Friday, October 24, 2003

Super Powers: Last night I went in search of my super-powers at the Russian Vodka room.

Court documents submitted by Liza Minnelli's estranged husband David Gest reveal that Liza is able to augment her strength by drinking vodka. As mentioned in this space yesterday, New York Times reporter Michael Brick investigated this claim by talking to bartenders and state health officials. But clearly this called for a first-hand account, a personal investigation.

In comic books, the “origins” issues are the ones that explain how a superhero got his powers. For some reason this often involved radiation—gamma rays transform Bruce Banner into the Hulk, cosmic rays turn a team of astronauts into the Fantastic Four. Maybe it was because we lived under the threat of radioactive death during the Cold War, and needed to develop a fantasy that somehow radioactivity wouldn’t kill us, it would make us stronger.

Lately super-powers have been arising from more mundane catalysts. In Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, the motherless Brooklyn youngsters find a magic ring and take turns as Aeroman. Vendela Vida’s And Now You Can Go features a graduate student who wields poetry to fend off a suicidal killer.

But Liza's super-strength was a super-power origins story at an even more accessible level. And she wasn't the only one who had found power from the bottle. In Ian Spiegelman's Everyone’s Burning, the narrator announces “I knew I was getting somewhere with the drinking when the superpowers started kicking in.”

This is the kind of origins story I can relate to.

My friend Sully meets me at the Russian Vodka room around quarter past nine. Sully is there to make sure I don't decide that my super-power involve swimming in the East River at 2 a.m.

"Are you sure this is a good idea? Don't you have work tomorrow?" he asks as we settle in a pair of stools in the front room. I wave off his question. This is not the time for entertaining dissent. We order a flight of vodka infused with various flavors—melon, apple, garlic.

At the tables behind us cluster groups of young people, possibly Russians. The young men wear leather jackets, and the young women are bottle blonds. The bar itself is populated by a slightly older, paunchier crowd. It's not yet nine-thirty, and there is already someone with his head-down, passed out on the bar. I wonder what his super-power is.

Sully thinks its insane that we are here drinking vodka rather than watching the Yankees.

"How can you think about sports when we're trying to acquire super-powers?" I ask him. He rolls his eyes. We order another flight of infused vodka. I cannot detect any super-powers yet, unless it is an increased awareness of the uneasiness of my stomach in the presence of six shots of vodka. I order a plate of cheeses, meets and pickles to take the edge off the vodka.

As we take in our third flight of vodka I find myself bobbing my head to the music. I hope my super powers don't involve dancing.

A girl appears next to me. She got a red visor on her head, eye-shadow so dark she looks like she's been in a fight and she's wearing black jeans meticulously torn, and then fastened together with paper-clips and aluminum can pop-tops. Even though she looks barely old enough to drink legally, she's got patches on her clothing announcing her allegiance to bands like Youth of Today and Minor Threat. These were bands that were old when I was a little thug on the New York hardcore scene. She's a nostalgia punk.

We're deep into the vodka now. I can feel some super-powers coming on, only I'm not sure what they are. I feel taller, better looking and wittier. I fall into conversation with nostalgia punk. Flights of infused vodka appear and disappear. We have an argument with a couple of the Russian guys seated behind us. For some reason they are Marlin's fans, and are cheering the news that the Russians are winning. I wonder if I'm going to have to use super powers on them but then we're all sitting around their table, toasting each other.

The nostalgia punk is gone. I grab Sully. "I've got to get out of here," I tell him. Sully suggestes seeking out a CMJ after-party. Maybe Pianos? No chance. We're going to crash the birthday party being giving for the New York Review of Books. "Maybe I can fight Noam Chomsky," I say.

We get to the Historical Society but it's gone dark. The party is over. I briefly wonder where they throw an after-party for the New York Review of Books but I don't care. I'm off that idea now and worried that if I don't get more vodka soon this will go from an origins issue to a sad tale of two guys wandering around Manhattan drunk.

It's Thursday, or rather early Friday morning, which means Hutz is at the Bulgarian bar. It was dead last Thursday because of baseball but maybe the complete route of the Yankees tonight will have driven people into the smoky den of disaster.

We take a seat at the bar. It's not as bad as last week but still not good. The owner starts to open a pair of Zagorkas (Bulgarian beer) for us but Sully explains what we're doing. We drink shots of vodka. I'm still worried my super-power might turn out to be dancing. I'm bouncing a bit in my stool as I explain my plan to get super-powers to a design school girl who appears beside me.

I buy the design school girl a shot, which we chase with a wedge of lemon. That's when it happens. My super-powers take over. The room goes dark for a moment, and next I am on a Chinatown street with Sully. He's swearing about something. It is past four in the morning. I have traveled through time. One moment I was sitting at the bar, and the next moment—more than three hours later—I am out on the street.

I've discovered that my super-power is traveling into the very near future.

More on Super Powers and Drinking:
I drink because I can't fly.
Not quite super-powers but close enough.