Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2004 / 28 Elul, 5764

Felice Cohen

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Consumer Reports

Going AWOL: Inhaling alcohol | NEW YORK Inhalers used to be only for asthmatics. My childhood friend Leslie had asthma. Whether playing on the jungle gym or walking her schnauzer Bernie, Leslie could not go far without having to exhale completely, stick a shiny silver contraption into her mouth and inhale a swift puff of medicine that filled her lungs so she could breathe. This was life-threatening stuff, yet as a 13-year-old, I was jealous of Leslie's "toy."

Leslie described it as a cool sensation filling her lungs, like breathing in crisp winter air. She would let me pretend, but I'd never dare inhale. I was warned that I'd become light headed. Little did I know kids our age were already inhaling far worse substances, like airplane glue and gas fumes. Amazing how desperate people are to get high. Now many of these kids are grown up and, lucky for them, there's a new substance that's actually legal to inhale.

The Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL) machines that have recently jumped the pond from England and landed on our tiny island offer the chance to inhale a breathable mist of alcohol. While lawmakers fear these AWOL machines will lead to increased drunk driving, there are far greater concerns we cannot ignore. For starters, if this contraption takes off, what will happen to the skilled technicians of mixology who toss bottles over their backs and slide cold drafts down mahogany bars to thirsty regulars?

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After college I took a three-week bartending course with dreams of standing behind a swank bar with loud music and spinning lights. I studied glasses and garnishes, and learned the difference between top shelf and well alcohol. I memorized the ingredients in a Bloody Mary and a Sex on the Beach. It wasn't easy for this non-drinker, but I passed and received my certificate. Not that I ever got used it. My dream ended once I realized noisy bars were not my scene. Although my certificate is filed away, is it in jeopardy of becoming worthless?

Another concern is that these misting machines may threaten the social scene as sucking on tubes makes conversing in bars less fun and more awkward. Dare to think that soon, gone may be the days of tossing back a few cold ones and sharing laughs with friends, only to be replaced with sitting stoically around a table, mouths plugged into tubes. Seems more like a sci-fi movie than a good time. Just how fun will it be waiting for those lip cramps to go away?

So far however, New Yorkers have not been too impressed with going AWOL. It could be because beer manufacturers have just created a new aluminum to keep beer cooler longer or maybe because as New Yorkers, we are always on the go and do not have 20 minutes to wait for a buzz. Or it could just be that most of us know you need your mouth free to parlay pick up lines.

But there are positive aspects to misting instead of sipping. You can't spill it, you are less inclined to have a hangover and it will be less likely to "repeat" on you. And if bars do convert to the new AWOL machines, they'll save a bundle on those mini paper umbrellas.

Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.


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© 2004, Felice Cohen