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Inebriation

By Dan S. Aibel

MIT Keg Delivery Busted By State--headline, The Crimson, Oct. 14

Alcohol Banned At Mass. State Colleges--headline, The Crimson, Oct. 15

BC Student Was Hurt in Fall After Drinking--headline, The Boston Globe, Oct. 16

All the talk of booze gets me frustrated about the country's outrageous liquor laws--and more than a little bit thirsty--so on Thursday night I trot on over to Charlie's Kitchen, one of the Square's historic taverns.

Before I even get a chance to order at the bar I spot Helen Metros, the joint's waitress. I apologize for interrupting her at work and ask her if she has a minute to answer some questions about Charlie's. But by the time I finish the sentence she's already plopped herself down on the stool next to mine--she's ready to talk.

Helen tells me that she's worked at Charlie's for 38 years and that what keeps her going is her fondness of Harvard students. "I've gone to all the graduations," she boasts proudly. "The kids ask me to come."

Speaking with warmth and sincerity, Helen gives me a brief survey of the bar's history, one which includes supporting roles by Tommy Lee Jones '69, the Kennedys and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. "He never made me feel small," she says of Moynihan, the former Harvard professor and one-time Charlie's regular. She makes the statement sound like a tribute of the highest order.

Soon we're discussing alcohol, and Helen tells me that Charlie's has never had an underage drinking problem. "Believe it or not, Harvard students never try to pull anything over on us," she affirms, and I have a strong desire to believe her. "It's like a family," she continues. "When you go into your grandmother's house, you show respect. That's what its like when you come to Charlie's."

The theme of respect comes up again and again with Helen, and she layers her lengthy responses with adages and bits of advice. But when I suggest that Charlie's doesn't seem to attract as large crowds as do some of the square's other bars, her response gets right to the point. "We check everybody," is her simple answer. "The atmosphere is well-controlled here." I thank Helen and get up to leave, never having ordered my beer. Before I go, she becomes my first interviewee to give me a hug.

It's Head of the Charles weekend and Harvard has put on its best fascistic face. Police are out in force; ID's are checked at doorways; gates to houses are locked. But perhaps the most stinging of the College's package of "added security precautions" is the prohibition of kegs in the Houses. For the administration, the ban represents a virtual guarantee against the kind of campus-wide party that is liable to get out of hand when Harvard students bring along thousands of their prep school friends. And to somewhere near three-quarters of Harvard students, the absence of large parties means the closing off of one of the more promising means to alcohol access.

To me, of legal age for some 110 days, all the keg ban represents is a narrowing of options--it means, for all intents and purposes, a choice between "Casablanca" at the Brattle Theatre and an evening bouncing among the Square's watering holes.

And while I've never seen the Bogart classic, it doesn't take long for me to realize that, being the responsible reporter that I am, I have no choice but to go the bar-hopping route: with the pending prohibition of alcohol at state-run Massachusetts colleges and Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III's recent threat that, as far as alcohol is concerned, "Harvard is in the midst of [its] own review," the weekend's keg ban is the perfect opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the state's measure would play at Harvard.

Will students recede to their rooms or will they be out in force? Will drunk undergraduates wander aimlessly around campus, or will the lack of parties contain the drinking to the carefully monitored confines of the local pubs?

I have no idea what to expect, so in the name of journalism I head into the square with a couple of friends. Walking down Mass. Ave. at about 11 o'clock, right away one gets the sense that, at least for this weekend, college students don't own the town. Still, as I divide the better part of my evening between two bars popular with Harvard students, it becomes clear that undergraduates are making a strong showing: within minutes at each over-crowded location I manage to bump into freshman-year dorm mates, hometown acquaintances and a number of kids in the Class of 2000. Later, making my way between bars, I look high and low for bands of tipsy underclassmen among the river Houses, but I never do find them.

But then again, as the evening drags on my reporting prowess exhibits a gradual fall-off. Because while I'm jotting down notes at strategic intervals and paying careful attention to everything around me, I am also working--like every good reporter should--to blend into my surroundings. Which means I'm drinking.

And while I'm not new to alcohol, as the night develops I start to get a certain thrill from bringing my editorial responsibilities out for a night on the town. In fact, I eventually realize that contrary to all the rhetoric, the drinks have actually made me a better reporter. And I've got three pages of illegible and incoherent notes to prove it.

At about 1:30 a bunch of us end up at Charlie's Kitchen of all places. Sitting in the second floor bar, we're easily the youngest people in the room. Joe, the middle-aged bartender is pacing and smoking a cigar. At the table next over from ours is a guy well into his 70s. He's drinking a Budweiser and scribbling on three separate pads, all the while sneaking glimpses at the new Green Day video on one of the bar's many television sets.

Soon a young waitress approaches our table and we order a round of beers. True to the words of Helen Metros, she asks respectfully and even apologetically for identification from each of us. And only when we provide government-issued cards which establish that we were alive for the last hundred days of the Ford presidency, or appear to do so, does she serves us.

Dan S. Aibel's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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