too usual, I was the only woman at the table. But I was used to it and this bunch of guys was civilized.
The food was amazing: spicy, not too hot, grilled fish – and no, I don’t remember specifics about that either. I do remember that after the plates had been cleared and it was getting late, the guys decided it was time for some Tequila shooters. I drink rarely – not through choice but through necessity. I have learned that two bottles of beer can put me into a coma and three glasses of wine will have me giggling, then dancing with the proverbial lampshade – and that usually deteriorates pretty quickly into unconsciousness.
My husband knows this about me.
Still, when the client insisted that I had to have a shooter too, Pete said, “Yeah – you’re one of the boys tonight, right?”
The other’s chimed in. “Come on – have a drink!”
Pete said, “Be a sport – go on!”
That’s when I gave him the fish-eye. Right – you want to see me drunk? Fine I’ll give you drunk! I turned to the waiter. “I’ll have a shooter too. And hey! Make it a double!”
The men hushed. They were impressed – I could see it in their eyes. Even Pete looked mildly stunned. “All right then,” he said.
The waiter brought the drinks on a cart (just to give you a sense of how much alcohol was involved). He set a small glass with a clear liquid in front of the men – two in front of me. And then followed up with a taller glass of a red liquid that looked a bit like V8 Juice.
“Here’s how you do it,” Pete said, lifting the shot glass and slugging it back, quickly following that up with some salt and lemon and swigging back the red stuff.
I shrugged, belted back both shots at once (yechhhhhh!) quickly following with the red liquid that was some kind of vegetable concoction.
‘You’re supposed to do one shot at a time,” Pete said.
“That’s what I did,” I gasped, tears blurring my eyes.
“Yeah – uh no. One shot then the chaser and then another shot.”
The client was already signalling for another round.
“Another double!” I said.
“Maybe you should have a single,” Pete said.
“Shut up,” I said.
This time I did what Pete had suggested – one at a time. It was still pretty awful. On the next round, I didn’t order a double and after the fourth round I marvelled that I actually felt clear-headed and relatively sober. Maybe a bit of a buzz? I was fine.
After the fifth round, the client threw down his black Amex card and the guys shrugged into their jackets. The waiter brought the card back, the client signed, and we stood up. Actually, they stood up. I gave it a good effort but for some reason the signals from my brain weren’t reaching my legs.
“This is very odd,” I said to Pete. “I can’t seem to manage to stand.”
“Uh-oh.” This from Joseph, the burly art director who’d been sitting on my other side.
I pressed both hands down on the table and gave a good push. I half stood but I was being supported by my arms. My legs had become slinky toys – the kind kids used to push downstairs.
Pete grabbed one of my arms and Joseph the other. Between them they heaved me up pretty easily and efficiently. We strode out of the restaurant in a group, the guys surrounding me while I tried to make my legs move back and forth in a walking motion.
They deposited me in the back of a cab and Pete slid in next to me. The car pulled into traffic.
“Stop!” I said.
Pete looked at me. He tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Better stop.”
“Here? There is traffic!”
“If I were you, I would stop.”
The driver glanced in his rear-view mirror and braked. Pete reached across me and opened the door. I leaned my head out and puked mightily in the direction of a passing BMW.
That done, I faded back against the seat. The driver had a look of horror in his eyes. He slowed down, hugged the curb. This was a wise move because he had to stop two more times before we reached the hotel.
I believe Pete tipped him generously.
Joseph got out of his cab just as we pulled up. He waited, took my right side again while Pete manned the left. They got me up the stairs and into the lavishly carpeted lobby of the hotel, where I stumbled and fell forward, puking on the plush Oriental hand-woven rug.
Most people in this state of inebriation would black out and have no memory of the night’s events. Regrettably, my memory was not only lucid but appeared to be working overtime. The men pulled me into an elevator, dragged me along the hall, and deposited me on the king-size bed in the room Pete and I shared.
It must have been about two a.m. A good night’s sleep might have helped. Our flight to Durango left at seven a.m. Our wake-up call came at five. Pete wrestled me into the shower and helped me pull on jeans and a T-shirt.
We got into a cab – not the same driver although this one too eyed me with a look of foreboding. We made it to the airport and gathering in front of the departure gate. How I got there? No clue. Did I walk? Perhaps. How did I get checked in? Did Pete handle that? He sat me down on a plastic chair where I curled up and went to sleep. Then I had to pee.
“Pete!” I yelled.
“I need to pee.”
He walked me to the bathroom. I found a stall, stumbled in, and sat on the toilet. I heard a sharp banging. “Lucy! Lucy! Are you okay?”
I shook my head. Had fallen asleep. Had I peed? Probably.
I flushed and came out, peering at Pete. “What?”
He sighed and walked me back to the gate where we were boarding. He sat me down by the window. I fell asleep. An hour later we were in Durango. Another cab – the sun in the desert was hot and bright. I couldn’t see. We pulled up to a sprawling motel complex, walked into the lobby and up to the desk. I can do this. I’m better now. I smiled at the clerk, put my head down on the counter and went to sleep.
The rest of the day was devoted to location scouting. They didn’t need me for that. I went straight to the room and slept until the team came back in the evening. Pete woke me up. “How are you feeling?”
I took a shower. My hair hurt. My toenails hurt. My eyelashes hurt. I had a glass of water and a cup of tea.
The next morning our wake-up call came at five-thirty. We were on the set at seven-thirty: a perfect western town – a saloon with swinging doors, a jailhouse, a hotel with an upper balcony that was perfect for stuntmen to fall from as they were shot at from any number of rooftops. The sidewalks were wooden, the main street dusty.
Just beyond the set was a tiny settlement of perhaps half a dozen adobe houses, each with a small garden plot and washing hanging on a line. The inhabitants of the village stood back from the set watching us – with interest? Their faces gave nothing away. They watched.
We rolled in klieg lights and reflector boards, mics and stands, a dolly, risers – all the gear a film crew carries with it. I sat on my apple box, took photos of the set, prop placement, wardrobe, the star actors – all the details I would need for reference. I made elaborate notes, marked up the script.
The actors argued in the saloon – about root beer. In the afternoon, we moved to the main street for the shoot-out. By four, we were almost ready to wrap. The villagers were still there but by this time they had brought lawn chairs and a cooler of beer. One of the women was cooking sausages on a little barbecue.
Me? I was functioning on autopilot. I’d done this enough times to not screw up. But I was beginning to feel like I should join the tribe of villagers.
At four we had one more shot – a new tag for all the A&W commercials. We needed a lovely country path winding through a pretty green field up a hill and fading into the sunset. The A&W bear – not riding a white horse but dancing and twirling up the path.
The bear costume is a hot and stinky one. The actress who plays the bear had been on standby all day.
Problem: we were in a desert.
The prop man drove to the nearest town – a few miles beyond the makeshift village. He came back with a couple of spray guns and cans of paint.
For the next hour, the actress sweltered in the lower half of her suit while props and his assistant sprayed the desert green.
The villagers had stopped drinking. They sat very still, watching. I picked up my apple box and moved close to them, sat down, watched the action from their angle.
At about six o’clock, the hill and surrounding landscape were green with a gently curved path bisecting the land. The actress pulled the bear head down. The director yelled “Action.” She danced, hopped, and skipped up the path until she topped the gentle rise and vanished.
The villagers broke out more beer and sipped.
One of the men handed me a cold Cuerveca.
I took a long, cool sip, nodded at the villagers, smiled. The oldest of the women, a face like a beautifully carved piece of granite, broke into a beatific smile and shook her head.
Drank some more.