I got pretty drunk last Saturday night.
That’s bigger news than you might think, as I’m not much of a drinker. When I tell people I don’t drink much, they usually don’t understand, so let me try to explain. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, I’m not a diabetic and I’m not a Mormon. And it’s not that I don’t like alcohol. I just don’t like it enough. I don’t drink for any of the reasons people normally do. I don’t drink to feel better or to feel worse, or because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t uncork a bottle of champagne to celebrate when something good happens, I don’t drown my sorrows when something bad happens, and I never have wine with dinner or a nightcap afterwards. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what a nightcap is. I’ll have a beer or two at parties sometimes, I’ll usually get a little tipsy on New Year’s and occasionally, I’ll have a drink when I meet someone “for drinks”, but not always. I never drink because I want to. I only drink when I feel like I’m supposed to.
And Saturday night was a perfect example of that. By any measure, I was definitely supposed to be drinking. If anything, I underperformed.
I went to a party for a couple who had recently eloped. It was on the terrace of Shutters, a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica, and a Spanish guitar player played a bunch of songs I didn’t recognize, along with one I think I did, “Fragile” by Sting, as the guests watched the sun set over the ocean. Everyone had a drink in his or her hand, except for one pregnant woman, who told me, “God, I wish I could have a drink right now”. It was the kind of atmosphere where “So, what are you drinking?” is a good opening line. There was an open bar, and people started to leave as soon as it closed for the night.
None of this alone explains why I drank. Nor was I drinking to toast this couple’s union, as nice as they both seemed to be. Any one of these reasons might’ve been enough to put a single beer in my hands, which I would then proceed to nurse all night, and if I had to, I’d lie to people and say it was my third or fourth. But as for why I had as many drinks as I did, well, there’s a much better reason.
On Saturday night, I met Drew’s friends.
I’m not the kind of guy who reaches the “meeting the friends” stage of a relationship very often, and that’s because my feelings about dating are a lot like my feelings about drinking, except if anything, I’m even more tentative about men than I am about booze. They both can be found in bars, and they both make me uncomfortable, but at least alcohol has never left awkward messages on my answering machine for weeks on end and failed to take a hint.
Complicating matters further was the fact that Drew had only recently ended a relationship that lasted over five years. Gregg was the one Drew brought to social events like this. This was Gregg’s crowd, not mine, and these people weren’t used to seeing Drew with someone new. I was nervous about being compared to Gregg, who I don’t know very much about. One of the things I DO know from the stories Drew’s told me is that Gregg is apparently somewhat, well – I swear this isn’t just the jealous new boyfriend talking – crazy. So that was a good start.
Before we left for the party, I stressed a lot over what to wear, and Drew and I decided to coordinate our outfits so as not to look too much alike. Telling a gay couple that their outfits match is like telling a woman she looks pregnant. You just shouldn’t. Even if it’s true, nobody wants to hear it. And if you do know a gay couple who intentionally dress alike, cut them out of your life. You don’t want to know people like that.
Drew decided that only one of us should wear a tie. I decided it should be him. I don’t like to wear ties. But when I got to his apartment and saw him in the tie, I started worrying that I was underdressed. Suddenly, my first impression seemed extremely important. “Have you seen Drew’s new boyfriend?” “You mean the tieless moron?” “Yeah, Gregg may be crazy, but at least he would’ve known how to dress.”
When we arrived, I noticed right away that the event was more casual than either of us expected. In fact, Drew was the only one who was wearing a tie. Instantly, my fears were put to rest. Now I could imagine people saying, “Poor Drew, he looks so out of place.” “Well, at least his new boyfriend is dressed appropriately.” “Maybe this guy will be good for Drew.” One man was even wearing sweatpants, along with a baggy sweatshirt advertising some surfing product. He kept the hood up over his head the whole night, signifying that he was either trying to show off that he was cool or hide that he was bald. It turned out he was the lead singer of Ugly Kid Joe, who used to date the bride a few years back. According to Drew, her more recent ex, the coke addict, was a no-show.
Thankfully, everyone had been prepped about the recent changes in Drew’s social life, so the question “Where’s Gregg tonight?” never came up. And the phrase “… and this is Jerry” was usually greeted with, “Oh, right. Hi, Jerry.” Introductions were typically followed by the usual string of small talk questions. “What do you do for a living?” “How did you meet Drew?” “Did you know that the lead singer of Ugly Kid Joe is here?”
I had my first drink not long after we arrived. I had Drew order something for me, because obtaining alcohol is always a stressful experience for me. I worry that I won’t order convincingly enough and my ignorance will be obvious. Or that I’ll get some impenetrable followup questions like “Neat or on the rocks?” or “Bacardi or Kahlua?” These things mean nothing to me. They frighten me. Even “Twist of lemon?” throws me for a loop. I don’t know which drinks go with lemon, and I’m terrified I’ll get it wrong. I finally learned after several faux pas that you can’t order salt on the glass for just any drink. Try it with a rum and coke and you get some funny looks. On several occasions, I’ve been carded after I’ve ordered. Bartenders are used to reading nervousness as a sign of juvenile delinquency, not liquorphobia.
Drew ordered me a gin and tonic. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’ve ever had anything with gin in it, but the taste seemed familiar. I realized it was because the smell reminded me of my grandmother’s house. That must’ve been her drink of choice, as the scent was always the first thing that greeted me whenever I walked through her door – growing up, I thought it was her air freshener. All night long, as the taste of this new alcohol lingered in my mouth, it was hard to get that thought out of my head: my Grandma, gin junkie.
All of Drew’s friends have nicknames, which is confusing enough, except that many of them have three or more. Leslie is also called Lily or Bones or Bonesy. Christian is Frenchy or Jarry or Black Man. Margaret is Mags or Maggie or Madge or Marge or Margie or Margarita. Karen is Monster, but I’m not supposed to say that when Karen’s around. Nash and Kramer are referred to only by their last names. And Drew himself is often referred to as D.D. or Deeds or Mr. Deeds. I only met about ten or twelve people, but I learned at least forty names.
Margaret decided I should have a nickname myself, and she suggested Jiminy Cricket. If there’s a flattering way to take that, I haven’t thought of it yet. Margaret was probably the most comfortable meeting me, which was unexpected because according to Drew, she was also the closest to Gregg. About five minutes after we arrived, Margaret was telling Drew and me how, earlier that day, her husband overheard her telling her hairstylist that she wanted a divorce. That’s Mags for ya.
Once I’ve seen somebody order a certain drink successfully, I feel more confident ordering one myself. So I had little problem getting my second gin and tonic. By that point, I had exhausted all my small talk with everyone I was likely to meet, and Drew and his friends had moved on to gossiping about other people they knew who either didn’t show up for the party or who were just slightly out of earshot at the buffet table. As I had little to contribute on the subject of Monster and Tino’s marriage, it was a good time for me to excuse myself.
The thing I like about mixed drinks, as opposed to beer, is that because you’re drinking less by volume, you don’t have to go to the bathroom as often. So I was on my third gin and tonic before my bladder sounded its first alarm. The problem was that after three gin and tonics, the bathroom was a lot harder to find. “Just go up the stairs, through the gate, take the elevator down, go through the lobby, make a right, then a left, then it’s on your right.” Those are not words you should say to a drunk person.
Drunk people are also not good with vague notations on bathroom doors. If you own an establishment that serves alcohol, I don’t think your bathroom doors should say anything on them other than “Men” and “Women”. No “Guys” and “Dolls”, no “Buoys” and “Gulls”, no “Senoritas” and “Caballeros”. I know that some people think its cutesy if they own a Russian restaurant to put the Russian equivalent of “men” and “women” on the restrooms, and I’m all in favor of cutesy – okay, that’s a lie – the issue is that I don’t see the point in confusing people about where they’re supposed to pee. I don’t speak Russian – even a little – and I don’t want to have to explain that to the senoritas when I mistakenly walk into the gulls’ bathroom. I don’t understand those male/female symbols on bathroom doors either. The only difference I can see between them is that the woman is about a half inch shorter and doesn’t have a slit between her legs. I’m a fairly short guy, and I always worry that if I’m wasted and wearing my baggy jeans, the woman symbol will seem like a better match for me.
When I got back from the bathroom, people were taking pictures. I hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but suddenly all the implications of a photograph of me and Drew together became obvious. That photo would sit in someone’s album forever, and years from now, it would be something people would look at and say either, “Aw, look how cute they were when they first met,” or “Oh, remember that guy? What was his name? He had a big chin.” Drew still has pictures of Gregg around his apartment, and they look so happy together. I worry that taking a happy picture with Drew is a death sentence for a relationship.
But Drew refused to pose for the picture before I even got a chance. I guess he was thinking all the same things I was, only he knew that if things didn’t work out between us, he’d be the one who’d actually have to look at that picture every time his friends broke out their wedding album for the rest of eternity. I’d just have to know it was out there. If it ended up being some haunting symbol of an unfortunate relationship, Drew would have to pull it out of the album and burn it when they weren’t looking.
Eventually, the party broke up, and a few of Drew’s friends went downstairs to the bar. I realized these people like to drink a lot more than I do. They actually drink in bars. During the relocation, Drew asked me if I wanted to leave, but there was no way I was going to be the new boyfriend who makes Drew leave parties early, even if it meant I was going to be the new boyfriend who got really drunk and threw up on Monster’s dress. Before we left the terrace, I drank half of Drew’s vodka tonic and by the time we rejoined his friends downstairs, my drunkenness had progressed from the giddy, fun kind to the forlorn, mopey kind. And then I ordered a fourth gin and tonic.
By now, I was getting cocky about this drink. Gin and tonics are prepared differently in the Shutters bar than on the Shutters terrace. The waitress delivered a glass filled halfway with gin, along with a bottle of seltzer on the side. There was a long plastic stirrer, too, all of which seemed to indicate that I’d have to mix the drink myself. This was WRONG. I’d had gin and tonics by now. They didn’t seem that complicated to make, and if these supposed professionals couldn’t figure out how to put one together, then they knew less about alcohol than I did. I warn you: if you’re going to get a gin and tonic at Shutters, get one on the terrace. They don’t serve them properly in the bar.
And then – and this is the part that I still can’t believe, the part which seems like it must’ve been some kind of hazy drunken fantasy I made up – we started playing charades. There, in the bar, sitting around a tiny coffee table, we played charades. I’m generally a pretty reserved person, especially around large groups of people I don’t know. But party games like charades bring out the Mr. Hyde version of myself. My exuberance and skill at competitive social activities either impress people or really, really frighten them. After a few minutes of charades with Drew’s friends, I was able to draw a very telling conclusion about myself: nothing, not alcohol, not social awkwardness, not fear of being a public spectacle, can impair my charades guessing ability. I impressed and won over several people by identifying “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”, a book most of them hadn’t heard of.
My ability to give clues, however, was another matter. I whirled my arms around, repeating the same vague gestures over and over again, certain I was perfectly conveying a newborn mother cradling an infant in her arms. But I was greeted with silence. It made me think of how deaf people must struggle to communicate when they’re drunk. There’s definitely a sign language equivalent to slurring your words. When someone finally figured out that my desperate flailing was an attempt to pantomime “Baby One More Time”, everybody groaned. I wasn’t sure if it was because my clues were so terrible, or because I had debased their game by bringing Britney Spears into it. Either way, I was humbled. After that, the group waived the “whoever guesses correctly gives the next clue” rule for me.
Charades grew tiresome, and people started getting up. “Well, we’ve gotta get up early tomorrow.” “Our babysitter’s waiting up for us.” “It’s been fun, guys.” As Drew and I walked to the car, I realized it was a few minutes before 10 o’clock. Drew tried to rally the troops for a late-night snack, but only Georgian seemed game for some dessert. We headed to Swingers, the restaurant I go to about 90% of the time I eat out. It was the first place I’d felt truly comfortable all night.
Drew and Georgian started talking, and I realized the reason Drew was so anxious to keep the party going. He wanted to gossip some more. Drew gossips a lot. While I ate a brownie sundae and sobered up, Drew and Georgian talked about what a mess Lisa was, what a mess Bonesy’s mom was and, of course, about Ugly Kid Joe. It’s always fun to talk to people who gossip until you start wondering what they say when you’re not around. I didn’t even want to get up to go to the bathroom.
When Georgian went to the bathroom, Drew gave me my feedback from the night, which was overwhelmingly positive. Several people had noticed that I was not crazy, which was refreshing in a boyfriend of Drew’s. They took my quietness as a sign of shyness, not snobbery, which was also good. Margaret thought I didn’t like her.
And according to Drew, nobody said anything about me being drunk. That was a big relief, as one of my big fears about being drunk is that I won’t handle it well and it’ll be obvious to everyone. Some people can pound back drink after drink and never lose their composure, but if I have half a beer, I can’t walk straight. Tonight, it seemed, nobody minded. They understood. I realized that if I had spent the entire day sober, I probably would’ve garnered more attention than I did for fucking up “Baby One More Time” in my inebriated haze. After all the worrying – about how I was dressed, about remembering people’s names and mostly, about drinking – it seemed as though I had handled myself just fine. It was a good night.
And now, I was ready to go home, drink lots of water and go to sleep.