Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eat, drink, and be merry (but please eat)

When I say I don’t drink, most people think it’s because I have a tortured relationship with alcohol or I’m so uptight that I’ve never had a drink in my life.  Neither is true.

                It is true that tasting my parent’s wine as a child (under their supervision) convinced me at an early age that booze tasted ‘nasty.’

But when I moved to England, I resolved that I would become a ‘total Brit’ and that meant drinking deeply of all of the new experiences the UK had to offer—and just drinking deeply.
Flickr: brostad

After all, I had read a number of biographies of Michael Caine and Peter O’Toole.  I felt that to assimilate--as I wished to do--required me to drink.  And drink more. My suspicions that I had to increase my alcohol consumption were confirmed by my new circle of friends.

While some of my college friends had woken up in other people’s dorm rooms, my new friend Andy had once woken up in  Wales. You know you’re a serious drinker when you begin the night in the Midlands and wake up in a land where ‘w’ is a vowel and you have to call your father to pick you up.

                At first, I limited myself to a glass or two of white or red. Then one day, I was asked by one of my new friends to participate in a ‘murder mystery’ night to celebrate the opening of a new Waterstone's bookstore. The PR event would involve a staged (bloodless) murder, followed by a cocktail reception hosted by actors pretending to be 'suspects.'  At the end of the murder mystery, the killer's identity would be announced.

                 They needed an American to play one of the sleazy-looking ‘criminals.’  No salary, but Waterstone’s would feed the actors dinner beforehand.

                I arrived, dressed in an appropriately tarty outfit to find that the free ‘dinner’ was a tiny bowl of ten small strawberries, a frightening-looking cold sausage that looked like a rawhide chew toy, and one bottle of wine per actor.  There were no glasses, but one of my fellow actors located some tiny mouthwash cups in the Waterstone’s employee restroom (or water closet, as it is called across the pond).

                While I knew that I could handle a glass of wine with food, I’d never drank on an empty stomach before. I also had no idea how many mouthwash cups added up to a glass—or a bottle—of wine.  However, I was hungry and nervous, and I nibbled away at my two strawberries, and drank and refilled—and drank some more—from my Dixie cup.

                There is a blank patch in my memory between the flowers on the wax paper cup and staggering out of the bookstore reception room after the event. I was told that I played my role as an obnoxious American quite well. I do remember the bathroom, or 'water closet,' however.
Flickr: Alaskan Dude

The sign for the WC wasn't quite as noble-looking as this one, but the happiness I found upon reaching the WC was majestic.

I do remember being sick, staring at the toilet. I was quietly alarmed at the redness I saw and then I remembered the strawberries I had eaten.  It wasn’t blood.
This floor feels so cool. So nice against my cheek,” I thought. I had felt sick but lying on the tile, I didn’t feel so bad.  “I’ll just rest here for a bit, and then I’ll feel better.” It seemed so logical!

I awoke to the sound of a blaring alarm. A woman in a bathrobe and a policeman were standing nearby.  Apparently, I had passed out, fallen asleep, and set off the bookstore’s burglar alarm in the middle of the night.

The woman was the manager of the store. She had been called by the police after the alarm had begun to clang.

For some reason, I didn’t feel very upset.  I pleasantly explained what had happened, and they called me a cab, which I took to the YMCA where I was staying.  I lay in bed for an hour or two, and then went to work.  I felt a bit achy, mostly from laying in a fetal position for several hours near a toilet.

 On my way to work, I walked past a McDonald’s.  I hadn’t eaten at McDonald’s in years, but I found myself walking in and ordering a biscuit with egg and cheese. 
Flickr: callmecrochet

I had sobered up enough to remember I was a vegetarian, so I ordered it specially made without any bacon or sausage.  It tasted delicious, as did the symmetrically perfect square hash brown, coffee and orange juice I got with it.

By mid-morning, my headache began and slowly I understood what had transpired the night before.

Of course, I had to call the man who had arranged the PR event, and soon the story spread.

“Did you get a lot of reading done?” asked one of my friends in that tone of voice that the British use to let stupid Americans know how very, very grateful they are to have lost the Revolutionary War.

Moral: If your first instinct when drunk is to eat some high-fiber fruit and pass out in a bookstore, you shouldn’t be doing any heavy drinking.

 I didn’t stop drinking after that, but my illusions of ever becoming someone who could imbibe with wild abandon were dead.  There is something in me that just doesn’t love alcohol.  It’s not even the loss of control.  It’s that every time I drink, I remember how dreadful it feels to drink too much, and that kills whatever buzz I feel before it starts.
              I prefer to save my calories for chocolate—and an extra egg and cheese biscuit. 

              And I have come to the sad realization I shall never wake up in Wales, without a great deal of planning beforehand.  The best I can hope for is eating Welsh Rarebit.  A proper Welsh Rarebit is made with beer, cheese, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, butter, and cream.  Reading the poetry of Dylan Thomas aloud while eating is optional.

               However, even here I usually opt for a more chaste mixture of 3 or 4 tablespoons of shredded cheddar, a teaspoon of  butter, a splash of milk and Dijon mustard, followed with a sprinkle of paprika, if I'm feeling especially spicy. Spread on buttered toast, and then crisped under the broiler until brown.


  1. I have a similar relationship to alcohol and my own night of horrors, followed by a nightmare day which is forever etched in my memory. Do you think we'd be more suseptible to alcoholism without those experiences, or would our inner voice still scream "NO, NO, NO MORE!" at the appropriate moment? Unfortunately, I don't remember the food. I was sick for a week. Great story, fun read!

  2. I definitely have a 'no more' reflex when it comes to alcohol--this story is the one exception in my life. It doesn't seem to make me 'happy' as it does other people--although I certainly have an obsessive and addictive mindset about many other things.

    I'm tempted to say I'm a very bad Irishwoman, although my great Irish grandmother was said to only have a shot of whiskey for toothaches and cold as 'medicine.'