In my late 20s and early 30s, I was a big drunk. I’m still a happy drinker (of red wine and good tequila, primarily), but I’m talking hard-core. I drank a little in high school, less in college, almost nothing in grad school, and then I started getting soused and blotto on a regular (almost nightly) basis when I was 27 and had just moved to New York and met a guy to get drunk with. We were both frustrated young writers who thought we were much smarter than we were, which engendered a kind of chaotic melancholy that needed blotting out.
I recently heard a rumor that some people can metabolize alcohol better than others. There’s an enzyme, apparently. I must have that enzyme in record quantities, because all this drinking I did seemed to have no effect on my health. Checkups revealed a robust, healthy liver. Hangovers were almost unknown to me except as a pleasant, muzzy state with life’s edges blunted — almost a better reason to drink than getting drunk the night before. I was a terrible drunk, in that I acted outrageously and stupidly; I imagine I was a pain in the ass, but I was too drunk to know it. I thought I was witty and carefree and madcap, oh dear. But I was a good drunk in that my body held up alarmingly well. I never blacked out; I usually remembered (alas) much of the night; I rarely got sick. And I always made it to whatever tedious, low-paying job I had at 9 the next morning, ordered a Western omelet sandwich on toasted rye with extra ketchup from the deli downstairs, downed a vat of coffee, and got on with my day, and then I did it all again the next night.
I once chugged most of a pint of Jameson’s in a stall in the ladies’ room of some club in midtown at some show, it could have been the Fall, it could have been Richard Thompson, it could have been the Mekons. (I can no longer drink Jameson’s at all, even though this was more than 20 years ago.) My sort-of boyfriend/drinking partner won tickets to shows from radio stations by being the 4th or 9th or 11th caller, due to an uncanny genius he possessed for speed-dialing, giving a different name every time — during that era, I saw almost everyone perform live at least once, usually for free, always shitfaced. For about five years there, I lived a life of loud music and a lot of booze, and then impersonal, physically demanding sex afterwards with more booze, and then I’d go to my mindless job the next day on the subway and walk home after work through streets crammed with people and shop windows and noises and traffic and smells —
I suppose I drank that way for the usual reasons, since I’m generally no different from the next person. I remember wanting desperately to escape myself, to flee the annoying chirpiness of my too-clear, too-verbal brain, so recently educated, so freshly imbued with the powers of literary analysis and writerly dogma. I was a bushy-tailed, arrogant, ambitious smartass who believed there was time for everything. I had never been bad in my life before, I’d been the responsible first-born daughter of a single mother, and as a kid I worried that, if I didn’t keep it together, it might all fall apart. In my late 20s, I finally realized that I didn’t have to pretend I could help anyone by being good anymore.
Last weekend, we had Christmas Eve dinner at our friend Rosie’s. It was one of those memorable meals that seem to surpass all prior experiences of the dishes in question — in this case, shrimp cocktail and Rosie’s signature rye whiskey with ginger syrup, Bitter Darlings, then a rare rib roast, gratin dauphinois, a Yorkshire pudding I couldn’t eat because it contained gluten but which everyone moaned over as they ate it, butternut puree, kale salad with pine nuts, a lot of excellent red wine, and then, amazingly, a gorgeous Stilton, chocolate, bread-and-butter pudding with cardamom that looked as good as the Yorkshire pudding, Italian cookies, vin santo, and glogg. We all went home feeling immortally, royally sated.
The next day at noon, Brendan and I walked down Broadway from our hotel to meet a friend at the Union Square movie theater. It was a sunny, mild day, and the city was quiet and empty. Before “Young Adult” started, we went to the billiards hall on 12th and 4th to have a pre-movie drink because nothing else was open. The bartender was idly sitting around. He perked up when we came in and populated the empty bar. Jami ordered a Bloody Mary. Brendan waited for me to order next, and then, for the next few minutes, I channeled a sober rendition of my bad old drinking self. I ruthlessly quizzed the bartender on his Bloody Mary recipe on the way to ordering one, and then, when I learned that he had no Smirnoff (my favorite vodka), I announced that long ago, I could tell the difference between 4 kinds of vodka in a blind taste test. He offered to recreate it then and there for me at no charge; I demurred. My skills aren’t what they once were. I explained the origins of the bet that caused me to train for this test, which I passed, and then I veered off into an interrogation as to what tequilas he had on hand, lambasted Cuervo Gold, which I will never drink again because it’s dirt, it’s disgusting, and then I ordered a Bloody Maria with the house well tequila, which the bartender showed me — a not-bad agave. Then I subsided, apparently out of gas. Brendan ordered a double shot of Don Julio on the rocks with fresh lime juice. And then, once again channeling the headstrong but dithering drunk I used to be and apparently still am, I changed my order to the same thing, but with the ice on the side because I like to slide it into the glass cube by cube as I sip. I could have gone on about the reasons for this, but he set our drinks in front of us with bowls of excellent potato chips, and then it was time to drink.
That glass of Christmas tequila, akin to the dinner that preceded it the night before, was the best drink I’d ever had, so good it simultaneously erased and buoyed my memory of all prior drinks. It was sublime, the ideal form of the Drink. The bartender, who was a good sport throughout all of this, got an enormous, deserved tip. I think he might have been sorry to see us go.
I learned to make this dish from the Englishwoman I worked for when I lived in France. Back then, I could eat gluten. Made correctly, it emerges from the oven looking like a big popover/souffle, brown and puffy around the edges, golden and firm in the middle. On Christmas Eve, Rosie’s pal Annika made what might have been the most glorious Yorkshire pudding ever baked. Everyone confirmed this. I ate it along with them in my taste-memory. It was the imagined idealized form of the Yorkshire pudding. Taste-memory is a strong internal palate — I felt afterwards as if I’d literally eaten it.
The recipe: half an hour before the roast is done, take a large bowl, and in it, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup milk and 2 eggs, beaten. Mix until smooth. Remove the roast from the oven and spoon 1/2 cup of drippings into a 9×9 inch pan. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Return the roast to the oven. Pour the pudding batter into the drippings and bake for 10 minutes. Take the roast out of the oven; continue baking the pudding for another 25 to 30 minutes. When it’s cool enough, cut it into squares and serve it with the best, most perfectly rare and tender rib roast ever made in Christendom and Jewry.