Mojito Mouth

For our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Sari Botton

I wasn’t anywhere near sober yet when regret caught up with me on the Trailways bus back upstate. What had I said? And to whom? Seated next to my husband on the 9:30 p.m. out of Port Authority, I replayed some estimation of the regretted conversation in my head, wondering which things I’d actually said, and which I’d ultimately thought better of saying.

And what business had I had drinking mojitos – two of them? I’d never been good at handling hard liquor.

But at the holiday party for the midtown law firm my husband serviced as an I.T. guy, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the tray of tall, sparkly cocktail glasses on the bar, each one garnished with fragrant green mint leaves and a sugar cane stalk for a stirrer. I’d never tried a mojito before. How refreshing and sweet, I thought, and then quickly learned how hard it is to stop drinking something so refreshing and sweet. Even if your lips are going numb. Especially if your lips are going numb.

As the bus snaked through the darkness between the terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel, I worried: Had I in fact blurted to that klatch of lawyers’ wives, whom I didn’t know well, about my impending hysterectomy? All the gory details of why I needed it? Or had I just told that one woman, the pixie-ish lawyer, before we joined the conversation with the wives?

Please let me just have told that one pixie-ish lawyer, I prayed on route 1/9 in New Jersey.

I could live with having told her. She and I had twice before veered onto the subject, if not of reproductive organs then of reproduction in general. At the holiday party two years prior – with maybe only half a glass of wine in me – I’d let her in on my ambivalence about parenthood. I can’t remember what prompted her asking whether my husband and I had plans for a family. Maybe it had to do with our marrying late. Maybe it had to do with the ever-increasing number of offspring who clamored noisily around these company parties.

Or maybe it had to do with the fact that she and her husband didn’t have kids either – and didn’t seem at all unhappy about that. Maybe she was looking to see whether she and I were alike.

“We’re sort of letting the Universe decide whether we’re meant to be parents,” I casually told her at that first party. I was 41 then.

I can’t remember whether at the next party, when I was 42, she’d resumed the conversation or I did. Either way, I reported to her that the Universe seemed to be giving us the big thumbs down, and that my husband and I were both surprised by how disappointed we felt. “We feel as if we’re failing, and yet this is something we aren’t even sure we’re interested in,” I explained.

That’s when the pixie-ish lawyer told me she and her husband had tried and failed, too, and despite their initial sadness, came to be very glad about it.

“You know,” she said with a knowing smile, “the Dalai Lama says those who can’t have children are off the hook for this lifetime.”

Off the hook. What a concept.

I thought a lot about those words the following year, especially when it became clear that I needed to have the operation. I realized that I wanted to be off the hook. Aside from the physical relief the surgery would offer me, it would provide another type of relief as well. In some ways, having kids always seemed like this big, awful test I’d never be fully prepared for – like the SAT. Now I’d be officially off the hook.

This much I know for certain about the night of the mojitos, the party where I was 43: This time I deliberately sought out the pixie-ish lawyer to tell her my latest development and, more importantly, let her know what a help her words from the prior party had been. Whatever small, cordial kinship I’d felt with her before now felt more significant. She’d shown me that you can be okay – shown me how to be okay – with not being a parent like everyone else. I was touched and grateful. Yes, we are alike, I wanted to finally tell her.

What I hadn’t figured on was giving her a graphic, anatomical accounting of everything that had ever been wrong with my plumbing, including a blow-by-blow history of my crippling cramps (and more! I am sparing you, dear reader) beginning at menarche. And I certainly hadn’t planned on sharing all that with the larger group, the wives, whom we’d eventually joined.

Almost two years later, thanks to a couple of potent drinks, it remains unclear to me whether I did or I didn’t.

Sari Botton previously wrote two  wonderful essays, “The Sweet Smell of Excess,” and “Ode to the Ludlow Street Cafe” for Drinking Diaries. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, The Village Voice, MORE, Marie Claire, Self, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and many other publications, as well as on WAMC radio and NPR. Her website is saribotton.com and she blogs at www.rosendaleramblings.com

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Dogs & Wine


by Caren Osten Gerszberg

The text goes out or comes in each and every weekday some time between 12 and 5. It typically reads: “Dogs and wine today?”

That would be one of the loveliest texts I send or receive on a typical day (other than declarations of love from my children or husband). On as many afternoons as possible, in between carpools, dinner prep and homework assistance, my friend and neighbor, Michele, and I convene with our dogs and a glass of wine.

Sometimes, the meeting takes place on her front steps, and we sip as our two 75-plus pound dogs run, tumble, bark or just lie resting nearby. On other days, the scene moves to either the front of my house, or the back patio, depending on how destroyed the grass is by the dogs from a previous day. The backyard allows us to lounge under the shade of our pergola on a hot day, or soak up the sun on a double chaise lounge while again, the dogs frolick on their own.

On certain days, the decision of where to meet depends on who has a bottle of wine open. Or if Michele’s young daughter is home and can’t be left alone, but she’s got no wine on-hand, I’ll just bring some from my house. It’s simply part of the ritual, on any day but Monday (that’s a whole separate story, but I don’t drink on Mondays).

Depending on the day, kids from either home will come out and visit us, or just say hi to the dogs. Invariably, though, it’s just my friend and I. Over wine and dogs, we talk about everything. It could be kids, husbands, friendships, plans, yoga, aging mothers, travels or gardening. It can touch the surface of anything and everything, but at times goes very deep.

Ginger and Obie at play

I remember a time when my husband and I weren’t getting along, and those regular sessions on Michele’s stoop were as good as any therapy I’d pay for. I’d recount, and sometimes cry. She’d listen and listen some more, comfort and advise.

When Michele’s mother had a tragic bicycle accident resulting in a brain injury, I tried to keep our stoop and patio get togethers as regular as possible, so I could commiserate about the loss of the mother she knew, and provide whatever solace I could. It was my turn to be there for her to lean on.

While the dogs sniff, chew and wrestle, we’ve discussed our career struggles in great length. Her desire to balance a creative career with family and motherhood. Mine to do the same. We share our travel plans, suggesting destinations, restaurants and sites if we are able, and eventually at a later date listen to the aftermath of the trips with anticipation.

What we drink is secondary to our conversation, but the wine has simply become part of the ritual. We’ve drunk in everything from stemless to juice glasses, paper cups to goblets. It all depends on what’s closest at hand, or for me, what my mood is that day.

The weather may determine the color we drink—I’m partial to rose wine on a warm spring or summer day. Red is good any time of year. Interestingly, Michele and her family are partial to French wines, so that’s what we consume chez elle. My husband and I circle the globe in our wine tastes and tend to go for American, Italian and South American wines.

The variety of wine matches the variety of topics from which we can choose. Our friendship stands alone, but is greatly enhanced by our end of the day tradition of dogs and wine. It makes 5:30 pm very appealing.

Caren Osten Gerszberg is a co-founder/editor of the Drinking Diaries. You can see a selection of her work at www.carenosten.com, and follow her on twitter: @carenosten

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The Best Kind of Drinking Buddy

For our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Leah Odze Epstein

Jen* and I were drinking buddies of the best kind—we always had fun, and it never got ugly. When she got tipsy, or even drunk, she never lost her aura—she became even more upbeat, full of laughter, and prone to shouting things like “Woo hoo!”

A healthy New England girl, raised in a heavy-drinking seaside town, Jen was the kind of girl whose favorite phrase was “buck up,” who’d waitressed in haunted taverns since she was 14, whose father took her outside to greet a crackling thunderstorm instead of ordering her down to the basement to take cover. I was the anti-cheerleader, the one-toe-in-the-water-girl who didn’t learn how to drive a car until my late twenties. I reveled in Jen’s ability to plunge in; I soaked up her positivity like a vitamin in which I was deficient.

For Jen, drinking was an expected part of life, like eating or breathing. I came from a house where alcohol was forbidden. Even though my mother had been sober since I was nine, I always felt that she was on shaky ground, and that alcohol was dangerous. And maybe it was—for her—but I was tired of ruling out that pleasure for myself.

Jen and I met while working as news assistants at a large metropolitan newspaper. She had journalistic aspirations; I didn’t. She took her job seriously, and worked hard, moving up the ladder to eventually write her own pieces.

At the paper, they had a newsletter called “Winners and Sinners.” We knew we’d never make the cut for that one, so we invented our own imaginary newsletter, “Boozers and Losers.” We didn’t take anything too seriously, yet. We didn’t have to. We were making decent salaries, and the weight of responsibility hadn’t kicked in yet. Drinking every night went along with that laissez-faire attitude.

I swear, I never believed in auras until I met Jen, but she had a bright yellow light around her, always. Her mood was infectious, and she never failed to lighten me up. It wasn’t like her life had been so rosy. She’d had her share of hardships–a family history of depression, divorce, suicide and alcoholism–but she was wired to focus on the brighter things—cooking, eating, drinking, exercising, hanging out with friends and family.

Jen and her sister were inseparable, and—lucky for us!—her sister worked at a hip watering hole in the city where we lived. We spent many a night drinking together, hooting and hollering at the bar where her sister worked, or at parties. We also spent our share of nights commiserating about men at Dollar Beer nights in our neighborhood bar. We talked about books, writing, movies, politics, our families, guys, and our dreams. But mostly we just shot the shit. She must have saved her angst for when she was alone, because I rarely saw it.

Eventually, though, as we matured—Jen got more serious about her career and I moved in with my boyfriend—our drinking habits changed, too. And this is the part of our shared drinking story that I love best.

Every night after work, I would call Jen, and she would head to my new apartment. Sometimes she supplied the wine; sometimes I did. Red in winter; white in summer. Gato Negro because it was cheap. Ca’ Del Solo because we liked the bottle. Drinking with Jen was like the hug at the end of the day. Was the friendship the hug or the drinking? I’m sure it was both.

We’d turn out the lights and sit, sipping our wine, staring out the row of windows at the glittering lights of the city, talking about our writing dreams, waiting for my boyfriend to get home so he could join us for the last glass. And then the three of us would go boldly into the night, arms linked, in search of a delicious meal.

There couldn’t have been a better threesome. We all brought out the best in each other; talking for hours, waving our hands, conjuring up some crazy scheme or other for my boyfriend’s business or our writing careers.

But eventually, it had to end. Three became four, as my boyfriend and I got married and had a baby. Jen moved to the opposite coast to be near her sister and pursue her career.

I still miss Jen and those carefree days. The last time I saw her, my husband and I were staying in a hotel on the West coast with our then toddler son in tow. Jen drove down to see us. For a few hours, we sat together in the heated pool, sipping margaritas and talking and laughing as the sky turned shades of orange and pink.

When you’re drinking the right alcohol in the right amount with the right friend, the whole world seems to take on a rosy glow.

Leah Odze Epstein is the co-editor of Drinking Diaries. You can follow her on twitter at @Leaheps.

*name has been changed

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Recipe For Disaster–Just Add Alcohol

For our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Tara T. Handron

It was ‘like’ at first sight. I knew when I saw her bright blonde hair, red bow and magnetic smile that Melissa* and I were going to be great friends. She oozed fun. I also liked that before freshman orientation even began, she, too, was looking for the party, any party. We did crazy things when we were drunk, like hitting up the Pizza Hut for free pizza at 2:00 AM as it was closing or setting off dorm fire alarms. It was fun, for a while. Our college years passed, and I transferred schools, but our friendship remained strong.

After graduation, one visit in particular sent our friendship off course in a way I never expected. We were heading to a bar in DuPont Circle in Washington, DC.  Not an out of the ordinary evening. Driving down N Street, I shared from the back seat my views on clinical psychology versus social work. My arrogant and ignorant views, I should say. I thought having a psychologist father and having made a few trips in my life to the shrink’s office (not my dad’s) somehow qualified me to comment.  It most certainly didn’t, especially when I was dismissing the social work field, the field that Melissa was presently toiling away in at graduate school.

My insensitivity was overwhelmingly obvious to everyone but me, and I hadn’t even started drinking yet that night!  To make matters worse, Melissa* was in the midst of a particularly challenging semester.  She was in a rough spot, and so was I. While this doesn’t excuse my behavior, my drinking and my life’s circumstances had me in a bit of a depression. What a recipe for disaster–just add alcohol.

I doubt I need to describe what happened later in the evening after we both had been drinking.  Some people get mushy, but—when imbibing–I have found myself in many more contentious situations than kind, compassionate ones. Frankly, I almost can’t describe it because it is very blurry (my drinking can be categorized as some sporadic fun/incident-free moments mixed in with many black and brown outs). We were yelling at each other and probably looking pretty crazy.  She let me have it and had every right to do so.

The next morning we barely spoke as I gathered up my things to leave.  By the time I left, Melissa* was nowhere to be found.  Years passed, and I wondered what went wrong (duh!?). I assumed there was no repairing the situation.

For years, the event baffled me, until I was in recovery. I found out that my illness goes far beyond my inability to safely consume and metabolize alcohol.  My physical allergy to alcohol is quite nicely paired with a host of insecurities, fears, and coping mechanisms that greatly impact my ability to unselfishly connect. Part of my recovery process involved going back to the people I harmed and making amends for my behavior.  Sure enough, Melissa was on that list.

I was very lucky.  When I finally had the courage to call Melissa and apologize for the harm I caused her, she lovingly and graciously listened.

Today, I check in with her as often as I can, which still isn’t often enough.  I send her birthday cards that for a few years were always early because I mixed her date up with another friend, to whom I was practicing a living amend.  This is about progress, not perfection, right?

For me, while alcohol sometimes made moments more exciting or wild, it was always fleeting. The fun never lasted. It couldn’t. I am grateful today to have relationships of substance that aren’t artificially buffered or irreversibly wrecked by alcohol.  Recovery and being blessed with incredibly gracious people in my life has made that possible.  I just remembered–I owe Melissa a call.

*Names have been changed.

Tara T. Handron is an actor, writer, and communications/change management consultant in Washington, DC.  She is the founder of What’s a Girl to Do Productions. She wrote, produced and has performed in her one-woman show, Drunk with Hope in Chicago, about 20+ women and their experiences with alcoholism and recovery.

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Love the One You’re With

jewelryFor our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Kitty Sheehan

Isn’t everyone you drink with your buddy? For a while, at least. Buddy, BFF, brother, sister, Iloveyouman. That’s what it’s all about.

You, a stranger, and Bushmills neat. Pretty soon you’re gushing, “I think this is the beginning of a bewdaful frennship.” Only later do you discover you were really talking to the Bushmills.

Several years ago, I was headed to visit my sisters-in-law for a girls’ weekend in Texas. This was during a phase in my life when I was so afraid to fly that I had to have two martinis just to board a plane. Well, that was my story anyway.  

I’d been making earrings as a hobby all summer, and I had a box of them in my carry-on to give (and sell) to my six sisters-in-law. I had at least 50 pairs. They were beautiful: sterling silver and vintage beads, and I couldn’t have been more excited to show them off.

As I stood in line to check my bag, it became apparent that a posse of Mary Kay ladies was headed to Dallas too, for a convention. Surprise, the one behind me in line was darn chatty.

An announcement said our flight was delayed. More time for another drink before boarding. My girl from the check-in line and I bonded at the bar while watching the Summer Olympics.

By the time we were on the plane, night had fallen, and so had all my walls that were supposed to filter my idiotic behavior. I told my new pal about my fabulous jewelry. She wanted to see it.

Viewed through the bifocals of beer and martinis, my earrings had become as splendid and rare as any jewels Richard Burton had ever given Liz Taylor. Less expensive too: a real plus.

“OH MY GOD THESE ARE GORGEOUS!” she yelled. I sat next to her, glowing with happiness. Happy that I’d bought her that cute little bottle of Absolut a few minutes ago, especially.

The flight attendant came to see what was so gorgeous. “OOOOOH, they are!” Funny, I hadn’t seen her drinking on the flight.

“Are these for sale?” They both asked at once. “Hell yeah,” sayeth moi.

My seatmate took the box around to share with the other Mary Kay gals. Any pair containing a smidge of PINK was snapped up instantly in a squeal of joy.

By the time the frenzy was done, I had about ten remaining pairs. I half expected the pilot to emerge from the cockpit wearing some turquoise and onyx number to match his uniform. I also thought I might get some kind of citation for soliciting, but the flight attendant seemed okay with the whole thing. I treated her to a pair.

My brother-in-law was waiting to meet me at the airport; in fact, there were three of him waiting for me at the airport. I remember trying to focus on something, anything, as he drove me to their house. I pretty much went straight to bed.

The next morning, I woke to the sounds of my sisters-in-law chatting happily over coffee downstairs. It’d been almost a year since I’d seen a couple of them, and I loved them all dearly.

I tried to move. That didn’t seem imminent. In fact, I thought if I did move, I’d dislodge something that needed to exit my body, and I didn’t want that to happen while I was still in bed. I went back to sleep.

I woke up later when they came to jump on my bed and force me out of it.

“EARRINGS! WE WANT EARRINGS!” They couldn’t wait to see what I’d brought. They had a scarf laid out on the dining room table so I could display my wares. (There’d been a little build-up about this.)

I laughed and struggled to the shower, still not remembering that I’d sold almost all the goods to a planeload of strangers. The realization hit me about the same time the water did. Shit.

I honestly don’t remember what all I said to them when I had to explain the lack of inventory.

Funny how that works, huh. Your brain can remember some bad behavior up till the part where you have to ‘splain your way out of it.

This particular episode of Drinking with Buddies is from 14 years ago. I’ve been sober for the last nine of those.

What’s changed since then?

I’m hardly ever scared on planes any more.  I usually try to ignore the person next to me while not being scared. I still love those sisters-in-law, but I have all new ones now.

And if I tell you I’m bringing you something, I do.

Kitty Sheehan is a writer for a spices & seasonings company, mom, wife, and photographer living in the Hudson Valley. A former teacher, consignment store owner, graphic designer, and corporate trainer, her blog is Return to Bohemia.

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