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COLUMN: Alcohol might have fueled my inner-rioter

By MARTIN VAN DEN HEMEL
June 22, 2011 · 4:21 PM
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What would I have done at that age?

In the aftermath of the riot in downtown Vancouver, pointing the finger has been easy—at police, at out-of-control youth, at hockey hooligans in general—but I've turned my index digit inward and done a little soul searching ever since this question popped up at the office water cooler.

And I'm now convinced that had I been downtown under similar circumstances to those who actively participated, I might have made the same bad decisions that have landed so many of these young adults in hot water.

This might come as a surprise to those who know me well.

I'm a relatively clean-cut, non-violent, law-abiding, happily-married father-of-three, who has never had a run-in with the law.

But I draw on one memorable experience I had 14 years ago, a story I've retold several times and has induced fits of laughter, yet at the same time provided a lot of insight into the inner-Martin.

Though I'm a Dutchman, I've never acquired a taste for Heineken or any other alcoholic beverage.

Consequently, I've only been drunk once in my life.

It was during a stag my buddies held for me prior to getting married in 1997.

From what I can remember, it was a fun night, and I was acting as silly as I normally do. Check that: with all that alcohol in my system, my friends tell me I was funnier, more laid back and louder than ever.

In the early-morning stag aftermath, I recall stumbling into my parents' bungalow, somehow finding the washroom, using the toilet, grabbing my toothbrush...and then it happened.

I fumbled my toothbrush into the toilet I'd just vacated.

I remember chuckling to myself as I looked at my hazy, disheveled reflection in the mirror, dipping my wandering hand into the cool rippling water, and retrieving my toothbrush.

Then I did the unthinkable: I rinsed it off, topped it with some fresh mint toothpaste, and brushed my teeth without a second thought.

It wasn't until the following morning, when I awoke with a massive headache, that I recalled what I'd done.

Bleeehhh, I thought, before rushing to the washroom, trashing said toothbrush, getting a new one, then brushing, rinsing and repeating a few times, mixed in with a cap or two of mouth-burning green Scope.

Fast forward to the 2011 version of the Stanley Cup riot, and the story of Richmond's Camille Cacnio.

A good, bright, caring kid, judging from her history.

In her original, insightful, introspective apology, written on a blog she entitled 'Dear Vancouver, I am sorry' she confessed she'd been drinking on the day she waltzed into a Black & Lee amidst the chaos. (She's since removed the bulk of the apology, in which she went into a bit of a rant, seemingly tried to rationalize what she'd done, and arguably even minimized her actions by writing that her theft was much less serious than burning a police car, for instance.)

I could relate to Camille's wayward walk onto the wrong side of the law.

Had I been downtown as a teenager, and intoxicated by both alcohol and the lookie-loo pulse-pounding thrill generated by a throbbing mass of misbehaving humanity, I might still not have kicked-in any windows or burned a police car. But darting into a smashed storefront and snatching a new toothbrush in that disgusting context? Perhaps, in my alcohol-addled frame of thinking. And if I'd been cheered on by equally impaired "friends"? Likely much worse.

And that's the point.

Alcohol isn't an excuse for what Canadians and the world witnessed last week.

But in my books, it sure explains why we're now learning that a lot of the rioters weren't masked, molotov-cocktail-armed anarchists after all.

They were gifted athletes, intelligent scholarship-winners, and fine blue-collar workers.

And in the case of at least Camille Cacnio, alcohol played some sort of a role.

It's tough enough for sober teens and young adults to navigate through the temptation-filled booby-trapped pylons of life.

Add Budweiser to the mix, and it can become a perilous regret-filled journey.

I'm convinced too, that minus the alcohol, much of the anger that boiled over would have been kept in check by each person's sensibility. Some of us tend to become enraged drunks when under alcohol's influence.

On the bright side, last week's mess has sprouted sober second-thoughts and seemingly sincere apologies, no-doubt expedited by all the iPhone-wielding cheerleaders and photojournalists who unfortunately captured images of Vancouver at its worst.

It's a reality we're all waking up to.