by Joshua Heller
Over the past month, college campuses have started to ban or otherwise reduce availability of the increasingly popular Four Loko. The combination stimulant and depressant has led to hospitalizations amongst college-aged binge drinkers. But for mature fun-seekers, the drink isn’t just for rappers any more: it can be a cost-effective way to feel the euphoric effects of far more expensive drugs in the midst of this Great Recession.
On Friday night, after discovering that the Barcade in L.A.’s Koreatown is unrelated to the one in Williamsburg, we sat down at a diner to eat french fries and drink more beers. As I was making poor ordering decisions (stay away from the BBQ beef sandwich), my friend Cate mentioned that she enjoyed the “Premium Malt Beverage with Artificial Flavors • Guarana • Taurine • Caffeine and FD&C; Red #40.”
My girlfriend Nicole mentioned that I was also familiar with the drink. She recounted the story of her first week in grad school, wherein I solo’dly drank a Fruit Punch flavored Four Loko and accompanied her to a laid-back party. At some point in the evening the party became entirely silent. I had screamed, “I HATE YOU MOM, WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THIS TO ME!”
If my girlfriend were any less cool, that antic may have resulted in the termination of our relationship, but luckily she thought it was funny. She also knew that my craziness was the direct result of the 23.5 fluid ounces of the heavily caffeinated 12.0% alcohol elixir.
That wasn’t the only time I’d experimented with the drink. This summer, I went to a metal show at a party store under the JMZ in Bushwick. I drank Lokos with my loco friend who’d previously invented the 32 Ounce Dunkin’ Donut’s Irish Coffee. (Combine one large Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee with a a pint of Irish Whiskey and a hint of Bailey’s.)
After that Four Loko encounter, we walked around Brooklyn sloppily drunk but surprisingly coherent. I remember going to a Mexican bar that turned into an underground strip club, and that later it took me 25 minutes to unlock the front door to the apartment. The morning after I felt like I was coming down from drugs. Because, I was coming down from drugs. (Four Lokos = drugs.) That day I patronized several toilets at two Whole Foods locations in Manhattan.
I might be crazy but I like Four Loko. Mostly because I think that knowingly ingesting something that makes you “feel like shit” is totally funny.
So, at that restaurant in L.A., the people at the table agreed that we should all drink Lokos together. “Four Loko Con” had officially been organized. It would take place the following night, and would be strictly BYOFL.
* * *
En route to the Four Loko Convention, we stopped at a liquor store that had run out of the drink, but did sell Nicole’s favorite cookies from Guatemala. We continued to the liquor store on Sunset and Silverlake, the one that a popular buzzband named themselves after. We bought the store’s three remaining Four Lokos, all “watermelon” flavored.
Armed with our flavored-brewskis, we walked the rest of the journey discussing our fears at how the beverage might affect us.
The crew from the previous night was already assembled. The host finished watching Billy Elliot while making an appropriate mixtape for FourLokoCon.
We joined the organizing committee at the dinner table and discovered that the Watermelon flavor was surprisingly tasty. Charley offered us straws. Straws don’t work. I lost four inside the container before I opted to just sip from the can.
We talked “Loko math.” If a Four Loko contains 23.5 ounces and is 12% alcohol, how many drinks is one Loko?
I supposed that one Loko was “equivalent to 1.5 beers and a Red Bull.” The experts back in Bushwick responded online with a better formula:
one Loko is Lk=[(%ABV)(oz)]/.705
the energy is factored in as ‘magic’.
So a ‘Loko’ is a reasonable unit of measure which should be used to objectively analyze an evening’s fun.
That night I would have 6 Lokos worth of fun.
* * *
More people arrived. They’d bought out the grocery store’s entire supply of Four Loko.
Everyone got a little thizz-faced. First impressions of the drink were described as “this tastes like cleaning product and Jolly Rancher.”
The convention reached quorum and my memory started to become hazy.
Someone said “Josh looks like he entered another dimension.” Later, Facebook albums would reveal this to be true.
While I was dancing, I took note of other’s reactions. Joel’s face became flush and he announced that he’d won the “Hapa redness competition.” Laysa belted out freestyles. Nicole fell onto the floor laughing. Andrea taught me about macroeconomics. Mike made fun of Nicole’s Guatemalan cookies. Girls started tackling boys. People kibbitzed about the future of news, and the role of race in the arts. Someone cried, then proceeded to breakdance. Halloween candy was thrown into the air. Everyone was singing. It probably looked like some Ken Kesey-ian Acid Test.
Nicole and I left to check out a party across the street. We didn’t know anyone there but we managed to eat a platter of crackers. Nicole wanted to take their container of hummus, but I was convinced that the guy who’d just walked in was planning to kick my ass, and I decided that we needed to leave immediately.
Back at FourLokoCon HQ, a girl started to gnaw on my beard while simultaneously attempting to bite my girlfriend’s nipple. People were being dragged home. The party started to dissipate. We found a ride. I walked into my house, and passed out on the couch.
The next morning I woke up with no hangover, and no qualms about the night before. Photos were already on Facebook by 10 a.m. Consensus was in: everybody had fun at FourLokoCon. Everyone survived.
* * *
As a professional on the subject of flavored malt liquor, I have two points of advice:
1. Use the drink responsibly. The reports of hospitalization among college students is related to their overconsumption. Just because the drink is called Four Loko does not mean you should drink four of them (that’s 16 “Lokos” of fun, bro, and that is not fun.)
2. If you’re inspired to drink these dranks, do so ASAP. The signs seem clear: we’re probably going to be facing a national moratorium on Four Loko, reminiscent of the Great Sparks Purge of 2008. Drink them — with some caution — with friends at your own Four Loko conventions while you can. Or, maybe better: just save them as collectables for your grandchildren.