Sunday, November 29, 2015

(You're) drinking too much!


Rowing Ruminations Part 4

(Again, inspired by but devoid of spoilers for the book Flat Water Tuesday)

One of the reasons the fours race was held as scheduled, as opposed to waiting it out until the next morning to see if conditions wouldn’t improve (they did, by the way), was because of the reception that evening. The guys wanted to drink with their fellow rowers. Badly. Drinking, especially their kind of drinking, required focus, the kind of focus that couldn’t be achieved with the knowledge that they had to pull 1000 meters the next day. 

The drinking culture in collegiate athletics in Japan was very strong, and flowed right into the drinking culture of corporate/ professional Japan. Crew and university are literally half a lifetime ago but my understanding is that the intensity of the drinking culture is still strong (but fewer people get involved in it), both in school and at work. My current workplace is an anomaly where the drinkers and non-drinkers do whatever they want without professional repercussions, but I know others are not so lucky.

My classmates and I and many of the guys in the year ahead of me were underage, but it was understood that 18 year-old college kids would drink, it was just a question of where, and none of the places out in town would ever card us. It was just the way things were back then. Even if they did, we could always buy beer from a vending machine. The drinking culture was just as strong outside of athletics. The upperclassmen would throw impromptu parties in their apartments, and call freshmen to join them at all hours. Getting these calls meant that your upperclassmen liked you, but the understanding was that if your phone rang, no was not an acceptable answer, even if you had morning practice or a first period exam the next day. I was exempt from all this because I was female and plus I lived with my parents in the age before beepers and cell phones (and they probably didn’t think of me as good drinking company anyway), but I know that the other freshmen on the squad were literally called at all hours of the night.

When an upperclassman filled your glass, you were expected to empty it. Not sip from it, empty it. When they called your name and clapped in time, you emptied it. It meant that they liked you, but it also meant that you’d get really drunk really fast.

Rowers were forbidden to smoke during racing season, and the legal age was 20 just like it was for alcohol, but the nicotine junkies didn’t let that stop them. (Coxswains were allowed to smoke both during and after racing season because it helped keep weight off. I never did because I couldn’t stand the smell.) The attitude toward smoking was much more lax back then. I was told in my first year by our coach and our captain that if I ever saw my rowers smoking, I should stop them, but seeing how they were upperclassmen and several inches taller and anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds heavier than me (except for that one year when those numbers were closer to 5 and 30, respectively), I opted for something milder like walking past them muttering something like “I saw K (our coach) heading this way.”

I never saw anything illegal for people of legal age like pot or heroin or cocaine, either in crew or in school or anywhere thereabouts, and this was before ecstacy was really big. Me being 1) female 2) a coxswain probably kept me from seeing everything, especially if it were questionable, but I’d still say it was unlikely.

As far as hazing goes, yes, it happened. Nothing fatal or causing major physical harm, of course, but yes, it happened in most of the “intense” clubs. First year students were the part of the totem pole driven firmly into the ground, so fetching and carrying and all sorts of scut work was ours by default. I got off a little more easily because of my gender, but the guys had it really hard. And when we were upperclassmen, we had the younger guys fetch and carry for us, too. That’s just the way we did things. We still do, in this country.

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