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“But I who have taken happiness both in a solid and liquid shape, both boiled and unboiled, both East India and Turkey—who have conducted my experiments upon this interesting subject with a sort of galvanic battery, and have, for the general benefit of the world, inoculated myself, as it were, with the poison of 8,000 drops of laudanum per day…I (it will be admitted) must surely know what happiness is, if anybody does.”

—Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

I was a well-bred boy in tailored velvet. Most days I made my parents mostly proud. But when I saw them pouring homemade cordial at a soiree one night, I turned primordial. That gleaming candy-colored stuff…I vowed I’d hunt it down wherever they might shelve it.

I found the vial and went on a tear: yanked out the stopper, took a rabid quaff, belched, ran from corridor to labyrinth to solarium and back, drank more, cleaned out the after-dinner mints, whacked off to dryad statuettes, puked in the urn, pulled down the hanging gardens frond by frond, set fire to model ships and watched them burn and sink in the koi pond, unleashed the hounds of the House of Garamond, and landed in the lap of my au pair.

She hauled me off to bed, cursing in German. The constellations on my ceiling spun… Foretold in that fake glow I could determine vaguely the shape of my first grownup task: to find out, vial by vial, flask by flask, what is and isn’t fun.

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