I have never been a serious drinker.
Even now, I have a small, private feeling of pride that my go-to drink has
become a jack & coke, with lime – a drink I converted to from my standard vodka & tonic after tasting it in the kisses of my lover during so many nights out, the smoky whiskey mixing with the salt of his lips, working together to introduce the liquor’s heat to me in a way I found sexy and welcoming. Soon, I started to crave those mingled flavors and would order his drink, even when he wasn’t around. The taste of it comforted me and sent a thrill into me, as if he were there, pulling my ice-chilled lower lip into his mouth.
It took me nearly 18 years to build up a tolerance capable of enjoying whiskey, however. I had to put some effort into it.
When I made the choice to move to California, I decided that I needed to learn how to drink better. I was 19.
At that time I was deeply ensconced in the satisfying small urban comfort of knowing that I could walk into any number of establishments and the bartender would begin making my drink – at Club Soda it was a rum & coke, at CW Michaels it was a Baileys on the rocks. At Munchee Mart the owner knew I’d buy a six-pack of Woodchuck cider. My drinks were sweet and hid the actual taste of alcohol well enough that I often had more than was necessary or advisable.
Upon hearing of my plans to move to the touristy military town of Monterey, my friend Corr nobly and determinedly took it upon himself to teach me to ‘drink right.’ He didn’t want me being made fun of by salty old bar regulars and seasoned career waiters while trying to establish myself in a new town.
Our experiment failed. My goal was to be able to walk into a bar and order a martini – very simple, classy, easy. My mentor insisted that I must, at the very least, know how to drink a manhattan. Neither worked. Over the course of several evenings, Corr got smashingly intoxicated as he ordered one after another of the types of cocktails he believed would impress even the most advanced connoisseurs, each of which I would take a small sip before rejecting it with a dramatic, fire-in-the-throat display of choking pain and sloppy gulping of water.
Corr would drink my rejected cocktails as he ordered something else for me to try, insistent that I not puss out. After he gave up on my education for the night, we would drive around in his long, sleek 1972 Fleetwood Brougham, waving to friends as we passed by their porches, honking at dogs on the street as we crossed over the train tracks.
Days before I packed up my rusty Ford Escort for the cross-country drive to my new life, I was massively purging my heavy weather items into the arms of eager friends. It had been a record year for snow and cold, and shedding the items it had taken me to get through it was an act of much-needed therapy as I prepared for a warmer life. On the final night of my drinking education, Corr came to my apartment to collect me just as I was emptying a closet of winter coats. “What will I do with this fabulous thing?” I asked him, holding up a dark brown faux fur car coat that was four sizes too big for me.
His eyes lit up – “I want it.” I handed it over and he put it on, laughing. It was an oppressive late summer evening, but the coat fit him perfectly and he wanted to wear it out. He put his hands into the pockets and with his right, pulled out a small pair of lacy underwear. “These yours?”
“Oh, hey!” I held out my hand and grinned. “I’ve been looking for those!” He shook his head slowly, handed them over, and said we should go. I tried to explain, “I was at Prince night in Chicago and my plastic pants were too tight for underwear, the lines were showing, and it was too cold to take off my coat and I didn’t have a purse or anything so when I went to the bathroom I just took them off and put them in my pocket. I’m so excited you found them! Those are my best underwear!”
In the end, we settled on vodka & tonic as my California cocktail. Corr acquiesced that this drink, while not terribly hardcore or manly, would at least carry me through the years in a much more respectable manner than Baileys on the rocks. And of course he was right.
I haven’t seen Corr since the night I gave him my fur coat and we decided on the drink that would carry me over the next 18 years. I hear he’s still driving around old Cadillacs. I know I’m still shoving panties into my pocket when they aren’t working with my outfit. I hope that I get to sit down with him one day and buy him a cocktail, to show him how far I’ve come since the days he spent schooling me.
I think he would be proud.