I don’t drink alcohol. I’m not morally opposed to it and I’m not a recovering alcoholic. No one ever believes that, by the way. The journey to being a teetotaler has been unpredictable; littered with hangovers, lesbians, and a stint as a child bar tender. I would be rich beyond my wildest imaginings if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me why I don’t drink. If you’re not a drinker, what do you say? Do you invent an “alcohol allergy”? Claim that you’re on probation? Tell people that you’d love a drink but if you got started, you’d have to drink everything they have? Pull out a blunt for a non-verbal answer to the question? I’ve just decided to tell the truth. Maybe I can help my fellow non-drinkers. Here’s my story in three parts.
I am standing behind the huge bar my father built in the basement of our 70s ranch house. Name the liquor, we had it. Name the drink, we could make it. Every time I opened the refrigerator in our basement, my dad’s Margarita bottle with the skull and crossbones he’d drawn on it was dead center. This was normal to me.
I was mesmerized by only one thing behind that bar: the ice crusher. That ice crusher was my crack. I know I seem lame if you compare me to say, Ben Carson as a kid. I wasn’t stabbing relatives in enormous knife-deflecting belt buckles or standing my ground during armed robberies, refusing to let criminals screw me out of some succulent fried chicken, but hear me out because I get even lamer.
While other little girls were baking mud pies, my two favorite activities were trying to get rich by making perfume out of Comet Kitchen Cleanser and Kool-Aid (gritty yet sweet!) and playing bartender to my dolls. At the bar was Giggles who was only supposed to giggle when you pushed her arms in but something had gone wrong and she giggled constantly. Next to Giggles, I’d put Chatty Cathy whose hair I’d cut to look like Dorothy Hamill’s. It didn’t. Geoffrey, the naked plastic doll, and his ever present friend Teddy the bear, who had fur missing in odd places, always came. Finally, I’d usually include Ginger, a red head with a big hole in the top of her head where “secret hair” resided that could be pulled out to change her look. You will be delighted to know that I recently found Ginger. Here she is!
After the dolls were in their places, I’d head upstairs to get the metal ice trays. Back at the bar, I just stood there cranking until the bottom half of the crusher was full. I filled shot glasses with their usual drinks and it was all amicable enough until Cathy had several shots of Crown Royal in her and started asking Geoffrey why he always showed up naked. He’d get angry, high on Schlitz and, I suspect, “mother’s little helper”, Valium, and talk shit about her hair. Ginger would start in on Teddy, ribbing him about how he and Geoffrey were always together and asking why the fur on his knees was particularly sparse. And Giggles, head thrown back, laughed. When Ken and his hair showed up with Barbie’s underage sister Skipper, it would get really weird. Skipper smoked like a fiend and Ken was usually wet, like soaking wet. He never explained it and we were all too afraid to ask. He’d just sit there, sunglasses on, sometimes covered in bite marks, and sip his Amaretto. After last call, the merrymakers would pile into his convertible and speed back upstairs with Skipper, cigarette dangling, on the hood.They were a bunch of drunk, outrageous bastards and some of the best friends a little girl could ask for but their behavior under the influence stuck with me and made me wary of drinking.
I’ve been drunk twice. The first time was the first week of freshman year at college. I know, you’re gobsmacked. My eighteen year old brain was in full effect so here’s how that went:
- Food for the day: a piece of toast
- Drinks for the day: rum & coke, 7up & vodka, grain alcohol
- Later that day: I only remember sitting under a streetlight
- Next day: dry heaves and the fetal position in the shower.
- Next 3 days: oatmeal
The second time I was drunk I was about 20 years old and it was because my future mother-in- law was plying me with wine coolers. Well, she had some wine coolers and I kept drinking them in an attempt to appear sophisticated which is clearly the same as plying me. Much later that night, I had to choose between putting my head in, or my ass on, the toilet. Nothing would stay down or in. You can quibble with my decision- I’ve found that people have very strong opinions on this- but I chose my head. On that night, in that bathroom, there were no good choices. I tried spinning around for awhile, head, ass, head, ass and it just wasn’t working. It was all bad.
Many years later, the physical imprint of these two experiences remains. Yeah, yeah, it was my fault. When is drinking too much not the fault of the drinker? But I don’t want even a tiny part of any of this again.
On one visit home from college for Thanksgiving, my late Aunt Geraldine, who was about 4’10” tall and not shy about taking a drink, joined us for dinner. We were all seated at the table enjoying our meal when Aunt Gerry, then a mere 85 years old and as pissed as a newt, said she had a joke to tell us about lesbians. I perked up real fast. I probably don’t have to tell you that she messed up the joke from the start. To this day, I have no idea how this joke really goes. Let me tell you that around this table sat my father, who is Aunt Gerry’s brother, as well as my mother, her older sister and that sister’s daughter and her husband. “Prudish” doesn’t even begin to describe every member of this group except my father. Now, you know why I perked up. Aunt Gerry, so tiny that her head barely cleared the table, and slurring heavily, presented it as follows:
Aunt Gerry: “Two lesbians walked into a bar. A man said, ‘Hey baby, you sho is pretty’.
One of the lesbians threw a drink in his face. Another woman said, ‘Can’t you see they lesbians?’ He said, ‘What? But they don’t smell like PUSSAYYYYYY!’”
My Thought Bubble: Thank you, Thanksgiving Fairy. You da bess, mayne.
I see the pinched expressions of my other relatives and immediately understand that this is the time to ask her to repeat that last bit.
Me: “What’d he say, Aunt Gerry?”
Aunt Gerry (louder): “He SAID, ‘But they don’t smell like no PUSSAAAYYYYYY’”!
Aunt Gerry: “Don’t y’all get it? They was LESBIANS!”
I encourage her to repeat the joke. My father is trying to stifle a laugh and failing. The rest of them look like they’ve just caught the homeroom teacher farting in their kid’s lunch. You see, Aunt Gerry thinks the joke has fallen flat because they don’t understand the rather provocative word “pussy”. Her brain has been marinating in wine for the past few hours and it’s telling her that if she just keeps saying it, they’ll get the punch line and laugh. With this goal in mind, she went on to say the word “pussy” in about five different ways while always applying this gravelly overlay to her voice. You know that voice the woman uses on Kotex commercials as the woman skips through a field of lavender? Yeah, not that one. You know the voice the guy uses when he says, “Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmble”? Yeah, that one. And just when I thought it was over, the hits just kept on coming because I overheard my mother and her sister complaining that the least Gerry could have done was to substitute the words “female genitalia” for the “p word”. Talk about wrecking a joke.
The lessons from my college years were cemented.
The experiences in adulthood that put me off of alcohol are too numerous to lay out before you. The highlights:
- At a school event, I saw a lady in a flowing yellow gown – it was simply gorgeous against her dark brown skin, I might add – drunk as gangbusters and humping her husband’s leg on the dance floor.
- At a work banquet, a goodhearted, completely wasted employee visiting every table and shouting, “One order of chicken WANGS and some barbecue sauce!”
- A childhood neighbor running down our street naked. She was booking it.
- A relative kicking everyone out of his back yard cookout with the words, “Get the hell out! I can’t stand most of y’all anyway!”
- And finally, a close family friend, drunk at his baptism and unable to understand why “these people’ were trying to drown him, taking two attendees under with him and remarking afterwards, “I’ll be damned if y’all was going to drown ME today!”
Share your backstories with those clamoring for an explanation of your dry status. Lay your truth out there. They won’t believe you anyway and they don’t even really care. They’ll care even less about eight minutes into it, leaving you in peace which is exactly what you want. People usually begin to back away from me when I start talking about the bite marks on Ken’s thighs. Works every time.