Pay Me To Drink Alcohol
The title is not a joke. The University of Texas paid me to drink alcohol on campus for a psychology study. My time there was brief but insightful. The introvert I am was in a panic the final 48 hours before participating in the study. The internal wrecking of my system against driving downtown was maddening. I looked for every possible excuse to not participate. Nevertheless, my wife dropped me off downtown on a Sunday evening. I walked up to the building and yanked on a couple doors. My phone was charged enough for a 911 phone call on the off chance the bats of Austin descended upon my stranded person.
All exaggeration aside, a quick phone call set me on my way up some stairs alongside two women. The building reeked of bland cleaner. I have not been on a college campus in a long time. There was no moment of schooler banners and flyers that made me miss the experience. One of the two women was a research assistant. Her accent betrayed a Northern upbringing. The other was clearly from the Minnesota area. The O vowels had a familiar sound to certain hockey announcers. I would find out later that she was married to her partner. They are seeking the adoption of their first child.
I get ahead of myself. We walked up the stairs and sat down in a rather cramp corridor. I do not remember the room number. Though 2.203 seems familiar this particular evening. I signed a couple documents that stated I would not be allowed to leave the premises under the influence. I would not discuss the evening events with friends from school. I have no friends from my time at UT. Only a backpack of stupid decisions and an iPod of awful playlists.
My phone was taken from me as a precaution. So were my keys and wallet. I never go downtown without shoes so the evening served as a reminder to how bad my feet stink after a day in Chucks. I also had the delightful reminder of how short I truly am and how much weight I have gained. I would come to find out that these measurements would be used to calculate the amount of alcohol required to get the participants to .08% blood alcohol.
The three participants (I did not tell you there were three of us but keep up) were split up and paired with a research assistant. Frankly, none of them seemed very interesting at first. I can be a prick that way. I blame the INFJ. We were sequestered. The assistant told me she had gotten used to telling girls to put the heart monitor at their bra strap. I chuckled and quipped that I did not have as much experience with that. Her northern sensibility kept her from laughing. We were asked a bunch of questions, performed a balance test, and got our baseline pulse measured.
The perpetual overachiever, I got done almost 20 mins before we would get to drink. You do remember this post is about drinking right? I sat and chatted with my research assistant, an undergrad from Connecticut. Maybe I should have let her study. She reminded me immensely of the younger of my two sisters. We chatted about the weather (not an ice breaker, things have been crazy in Texas), school, poor public transportation, and the increasing house prices in Austin.
I am not a talkative person. I have never once been called a "people person." But I have a fascination with learning. I hate conversations, but I thoroughly enjoy listening to people talk and assimilating the information into my world view. People from the North are always good for a laugh or two. This research assistant (who lacked a name tag) was no exception.
Upon entering the faux bar, I was reunited with my drinking buddies. It was explained to us that we would be drinking two drinks. Each needed to be consumed within ten minutes. We got the same mix with different amounts of vodka. I recall being a little taken back by how potent it was. The cranberry-sugar-juice-of-death barely made the stuff drinkable, however. I would have preferred straight shots. The goal of the procedure was to get us to a baseline blood-alcohol level. Only later would I find out that instead of the ideal .08%, I had reached .11% blood alcohol. I blame my height.
The girls had trouble finishing their drinks. I struggled to handle the sugar. But let's be honest, free alcohol is free alcohol. After 20 minutes of drinking, I spent the next couple hours performing the same questions and balance tests. The whole purpose was to test subjective drunkenness. Only the assistants knew how much we had been given to drink. We were asked questions about how we felt, how much we thought we had drank, and other subjective perspectives on our alcohol levels. I am sure they will learn really cool things for their study. I was there for the booze.
In between tests, we sat around the bar and laughed about our time at school. I never finished at the University of Texas but the subject never came up. I nodded at the things I remembered and kept quiet at the things I did not remember. We took turns talking about our lives and where we had been since school. We crackled about life, jobs, and children. We discussed marriage. We discussed the 90s music playing in the fake bar. We talked about our private musical obsessions.
Many of the research assistants were not even old enough to drink. I felt old with my three kids and nearly nine years of marriage. I felt out of place among those affirming the necessity of same-sex marriage. But life for a few hours was good in a different way. I would have much preferred to be with my kids wrestling, swimming, or just being difficult for Alaina. Still, for a solid couple of hours the outside world stood still and people existed solely to entertain each other.
There is not really a moral to this story. Yet, I did find some things interesting. This is an incredibly difficult situation for an INFJ like me. I do NOT want to like people. I certainly do not "recharge" when I am around them. There is often no point in having a conversation.
Yet, there is a shrouded truth that God made us in a community of people. Some quote "He put eternity in our hearts" but I seem to think "he placed community in our hearts." As I draw to a close, I will admit that I may be naive. I find that when people will stop and listen to one another, anyone can be friends. Anyone can get along with another when we are able to close our mouths and open our ears. Life can be rich and very good when people dwell together in joy and grace.
For an evening, there was no obligation. There was no personal agenda except for free booze. My stress pulled away from my soul. I enjoyed people. Why is this so difficult? I imagine it is because we are more self-centered than we would like to believe. We have nothing to lose.