Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp17-27

I had my first drink when I was sixteen and it tasted miserable. I skipped beer (never much cared for it) in an effort to prove to my friend Andy that I had certainly drank before (I hadn’t) and that I was a real man.

I had a shot of tequila. It wasn’t particularly good tequila, but it was tequila and I puckered and grimaced, only briefly, before I asked for another shot. “Another?” Andy said, distrust on his face. “You don’t need to prove anything more to me, dude.”

Give me another, I said. He poured.

I felt a fuzzy sensation at the back of my head a couple minutes later and Andy’s house, with its dark orange carpet and cigarette-smoke-stained walls and retro curtains became all the more foreign to me. His dad stumbled in the front door, tripping over their yelping Chihuahua, who was excited to see her owner, and the thrift store chandelier cast a yellowish light over the oily bald spot in the middle of the top of his head. I was sitting across from the front door, in a recliner, with a Corona in between my legs. I made no attempt to hide the bottle as I watched Andy drape a hand over his, poorly concealing it.

Andy’s dad walked over to me and I could tell he was staring at my glazed eyes and the flippant look on my face. He laid a strong hand on my shoulder. “It’s about time you became a man,” he said, and a foolish grin spread across his face.

I heard him walk into the kitchen and set his briefcase on the table, his keys jingling as he walked. “I don’t care if Andy drinks,” he continued, “as long as it’s in the presence of me. I just don’t want him drinking with strangers.”

I looked at Andy, sitting on the couch to my left, as he removed his hand from his beer, smiled at me, his teeth jutting out past his top lip, and took a swig of his beer.

I wanted more. I wanted to feel more hands resting heavily on my shoulder, hands that said to me that they accepted what I was, and if that meant slinging a few more beers back, then so be it.


I sat in the back of Ms. Wheeler’s pre-calculus class and my heart was pounding so hard against my sternum that I suspected it would only be a matter of time before my chest burst open. I leaned over as Ms. Wheeler continued to drone on and one about something we’d already learned and quietly unzipped my backpack, pulling out my cross country water bottle, that plastic red bottle that everyone in our school used to see us tote around. “DRINK WATER ALL DAY,” Coach Andrade would say and we obliged; we became known as the kids who carried those bottles around to every class, sipping tiny drinks from time to time. (Conversely, you knew who the wrestlers were because they were the ones who spent the entire class spitting into Arrowhead water bottles, desperate to shed that extra pound.)

Drink now. Drink now. No one is looking. Don’t make a sound. Don’t make any sound and no one will notice you.


It’s fine, you’ve taken a drink and no one looked and you can feel it coursing down your throat and it’s coating your stomach and you can feel the warmth inside and it’s like nothing you’ve ever known in your life. Until recently and it feels good, so you keep going. Keep going. Take another drink and then your thoughts won’t be as sharp and abrasive and you can concentrate and this is what will make you a man.

It’s been five minutes. Drink again. Don’t stop. Wait. No. You have to stop or people will start to notice and they’ll get curious. They’ll start talking behind your back about how you’re secretly an alcoholic and what will the Cross Country team think? What will his AP teachers think? What will the journalism staff think if they knew Mark was a drunk?

Stop thinking. Stop thinking. Stop thinking. Just pay attention and be calm. Be calm. Be calm. Be calm.


It tastes awful and it burns but it’s worth it. It’s worth it if people smile when they see me and if I feel ok in my head while I’m awake.

I’m calm.


I feel calm.



You become pretty dedicated when your substance abuse combines with shame. I don’t know the man that David Foster Wallace writes about in this next segment of Infinite Jest, but I know how addiction can manipulate your thoughts, arching gently towards paranoia and terror, and controlling every day routines to the point of absurdity.

I wasn’t an alcoholic for long, just a year. I had a pretty terrible final binge my senior year and there is a huge block of time I have never been able to remember. The scariest part of it all is that I kept my drinking private: I was so desperate to fit in, yet so terrified of it backfiring that I kept it to myself. (LOL MY BRAIN IS AWESOME GUISE. Also I still made valedictorian while drunk for a year WHAT WHAT.)

I have not the slightest idea what is going on. I don’t know how this second character relates to Hal. What I do know is that the ferocity and accuracy with which Wallace uses to narrate as this second man terrified me because I knew exactly what that experience was. From the way I organized rituals to my drinking to the constant shame and hatred I felt for the act to the unbearable and bizarre standard I held other people to: I know it.

I am very pleased with this book so far.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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44 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp17-27

  1. deleted2934595 says:

    1. Mark, you broke my heart again, dammit. I'm glad you're not in that space anymore.
    2. This section was really interesting to me. Maybe it's that I haven't ever had a substance abuse issue, so I don't completely understand every bit of it. However, I have struggled with an eating disorder since my very early teens, and it has some addictive qualities, and so while it's not as strong as with Hal in the previous section, this bit spoke to me too. I think it's easy to get bogged down in the language and miss the heart behind the words: DFW fought depression his whole life, and I wonder if that acquainted him with emotional pain so strongly that he can just make the reader feel what he's writing.

  2. Mitch says:

    Here, have some hugs from an internet stranger: *hugs*

    I don't know if DFW was ever addicted himself (I really should know this, but I've a feeling that if he was he left it far behind and didn't mention it), but – based on his nonfiction – he did a great deal of work with twelve-step programs and the like, so it doesn't surprise me that he got this scene right. I remember reading it for the first time and being completely horrified, because it perfectly described my interactions with a different addiction, and how could he *know*? But that's what he does, above all else: he knows the human experience. (I get so pretentious talking about him, which is awful, considering.)

    • personalmap says:

      I believe DFW was a recovering alcoholic. In several of his interviews, he talked about attending AA meetings.

  3. bradycardia says:

    Echo on the internet hugs.

    So far I'm really enjoying this book too – I had never heard of it before you said you were reviewing it, so thanks for the recommendation. And I'm looking forward to reading it alongside you/others so I'm not sitting there going "Huh?" when we inevitably get to a bit I don't follow.

  4. Phoebe says:

    This was really depressing but actually the biggest thought I had after reading this review was: OMG MARK IS SUCH A GOOD WRITER!!!
    But that is still a really depressing review.

  5. doesntsparkle says:

    Thanks for sharing that Mark, would it be crass to say that I'm impressed that you made valedictorian while drunk?

    This section is freakin brutal. I was a pot head for a few years, so it hits really close to home for me. Wallace describes the paranoia and isolation of hiding an addiction perfectly. When I started, it was fun and helped me relax, but after a while it wasn't fun anymore.

    I think that you'll really enjoy this book.

    P.S. Welcome to the end notes.

  6. dumbgirlwithnoname says:

    I always love the brutal honesty you sometimes give in your reviews. It reminds me that I'm not alone in my strife. I was never an alcoholic. Most of my family come from a long line of alcoholics and nothings and I'm so scared that I'll end up like that that I almost NEVER drink. I know it's weird. It's not like I'm going to end up like them if I take one harmless sip. But it's always in the back of my mind.

    Sorry about the depressing post. I've been going through a hard bit in my life at the moment so maybe that's where it's all coming from. Anyway, I'm glad that you didn't end up becoming an alcoholic so that we could read your wonderful reviews because not only are they entertaining but they are poignant as all hell. I would pick up this book and read it if I didn't have to deal with a bajillion other things I have to do for school. (ONE MORE SEMESTER UNTIL I GRADUATE!!!) Maybe when it's over for the semester, I'll pick it up and begin to read it.

    E-hugs all around. <3

  7. scififan04 says:

    I had never heard of this book until you mentioned you were going to read it. I'm a bit farther in than you are, but not much. I was confused about where Hal fit into all this, too. It's like Wallace is doing a bunch of vignettes. I hope it all ties together at some point.

    • ldwy says:

      I also hadn't heard of this book. I'm reading it now along with Mark. It's really interesting, and I'm impressed with the sense of reality his description evokes. I'm curious how this guy fits with Hal, because I have no idea. I'm also curious about the section heading. Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment? How does that tie in with anything we've read so far, except maybe in that it suggests a theme of lack of control?

      • MissRose99 says:

        He did say he shat in some container in his room… Not in the bathroom, so he wouldn't have to leave his room. That's the only real tie in I see between the title and story.

  8. bell_erin_a says:

    we became known as the kids who carried those bottles around to every class, sipping tiny drinks from time to time
    Hi, chorus kid here! Yeah, the one who still carries around a water bottle everywhere and drinks 64 ounces a day!

    Oh Mark, I really love your stories and I'm glad that a) you share them with us and b) we got another one now, but they sometimes they're so depressing and then I'm sad. I'm so glad you managed to get yourself out of that situation!

    I've never had a substance abuse situation and hope never to, but this section was really interesting. Also, who is this guy and what. The combination of guilt and paranoia is actually kind of terrifying, because how could you get out of that easily? I somewhat identify with the guilt, though. I guess I have a guilty conscience for no reason sometimes because I would get this feeling in my stomach whenever my parents got mad at any of us, whether or not I had done something. Which is weird. And I'd like to say it's not because I really care what people think of me, but maybe it is, if that even makes any sense? Also, it's not the same thing at all and now I'm just rambling, but I love how DFW is having me connect with something totally unrelated.

    Bring on the next 1000 pages! And the end notes!

  9. jennygirl says:

    I thought this chapter was speaking to me personally. Waiting for that delivery person (for lack of better word) and not wanting to seem so anxious. Wanting to play it cool and seem like "hey man, it's not even for me. I'm doing a favor. Whatever. pft" but deep down just tingling in anticipation. I had never ever read anything like this and I am so glad that you have inspired me to do so. I'm up to about page 50 or so after about 2 weeks. The end notes are also like nothing else I have come across.

    You're amazing, Mark. Thanks for taking us on this journey with you.

  10. deleted1882775 says:

    My favourite thing about DFW is how well he understands things, and then on top of that how he miraculously manages to express this understanding using mere words (which are really a very poor tool for making yourself understood). Yes, he has to use a lot of words to do it, but most people wouldn't be able to describe this stuff no matter how long they rambled for.

    I've never had a Substance problem, so this part wasn't as powerful for me as it was for you, but there are other sections in Infinite Jest and other stuff he's written where I felt this amazing feeling that DFW perfectly understands some feeling that I've had but that I've never been able to put into words before. And somehow it makes me feel less alone: maybe he didn't write this just for me, and maybe I'll never even meet the guy, but nevertheless there's someone out there who knows what it feels like. In particular, the short story Good Old Neon was like that for me.

    And you know, Mark, you have the same ability. Your post over on Mark Watches about the Doctor Who finale where you talked about loneliness gave me the same impression: you've thought about this stuff, you understand it, and you're able to tell us about it in a coherent way. Thanks so much for doing that. It's wonderful.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      bah. THANK YOU!

      I've read much further (REVIEW COMING VERY SOON) and I am just constantly impressed by how much he just GETS things.

  11. LOTRjunkie says:

    I really enjoyed this section of the book, out of pure appreciation for his writing. It's so… evocative? It really comes to life.

    Also: I am glad you were able to work through your problems, Mark!

  12. ELFSJ says:

    Hello Mark,

    I am new to this site (introduced by my wife and being a HP fan, I couldn’t resist reading once past the first few posts criticizing it) and I have got to say that I truly enjoyed this review… or rather, it impacted me quite a bit.
    I have a friend who is plagued with addiction… to alcohol nonetheless and I am not sure how to help him but I am glad you wrote this post because at least, it helps me understand what might go through his mind better.
    As friends, we try to help him curb his addiction but it seems to backfire as he withdraws himself more and tries to hide from us and deny that he has a problem and reading your review, I feel like I might understand why.
    So thank you.
    And my wife says that she loves reading all your reviews where you tell your own stories and might have fallen in love with you if not for incompatibility. Thankfully for me. (And I’m writing this because she types very slowly key by key so she has to ask me everytime she wants to write something).

  13. pennylane27 says:

    I had my first drink last year. The legal drinking age here is 18, and I'm almost 21. I guess I've always been afraid of getting really drunk and passing out or feeling like shit the next day, so now even now I pace myself. I'm also paralysed with fear of developing an addiction, which is why I have never tried smoking or drugs. Plus my parents would kill me.
    So while I couldn't relate to this section, I still found it very interesting and enlightening. This guy actually made me feel like I knew what it was to have an addiction. Bravo.

    That doesn't mean I understand what's going on.

    And Mark, if you ever decide to write a book, I would read it.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


      • ldwy says:

        WHAT?! YESSSS!
        Good luck with your writing, that's amazing. I'm perpetually impressed by people who can really tell a story and evoke emotion, both of which you do, as we've all been able to see in your reviews. I'm sure it's a long and arduous process, but once you're a published author, I will definitely buy your book 🙂

  14. pica_scribit says:

    Maybe part of why I'm not connecting with the characters in the book is that I've never experienced that sort of addiction. Sure, I drank heavily my first two years of college, but then so did everyone else, so there was no need to hide it or ritualise it in any way. Then I realised I was spending a lot of money for the privilege of throwing up on Saturdays I couldn't remember, and I just…stopped. I guess I was lucky that it was that easy for me. Two of my great-grandfathers and one of my grandfathers were alcoholics. One of my grandmothers was addicted to tranquilisers. By rights, I should have the gene, but apparently I don't. As for less legal substances, well, I've smoked pot a fair few times, but it rarely has any effect on me, and just ends up feeling like a waste of my time and someone else's supply (I've never bought my own).

    • Aornis says:

      I'm currently drinking my way through my second year of college, and it scares me that I might not be able to stop once I exit. We joke that it's not alcoholism while you're still at school, but I know that's not the case. The number of my friends who have ended up in the hospital only to go back out the next weekend astounds and frightens me. It may be just what everyone does in college, but that doesn't mean it's healthy, or that we don't have a problem. I don't mean to contradict you, I'm just not sure everyone can just stop.

      I hope my relationship to alcohol will not change significantly, and I believe once outside of this atmosphere I will be able to stop at my limit (which I've found the hard way). However, I'm still worried and this passage hit very close to home for me. In high school I had friends who would get drunk and high almost every day, and if it's not me who will have a problem later, it may be one of them.

      Thanks, Mark, for sharing your story.

  15. Meru223 says:

    After watching my brother self destruct due to substance abuse over the past year… this section REALLY hit me hard. I've seen this behaviour from the outside looking in and Wallace made me see it from the point of view of the addict.
    Dear god it made things I always thought were seriously weird make complete sense (in a warped way but understanding warped logic is a skill of mine) I felt like I understood the mindset of an addict which is an achievement. Wallace is a genius.

    That said, I have no idea where Wallace is taking us but I am loving the ride.

  16. agirlinport says:

    You know, the addiction and ritual aspect of this chapter was magnificent, and I am so glad I decided to read this book. But I'm going to go in a different direction with my comment than the other posts, because there was something in this chapter that struck me and hit really close to home in a very odd way.
    "The moment he recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it. He realized that he would have plenty of time to enjoy all the cartridges, and realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense."
    I thought this passage was amazing. I have sat in front of my stack of DVDs or sifted through the songs on my Ipod for five or ten minutes at a time, precisely because I have this exact same feeling, like I'm missing something great that's about to come up. Like I don't have the rest of my life to enjoy my music and movies, or like I haven't already listened to or seen them all before anyway. I always feel like I'm running out of time, and I need to find the best, best one or else I'll be wasting time. I never knew how to put this feeling into words. It didn't really strike me as that odd until I read this passage. It's an amazing comment on how people feel about life, death, and entertainment, and captured so wonderfully through the voice of this character, I just had to mention it. The character is addicted to the marijuana, yes, but it seems that this here suggests that he's addicted to entertainment in some way as well, albeit a different way than his need for dope. I hope DFW goes further with both of these intelligently handled themes.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      OH MAN, YES. This is a fantastic comment.

    • pennylane27 says:

      It's happened to me that I get a DVD and then put off watching it until I make sure that there's nothing worth watching on TV for the length of the DVD. Or while listening to music, stop and scan all the radio stations to hear if I'm missing some song I don't have in my mp3 player or something. And then, like the character, realise that it's completely ridiculous and feel pathetic. I had forgotten about that passage, thanks for pointing it out!

    • Steeple says:

      That passage is how I feel about missable items in video games. I hate hate hate the idea of missing or losing something FOREVER, even if it sucks or gets outclassed. I just need it to have that complete feeling. That's my only really problem with FF9 is the Excalibur II, but as least I've been able to think of that as inaccesable.

      But, that anxiety with missing things really contributed to when I quit Gaia Online. They started putting more limited edition items I couldn't afford, nor have the illusion of eventually affording.

  17. bingo007 says:

    wow.your writing has brought forth the same emotion i felt while reading this section of book.
    really impressive chapter.i mean,you couldn’t get any more is a brutal and accurate depiction of an addiction.nobody can deny this even if they aren’t addicted to anything particular.drug and drinks aren’t the only addictions,there are loads of minor ones we are subconsciously addicted or we hide it under the pretension of curiosity or excitation or your favourite movies or serials or actors or music or celebs,crazyly following them,defending them,praising are subconsciously addicted to them,atleast for a period of time before it passes over.when you say you love someone it must mean you are in a way addicted to them.we dont use the term and we dont accept it when someone points it out.but may be addiction is everywhere.just my thoughts.

  18. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I checked Infinite Jest out at my library, and I didn't notice the endnote mark because someone had slashed that page several times with a black pen. I think this is why:
    <img src=""&gt;
    That said, it does appear that the other endnotes are a bit more informative than this one, as a general rule.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Haha, brilliant! I was expecting a rambling aside about meth, and I laughed when I found the endnotes and it was just "methamphetamine hcl aka crystal meth." I hope the rest of your endnote marks didn't meet the same fate!

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


  19. Psi Baka Onna says:

    I've come to harbour a dislike for drinking culture in recent years. Many of the people I know seem to think that a person is incomplete if they don't drink, like they've been born without a sense of humour. I'm a non-drinker and I can't say I've ever had an urge to fit in by getting drunk, but then when I was 14-15 (when most of my friends were trying alcohol for the first time) I was being bullied a lot. It was never as bad as what you went through, Mark, but it did leave me feeling disillusioned enough to think people=rubbish. If anyone was nice to me then I would give them the benefit of the doubt and would be their faithful friend but everyone else I saw as a potential bully until proven otherwise so I just didn't care for socialising and became somewhat of a hermit. I've out grown this way of thinking enough since then to realise that the world isn't divided into pricks and nice people with more emphasis on the pricks but I still don't have a drive to seek out the company of others.

    I do however now have a boyfriend and have been incorporated into his group of friends. That means being dragged to pubs and parties where I'm usually the only one in the entire building not drinking. That also means that I've felt peer pressure for the first time in my life. I may not long to fit in with the crowd but I do love my boyfriend dearly and I am sensitive about what he thinks of me and he's been socially engineered to believe that getting drunk is a rite of passage and that you're not truly having a good time unless you've gotten some drink in you. I've seen enough people get drunk to know it's not something I want to be (heck, the first party he took me to ended prematurely due to someone needing their stomach pumped) but after spending my teen years feeling like broken goods due to the bullying and lack of social drive, I have been left with some paranoia that sometimes makes me wonder if there's still something wrong with me when I see people's reactions when they're told I don't drink.

    My dad gave up alcohol a year or so ago so he's noticed how differently people treat you when you don't drink as well. He has non-alcoholic beers when he's out mostly so that people will assume he's still drinking proper beer and won't pressure him into taking up booze again. We've talked about our shared experiences of life as a non-drinker so I've managed to obtain a more realistic outlook on drinking from him. It's still seems awful that getting drunk is considered a rite of passage though, or that you're not truly considered a man unless you've gotten drunk at least once or proven that you can hold your liquor. Is it really a surprise that binge drinking is considered such a problem here in the UK with attitudes like these?

  20. jennreyn says:

    What I liked when I was at this point (I'm about 400 pages in right now) is that even not knowing how everything ties together, something compelled me to keep reading. I think I'm going to have to buy this book though, it's due back at the library on Feb. 3 and I'm not even halfway through…

  21. lisra says:

    This is.. interesting…

    Yknow Mark, I've always liked how frankly you told stories from your past. It is, I don't know, nice, to see that you trust your readers (I feel awkward writing "us" for some reason) enough to do this.

    This is the first bit I can really relate to. Shortly after I turned 16 and could buy alcohol legally (Germany had been pretty lax then, its a bit stricter now) I had my first drinks. After some events involving false friends I isolated myself and became a weekend drinker, not even an adult yet. I started to anticipate fridays because it meant I could go and buy some cheap wine and drink it too fast. I spend so many nights lying on the floor in my room staring at the ceiling and feeling torn about betrayal of friends and more torn about the fact that I messed up with the most wonderful person I had ever met.

    Things thankfully worked out, but it was a rough ride involving other unpretty things. Maybe there will be something later that will make me share them.

    Thanks Mark. Happy reading, you cannot possibly be prepared.

  22. cait0716 says:

    I keep starting to comment and it keeps turning into a long, rambling mess. This chapter was hard. And you review was hard, too (I mean that as a compliment on your writing skills). I've been there. I get all the little rituals. The way they make you feel like you're still in control of your life in some way, when everything is actually spiraling out of control. I get that weird mix of shame and pride, anger and depression that leads to this behavior and is caused by it and reinforces it so you feel like you'll never escape. Shame because something is wrong, probably with you. Pride because at least no one knows something is wrong. Anger because why the hell doesn't anyone notice that something is wrong. Depression because clearly if they really cared about you they'd pick up on the signs that something is wrong. But maybe it's just because you so great at hiding it (and there's that pride again). Besides, you don't really want anyone to know that you're broken. And so the cycle continues.

    This chapter left me feeling paranoid and anxious. And that was the point. And your review did a very good job of capturing those feelings again.

    This book's going to be hard in more ways than one.

  23. theresa1128429 says:

    As much as I would like to say otherwise, I am more of the type to have a few too many Buds or Captain & cokes. I get loud, grow 'beer muscles', and pressure my friends to join me. After drinking almost continuously from my 21st birthday in November until New Year's Eve, I finally slowed down.

    Mark, your story is amazing and I am very impressed that you made valedictorian while drunk.

    This chapter really made me feel for this mystery character. There were many Mass references so I am thinking that he is someone from Hal's hometown (family perhaps?).

  24. Ishii_Era says:

    Is there a chance you could say what sentence the passage you're reviewing begins and ends with? That way those of us with other versions/e-books/whatever would have an easier time following along 🙂

  25. barnswallowkate says:

    I'm finally, belatedly, starting to read this book. I didn't understand all the equipment described in this section (the teleputer and film cartridges and so on). Were these high technology when the book was written that have since disappeared? Is this supposed to be the future? Or do I need to stop wondering and keep reading and all will be revealed?

  26. Wendy says:

    I hope you write a book of your own one day. You're a wonderful writer.

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