Picture this: I'm sitting at home with my mother, who is in the other room bed with James Garner. We have just eased into that brilliant moment, usually between eight or nine, when you feel your soul settle and the malaise of sleep beckons in the near future. Suddenly, our quiet revelry is interrupted by a rather boisterous knock on the door. I, being the grand matron that I am, wait for my mom to answer the door, as I can't be bothered to avert my gaze from my biography of James Levine. She opens the door and is greeted by a former neighbor of ours. This man is the epitome of White Trash, a man whose primary meal is a constant stream of Budweiser, despite the fact that his doctor told him, in no uncertain terms, that his liver was screaming like Donald Trump at a Quinceniera. Although he moved several months ago, he insists on coming back with his harridan wife to both amuse and annoy us. This night he's going stag, shirtless, and comes up to see if we wanted to "come down for a beer", which is code for "I lost my license many years ago, so I need a ride to the liquor store." My mom promptly gave him some hap-ass answer and sent him on his merry way.
Hearing this exchange germinated a seed that has been growing inside my brain for quite some time:
When does the casual drink become an addiction?
Quick fact: I did not drink a drop of booze until I was 21. I know some of you are shocked because I have the eccentricities of a grand lush, but I must disarm your notions. I do not have an addictive personality and I can have one drink with dinner, two if I'm feeling particularly daring, and three if I'm at a Blackhawks game. Mind you, my drink of choice isn't beer or wine, which cause you to have to go relieve yourself every five minutes because of the sheer volume it takes to get toasted. My drink is a good quality Vodka Gimlet, which I believe is the perfect drink because of its enticing combination of tart lime and the vodka, which provides just the perfect level of octane.
I have watched people around me, first in college and subsequently in real life, pour booze down their throats like dying men in a desert. I have seen normal, timid, and polite people turn into raving maniacs with the libidos of frat boys and the charm of Charlie Sheen after a visit to the Betty Ford Clinic. I have seen families torn asunder and potentially great minds dulled to the point of sloth.
There is a man in the neighborhood whom the neighbors talk about. He was once a family man, with a life like millions around the world. He had a wife, children, a house, and the kind of life the normal mortal seizes upon. That is, until he discovered Pabst Blue Ribbon. In a relatively short time of a few months, this man corroded his relationship with his wife, who then took the kids and divorced him, causing him to drink more, lose his job, and literally fry his brain. He now wanders around town on his bike, having lost his license, buying a gallon of bleach every day and checking movies out of the library.
That scenario makes you all the more thankful if you life hasn't been touched by the gnarled talons of alcoholism. To see a person devoid of a life without alcohol controlling their every move is one of the most depressing sights imaginable. Yet, it is entirely in the hands of the person drinking. When you're a drunk, you have no one to blame but yourself. It doesn't matter how you started, if your dad gave you a sip of beer and you've been drinking ever since, or how you will end up, as the choice of action is yours and yours alone.
My friend once told me, "I only drink to get drunk." That mentality is what creates alcohol dependence. We have lost the simple pleasure of the casual cocktail. Whether it is drinking during dinner or at a party, there are very few with the will-power to say, "I'll only have one." Escapism is one of the reasons they choose to keep pouring the drink down their throats, trying to forget the wrong turns they've taken and the relationships they've left in the dust. These people enter a world painted with port wine and carpeted with Bailey's Irish Cream.
These people enter a world painted with port wine and carpeted with Bailey's Irish Cream. They hide alcohol in their cars, in their desks at work, and sometimes in their children's toy boxes. I had a professor in college who used to keep small bottles of whiskey in the small fridge in his office to dump into his morning coffee, which eventually explained why he had staggering mood swings during an hour-long class. He once chewed me out for accidentally yawning during class and forgetting to put my hand up in front of my mouth.
One drink with dinner is something to be relished. The aura permeates your mind, you can have more fun, while not worrying about driving home inebriated or making an ass out of yourself. You can hold your thread of the conversation without asking people to repeat themselves after you fade away. I for one want to go back to the time where men had a drink with dinner, a single drink to relax the muscles after a long day of work.
My motivation for being an advocate of the casual cocktail is some wise words of advice my director and friend Tom gave me, while we watched my fellow castmates getting soused at our weekend retreat: "No one wants to talk to a drunk."
Those of you who are reading today, I ask you to share your experiences with people who abuse alcohol in your lives. What do you think of the casual cocktail? Do you think it's an unrealistic standard or do you see it as a healthy way of living?