Hangovers, like hurricanes, have their season. According to the experts, this chaotic interlude extends from Thanksgiving to the end of the first week of the new year, during which time a victim’s suffering is proportionate to the intensity of his or her indulgence. The most fortunate can classify their bouts by the year in which the calamity occurs; however, other afflicted souls must label their tempests of immoderation according to the alphabet, beginning, for instance, with Hangover Alvin and ending, in the most active seasons, with Hangover Zenobia.
These maladies descend on their victims with varying degrees of force. A Class One hangover, for example, not only entails a headache that assails the walls of the skull with the ferocity of sustained cannon fire but adds a Saharan dryness of the mouth and vision as murky as the waters of the Black Lagoon. A Class Two case injects a dose of nausea akin to what a test pilot might achieve at two g’s, as well as the gastric equivalent of Krakatoa’s legendary 1883 eruption. A hangover of Class Three magnitude (which seldom lasts fewer than two days) all but paralyzes the subject and generates ocular and auditory hallucinations of an unimaginable nature.
Sadly, the modern medical profession remains somewhat indifferent to these symptoms. The current stance among physicians seems to be that those of us who have mixed our drinks can lie in them, so to speak. Yet such prim thinking has not always prevailed. The ancient Romans prescribed raw owls’ eggs, as well as salted fish mashed into an emulsion with juniper berries, cloves, and peppercorns—presumably as a purgative. Traditional French relief, although not of professional origin, takes the form of a rococo concoction involving split peas, salt pork, massive quantities of cream, and lettuce that more closely resembles a hangover’s aftermath than its cure; while its Latin American equivalent is known as menudo, a brew of honeycomb tripe, hominy, and calves’ feet intended to purge poisons from the beleaguered body.
At the height of the Cold War, a handful of Soviet medical scientists pursued an alternative to these more primitive remedies, hoping to discover a substance that would enable KGB operatives to drink their adversaries under the table. What they isolated was a compound known as RU-21, which enhanced the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol, thereby blocking the buildup of acetaldehyde—the toxin primarily responsible for a drinker’s distress. Today, the slightly altered substance is marketed in the United States as the dietary supplement Rebound Now, and it continues to undergo extensive testing in college dorms and nightclubs around the country.
Still, trial and error has taught a few of us that the “hair of the dog” remains the speediest and surest method of addressing alcohol-related complaints. After all, the Pick-Me-Up (a shaken concoction of Dubonnet, Cognac, anisette, lemon peel, and egg white) has never let anyone down. For the most critical Class Three cases, however, the Sea Captain’s Special remains the only recourse. A revitalizing potion combining two jiggers of rye, a lump of sugar, two dashes of absinthe, and Champagne to fill the glass, this medicinal miracle takes the most practical approach of all: putting one’s hangover off until the next day.