Interview with Kate Bolick, Author of the Forthcoming Book, “Among the Suitors: Single Women I Have Loved”

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.

Kate Bolick is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, and author of the forthcoming book, “Among the Suitors: Single Women I Have Loved,” an outgrowth of her recent Atlantic cover story.

Drinking Diaries: How do you approach alcohol in your every day life? 

Kate Bolick: Dinner doesn’t feel like dinner without two glasses of wine. But I don’t have dinner every night. Each week I forget to eat at least twice, and I always reserve one night for me, a book, and a bowl of cereal (shredded wheat, usually), which doesn’t really count as dinner, thank God, as wine and cereal sounds revolting.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less? 

Though my friends started drinking in high school, I held out (I was afraid of it, basically), but rather than simply not drink and just quietly do my own non-drinking thing, I was all flouncy about it, and convinced my friend Jana, a fellow non-drinker, to be Vice President of my Clean Liver Club (I was President, naturally). We made business cards with a line drawing of a clean liver—an amorphous blob with a slight resemblance to South America, which happens to be what a liver sort of looks like. We were the only members. My high-mindedness didn’t last through college, and then it completely evaporated after my mother died in my early 20s and I couldn’t cope with my grief.  I still wasn’t a very experienced drinker at that point, so my bingeing entailed a lot of going off the rails, though this is what I was seeking, obviously.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

So I love wine with dinner. I love the taste, the ritual, the endless variety, the multiplicity of labels, how there’s no limit on what there is to learn, and that I have a lifetime to figure out what I like and don’t like. (These days Sancerre is my favorite white. Though I like all reds except Chianti, I particularly like the really expensive reds that I’m occasionally served by generous hosts and could never afford on my own. It’s as if red is divided into two categories: the fabulously evocative elixirs of the very rich, and the perfectly good stuff for the rest of us.)

For just sitting around with a friend at a bar, or at cocktail parties, nothing beats vodka—vodka and soda water with lime, or on very rare occasions a vodka gimlet, or vodka in some fancy old-timey new-Brooklyn concoction with those artisanal ice cubes that look like mini-icebergs. I swear that vodka makes me the happiest, and doesn’t give me a hangover. But nothing transports me like the smell of sherry. I loved my grandmother, and I loved her habit of quietly relishing a little glass of sherry in the evening. It was so delicate and civilized, and sometimes she’d let me have a sip, so the taste took on this wonderfully nostalgic resonance. The day I turned 21, I drove to a liquor store and bought my own bottle.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

So many! I am such a happy drunk. But once a dashing Italian served me a tiny chilled glass of laurel liquor made from his garden, and I felt very charmed and sophisticated.

What about the worst time?

Oh, dear—too many to recount. I just started typing out a real ringer, about the time in my early 20s that I went to a Halloween party dressed as a movie star from outer space and hit a very bad end by 9:30pm, but it was too painful to see it committed to print. Even more embarrassing is my Christmas party two years back, both for being so recent and so stupid. All day I madly baked piles of sugar cookies, completely forgot to eat, and at 9:30pm (my witching hour, it seems), looked down to see a glass of eggnog in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, and knew it was all downhill from there.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

Not particularly. But I do find it interesting that there are those friends I love drinking with, and those friends I simply don’t drink with, for no reason other than, well, we just don’t. Once I was involved with a non-drinking pot-smoker, and I admit it bummed me out that we couldn’t drink together.

What do you like most about drinking?

That there are so many ways to drink: Sitting on the sofa with a dear old friend catching up over a lovely bottle (this was my last night, actually); getting soused and heedless at a party; bringing a six pack to the beach. I don’t get drunk too often these days, but when it does happen I love that hinge moment of going from perfectly relaxed to this other, more loose, sort of endless space.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Mostly, I feel very fortunate to not struggle with alcoholism myself.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

Okay, what I probably am is a clean and bubbly vodka and soda water. But I wish I were something mysterious, like absinthe, or a snifter of Old Pogue being savored by a bourbon enthusiast.

Share

Interview with Karen Karbo, journalist and author of “How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living”

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.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

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.


Share

The Grinder

72873013MT002_Retailers_HopBy Deirdre Sinnott

Much like the Mickey Mouse Club, I too had my “Anything Can Happen” days. When I was drinking, Mickey might not have made an appearance, but other rodents did.

One of my messiest nights began at Macy’s. It was just before Christmas. Mary, a friend from a theater group I worked with, and I sweated on a long line waiting to buy a pepper grinder. This was the first simple, hand-cranking pepper mill I’d found after searching in various stores.

Mary was due to sing at the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan. Each year the businesses at the Market set up bleachers made to resemble an isosceles triangle. Choral singers wearing green and red holiday outfits crowded the steps and formed a living, singing, Christmas tree. Mary pulled away from the checkout line. “I’ve got to go or I’ll be late. You don’t want to see some naked cherub dangling off the tree do you?”

We made plans to meet after she was done singing, but once I finally purchased my pepper mill I didn’t want to go directly downtown.

Soon enough, I was elbows on a bar, drinking a shot of scotch with a beer chaser. It was the first of the evening and as the burning liquid raced down my throat, I felt like the night had endless possibilities. I agreed with the bartender that one set deserved a companion and slammed down another two drinks. Soon my Macy’s bag and I were headed downtown.

Once at the Fulton Fish Market, I followed the sounds of the chorus until I stood before the display. It was glorious. Mary was near the top, properly dressed in a pointed green felt hat, red collar, and elf-like green jacket, exactly like the rest of the singers. There was an outdoor café and I squeezed my way up to the bar, turning sideways so that I could fit between the white guys in suits that dominated the scene. I put my Macy’s bag on the bar, ordered a new shot and beer combo, and watched the tree vibrate with holiday spirit.

“Fun isn’t it?” asked one of the suits. As I sipped my scotch, I assessed him. He was sort of chubby with an unruly lock of hair that skittered around his forehead in the breeze coming off the bay. He looked like a boy dressed up for church by his mother.

“It’s not exactly my type of music,” I said. “I’m more partial to Blues than caroling.”

“You know a place?” he asked. I nodded and pitched my drink into my mouth, swallowing hard. I was ready to go. Mary was totally forgotten, secondary to an impulsive adventure. My Macy’s bag was almost forgotten too, only rescued by the quick-thinking bartender. Moments later we were in a cab heading to Dan Lynch’s on Second Avenue and Fourteenth Street.

At Dan Lynch’s I continued to indulge, putting down more drinks. When I stepped away from my stool and walked into the gloom to go the toilet, I realized that perhaps I had drunk too much. In the women’s room mirror, my pale reflection glowed blue from the fluorescent lights. I looked like the exhausted ghost of Christmas-yet-to-be.

When I got back to the bar, my suited companion was gone. “Is he in the bathroom?” I asked the bartender.

“Went the other way,” he replied, nodding toward the door. A large African-American man leaned against a barstool, surveying the action inside and giving the once-over to any new customers.

I asked him if he had seen my suit leave. He nodded. “Got into a cab,” he said.

Here is where it gets a little dicey. I can’t quite remember what I did next. I do remember the bouncer hugging me and, since I had been so unceremoniously dumped, asking me if I needed a little company. Apparently, with total willingness, I went downstairs into the office for sex. I remember a blowup mattress, already fully inflated, being thrown down on the floor. I remember, as I lay on my back hugging his solid body with my legs, seeing cases of beer and hard liquor ringing the mattress. I remember the smell of stale ale and the scratching noises of mice scurrying around the periphery. I remember begging the man on top of me not to come inside of me.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the subway traveling back to Astoria, Queens where I lived. I looked in my lap and saw the Macy’s bag. When I peeked into the box, my pepper mill was gone. I threw the bag onto the floor, much to the disgust of another passenger who loudly complained.

How could I explain myself? I opened my mouth to try, but couldn’t. Instead I sobbed.

This essay is a follow-up to Deirdre Sinnott’s well received Video Tour of a Few NYC Bars, a short, sassy “tour de glass” of her old drinking haunts. Deirdre’s work has appeared in the special nonfiction issue of the literary magazine Cadillac Cicatrix and she is a regular book reviewer for ForeWord Magazine. Her writing appears in Catskill Review of Books, World View Forum, Blue Collar Holler, Della Donna Webzine, and in two anthologies. Much more information and other stories can be found on her website www.DeirdreSinnott.com.

Share

The Sweet Smell of Excess

By Sari Botton

mickey rourkeAl-Anon sucked. If I hadn’t been too broke for therapy, I’d never have taken a friend’s advice to attend those awful meetings.

They were worse than the AA meetings I’d been to in support of my string of alcoholic boyfriends over the years – three, if you’re keeping count.  The AA people, when they finally hit bottom, were brave, copped to shit, took responsibility for all the nasty things they’d done when they were trashed. The Al-Anonics were victimy and whiny.  Everything was someone else’s fault.

They were addict-addicts, people who NEEDed people in the worst possible way, and yet would counter-intuitively go for only the most unavailable, most uninterested, meanest people around. I, of course, did not see myself that way – she who was addicted to alcohol not by mouth, but on the breath of a difficult man.

Eric, my friend in AA, suggested I try his meetings instead.

“I’m not an alcoholic,” I protested.

“Here’s what you do,” he said. “Go lock yourself in a room with a case of Jack Daniels and don’t come out until it’s all gone. Then, go directly to AA. Do not pass Go.”

I thought about it. While I was at it, I might try writing, too. I’d always wanted to try writing drunk. I imagined it would free me from my crippling good-girl inhibitions.

I couldn’t though. I’d sworn off drinking nearly four years before, initially for Steve. I kept my vow of sobriety as I moved on to Bill, and then to Evan. How, oh how, pray tell, would these poor, poor men stay on the wagon without the support of little ole me? That right there is what kept me hooked. Look at how all-important I was to another human’s well being. What power I could have. All while appearing saintly. Trade that in for the occasional glass of wine? No way. This was much more intoxicating.

Except that the buzz never lasted long. In a matter of time, each boyfriend would return to drinking, and I’d feel like the ultimate failure. The relationship would bust apart, maybe for a while, maybe for good.

Evan and I went back and forth a few times. He had the hardest time of all staying sober, and I had the hardest time walking away from him. A hot, long-haired musician always surrounded by women, he also had difficulty keeping it in his pants. He reminded me of my grandfather, the original drunk in my life, alternately affectionate and icy, and unfaithful to my grandmother.

Pappa could put away a fifth of Johnny Walker Red Label a day.  I knew because I worked for him at his Seventh Avenue garmento firm. When my cousins heard I’d started working there, they joked, “What do you do, pour scotch all day?” Well, that was one of my jobs. It started at 10:30 a.m. He’d ask me to wash a glass, grab some ice, and pour some Johhny. I did that over and over until it was time to catch the train home. I knew that smooth, perfumey, malty smell so well. I had been breathing it in since I first sat on Pappa’s lap as a little girl. It simultaneously tantalized and lulled me, from the first.

Evan’s breath was infused with Vodka rather than Scotch, but it worked. My last go-round with him could have been avoided. I thought I had finally learned my lesson, and was ready to move on, not just from him, but from the Land of the Twelve Steppers. But he begged.

“I need to do this – I need to get sober for you,” he pleaded.

“But they say it never works when you get sober for someone,” I reasoned. I also instinctively knew he wasn’t ready, and doubted whether he ever would be. There were too many other women around him who were eager to do whatever he wanted in exchange for him making them feel important and powerful, too.

“Please.” He was serious. “You just have to promise you won’t leave me if I fall off the wagon. You have to stick around and help me back on.” It was the opposite of the frequently advised tough love, but I signed on anyway.

Things were great for a few weeks. Evan was so eager to try, and he’d replaced his fixation on alcohol with a fixation on me. He wrote songs about me, wrote me love letters, thanked me for having the courage to insist he go to meetings. I was higher than a kite, strung out on his complete adoration. It was so perfect.

But right on schedule, he fell. Hard. He’d never made it longer than a month, and we were rounding three weeks. Just in time, his last girlfriend, Melissa, sent him a Christmas card. He met her for a “friendly” dinner. He called me that night, and tried to hide his slurring, unsuccessfully.

“I can’t talk to you like this,” I said. “I have to get off.”

“But you promised you wouldn’t leave me if I fell. You’d stay and help me get up.”

And so I did. I went to Al-Anon, bristling as people whined. Evan was supposed to go to AA. When he stopped doing that, I started dragging him there myself, sitting with him through meetings. Then he’d sneak off. He always had to be somewhere. I knew where, although I didn’t want to know. He’d call from payphones, and the names of the bars they were situated in would come up on my caller I.D.

The drinking got worse. Now I was the enemy.

“At least Melissa will drink with me,” he argued on the phone one evening. “You’re. No. Fun.” He had this way of punctuating his word when he was sloshed, in what seemed like an effort not to seem sloshed. “If you’d just come with me to the bar…” He fell asleep mid-sentence.

Okay. I’d go with him to the bar. Maybe sitting there, sober, across from him, I could somehow appeal to him. And get him to go back to AA. And change his ways. And save his life! And save our love! Because I am just that awesome and powerful.

For a guy who clung to the mid-90s grunge look, Evan had weird taste in bars. He liked these shiny mid-town tourist traps on the ground floors of hotels that especially appealed to high-class hookers and their business-men-in-from-out-of-town clientele. One well-dressed flight attendant type came back with three different men in the course of an evening as I sat there and watched Evan down six pints of draught beer, each one followed by a shot of chilled Stoli.

I stared as he pounded, wondering what it felt like inside his brain. I was fascinated with the idea of being blissfully anesthetized, but not quite tempted to go there myself. I found myself torn between wanting to be fun like Melissa, and wanting to get serious and save him. One minute I was laughing at his stupid jokes, positioning myself just so to receive his sloppy, fragrant, Vodka-flavored kisses, and the next, I was crying, pleading, “When will you be ready to get sober again?”

“This is just a bender, babe,” he said holding me tight, alcohol fumes wafting out his mouth and off his skin, enveloping me, caressing me. “I just have to go all the way through it to get to the other side. Stay with me. We’ll get there.”

More drinking. More dragging him to meetings, after which he’d run off. Then came the confession.

He’d cheated.

I punched him in the stomach. I stopped taking his calls.

“What about me?!” He shouted into my answering machine.“I want to jump out the window and kill myself, and you won’t even pick up the phone. Would you even cry if I died?” Imagine that. With just one phone call, I could save his life. I was getting tired of being so important and powerful.

That didn’t stop me from going back and forth with him a few more times. The night he chose to stay at Melissa’s and drink instead of coming to see me, sober, it was over for me. Well, almost. First, I needed to see what all the fuss was about. I needed to know what he and Melissa felt when they were knocking back shots. It never looked fun from the outside, but if he kept wanting to do it so badly, there had to be something to it.

I went to Detour, the jazz bar across the street from my East Village tenement. I hadn’t had a vodka drink since my 18th birthday, when a single screwdriver had yielded bed spins and a terrible hangover. But now I wanted vodka. I knew the smell. Now I wanted to know the taste. And, hey, this might be my chance to write drunk.

There was a woman singing old standards accompanied by a guitar and bass. I ordered a vodka martini. After four years of not a drop of alcohol, I sat at the bar and sipped it slowly. It went right to my head. I felt like there was a bubble on it. The edges on the sounds got softer. People seemed to be moving more slowly.

A man at the other end of the bar sent over another one for me. I smiled at him, not feeling the least bit flirtatious or amorous. This made people want each other? Sip. Sip. Sip. I felt…out of it. Removed. Numb. The appeal was lost on me.

I stumbled back across the street to my apartment. As I lay down on the couch, exhausted, I noticed my journal on the coffee table. This was my chance. Inhibitions be damned!

The next morning I woke with a crushing headache. The notebook was on the floor. I picked it up. There were only two lines:

“I drank vodka tonight,” I wrote. “I can’t feel my face.”

Sari Botton’s 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 http://www.saribotton.com/and she blogs at www.rosendaleramblings.com

Share