“Now,” she says, “what kind of cocktail can I get you?”
I was already ill at ease at the party. A huge group of people I didn’t know, all dressed far more formally than I was, with thin legs and flat stomachs, looking like a collection of praying mantises in couture. I was relieved of my well worn coat at the door, and I felt exposed in an old black haltertop dress, the sort of thing I trot out for events like this. Amidst these men and women, though, it looked sort of shabby, and because I laid it out on the bed while I showered, there was a clump of hair where Mr. Shadow had been lying.
The woman continued to gaze at me, one eyebrow cocked, while I looked vainly for the person who had dragged me here. Being short, it was essentially impossible to the see through the sea of people.
“Er,” I said, not really sure how to address the question. “Uhm, no kind, thank you.”
“Oh, don’t be shy! Open bar!”
“Oh, I, er, I don’t really drink hard alcohol. But thank you. I’ll just, uhm, find some fruit.”
I always feel awkward in situations like this, because to say that I do not drink would be a lie. Inevitably, when I say that I don’t drink hard alcohol, most people ask me why, and I can’t think of a nice way to say “none of your business,” so I end up gesturing vaguely and saying er a lot before drifting off. I’m not really sure why people think it’s appropriate to question a statement like that, but they do.
I wonder if it’s easier for people who don’t drink at all, or if teetotalers also get hassled about it. It’s like there’s something deeply suspect and alien about declining an offer of alcohol.
I know lots of people who don’t drink. Some of them don’t like alcohol. Others are underage and law abiding. A few have illnesses which preclude drinking. In some cases, they are recovering alcoholics or substance abusers. Or perhaps they have religious beliefs surrounding alcohol.
What, I ask you, is so weird about not drinking?
“Oh,” she said, stepping back and surveying my behaired dress and hand made earrings. “Well, why did you come to a cocktail party if you don’t drink?”
“Er, well,” I said, waving my hands vaguely in the direction of some rather expensive artwork, “it’s not that I don’t drink, exactly, I, er, just like art.”
With that, I dived off into the depths of the party.
I am all about tea, juice, and the myriad of other alcohol free options which I never seem to find at “adult” parties. If it’s an all ages event, sometimes I can get apple juice in a kiddie cup, and I feel preposterous as I mill around in the midst of all the big people with their real glasses. It’s like a concentrated attempt to humiliate non-drinkers, to shame us into accepting alcohol so that we fit in.
I’m not really sure why drinkers feel a need to stigmatize those who do not drink. Sometimes I think it’s a shame thing, like drinkers are worried about how much they drink, so they take it out on those of us who abstain. Perhaps that woman sincerely wished that she wasn’t drinking that lemondrop, and she envied me my ability to blithely dismiss the offer of a drink. Or maybe it’s just such a bizarre concept to them, the idea of not wanting to drink, that they want to explore it and they don’t really know how.
Still looking for my friend, I found myself cornered by a group of securities lawyers.
“Hey,” one of them said, “you know so-and-so, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“But,” one of them declared, “you don’t have a drink! Let me get you something.”
“Oh, no thank you,” I say.
“But it’s an open bar!”
Ah, yes, free alcohol. Strange enough to abstain, but stranger still when I could get shitfaced for free. What sort of sane person would pass up the opportunity to court social humiliation by getting tossed on free booze at a party that they are technically crashing? Now, there’s an idea, I could find the hostess and get myself kicked out, except that I would probably upset my friend, who is trying nobly to get me to be less of a hermit.
“So, what does a securities lawyer do, exactly,” I ask, trying to head off the rest of this conversation. Fortunately for me, it worked, and my friend came across me 15 minutes later deep in discussion and debate, seeming more out of place than ever as I lecture the lawyers on the evils of capitalism.
It is clearly time to go, her look says, and I gratefully follow her into the night.
“Did you have fun,” she asks in the car home.
“Um, not really,” I say. “But thank you anyway. It was a fascinating glimpse into the heart of everything I hate about America.”
“Oh,” she said.
We both stared at the road for awhile.
“Hey,” I say, “what is it with everyone trying to get me to drink? It was like the opposite of an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting.”
“Well, it was a cocktail party,” she points out.
“Right, but…why would you take me to a cocktail party when you know I don’t drink cocktails?”
“Because,” she says, “I know you like art and arguing with lawyers.”