Reading The Iliad and The Odyssey, it’s easy to get the idea that Homer might have been a bit of a lush, based on how adoringly he writes about booze. Throughout both texts, he repeatedly describes the sea as being “wine-dark.” To a random swineherd, Odysseus says, “It is the wine that leads me on, the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool.” Wine is poured onto the pyres of the war dead; it saves Odysseus from the Cyclops. Its presence is pervasive across the epics, the language around it romantic, idealized: “A man can fight all day if he is full fed with meat and wine; his heart beats high, and his strength will stay ’til he has routed all his foes.”
In the summer of 2011, I was day-drinking alone in the swimming pool of a random apartment complex, lazing in the sun with a bag of Franzia Chillable Red floating next to me in the warm pool water. The filters were blubbing, clogged with stray leaves and drowning moths. I didn’t know anyone who lived in the complex, but the wooden pool gate was always unlocked and the area was never monitored. It was hot and humid, and from one of the balconies above the pool, someone was blasting a mix of the kind of ’90s hip-hop white undergraduates in the Midwest sing along to on slow summer days.
By early evening, having polished off my bag of wine throughout the afternoon, I climbed out of the pool, hopped onto my bicycle, and rode to the campus liquor store to re-up. I remember getting there with my shorts still dripping with pool water. I remember using the employees-only bathroom in the back of the store, a privilege reserved for beloved regulars. I took a lot of pride in that. I remember having a cigarette in front of the store with one of the employees. I remember walking out with a half-gallon of Old Crow bourbon, the cheapest variety they carried, sold in shatterproof plastic jugs.