People who knew of my plans to travel with Andre warned me not to try to match him beer for beer. But was I not myself a large and robust man? Had I not once sat with the St. Louis Cardinals' interior linemen at Jackie Smith's place to celebrate the season's end by drinking gin and tonics out of quart Mason jars? Had I not knocked back successive tumblers of vodka with the previously mentioned Alexeyev to celebrate various of his victories? Was I not, by God, a fifth-generation Texan? Aware, of course, that I probably couldn't stay with Andre in a true contest because of the 210-pound difference in our body weights, I nonetheless felt that for a few hours after a match I would be able to keep up with him. To be honest, I actually looked forward to the opportunity of bellying up to the bar with the biggest professional athlete in the world and swapping tall tales of various kinds.
It was with this attitude that I went with him, after his bout that first night in Philadelphia, to a local motel, where I checked in and agreed to meet him in a few minutes in the lounge. I had been careful in our earlier talk not to mention his fondness and capacity for beer, lest he feel obliged to put on a show for me, and I was somewhat taken aback as I entered the lounge to notice four freshly opened bottles before him on the bar, one of them half gone. The other half disappeared as I walked up.
"Come, boss," he said in his cavernous voice, "what will you have? The beer is cold."
Not wishing to seem competitive, I only ordered two, planning to drink them quickly and get two more and gradually catch up without him noticing. I drank and drank and we were joined in our drinking and talking by Arnold Skaaland, a former wrestler who is one of Vince McMahon's road managers. The talk was good and the beer went fast and I took a few notes as the evening passed, notes which seemed to me to become steadily more perceptive. I smiled often to myself as I continued to drink and talk and write on my yellow note pad. Finally the bar closed, and although I have no clear recollection of going to my room, I know I did so because I woke there late the next morning, fully dressed and lying on top of the bedspread, my mouth feeling as if a cat had littered in it while I slept.
My first thought as my mind swam into hazy focus was of my note pad. Sitting up with a start, I saw it, resting securely on top of the dresser. Not even waiting to shower, I took the pad to the table, sat down and began to read. "Not bad," I thought to myself as I went through the first couple of pages, anticipating the material still to come. But the notes became increasingly unclear, at last achieving illegibility. Caveat potator. Do not match drinks with the Giant. This lesson learned, I spent the remainder of my time drinking with Andre, not against him, and I can report with confidence that his capacity for alcohol is extraordinary. During the week or so I was with him, his average daily consumption was a case or so of beer; a total of two bottles of wine, generally French, with his meals; six or eight shots of brandy, usually Courvoisier or Napoléon, though sometimes Calvados; half a dozen standard mixed drinks, such as Bloody Marys or Screwdrivers; and the odd glass of Pernod. He drinks as many Frenchmen drink—throughout the day—and he takes genuine comfort in his drinking, seemingly in agreement with the line from Housman that "Malt does more than Milton can/ To justify God's ways to man." But during the time I was with Andre, never once did I see him give any indication that the alcohol was affecting him. Several friends who have known him over the years say that on the rare occasion when he feels the need to tie one on he avoids beer or wine and goes quickly through three fifths of vodka.
Because he spends as much time as he does in various watering holes, many people wonder how Andre avoids being singled out by the supposedly ubiquitous drunk with a yen to take on the biggest guy in the house. Two things about that, the first being that it's one thing for a man to get well enough bagged to imagine himself the equal of a 6'3", 250-pound man, but 7'4" and 500 pounds? Come on. The difference is the same as that which allows an intoxicated and/or hot-headed man to drive his fist into, and possibly through, a wooden door but refrain from driving that same fist into a steel girder. However—and this brings up the second thing—Andre actually has had to fight a few times in bars. Skaaland was with him once in Quebec City when a big lumberjack got so full of both whiskey and himself that nothing would do but to try out le géant. "We were at this little bar after a match," Skaaland recalls, "and I noticed this guy kept staring at Andre. That's not unusual, except he looked like he was building up steam. And sure enough, he walked up to Andre, tapped him on the shoulder and cursed him and called him out.
"We were standing at the bar, and Andre turned around to face the guy and spoke to him softly. He told him he didn't want to fight, and he even offered to buy him a drink, but the guy cursed him again. The words barely got out of his mouth when Andre grabbed him by the neck and belt and drove him into the wall across the room. I think it broke the guy's ribs." Asked about this later, Andre shrugged and said, "I do what I can to avoid bad trouble, boss, but I have seen enough to know when a man can't be talked out of a fight. First I talk, but when I see the talk won't work, I want to make the first move and I want to make it a good one. Twice I have had knives pulled on me and I have had to use a barstool."
Like most people who drink because they enjoy it rather than because they have to, Andre isn't bothered overmuch by the occasional dry period. Last year, for example, after an extended trip to Japan and Australia, he found that his weight had reached the unacceptably high figure of 540 pounds, whereupon he put himself on a strict diet—no alcohol, and only one meal a day. In four weeks he dropped 80 pounds, which becomes less surprising with the realization that he consumes approximately 7,000 calories in alcohol a day.
As for his efforts at table, Andre seems to eat less than might be expected, though, of course, far more than the average person. Four eggs, bacon, hash browns, four pieces of whole wheat toast, a pint of orange juice and two iced coffees suffice to break his nightly fast, and his evening meal, generally taken several hours before his match, will depend on where he is in the world, although the quantity will be about twice that consumed by your garden variety gourmand. Occasionally, however, he will hold back on the alcohol and give full play to his appetite. He recently recounted an evening spent in a small, second-rate restaurant. "I was tired, boss, and I only wanted to have a quick bite and go to bed, but this waitress, she kept pointing at me and talking about me to the other customers. Then she asked me in a loud voice if a cup of soup and a cracker would be enough. And she laughed. I told her no, that I was hungry, and wished the entire menu to be brought, one dish at a time. It took me four hours to eat it all."
As he globe-hops, the Giant usually avoids this kind of unpleasantness by exercising great care in his choice of restaurants. He takes the same sort of delight Hemingway did in scheduling his travel arrangements so as to arrive at the time and place that will allow him a chance to have a word with the owner and local friends and sample the specialty of the house. Although he admits to a slight preference for French cuisine, he introduced me to a Korean restaurant in Manhattan, a delicatessen in Montreal and an Italian place in Albany, all of which were excellent, and all of which were owned by people who welcomed Andre as if he were family. But the spot he seemed most pleased to show me was, understandably, a delightful Montreal restaurant, Le Picher, which he owns and which served a salmon mousse that was, as a friend of mine once said about a $200 bottle of German wine, all it should have been.