Vice started making trips to South by Southwest back when we were still Voice of Montreal. We instantly fell in love with Austin. Austinites were rednecks because they lived in Texas but they were smart because it’s a university town. That’s what our favorite kind of hosers are: educated drunks. We were a match made in heaven. The city’s motto is “Keep Austin weird,” and our hosts regularly drove up and down the street yelling, “Don’t move here!” at the music journalists who were visiting their lovely town for the festival. We started going there to meet fellow publishers and get to know which bands were going to be big next year, but after one or two visits the party subsumed all other activities and the whole trip became devoted to getting really, really fucked-up. Trace was the first guy we met there. He’s one of those preppy- looking dudes with a side part and an argyle sweater who grew up going to punk shows and starting fights. He often wore knee-length tweed golf pants from the 1920s and fought so often he once got shot through the femur and now has a steel bar holding up that part of his leg.
By 2003, we had been going to SXSW for almost a decade and had the art of alcohol poisoning down to a science that Trace summed up in an acronym: DOWNER. It’s broken down like this . . .
Don’t cockblock: It’s obvious when she likes one more than the other so back off if you notice you’re number two.
Only fifteen hours: If you start as early as nine a.m., you’re going to have to pack it in by midnight.
Water aplenty: It takes real discipline but almost every time it occurs to you, order a glass of water. If you forget this one too many times in a row, you need to get Roman on your ass and make yourself puke.
Never after four a.m.: This supersedes the fifteen-hours rule so if you start at midnight, you only get four hours of partying in.
Eat your dinner: Even if cocaine shits out your appetite. Force yourself to eat at least a burger an evening.
Regulate your bumps: If you get too greedy with a line, you’re going to ruin your drunk buzz, so before you do a bump, take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I not already wasted enough?”
Blobs and I were on the rocks after I went on a particularly long bender so I booked a six a.m. flight with my booze partner Sharky and we started the trip by partying all night in New York. We liked to go to the worst strip clubs in Queens rather than fancy ones in the city because trash is more colorful. That night we went to a now-defunct club in Long Island City called Foxes and the first thing I noticed was a Puerto Rican single mom with deliciously droopy tits in black dad socks.
“I like your socks,” I said sincerely over the very loud R & B.
“They’re for medicinal purposes,” she answered back, assuming I was making fun of her. Soon we were sitting with a girl named Maria who knew we were too cheap for lap dances but hung out with us anyway. “This nigga’s better-looking,” she said, pointing to Sharky before switching her pointing finger over to me and adding, “But this nigga’s balls-out.” An hour later she was giving me a free lap dance, which in New York entails a woman taking you to a private booth where she removes her neon-pink underwear to reveal . . . a matching pair of the same underwear. Nude dancing is illegal in New York and this panties ritual is a totally ineffectual way around it. “How come you ain’t hard?” Maria said angrily, hitting me in the chest.
“I don’t know,” I said, and then asked, “Coke?” The bar stayed open until five a.m. and if we had been a few seconds later, we would have missed our flight.
“I have some bad news,” I told the stewardess while panting after a long run to the gate. “My friend here is petrified of flying so I was wondering if we could just grab a drink from you before we take off.” She hesitated and I told her it would make everything easier for everyone. She said she couldn’t and Sharky thanked me for distracting her while he grabbed two tiny bottles of gin.
By the time we got to our connection in Houston, we were at a level of drunk that was poetic. It was too early for bars so I told him to wait around the corner and join me in exactly one minute. Then I walked over to the VIP Gentleman’s Club and said, “Hello, I’m Chris Isaak’s manager—has he shown up yet?” Then Sharky, who looks a little bit like Chris Isaak, turned the corner and I yelled, “Chris!” He was familiar with this gag and began following me into the VIP room when a black lady from the counter stopped and asked for our membership cards. Her white coworker then rolled her eyes and said, “I’ve got this, Cheryl,” while waving us in. How culturally ignorant of that African- American woman not to know she was talking to country music royalty.
The VIP room went smashingly despite the fact that we had to work the taps ourselves due to a lack of bartenders. When we finally got to Austin after a good fifteen hours of partying, a wealthy entrepreneur we call Stockbroker was waiting for us at the airport in a Cadillac convertible with large steer horns on the front. “Hey, ladies,” he said in that strangely effeminate tone all Southerners have, “let’s get some drinks.” Stockbroker owns two of the best bars in Austin. He looks like a balding old queer with anorexia but he parties like a biker.
I insisted we take a break, as it is number two in the DOWNER rule book, but we both convinced ourselves that landing in a new city wipes the slate clean. When Stockbroker stopped to get gas I was gifted with an idea that was even better than the Chris Isaak ruse. “I’m retarded,” I told Sharky, and jumped out of the car with my eyes crossed and my arms crumpled against my chest like a grasshopper. “I’m Timmy,” I said to him in Down syndrome. “And you’re my brother.” I ran away from the car and Sharky chased after me calling, “Timmy, Timmy, get back here.”
At the back of the gas station, some Mexicans were using a leaf blower to inflate a large bouncy castle for the kids. Timmy grabbed the leaf blower and started running around the lot shooting garbage into the air and turning everyone who tried to stop him into a Maxell cassette ad. As the Mexicans closed in for the kill, Sharky tackled me and got the leaf blower out of my hand. “No, Timmy! Bad!” he said, handing it back to the illegals. They felt bad that Timmy got in so much shit and assured Sharky it wasn’t a big deal. Sharky escorted his handicapped brother back to the car and we explained our discovery to Stockbroker as he pulled out of the gas station and back to the highway.
“I love it,” Stock hollered while laughing. Then he started yelling at me, “Goddamnit, Timmy! Stop it! TIMMY!” When we met up with Trace he was equally enthused. Timmy was now the trip’s mascot and for the rest of our time there I was Daniel Day-Lewis preparing for the role of Timmy in the Oscar-winning film Timmy Goes to Texas. I grabbed women’s asses, stole drinks, knocked over tables, and ran away with people’s food. People would be furious at first but as soon as they saw my handlers chase me yelling, “Goddamnit, Timmy,” their rage turned to sympathy. I could all but murder somebody and it always ended with the victim telling Sharky that everything was okay and no, they wouldn’t be pressing charges. Timmy was sent from God and we used him regularly until my wife banned his existence for good shortly after my marriage. I still miss that little guy and his weird little Tyrannosaurus rex arms.
That night, Trace brought us to his friend Amy Rodger’s house. Timmy was temporarily retired and we were ready to dilute this testosterone festival with some tits. As we walked in, we were thrilled to see at least five or six very fuckable girls there and most of them had cowboy hats on. Everyone was covered in tattoos, including a fat chef named Chin who had an angry cartoon chef with a cleaver chasing petrified vegetables up his right arm, across his back, and down his left arm. The music was blaring and the house looked like it was used to parties. Austin girls make Glasgow girls look like Islamabad girls and I had no problem getting a girl named Shelly to come into a broom closet with me and pull her pants down. We quietly pumped away with people hooting and hollering in the living room and I pulled out and ejaculated on the ground. She turned around and kissed me before pulling up her pants and saying, “Thanks, I was really fucking horny,” as she fastened her belt and confidently walked out of the closet. “This is the best town in the world,” I thought.
When we got back to the living room, Trace was having an argument with a guy named Cooper about cyclists shaving their legs. “Are you trying to tell me it’s aerodynamic?” Trace asked rhetorically.
“Hell no,” Cooper replied. “It’s for infections. You get hair in your road rash and it gets infected.”
Trace and I both laughed in his face. “When was the last time you ever heard someone saying, ‘I would have been fine but I got a leg hair in my cut’?” I asked Cooper.
“Yeah,” Trace added, “we’re the only mammals not covered in hair. You think bears are running around with infected cuts because they got hair in them?”
Cooper was getting mad and jumped up pointing in my face. “Don’t make me kill you, because I might have respect for you later,” to which I replied, “Don’t make me respect you, because I might have to kill you later.”
“That’s it!” Trace said, separating us and declaring a truce. “Let’s let science settle this. Let’s shave one of Cooper’s legs and we’ll scrape both to—”
Cooper jumped in waving his hands back and forth saying, “Oh hell no. You aren’t shaving shit and you ain’t cutting shit.”
I ran to the bathroom, grabbed one of the ladies’ razors, and came back to the living room holding it up like a trophy. “I’ll do it,” I told the party. “I’ll shave one leg and then I’ll cut both of them open and we’ll see what heals faster.” I shaved one of my legs completely bald and grabbed a huge steak knife.
“Now, the cut you make on the shaved leg has to be exactly the same on the hairy leg,” Trace said.
“I know,” I replied while making a thread-deep cut on the shaved leg.
“You chickened out a bit there,” Trace said, pointing to the tiny scratch I’d just made.
“I know,” I replied while digging the knife so deep into the other leg that I saw white on either side of the wound before a torrent of blood poured down my leg and into my shoe.
“Goddamnit, Timmy,” Trace yelled, and all the girls ran to the first aid box. Blood was everywhere and out of nowhere Cooper got it all over his hands and then rubbed it on his face. We were all completely out of control.
Soon I had three pretty girls using Band-Aids and rubbing alcohol to make a really bad cut much worse. I don’t know why but the whole thing made me want to see their vaginas so I said, “How about you guys all piss on me?” Nobody had ever said that to them before and it became a dare that none of them were prepared to back out of. Ten minutes later I was lying naked in the bathtub with blood-soaked bandages on my leg and three exposed pussies aimed at my torso.
They were laughing too hard to let a real torrent come out but I did definitely get a good cup’s worth splashed all over me. When they were done they fell over each other laughing and Sharky and Trace came in brandishing their hoses, ready for round two. I leapt up while throwing punches toward their nuts and they ran back out of the room. It was one of the funnest parties of my whole life but we had started this abuse twenty-four hours ago and I for one was running out of steam.
Sharky and I had booked a cheap motel outside the city limits and Chin and Trace were happy to take us there because they wanted to use the pool. We rolled in at three in the morning and changed into our bathing suits for a dip. I was still bleeding a little but figured the chlorine would be good for the wound. The pool was packed with other guests wasted out of their minds so we sat with them in the tepid water drinking even-more-tepid whiskey until I worried about passing out underwater.
Trace and Chin stayed in the water with our new friends but Sharky and I retired to our room to pass out. He pulled out a bag and suggested a late-night bump, which is like a guy on death row requesting one more murder as his last meal. “Dude,” I explained to my fellow DOWNER practitioner. “It’s five minutes to four. We’re done.”
Sharky looked at his watch and was horrified. “It’s three fifty-nine!” he yelled before inhaling a huge fucking line of cocaine on the dresser and chugging about twelve ounces of hot vodka. When the clock struck four he exhaled a sigh of relief and said, “I made it.” I wanted to explain to him that bending your own rules kind of defeats the purpose, but I passed out.
A few hours later I woke up to see him on the edge of my bed jamming out to “Sussudio” by Phil Collins on his headphones really loud. Four hours after that, I woke up and could tell the bed next to me had not been slept in. I got a taxi and caught up with the gang, who had not stopped all night. Sharky was now running at thirty-six hours straight. I couldn’t believe it. He was slurring a little bit but he was alive. We had Bloody Marys at breakfast and said “yes” when the waitress offered shots, because that’s how it’s done in Texas. Then, a homeless man came up to our table and gave me some rambling story about how he needed money for batteries because his flashlight was dead and he needed to see into the abandoned building he slept in blah blah blah. I interrupted him and said, “What a coincidence, my Care Machine has also run out of batteries,” and we all erupted into thunderous laughter. We were the biggest assholes in all of Texas and I pity the fool who got in our way.
This was our ten-year anniversary of visiting the place and the traditions were now written in stone. Everyone had to remove his shirt when entering the bar and soon our bare backs became our gang vests. Slapping each other was also big so each vest inevitably had red handprints all over it. Another fantastic tradition I can’t say enough about is clapping. One guy just starts randomly applauding for no reason and when another dozen or so shirtless guys join in, the cacophony is deafening. It sounds very cheery and social but it makes people furious.
Stockbroker was having a Pink Party that day to celebrate some Austin politician being caught trying to fuck his male interns. Everyone had to wear pink but Sharky and I only had white clothes with us, so we drenched them in red wine and it worked perfectly. The drunkenness was off the fucking chains and before long Stockbroker and Chin were having a fistfight about a croquet game that went bad. Chin won the fight and Stockbroker retaliated by pouring pink house paint all over Chin’s hair. As if things couldn’t get any funnier, I managed to convince Chin that the best way to get out oil-based paint was to add hot water. This lie had him leaning into the laundry sink spreading the paint into every corner of his hair, permanently. “You’re going to get fired,” I said, laughing so hard a tiny bit of pee came out. “You’re fucked.”
I took a cab back by myself relatively early because it had been fifteen hours and rules are rules. Sharky said he’d catch up in a bit. The next morning I woke up and saw, yet again, the bed next to me had not been slept in. I called Sharky and got a taxi to Stockbroker’s bar, where the party hadn’t ceased. I couldn’t believe it. We started Thursday night, did all of Friday, all of Saturday, and we were now into Sunday morning. When I saw him he was outside and talking to a girl named Jamie who was still wearing her pink wig from the day before. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked, in awe of his abilities. “You’ve been going for SIXTY HOURS.”
“Well,” Sharky replied with a wandering eye and the strange perm his hair had become, “you godda go wr yoo godngni dniad hiwd blllh.”
“What?” I asked. “It’s all rebidding roor to the brrrss sss.” I tried to tell him that Timmy was kind of my thing and although I’m not against other people stealing my bit, he should probably ask first. He laughed and said, “Ha! Timmy weer chindst brr brr brr bah.” He was still alive but the coke was doing all the heavy lifting. I said as much to Trace and he agreed. “My God,” he said to Sharky, “you are one bump away from a feeding tube. Soon as this guy’s done his last bag we’re gonna have another Terri Schiavo on our hands.” We both laughed and Sharky said some more stuff in Cambodian. It took a long time to recover from that trip but before we knew it, a year had gone by and it was time to give it another go. Then we all got married and had kids and closed that chapter for good.
I went down to SXSW last year for a promotional thingy with Ray- Ban and was so bored I almost blew my head off. The music was too loud, the drugs didn’t work, and the booze made me sleepy. Sharky wasn’t there either. He was preparing for imminent fatherhood by spending two months at the Cottonwood holistic behavioral health and addiction treatment center in Tucson.