Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Borrowing a bit of good cheer

The New York Times runs a blog called Proof, wherein various contributors hold forth on the meaning of booze in their lives. As you might guess, a fair number of them are alcoholics or the children of alcoholics. Their posts smolder with the pain of a drunken past and austere pride at having taken a better path. I salute them. That can't be easy. In fact, I propose a toast ...

I started drinking at 16. Vodka and 7-Up in a paper cup. It tasted like kerosene; in retrospect, maybe it needed a bit more 7-Up. But it made an impression, the magical way acquaintances became friends, mundane thoughts became profound, sophomoric jests became uproarious. I didn't get sick, didn't black out, didn't even have a hangover the next morning. I was a shy person who'd stumbled on to a reliable way of becoming less shy. Imagine if you had a bad case of acne and you could apply something that would make the zits vanish, if only for an evening. That was how I felt.

I've been drinking ever since -- socially, as they say -- even though I learned early on that booze has a tendency to take more than it gives. Through the rest of a misspent youth, it smoothed out some embarrassments and created a few new ones. As I became an adult -- somewhere around the age of 27 -- I realized that drinking at a party was like taking out a loan: you always had to pay it back, with interest. Sometimes being the life of the party was worth it; sometimes not. But the loan analogy came to moderate my consumption. I don't like waking up in the morning with Jose Cuervo hammering at the door, demanding payment.

New Year's Eve is the high holy day of drinking, but I've passed as many stone sober as I have under the influence. Blame my newspaper career -- it always meant working nights and certain holidays. Where New Year's was concerned, I didn't much care. If I got home early enough, I'd go outside at midnight and listen to the sporadic car horns and fireworks as another year rolled by. Being sober and slightly melancholy at such a time isn't a bad thing. And the moral superiority you get from watching drunken revelers on the street below is something everyone should experience.

Tonight, well, we've been invited to a great party. We'll go. Presumably drinks will be served. I'll partake. Any luck, I'll make a joke or two and people might laugh. I might imagine myself as a lot more witty and attractive than I am. Such are the modest gifts of the bottle. Thanks, Mr. Cuervo. The check's already in the mail.

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