Comedy IssueOctober 1, 2015

The Story Behind The 10 Stages Of Drunkenness

Illustration by Mark Matcho

Mankind's 10 Stages of Drunkenness originally appeared on page 115 of the novel Baja Oklahoma, which was published in 1981. If I'd known it was going to become such a popular item, I'd have moved it closer to the front of the book. As history knows, it eventually appeared on the walls of watering holes across the width and breadth of the United States and, according to an acquaintance, it was once spotted on the inside door of a restroom in a pub in rural England. I'm sure the stages were inspired by two decades—the '60s and '70s—of testing the speed of bartenders and waiters in such places as P.J. Clarke's, Elaine's and Toots Shor's that helped make Manhattan a comfort zone for me in those years.

It was also inspired, I'm compelled to say, by two friends who were with me late one evening in Clarke's when a mutual friend wandered in accompanied by a young lady who was not his wife and the mother of his children.

"He thinks he's invisible," one friend said.

"Wrong," the other friend said. "He thinks he's bulletproof."

The notion for an entire novel was born in that moment.

The 10 stages now live again (I've been trying to become known for something else ever since):

  1. Witty and charming
  2. Rich and powerful
  3. Benevolent
  4. Clairvoyant
  5. F--- dinner
  6. Patriotic
  7. Crank up the Enola Gay
  8. Witty and charming, Part II
  9. Invisible
  10. Bulletproof

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