Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Lone Whiskey Shot, The Lone Palm

I took my first sip of whiskey on New Year’s Eve in 2002. I planned to ring in 2003 with my first hangover, although back then I wasn’t aware of the implications of alcohol-induced illness. (Nowadays, as an exceptionally grown-up and mature woman, I dread hangovers so intensely that I abide by these rules on nights out: (a) take one glass of water with every drink; (b) stick to vodka sodas, and for Jeez’s sake lay off the cosmos and lemon drops; and most importantly (c) bear in mind the old saying that got me through college alive: Beer before liquor? Never been sicker. Liquor before beer? You’re in the clear.)

In 2002, my best friends Elisa and Aubrey were ready for their first hangovers, too. We did everything together, so we figured why not take our first drinks together? And the next day, why not lie in bed and puke our guts out together? It sounded like a good enough time. (Part of me wishes our story ended like this, with puke – because it’d make a great blog post – but it didn’t.)

So on December 31, 2002, we treaded softly from Aubrey’s bedroom – where we’d spent hours in front of the mirror, getting ready – into the laundry room. Her parents kept their liquor in the cabinets above the washer and dryer (before they started locking it up). We donned weighty Southridge High School sweatshirts – a varsity basketball logo on mine, and a track and field insignia on hers – over sequined halter-tops that exposed our tight, sixteen-year-old midriffs. We’d applied more make-up than our usual splashes of mascara and dashes of blush on our cheeks and noses. The night would be epic, and epic called for sparkles, eyeliner, nail polish, and strappy sandals. We didn’t dare wear our sandals into the laundry room, though, in an effort to keep quiet. So we sported dirty socks instead.

When we got inside, I poked my head out the door, my eyes bulging from their holes and darting around the corner, as Aubrey hoisted herself onto the washing machine and reached into the blessed cabinet. I was the lookout, Aubrey was the mastermind – the thief – and Elisa’s job was to sit in Aubrey’s room and “look natural.” After a few minutes of heavy panic and apprehension, we trotted proudly back to Aubrey’s room and presented Elisa with the loot: three Budweiser’s – in bottles. One for each of us.

This’ll do the trick, I thought. I knew we all were thinking the same thing. We smirked mischievously at one another until it was time to leave for the party.

Only later did we realize that it takes a lot more than an eight-ounce bottle of Bud to catch a thrill. So before midnight we hid in the bushes and each took a shot of whiskey. And that did the trick. (And to this day I can’t stand the taste, smell, or mere thought of whiskey.)

Seven years later, as a twenty-three-year-old girl prancing about The Lone Palm – a quirky watering hole in San Francisco’s Mission District – with a vodka soda in one hand and a bottle of H2O in the other, blissfully awaiting the New Year, I don’t feel so grown up. I don’t feel so different than I did back then. With a stranger, I bat an oversized balloon back and forth across the bar and then watch it pop against a fan that whirls overhead. I laugh deeply, genuinely. The countdown begins, and my heart thuds in anticipation even though I’ve done this twenty-two times before. But this time could be different. I wonder what will happen in the first precious minutes of my new year, my new decade. Something great, I believe.

Perhaps I’ll always be my sixteen-year-old self, seeking adventure. I’ll always be the young girl ready for her first hangover or her first move to a big city or her first trip around the world.

And perhaps I’ll despise whiskey forever.

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