Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.
Karen Karbo is the author of the novels, Trespassers Welcome Here, The Diamond Lane and Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me. She wrote a memoir, The Stuff of Life, about the last year she spent with her father before his death. Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, the New York Times, Salon.com and other magazines. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a winner of the General Electric Younger Writer Award. How Georgia Became O’Keeffe is the third and final installment in what she calls her kick ass women trilogy. How to Hepburn, published in 2007, was hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “an exuberant celebration of a great original”; and the best-selling The Gospel According to Coco Chanel was published in 2009. Karen grew up in Los Angeles, California and lives in Portland, Oregon where she continues to kick ass.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Karen Karbo: I’m going to say 15–a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. It’s somewhat amazing that this was not also my last drink, given the miserable outcome. There was so much throw-up on the side of my mother’s car we had take it through the do-it-yourself car wash at 1:00 a.m.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
They were monkish in their devotion to Martoonie Hour (Vermouth waved over the glass; onions, not olives).
How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?
I’m like some grizzled old barrister at his gentleman’s club in 1948, by which I mean I like my single malt Scotch, neat. The Man of the House is partial to parasol drinks and whenever we go out, one hundred percent of the time the bartender or waiter puts the Scotch in front of him, and the Fuzzy Navel or the Panty Ripper in front of me.
We’ve offered wine with dinner to the kid since she was sixteen, a sure way of inoculating her against the exotic allure of Strawberry Hill. We pour ourselves a drink while we’re cooking dinner. It’s a complete non-issue. I suppose if we were bigger boozers it would be.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
I only drink single malt Scotch. I worship at the altar of Lagavulin. I love Jura and Ardbeg. In a pinch, I’ll do Laphroig. The smokier the better. The peatier the better. The more I feel as if I’m drinking a campfire, the better. I wish I was someone who loved red wine. It seems as if all the people on earth who know how to live and how to enjoy life love red wine. But one glass gives me a headache, not to mention dingy teeth. Scotch is to the point. There’s a no bullshit quality about it that appeals. Plus, I’ve never had a Scotch hangover. In this way, it’s perfect.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
Two notable drinking moments–both quite different–spring to mind. Long ago, when I was just old enough to go into a 7/11 and buy my own can of beer, I had a date with a boy I loved. A lot. It was a cold, clear California night in December. An hour before the date I bought a bottle of Heineken, and sat on the hood of my car in the parking lot and looked up at the black sky and thought that life couldn’t get much better. This is the LA version of Flaubert’s professed best memory: of walking through Paris on his way to the bordello. I don’t remember that particular date, but I do remember that beer. The other best time occurred on a dive boat off an island in the Maldives; the bar on board had Lagavulin, which I first tasted one evening while we were crossing the Kardiva Channel. Look up ‘bliss’ in the dictionary and you’ll find me sitting on the stern, watching the sunset and sipping my drink.
What about the worst time?
It’s quite possible I almost killed myself doing shots of tequila in Tijuana twenty years ago. I’m still not completely recovered.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
There’s a book called Round Ireland With a Fridge that really captures what I’ll euphemistically call pub-life in Ireland. An Englishman named Tony Hawks made a drunken bet that he could hitchhike around the circumference of Ireland with refrigerator (like one of those ones kids have in their dorm rooms). Not only is he able to easily achieve his goal, he becomes a folk hero in Ireland where, as we know, people love a mouthful of the Guinness.
What do you like most about drinking?
It’s a grown-up excuse for those of us who are not smokers to give ourselves a time out.