Maybe I have the year wrong, it may have been 2004, but that's pretty much irrelevant.
Being immersed in cycling for the past 23 years has built strong friendship bonds for me amoung a select few individuals. One of these is the Local Legend Chronoman. Chrono knows everyone in the local cycling scene, from a significant number of local pros to scores of cat 3/4 pack fodder. He's considered by many to be The Nicest Guy In Cycling (though I have another candidate in mind, I mean, Ed Kross actually uses a handkerchief to blow his nose _while_ racing).
Chrono's sense of duty and honor is so great, that at the age of 41 he transitioned from his army national guard status to active duty in order to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It wasn't because he supported the war, in fact he didn't. He, like most rational americans (proven to be correct in hind sight) knew Saddam was no threat, and the claims of WMDs was specious at best. No, Chronoman went active because he knew the kids that were in his guard unit, and knew they needed the guidance and moral support that a veteran such as himself could offer. He didn't have to go and was old enough to be ineligible. He placed himself at significant risk of life and limb in order to help his fellow soldier.
And so it was that season when, after the howls of protestation from his friends and family (including an offer from solobreak to feign a homosexual affair i.e. "who do I have to tell I'm fucking you in the ass to get you out of this") that the commitment was made, and the party was planned. It started with a rather large gathering at the Indomnitable Schofield Homestead with a group ride and a pot luck feast. Later that week, we had another small gathering at Chrono's little house the night before he was supposed to report, with a few friends, and select libations.
Chronoman is Irish. Wicked Irish. As such, he was given a going away present from a former professional cyclist and Irish immigrant that lives locally. That present was a bottle of Poitín.
Poitín is a white liquor of dubious origin. For centuries it was illegal to produce, and was only legal to import in the late 20th century. Licensed distilleries followed shortly thereafter. The present from the Irish Pro was a white glass bottle with giant letters screened across a banner proclaiming "NOW LEGAL". That should have been our first warning.
Now, we had been drinking that night, but not to excess. Chrono had to report for his fucking physical the next morning,
(Studebacher Hoch: Ya, well listen... listen you communist son-of-a-bitch... you better get your ass down there for your fucking physical or I’ll see to it that you get used for fill dirt in some impending New Jersey marsh reclamation... and your girlfriend there will wind up disguised as series of brooms, primitive ironing boards or a dog house... get the (cough, cough) get the picture?)
and I had a 30 mile drive home and had to work the next day, as did most of the other attendees. I had few beers, not enough to worry about, and when it was decided that it was time to wrap things up, we decided on one last toast, with the Poitín. As the glasses were distributed, I remember an odd smell. I had smelled that smell before, and I knew it had a specific connotation, but I couldn't place it. It wasn't a pleasant smell, distinctly chemical, with petroleum distillate over tones. It tasted bad. Beyond bad.
I'm a fan of tequila shots, and my first exposure to hard liquor was by my grandfather at the age of 7. He and my uncles were were sitting around the kitchen table over the holidays that year, drinking some clear liquid with Cyrillic writing on the bottle. My grandfather was the first member of his family born in the us after they immigrated from a 'disputed' region of eastern europe (somewhere around then-Czechoslovakia/hungary/poland), where Slivovitz is the cultural drink of choice. I was given a teaspoon, and the alcohol aromatics went straight through my hard palate and into my brain (yes, that explains a lot).
Poitín made me think of battery acid, and that's _compared_ to slivovitz or bad tequila. Quite possibly the worst alcoholic drink I have ever had. After downing the shot, comments ran along the lines of "BLECH" "people actually drink this shit?" and "it should _still_ be illegal". Years later, I remembered what the smell reminded me of. I used to work in a box factory after high school, and they ran small propane powered fork-trucks in the warehouse. Poitín smelled like propane fork-truck exhaust.
So, after a long near teary-eyed goodbye and shared bro-hugs for our friend off to war, I left. The drive home went steadily downhill. I remember my vision blurring, and it got to the point where I had to cover one eye to drive. This was after about 3 beers and the shot of death. By comparison, last saturday I had at least a six pack and was out till almost 1 am. I got up sunday and went for a 2 1/2 hour fixed gear ride. It wasn't that I had too much to drink that night, it was that I had been poisoned.
Taking the exit ramp to my house, I misjudged the corner I had been taking every day from work for the past three years and took out one of the small yellow reflector signs, leaving a small dent in my bumper and hood. The next day, I was none the worse for wear. I didn't feel horribly hung over, at least not as bad as I thought I was going to be when I went to bed. Chronoman isn't a hard drinker though, and rumor has it he had to pull over a few times on the way to the induction center to vomit. I don't know what was in that bottle, but it was certainly poisonous. I have never been that 'polluted' from drinking. I wasn't really drunk, I was just completely fucked up, painfully so. I saw the Irish Pro later that season while Chrono was still in Iraq. I asked him if it was his intention to just make chrono fail the physical, or actually euthanize him instead of risking his legs getting blown off. He wasn't amused, but I wasn't exactly trying to be funny.
Chrono made it back in one piece, albeit with an emotional scar that comes with seeing friends die in combat, which he occasionally still speaks of. The 'trauma' of a bottle of bad booze must pale in comparison.
UPDATE: chronoman forwarded a picture of the poison, along with the comment "holy moly, what a night"