This month marks 25 years since I stopped drinking alcohol (unless you count the vanilla extract we use on the rare occasions we have Challah French Toast at home).
That’s a quarter of a century without a single beer, which was pretty much the only alcoholic beverage I liked. I never developed a taste for wine or mixed drinks, although I threw back a few Black Russians and Screwdrivers when I was young, but sure enjoyed beer. I know that makes me sound like Brett Kavanaugh, but I never quaffed nearly as many brews as he did. It appears I never did a few other things he did, but that’s another story.
The reason I quit drinking on October 11, 1993, wasn’t that I had a problem. It was because that was the joyously happy day we found out my wife and I were going to become parents. I told her right then and there that since she couldn’t have any alcohol during her pregnancy, neither would I. A couple of years later, with our very healthy daughter no longer breastfeeding, my wife returned to having an occasional glass of wine or an amaretto sour, but I never did, and there hasn’t been a single day when I missed it or wished I could have a cold one. I simply lost my taste for it. The same thing happened when I quit smoking marijuana — another “I quit” anniversary, forty years ago this month! I didn’t need a 12-step program or a sponsor or a non-existent higher power to help me quit. I just made up my mind to put it in the past, and the desire quickly went with it.
When I drank, I rarely had “too much.” I might have two or three beers while hanging out with friends watching a football game or playing poker, or on one of the many nights when, as a single man, I was doomed to fail at meeting a woman — any woman — in a bar. But because I’m a big guy, 2 or 3 wasn’t enough to get me drunk, or even much more than slightly buzzed. I can remember the last time I felt I’d exceeded the legal drinking limit and handed my car keys to my wife. It was in July, 1985, at the going-away party friends threw for me as I was departing WHCN/Hartford for a new adventure at WYNY/New York. I downed 11 beers that evening, but when Martha drove me home, all I did was fall asleep, waking up the next day without a trace of a hangover.
Even before I stopped drinking, we were never one of those couples that had a bar in the house. I’d keep a six-pack in the refrigerator, and she’d have some inexpensive wine in the pantry, but we didn’t have bottles of bourbon, scotch, gin, vermouth, or other potent potables in the house. I always found it amusing when, on a TV show or movie, a character would drop by a friend’s place and be offered “a drink” from the omni-present bar cart, then served whatever the host wanted to pour. Didn’t matter what the alcoholic liquid was, and no one ever got specific: “Yes, I’d like a rum on the rocks.” It was always just a generic “drink,” as if they all tasted the same. Similarly, characters would go into a bar and order “a beer.” Even in an establishment that sold dozens of brands and styles, the bartender would just nod and give them “a beer” — unless there was a product placement deal, in which case you’d get a closeup of a Miller Light or a Michelob Ultra.
In my beer-drinking days, I wasn’t picky about brands, except that light beer was too watery and dark beer (Guinness Stout) was too bitter. In college, we drank a lot of Schmidt’s, because we got a six-pack for ninety-nine cents — a price point that screams Quality Beverage! In those years, Coors wasn’t yet available on the east coast, so finding one was reason enough to buy it. Same for Foster’s, the Australian favorite which wasn’t getting much distribution in the US yet but was really delicious. If I had a couple extra bucks in my pocket — or to show off on a date — I might splurge for a Heineken or, getting exotic, order a Tsing-Tao in a Chinese restaurant or a Sapporo in a Japanese place. The first time I had a Canadian beer was when I was 23 and went on a road trip to Toronto with my friend Bill. We were excited as we went into a bar and told a waitress to bring us each a bottle of Labatt’s Blue. She brought us two 32-ounce bottles without glasses. We looked at each other, shrugged, took a couple of sips, and smiled wide.
For several years after college, my friend Phil threw a party called Octemberfest (because it fell in one or the other of those two months), which had one rule: each invitee had to bring three bottles each of two brands of beer that had never been tasted at the party in previous years. Fortunately, Phil kept track of every brand we’d tried, and sent out the full list each year with the invitations. The task was relatively easy for the first couple of Octemberfests, but by years four, five, and six, it was a challenge unless you had a store nearby that imported beers from other regions. This was long before micro-brewing became big business, but I was able to find worthwhile entries at a legendary DC bar called The Brickskeller, which had several hundred different beers on its menu. As Phil’s party went on, we’d taste all the new brands, then rank them and proclaim a winner after midnight (an honor that came with no prize whatsoever). I can’t remember most of them, but many of them were named for animals (wolf, beaver, mongoose, etc.).
While that was a fun time, those memories do not inspire me to want to open up a cold bottle and throw it back. In fact, in these 25 years that I haven’t had a drink, I’ve become less and less enamored of being around drunk people. The more alcohol they have, the more I want to be somewhere else. Unless, of course, they’re drinking enough to negatively impact their cognitive thinking at the poker table, in which case I’ll sit with them all night long.