I have been fortunate enough to have had, for several years of my life, a quite exceptionally brilliant guide in matters pertaining to alcohol. That man’s name was Dr. Shusinski and he is sadly no longer among us. He was a man of startlingly originality who approached the struggles of life with the sort of tragic nobility which would have impressed a Samurai. He was also a man who held trenchant views on how to drink well and having willfully sidled up to the abyss on many occasions there was no better friend to teach me about the insights that alcohol can afford and the dangers that it can present.


Dr. Sushinki was a paradox. For one, he wasn’t a proper doctor. Over the course of his eventful life he did many different types of jobs. He often worked as a barman, though just as often got fired for indulging in his employer’s wares during working hours. For many years he also worked as a postman, a job he disliked with exquisite relish. I think he was most happy picking grapes on small vineyards in the Italian Alps. His real interest lay in language and during the last years of his life he devoted much of his energy to a mysterious unpublished monograph which proposed that a close examination of what he termed ‘the butterfly anomaly’ in the context of cognate borrowing would bring about a complete overhaul in the field of Linguistic Analysis. As far as I know that work and also his unfinished novel ‘Mother Maturin’ both disappeared after he died – we will never know if either of them was any good.


Though a waster and a drunkard the Fat Doc (and he was fat) espoused, throughout his life, a Kantian concept of duty. Since what he felt he was best at was drinking, it was rational that in the fulfillment of his duty as a moral person he should spend as much time as possible in a state of drunkenness. Being drunk for the Fat Doc was not some base form of pleasure, rather it was a means of self-realization. He never saw himself as a hedonist, though many others did. For me the evidence for his unhedonistic lifestyle lay in the fact that often he would force himself to drink far beyond the point at which being drunk for a long period of time (and we are talking weeks here, not days) provided him with any kind of ready enjoyment, though of course on another level he derived satisfaction from the belief that it was his personal philosophical imperative to continue drinking. A curious thing about him was that he could also stop entirely for several weeks when he wanted to and would do so intermittently; in this sense he was not an alcoholic. Though he was wedded to drink most of the time, he in no way thrust his relationship with the bottle on anyone else as other drunks are prone to do. Often he would appear clear minded and restrained after the most prodigious amounts of whiskey, which, along with Trappist beer, was his life long favorite drink. Admittedly there were other times when this was not the case and he could end up in the most extraordinary, and not uncommonly dangerous, situations but these ‘antic dispositions’ or ‘fits of misrule’ as he liked to refer to them, never ended up harming anyone other than himself and actually served to give a strange existential sort of purpose to his life. It was his way of dealing with the idea that, in the end, there are no answers to the riddle of existence.


So what did I learn from Dr. Shusinski? I learnt that drinking in the morning is the highest form of drinking because it requires more commitment than drinking in the evening. I learnt not to be swayed by what others drink or to be unconsciously coerced into drinking certain drinks by public opinion. This was a matter of the utmost importance to the Fat Doc since he valued the freedom of choice, in its purest unconditioned sense, as the highest virtue in life. As if to hammer home this point he could often be seen ordering the most ludicrously effeminate bright pink or blue cocktails complete with cherries and little umbrellas pitched in the glass – the point was not so much the drink itself but the thought process that went into its drinking. I learnt also that it is a good thing to settle on several personal favorite drinks to fit your particular mood and stick to them for life. I also picked up from the Fat Doc a lingering distaste for champagne and suspicion of wine buffs. I learnt that there is no such thing as a hangover cure but that a robust psychological confrontation is the closest thing to it. And I think I also learned that ultimately we should try to embrace the prismatic absurdity of life in all its many tragicomic hues. For Dr. Shusinki alcohol led the way to most fully realizing that embrace.!