Intrigued, I poked in and out of shops, including one that displayed all manner of strange items dried and stored in enormous jars: shark fins, snouts, mushrooms hard and mangled like arthritic knuckles — and there, at the top of one of the shelves, seahorses! I tried to act confident, like I was some young stud chef and not a tourist who'd never seen anything like this before. Boldly, I asked the man behind the counter about the seahorses.
"It says $18.50 per that Chinese symbol," I said. "What does that mean?"
"That Chinese unit," the man said.
"Right, but what does that Chinese unit correspond to? How much is that?"
"Chinese unit!" the man barked before retreating into the back.
Next, I slid into a butcher shop where they were chopping up pigs and fish, and I was shocked to see crates full of live turtles and others stuffed with dozens of frogs, cruelly stacked on top of one another. Beyond those were cages of chickens and pheasants, squashed together, calmly waiting their demise. It made me sad to see the birds like that, but at the same time, it helped me achieve my goal of losing my vicious hangover. And I didn't even need to take the Cure.
Prior to leaving for a weekend jaunt to visit some college friends in California, I'd checked in with my boss, who reminded me that I needed to write a column and suggested that I get a sample of the Cure — a new concoction invented by a bunch of University of Colorado grads (who else?) that as of this week will be sold in liquor stores across Colorado as an all-natural antidote for the common hangover — and try it out at some appropriate point on the trip. Never mind that I haven't had a "common" hangover in going on seven years now. But I'd neglected to swallow the contents of the pink-and-blue, $2.99 package after my first night of drinking, as the instructions advise, and while I'd thought about downing them that morning — vitamins, minerals, electrolytes! — I opted for the sights and sounds of Chinatown instead, walking around, drinking water, tackling the day like a fucking man. And it worked just fine.
That night, though, I informed my friend Ben that we had to get good and soused so that I could properly test out this miraculous remedy and justify my trip, and he was eager to help. We started out at a Spanish restaurant, munching tapas and pounding red wine for a good start on a frontal-lobe assault, then moved to a bar, where we sipped Czech beer. After that, we visited my friend Emilio, who helped me perform my journalistic duty by setting up a Beirut table outside, where we spent the next two hours. Then it was back to the bars. At one point I found myself standing alone on the street, wobbling with one eye shut, when two very attractive young women approached me.
"You don't have a light, do you?" one asked in an alluring Eastern European accent.
Much to my surprise, I did! I handed it to her.
"Where are you from?" I slurred.
"Russia," the other girl said.
My ancestry on the old man's side is Ukrainian, and in my drunken state, I knew that these girls and I were to be famous friends.
"I'm Russia!" I bellowed.
"You're what?" one of them said.
"Russia," I continued, slurring like I had brain damage. "Just like you guys!"
The Russkies disappeared. Burgeoning hangover achieved! I went back to my friend's pad, intending to wait an hour and then pound twenty ounces of water mixed with the Cure. But as anyone who drinks can tell you, there is no such thing as "an hour" after your last drink. Ten minutes, maybe, but beyond that is pass-out land — and once again, I did not take the Cure as instructed. So when I finally came to the next morning, I added the pinkish, Tums-flavored powder to some water and chugged it. Obviously, I didn't follow the instructions to the letter, but alcoholism is an interpretive dance, and its remedies must be able to adapt. Which the Cure wasn't. It tasted like chemicals and went down like a poor man's Gatorade. And while, yes, I felt slightly better, I chalked that up to mere rehydration and nothing else.
After I finished my elixir, Ben walked into the room, fresh from a shower and ready to show me more of his fine city.
"Did it work?" he asked.
"Forget it, Jake," I told him. "It's Chinatown."