Day 482: Newman’s Own Hangover

originally published April 26, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I penned a brief history of some of the college antics that I never participated in, mostly because they were obsolete long before I went to school. In some cases (telephone booth stuffing), before I was even born. There are still a number of ridiculous rituals and pastimes to keep the fires of impetuous youth and steaming silliness alive on college campuses.

I’m just too old for them. That’s okay, I can admit that without curling up in a shame-ball and hiding under my desk. That won’t stop me from marveling at what kids these days are willing to put themselves through – a gaggling mayhem of alcohol and drug intake with little sense of consequence or responsibility for the thousands of dollars their parents are shelling out every year for this so-called ‘education’ in the ways of debauchery.

Woah, did I really just sound that old? I’ve got to reign it in. Maybe it’s time I step up and take part in Newman Day.

Bates College in Lewiston, Maine is the largest hub for this annual celebration of excess. The rules are simple: you must consume twenty-four beers in twenty-four hours. No sleeping, no throwing up, or else you start back at zero. This sounds like something I could do now, except the ‘no sleeping’ rule would get me. One beer an hour is no great achievement, but I find I’m ready for a nap after a single mid-afternoon pint. I don’t think I have the stamina for something like this anymore.

The day’s origin story (well, one of them) states that a Bates student was reading an interview with Paul Newman in which the actor claimed to have consumed 24 beers in 24 hours, with ten pushups between each drink. Interesting – the push-ups part hasn’t carried over to the modern tradition. I suppose that’s a byproduct of a more complacent age.

Another explanation is that the idea came from the scene in Cool Hand Luke in which Newman’s character downed 50 eggs in one hour. I can understand why students would opt for the beer exercise instead.

That’s a copy of a letter that Newman sent to the president of Bates College (and Princeton as well, where his eponymous day is also observed), asking for the day to stop. He is asking instead for a day of paid attendance, after which the students would spend their money somehow within the community. This idea didn’t get picked up, though if it had, I’d wager most students would have spent that money on beer in order to fuel Newman Day the way they want to celebrate it.

So despite this 2004 letter, the tradition carries on. Heading to class is still considered a part of the Newman Day tradition, despite the alcoholic intake of the day. For classes more than an hour in length, I have no idea how the students would maintain their quota. I guess a little ingenuity is important in a campus ritual. I worry for the participating students who have a chemistry lab that day though.

On the other side of the country, Evergreen State College has their own take on Newman Day. They call it Newman Night, and it primarily consists of a dinner party featuring a number of Newman’s Own food products. I can hear the collective eye-roll over at Bates and Princeton. “These west-coast pussies,” they’re saying. “Celebrating the guy’s salad dressing instead of using Paul Newman’s name as an excuse for intensive drinking? Welcome to the ivy league, bitches.”

But Evergreen still maintains the spirit of utter irresponsibility and potential liver damage in their tradition. Over the course of the meal, everyone has a beverage of one of Newman’s Own drinks – juices, coffee or tea, I’d expect – spiked with booze. One of Paul Newman’s movies is screened, and students take a drink every time Paul enters a new scene in the film. A stiff shot for every scene? That’s going to be a lot of booze.

Kudos to Evergreen State for doing a better job of integrating Paul Newman into their annual affair. Though I suspect Mr. Newman would have disapproved of this one as well, it would have been a good boost for his sales in the area, so really he comes out a winner too.

Now there’s a face that just screams good times. Poor Kitty Dukakis – her husband lost the 1988 presidential election, and her recovery from alcoholism has been well-documented in the media. Now, her name is lined up beside Paul Newman’s as one that signifies a binge-drinking tradition at a major US school. Kitty Dukakis Day is held by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals at Harvard University, a group over 200 years old, known for their wild burlesque cross-dressing musicals.

Interesting. I didn’t know shit got this crazy over at Harvard.

Anyway, Kitty Dukakis Day involves students drinking 750ml of liquor – that’s 26 ounces for those of us who don’t drink metrically – in twenty-four hours. This gang – which at one time included names like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst and Jack Lemmon – also takes part in Newman Day when they take their annual tour of Bermuda. Those with a particularly strong constitution will take part in an event named after composer Jonathan Price. This one requires the consumption of 72 beers in 72 hours. Even at age 21, staying up and drinking for that long would be an impressive feat.

Over at the University of Virginia, fourth-year students celebrate their football team’s last home game of the season with something called the Fourth-Year Fifth. This starts at midnight on the night before the game, and requires participants to down a fifth of liquor (again, 750ml, and always strong 80-proof hooch) before opening kickoff. This is an unusual one, as it requires most of the alcoholic consumption to take place during morning hours. I suppose it beats going to class.

The University really frowns on this one though, especially since one student died of alcohol poisoning trying to complete the challenge. They tried to promote a Fourth-Year 5K instead, offering students the option of running for five kilometers instead of drinking themselves into a stupor. I’m not entirely certain that would be appealing to the same demographic of student, though I’d tip my hat to anyone who pulled off both on the same day.

So yes, I am old. Too old for these sorts of shenanigans. So old that I actually just used the word ‘shenanigans’. Wow. I guess it’s a good thing I’m done school, and can swiftly ease back into the middle-age routine of drinking for the taste of it, not as a feat of endurance.

Also, three eggs in an hour, that’s my limit. And there had better be bacon.

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