The first time I drank gin I thought it must be hair tonic. My brother swiped the bottle from a guy whose father owned a drug store that sold booze in those ancient, honorable days when we acknowledged the stuff was a drug. Three of us passed the bottle around, each tasting with disbelief. People paid for this? People had to have it, the way we had to have the women we never got near. (Actually they were girls, but never mind, the important fact was their impenetrability. ) Leo, the third foolish partner, suggested my brother should have swiped Canadian whiskey or brandy, but Eddie defended his choice on the grounds of the expressions "gin house" and "gin lane," both of which indicated the preeminence of gin in the world of drinking, a world we were entering without understanding how difficult exit might be. Maybe the bliss that came with drinking came only after a certain period of apprenticeship. Eddie likened it to the holy man's self-flagellation to experience the fullness of faith. (He was very well read for a kid of fourteen in the public schools. ) So we dug in and passed the bottle around a second time and then a third, in the silence each of us expecting some transformation. "You get used to it," Leo said. "You don't like it but you get used to it." I know now that brain cells were dying for no earthly purpose, that three boys were becoming increasingly despiritualized even as they took into themselves these spirits, but I thought then I was at last sharing the world with the movie stars, that before long I would be shaving because I needed to, that hair would sprout across the flat prairie of my chest and plunge even to my groin, that first girls and then women would be drawn to my qualities. Amazingly, later some of this took place, but first the bottle had to be emptied, and then the three boys had to empty themselves of all they had so painfully taken in and by means even more painful as they bowed by turns over the eye of the toilet bowl to discharge their shame. Ahead lay cigarettes, the futility of guaranteed programs of exercise, the elaborate lies of conquest no one believed, forms of sexual torture and rejection undreamed of. Ahead lay our fifteenth birthdays, acne, deodorants, crabs, salves, butch haircuts, draft registration, the military and political victories of Dwight Eisenhower, who brought us Richard Nixon with wife and dog. Any wonder we tried gin.