Title is, of course, from that wonderful Simpsons quote: "To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems!" Which pretty much suits Bernard Black to a T, doesn't it?
Manny had never been as drunk as Bernard. Ever. It wasn't that Manny had never been drunk, it was just that no one could ever be as drunk as Bernard. He suspected that, in the history of the entire human race, no one had ever consumed so much alcohol as Bernard Black and lived to tell the tale.
Not that Bernard could often tell the tale, of course; he preferred to grunt and mutter and shout. Particularly shout, if Manny was around, and make some reference to how much he hated bearded men.
This was actually a lie. At least Manny thought it was a lie. Either that or the sex was a lie, or maybe the sex wasn't a lie but the pretending to like it was. Thinking like this tended to give him a headache, which really wasn't ideal on top of a hangover, and maybe that was another reason he was never as drunk as Bernard; he couldn't handle both the hangover and the thinking-induced headache.
It really was typical that thinking about Bernard gave him a headache. If he thought about it, Bernard was like alcohol in that way. Manny wasn't quite sure what type of alcohol, but he was inclined to put his money on something like absinthe rather than something safe and relatively mild like beer.
Absinthe made people crazy. They didn't know what they were doing and they saw things that weren't there, and then suddenly they were shagging someone who had spent half the day hurling abuse at them, and thinking that maybe they actually quite liked him and really this was the way it really was, and the rest didn't matter.
And then they woke up in the morning with a headache and a bad taste in their mouth and wondering what the hell they'd done, because they'd promised themselves – the last time they woke up in a state like this – that they were never going to do it again. And naturally these promises never meant anything the second there was an opportunity for more absinthe, because it was sheer magic while you were drunk on it, even if the after-effects were horrendous.
And Bernard always seemed to be enjoying himself, during the act, anyway. But when he woke up he was cranky and grumpy and half the time he didn't even seem to remember what they'd been doing for half the night, or understand why he was only half-dressed, and as soon as he'd had his requisite three consecutive cups of tea he'd start on the Manny-abuse.
And what made it all the more confusing was that Manny was never sure whether the real Bernard was the drunken one, or the sober one. Seeing as Bernard spent more time drunk than anyone else on the planet, maybe that was his real persona, the one that mattered.
He was unpleasant most of the time, no matter how much alcohol was in his system, but when he was drunk he didn't have the capacity to follow through on his unpleasantness. He'd tell Manny not to try to pat down his hair – it always got into a terrible state – but he would sit – slump – and be perfectly docile while Manny did it anyway. He might have even said thank you a few times. And the kisses – he complained about how he didn't like the beard, how it got in the way, but it never seemed to stop him from kissing Manny, and once he'd started the beard didn't seem to matter anymore.
But did putting up with it mean that he didn't mean it when he said that he wanted to hack it all off with a chainsaw, or just that he was willing to suffer on if he'd had a few drinks?
And it was the same with the sex. Manny wasn't sure whether it was all a lie, whether it was just that Bernard liked that sort of thing when he was too plastered to actually know what he was doing, or whether he liked it no matter what but didn't want to actually admit to it in the cold harsh light of sobriety.
Of course he couldn't talk to Bernard about it, because Bernard didn't tend to like talking in the daytime, unless it involved a discussion on alcohol. And Fran was no use, because she was sick of listening to men moan about their relationships with other men; it had been the main constituent of far too many of her dates.
He just didn't understand quite what was going on, that was what the problem was. He had tried. He had consumed copious amounts of alcohol – even absinthe, which he had started seeing as Bernard in liquid form – in an attempt to reach some kind of stage where he would become as drunk as Bernard was and see the world from his point of view, but he could never quite manage it. He suspected no one could, no one in the entire world, which was good in one way – no one was ever going to quite understand Bernard – but bad in another – he was never going to understand Bernard.
The result was that he was getting an awful lot of hangovers and an awful lot of headaches from thinking about it all, and he wondered whether there was a human equivalent to aspirin that he could find, something that would counteract the Bernard effect.
It was a foolish thought, really, because most of the time he just put up with the hangover and headaches rather than make a beeline for the pharmacy down the road. He wasn't sure why, but he felt that the ache meant something that shouldn't be cancelled out right away, that maybe this time it would remind him that the temporary joy wasn't worth it.
It never did, but he kept doing it, anyway.