back to the Black Table

It occurs to me, as I enter Month Four of the Great New York Experiment, that I might drink too much.

I donít mean that Iím in that Leaving Las Vegas, pints-of-vodka-with-my-Cheerios league, not yet anyway; most of the veins in my face are still, as of now, not visible. I just mean, well, letís just say that after four months here, there are three bars whose bartenders know me by name, four by face and surely countless others by reputation.

I can tell you which places make the best vodka tonics, who has Newcastle on tap, who waters down their Dewarís on the rocks.

I donít drink in the mornings, and unless itís Saturday or Sunday (or Monday ... or Tuesday ...) I donít drink in the afternoons either. But itís amazing, in this city, how much oneís social life revolves around alcohol.

After work - oh, Iím working days now; Iíve switched jobs, left The Times, since last we spoke, but Iím sure Iíll get into all that later. Iím kind of hung up on this drinking thing right now, OK? - Iíll meet a friend or associate for drinks, or Iíll grab drinks after a movie, or Iíll stop by a party with an open bar, or Iíll stop by for drinks to make notes for columns about stopping by for drinks.

I donít think too much of this typically, considering itís all second nature. The major appeal for me of going to a bar is the social aspect. Except for when the appeal is solitude, which, I realize while writing this, means the reasons I like going to bars are to be with people and to be alone, which I guess just about covers everything.

Man, that doesnít sound good. Heck, just forget that last sentence, Iím busting up my own point, letís start over, jeez.

Itís just that I donít really think I drink that often, and I never figured those close to me thought I did either. True, when college friends visit me, they often mention that they donít remember the last time they were this drunk, and then they remember it was the last time they were with me.

I think thatís because their lives are relatively humdrum, what with their celebrity-handling job and random sexual encounters and all.

Anyway, itís not like I was ever thought of as the class drunk, the guy who has sudden attacks of Ďroid rage when he has a few too many rum and Diet Cokes.

I always considered myself the drinking buddy, the person who was always willing to throw back a few with the old pals, always happy to lend an open ear to a buddy in need of counsel or just someone to talk to. And usually they opened up more after a few beers, or a few shots, or maybe just some ether.

Nevertheless, I have a feeling people are starting to talk. More and more, Iím receiving ominous comments from all corners.

At my new job, I met with my editor, who informed me that a few new hires would be starting in a couple of weeks. ďEricís excited to meet you, since heís heard you can handle your alcohol. He wants to see if he can outdrink you.Ē he told me - maybe I should paraphrase, since the last guy you want to misquote is your editor - which is strange, since Iíve never met Eric, and I donít even know anyone who knows Eric.

I talked to Clare, a friend from The Times, who mentioned at a pseudo-going-away gala (there was someone more beloved leaving the same day, so not much was made of my exit, which is probably for the best, since no one really liked me anyway) that she was worried about me leaving because ďwho will stay out all night drinking with me now?Ē People have been classifying me as a ďheavyĒ drinker, though, I must say, I greatly prefer the term ďaccomplishedĒ drinker.

I hit the nadir last week. The suspiciously seldom mentioned Mandie had just arrived in town, and we were out, of all things, drinking, when she, with a straight and really not all that concerned face - well, I think she might have been drunk - asked me, ďWill, are you an alcoholic?Ē

When someone who you sometimes think of as a somewhat of an occasional admirer - for whatever sick, sadistic reasons - says this to you, you tend to stand up, pay attention and look deep inside yourself.

Or at least you order another drink and scoff off the comment with a pithy, wiseacre comment about the shakes being gone and thatís great, not worried anymore, har har, then change the subject to how lovely she looks, yes, yes, quite lovely, and then try not to think about it until it unexpectedly and entirely inappropriately shows up in your next column, oh my, hee hee.

All this said, I donít think I have the intestinal fortitude to become a bona fide weíre-all-worried-about-Will alcoholic. I think I started too late. I didnít drink in high school - my fellow nerd friends and I always felt that we didnít ďneedĒ alcohol to have a good time. God, how silly and naÔve we were.

The first time I ever had a sip was at a college-newspaper party the end of my freshman year at which I literally had vodka forcibly poured down my throat while I was already taking codeine for a head cold. At the end of the night, if I may blatantly steal a Woody Allen line, I tried to take my pants off over my head.

Even then, though, I never really got on the booze bandwagon, and even though I was drinking heavily by the end of college ... Christ, it was college, give a brother a break.

Hey, Iíve slowed down a bit, even if I have graduated from scraping pennies together for a bottle of Natural Light to scraping dimes together for slugs of Crown Royal. I mean, Iíve never drunk before work the way I used to drink before exams. Thatís a step up, right?

Evidently not enough of one, considering all these damned comments. But, jeez, you know, itís hard here, hard not to drink. I donít know how my roommate, who has never sipped alcohol, could possibly do it; the dude goes to a bar and orders a Coke every time, though, to the bartenderís credit, my roommate always has to say it twice, as if that couldnít possibly be what he actually said.

I mean, if I gave up drinking, Iíd have to give up all the things that drinking allows me to do, like convince myself my conversation is actually interesting ... or dance ... or karaoke ... or sleep ... or, for that matter, sex. I donít know if Iím willing to make those kinds of sacrifices, even if my reputation is starting to become a bit more soiled than Iíd like it to be. There a million different bars in this great city, each with their own stories, their own people and their own price for pitchers.

So bring it on, new guy Eric. I accept your challenge. Letís just keep it between us, OK? People are already starting to talk ...



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