Remember how you pickled yourself last year at all those holiday nogfests? You’re going to do it again this year, aren’t you, Bucky? Of course you are.
But this time you won’t have to suffer. “There’s no reason to have a hangover,” insists David Outerbridge, author of The Hangover Handbook (Harmony, $3.95). In his “definitive guide to the causes and cures of mankind’s oldest affliction,” the 48-year-old writer and beer drinker from Rockport, Maine examines what the Norwegians quaintly call jeg har tommermenn (“I have carpenters in my head”). Outerbridge has researched cures ranging from the authentic (snorts of pure oxygen) to the absurd (rubbing a lemon in the armpits).
“There really is an elegant logic that explains what a hangover is, why it comes and how you can eliminate it without giving up drink,” Outerbridge relates. Color and flavoring agents in some liquors, such as whiskey and red wine, as well as residual impurities, are hard to metabolize. But the real crisis center is the liver, where an enzyme breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde, a nasty poison, and a second enzyme mercifully sets about converting the stuff to acetate, a benign substance; until the process is complete, you suffer.
Cabbage, a cure popular with the ancient Romans, Germans and Yugoslavs, binds the poison acetaldehyde to itself and removes it from the system. Vitamin C, taken after a binge, does the same thing.
Outerbridge discovered oxygen was a remedy after he graduated from Harvard and trained as a naval air controller in Glenview, Ill. Following a night out with pilots—”10 cents a drink at the officers’ club and you’d get in all sorts of trouble”—they’d take whiffs from a jet’s oxygen tank. “It was wonderful,” he reports.
Of course, some hangover sufferers enjoy wallowing in discomfort. “There is a sort of camaraderie in describing in horrible detail the feeling in your head,” the author acknowledges. And one can always numb the ache with another round—or the “hair of the dog,” as Englishmen call it. The expression comes from a 400-year-old aphorism: “I pray thee let me and my fellows have/A haire of the dog that bit us last night.”
Outerbridge canvassed selected celebs for their remedies: Ed McMahon (beer with four jiggers of Angostura Bitters), Dean Martin (“Stay drunk”), Robert Benchley (“There is no cure for a hangover, save death”) and the ever-conservative William F. Buckley (“Don’t drink the night before”). David’s favorite was advanced by author Kingsley Amis: vigorous sexual intercourse to tone you up physically and emotionally. Outerbridge dove into history books to retrieve the wisdom of the ages. He learned that in the first century A.D. Pliny the Elder gulped two raw owl’s eggs; other Romans preferred skewered sheep lungs. Assyrians downed one tablespoon of myrrh with one of ground swallows’ breaks (thus replenishing lost calcium). And Haitian voodoo healers stuck 13 pins into the cork of the guilty bottle.
Outerbridge’s previous literary efforts have been on more sober topics. He penned The Last Shepherds, about the dying profession of tending flocks, and Without Makeup: Liv Ullmann. For six years he owned a New York publishing house, which produced 20 titles a year. Outerbridge sold the firm to Dutton in 1973 and moved to 700 Acre Island (a prosaic but descriptive Maine name) with his teacher wife, Lilias, their four sons, one Jersey cow and two pigs. They now live on the mainland but share the retreat with several families.
The hangover book idea came as he and a British editor commiserated one miserable morning over Fernet-Branca (“an Italian bitters that’s a hangover cure”). David remembers suddenly saying, “Why hasn’t there been a book on hangovers?”
Outerbridge is no Milton Friedman, but he thinks he’s helping the economy. “One out of 20 people who call their boss and say ‘I can’t come to work today, I have the flu’ in point of fact has a horrendous hangover. After this book, you’re going to see all these people showing up at work. It’ll alter the productivity of the country.”