Planes used to fly over our house. A couple of miles away was an airfield called Hawarden, where there was a massive British Aerospace factory; they made Airbus wings, which were then flown to France in a bloated transporter called a Guppy, to be glued onto Airbus bodies.

(Hawarden — just say “harden”.)

Author’s note: This is written from a 2003/4 point of view. UK drinking laws are less restrictive these days, but we’re no better at it.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was spring. Around 2001, perhaps, I don’t know, I was drunk. Sprawled on a bench across the road from Mile End tube, somewhere near the yellow Tellytubby bridge with the bulging lawn on top. It was night – give me some credit, I’m not a daytime bench-sitting Special Brew enthusiast – but it wasn’t dark there on the A11. Cars swooshed by and streetlights glowed. Below the UNDERGROUND sign the station’s yellow lights, white tiles and delay notices promised warmth and the vague possibility of getting home.

To make a Zombie:

1 part white rum
1 part golden rum
1 part dark rum
1 part apricot brandy
1 part pineapple juice
1 part papaya juice
½ part 151-proof rum
Dash of grenadine or other syrup

Add ice and shake all the ingredients with the exception of the 151. Pour into a Zombie glass and then top it with the 151.

A few weeks ago, a prominent newspaper ran an article with the headline: “Women Who Drink Gain Less Weight.” I suspect I was not the only woman who resolved to hit the bottle at once, inspired by promises of alcohol-assisted svelteness. I would be buzzed and beautiful. Liquored up and lithe. Snockered and skinny. I would lose my unloved love handles. The close relationship my thighs had with one another would yield to a passing acquaintanceship. I resolved to buy the big bottle of Maker’s at Costco asap.

Beneath the encouraging declaration was a picture of icy cocktails in slim wineglasses. My girlfriends and I would order extra rounds, tightening our belts as our evenings progressed. We would not be those girls. The ones who drink for the wrong reasons. Men would love us – yes – but they would love us for our steadfast resolve. The investment would be sort of like paying for a gym membership.

I envisioned the Holy Grail: Smaller jeans. I would look great sipping scotch in smaller jeans.

I had not read the article. The (dormant) attorney in me kicked in. The headline did not promise weight loss. It did, however, quite clearly declare that drinkers would gain less weight. I adjusted my enthusiasm accordingly. My jeans size was ok. I would save money on new clothes, both smaller and bigger.

Still, I did not read. I considered less attractive reasons for drunken weight stability. Do women who drink more gain less weight because they pass out before making late-night runs through the Jack in the Box drive-thru for curly fries? Does the cost of alcohol deplete their food budgets?

I’m not a big drinker. Two drinks over the course of an evening does me fine. Maybe three if it’s a very long evening. How much more would I need to drink? Would I need to invest in a flask from which to nip throughout the day? Where does one buy a flask? Are they expensive? Because I would want a really nice one.

I read. The dormant attorney in me was pissed. And not in the way she planned to be.

The article describes a study that does not endorse the promising declaration of the headline.  It ends with the caveat that the study’s findings do not mean that women should drink to lose weight; rather they suggest that women with weight problems are probably not getting their extra calories through alcohol consumption.

It seems I was not the only one peeved with the writer. I did not read all 356 comments, but a number of physicians dismissed the writer’s reasoning as simplistic and chastised her for giving women false hope and potentially harmful advice. Quite a few “fattie” and “drunkard” bashers chimed in. Some provided thoughtful commentary about whether the results of the study were meaningful, in that they did not take into account lifestyle choices, such as drinking sugary sodas or smoking.

A particularly sage commenter agreed that the study was missing an essential component: Wealthy men. By marrying one, she has been able to maintain her petite bottom by going to the gym before hitting the expensive wine with her rich girlfriends or personal trainer.

Her observation is compelling in its simplicity. Though anecdotal, it is difficult to argue with her logic. Longitudinal studies are unnecessary. I am disappointed in myself for not having pursued this avenue.

Upcoming headline: The Sugar Daddy Diet: The Bigger His Wallet, the Smaller Your Jeans.


A dear friend, we’ll call him Dur, and I like to go around remarking—publicly, unapologetically, unselfconsciously*—on other people’s food. It’s a requirement that these people, our targets, be complete strangers: any old Joe and/or Sally out for happy hour or Sunday brunch with the gang.

Dur: “Those people on your right: tell the woman you really like the color of her drink.”

His halfhearted attempt to conceal is amusing and befitting, his high-octane “whisper” and flagrant nod in the direction of the targeted pair—two of maybe a dozen bar patrons including our group of five—on par with the seriously sub-serious nature of what’s about to go down.

Not that they’re noticing a speck of this, it’ll soon become clear, besotted (of love, not drink) as they will appear to be. But anyway.

Such is the task set before me.

“Sure, easy. Lemme just, you know.”

I’m giggling, suddenly back in sixth grade. I feign the sucking in of one deep, brave breath. Or, I take an actual breath, but it’s not, you know, real. Leaning in a little—

“Excuse me.” I’ve plunked myself squarely in the center of a not-me conversation. “I couldn’t help but notice your drink there,” I chance, nodding toward the sugar-rimmed bullseye. “I just really like the color.”

Behind me Dur titters, singeing the edges of our puny and ridiculous façade and leaving us that much closer to seeing our unsophisticated scheme reduced to an all-out play of juvenilia. But I refuse to lose to laughter; I will him neutralized.

And—

“Yeah, it’s a pretty color, huh? I was noticing that earlier actually. Such a nice deep red.”

Her smitten partner nods enthusiastically. “Totally.”

Our eyes connect, lips form why-not smiles, and that’s that.

Well, then.

Fast-forward ten minutes. A friend of Dur’s, Angela, a woman I’ve just met for the first time, declares herself next up.

“I know—I’ll ask if I can help myself to their nut bowl.”

Angela appears quite pleased with her expressed intent, and the rest of us are happy enough to goad her along.

“Haha, good one!” “Ohh, risky business!” “Yeah, do it!”

What ringmasters Dur and I fail to point out is that the nut bowl in question is a communal nut bowl, a nuts-at-no-cost nut bowl. Peanuts for (less than) peanuts, almonds on spec, a filbert free-for-all. (Know that filberts are basically hazelnuts? But then, when was the last time hazelnuts made an appearance in your bar’s communal nut bowl? Anyway.) 

What we fail to point out is—

Who cares? Angela’s hardly going out on a limb here, preparing as she is to solicit the lovebirds for that which is by definition already hers.

At any rate, the whole operation is fairly amusing, and a not unwelcome break from more usual conversational fare: Brooklyn real estate, Prospect Park’s Frisbee culture, von Trier’s latest throw-up fest.

Angela leaves her seat at the bar, saunters over.

“Hey there. Just wondering if it’d be okay if I had a few of those nuts.”

No surprise, she’s well-received.

“By all means, help yourself,” the flushed brunette replies, quick to pass the nuts. She smiles throughout; so does he.

End of (that) story. What had started with an earnest expression of (the frustrations of) self-consciousness—“I find myself thinking about how hard it is for me to imagine doing anything ‘off,’ anything, you know, bizarre and inappropriate just for the hell of it, and it just seems so ridiculous, like kind of a shame”—had culminated in a couple of flimsy, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts at challenging it. And they’d both been flimsy, of course, regardless my grandiose response to Angela’s pass.

As for why they were flimsy, there is some disparity here. Because while Angela’s solicitation was run-of-the-mill, even expected given the bar’s layout/positioning of the nuts, mine at least had the potential for more. For instance, had I insisted on a more straightforward approach, i.e., no surrounding text—simply, craning in close: “I really like the color of your drink, heh”—and if my target had been less, you know, distracted, and if I’d lacked certain physical markers suggestive of innocence, harmlessness, naiveté, maybe then I would’ve had a more solid go at it.

But it played out as it did, which is to say, it played out as it always does for Dur and me: nicely. Good-naturedly. (Drat.)

Part of it, I think, is a default tendency to maintain a sort of social homeostasis—“break the news gently”; “let down lightly”—that desire that people have to present difficult or awkward things in the most pleasant/neutral way possible. And it’s damn hard to override, including on that rare occasion when achieving and maintaining awkwardness is actually sought.

The other week Dur and I, just us two this time, were enjoying happy hour at a quiet Carroll Gardens restaurant. Dur gestures toward the only other occupied table in the place.

“Sit down with them at their table and ask how their dinner was.”

Notice a trend here? Like, that I’m always on the receiving end of these undertakings? Pssh. As if I’m ten years old again: Round Table Pizza dinner with the family, only this time in the shoes of my little brother. (“Hey Kevin, I dare you to go kick that lady in the back of the knee. Do it! I’ll give you the rest of my Cadbury eggs…”) Anyway!

Quite frankly, I’m happy to be on said end. I accept this latest proposal.

With one caveat.

“Hey you guys,” I announce myself, sliding in alongside a big-haired thirtysomething. Almost in the same breath, presumably so as to beat embarrassment: “I’m wondering, how were your meals? See, I’m a food writer [ahem, fib/caveat] and I’m putting together a review on this place,” I finish, sweeping the room with my arm.

Two of the four patrons, their friend-family appearing as five for the time being, chime in immediately.

“I had the lamb salad and it was absolutely delicious, with these olive-y croutons and fried capers.”

Speaker #1, an eager blonde woman, next takes a stab at reviewing her friend’s (lover’s? brother’s?) selection: “He had the Rhode Island scallops and it came with—”

“It was dressed in an apple cider vinaigrette that was just lovely.”

Whoops. Seems someone likes to speak for himself. Anyway.

All four diners weigh in, not one of them questioning, verbally or otherwise, my lack of a notebook and writing instrument. For my part, I channel my inner journalist, affecting an air of inquisitiveness and unyielding concentration while effectively dismissing all mental visions involving the (surely) glinty-eyed, lip-twitching Dur at my back. In other words—

FAIL. Yet again. Damn default.

It’s instructive, I think, to consider the best-case scenario here: I succeed in presenting as “inarguably creepy.” Then what?

The answer: I don’t know. I just haven’t gotten that far yet, and I don’t feel like this is one of those things that lends readily to forecasting. What I do think I know, though, is what’s at the root of these self-/Dur-assigned “challenges,” and therefore I can speculate as to the best-case outcome of the best-case scenario.

Essentially, I think it’s about defying structure: a reaction to the rigidity imposed on us—both by ourselves and by the collective—all as we seek to carve out uniquely satisfying lives. And in my particular case, it isn’t any one thing, but more like an impression: an at-times almost physical sensation of walking with walls on. (Damnit, I WILL discuss my burgeoning spirituality with you, friend with whom it’s never been easy to discuss such matters. Or—bam: wall.)

And re: best-case outcome, though observing out loud the aesthetics of another’s beverage may seem less than germane, it’s really not. Not for me. Because—and this is related—if yelling-slash-singing “You Are My Sunshine” at the top of my goddamn lungs on a packed subway platform** causes the aforementioned walls to bend and bow, even a little bit, well, I’ll drink to that.


*Right.
**Daring my boyfriend, who some time ago came to a sweet understanding of this “thing” of mine, to commit such acts has become a way of projecting my own “stuff” onto another. So like, me: “Come on, babe, if I were to offer you $200 out of hand to go sit on that person’s lap, wouldn’t you do it?” Him: “No.”

 

I woke to the most awesome bright light. It was insufferably bright, in fact, and hurt my head tremendously. I could hear a terrible pounding and I wasn’t sure if that was the headache or the light making me crazy, but after a minute of lying there, I realised it was my door.

“Dude!” Thomas said, laughing almost to the point of falling down the stairs. “Holy shit!”

“Fuck off,” I told him. “What the fuck are you makin’ that goddamn racket for? Banging on my door at this hour…”

I looked down at myself as I said this, and then the strangest thing happened. It was almost as though I flew up and out of my body and looked down upon myself from a place by the ceiling. I could see Thomas at the door, wearing a black polo shirt and beige cargo shorts, laughing and looking away, and there was me – my hair was wild and bedheaded, I was stooped from the hangover, and I was butt naked. Worse, I was holding a fistful of red chilli peppers, and there was a red chilli paste smeared on my stomach. On the floor around my feet there were a dozen oranges and a giant carving knife.

This past February, at this year’s AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago, many of the overheard conversations did not involve the usual topics—Where’s the best place in the city to score a discount bottle of Booker’s bourbon?Do you know anyone who brought a bag of weed?Let’s get drunk/stoned, sit in a circle in someone’s hotel room and read some poetry/fiction/creative nonfiction, then seduce our former Russian Lit/Forms/Creative Writing Pedagogy professor.