After being a drinker, is it ever natural to be at a dinner party without a glass of wine? I’m asking, because even though I do not crave a drink anymore, the thought of drinking flickers across my mind whenever I am in a setting where I would have been drinking, when I was drinking. Are you following me? Dee had a lovely get together Sunday night. The table was set with heavy, autumn green plates and scattered fall leaves, votive candles flickered, and the guests spoke of art and design and shared acquaintances and addiction (because that topic always seems to spring up like a dollar weed whenever I am in a room…).
I drink gassy water and cranberry juice in a wine glass, and at one point I put it down onto one of the decorative, silk leaves and it teetered a bit. It reminded me of all the times I have spilled full glasses of wine onto dinner tables in the past. I’d be gesturing in some grandiloquent way about art or design or a shared acquaintance and the waving hand would hit the rim (speaking of design, wine glasses are disasters waiting to happen – all that heavy liquid balanced on a fragile bine of crystal…). There would be a moment where it could be saved, but if you are clumsy and tipsy like I was, it almost always went over and suddenly there were people rising from the table and the hostess was dabbing the risotto with a damask napkin and plucking shards of glass from the cornucopia…
A good hostess will also say something soothing like, “Oh don’t worry. I do that all the time,” as if they too crash through social situations like Godzilla, leaving burning buildings and screaming pedestrians in their wake. But here’s the thing – when I think back on wine disasters in the past I do not remember feeling that awkward. I don’t remember even getting up from my seat. I always drank white wine so it wasn’t visible, but shouldn’t I have at least felt embarrassed?
Research from a team at the University of Missouri has shown that drunk people are still aware they’re making a mistake, but the alcohol reduces brain signals telling us to worry. Professor Bruce Bartholow (who led the study) said, ‘When we make mistakes, activity in a part of the brain responsible for monitoring behavior increases.This sends an alarm signal to other parts of the brain indicating that something went wrong. Our study shows that alcohol doesn’t reduce your awareness of mistakes – it reduces how much you care about making those mistakes.” In other words, boozing doesn’t necessarily make us behave badly, but when we do embarrass ourselves, we just don’t care.
In one of those turnaround is fair play stories, I was once at a dinner party and another drunk person hand-volleyed a tumbler of red wine across the table like it was some sort of sport, onto my white trousers. I looked like I was wearing tie-dye. I remember him saying (without a hint of remorse), “Use white wine to get that off… and if it doesn’t work I’ll pay for the dry cleaning.” Oh, thanks. I’ll take my red wine soaked pants home and dip them in a bathtub filled with Chardonnay… and if that doesn’t work I’ll take the whole stinking mess to my dry cleaners like the Cat in The Hat and try to explain why my white pants are pink and reeking of stale booze (now the pants are clean, but the tub is a mess!).
The holidays are coming and there will be many more, lovely dinner parties like Dee’s. I will deport myself with impeccable couth. And if I do make a mistake, or tip the salad cruet onto the table, or knock over my club soda (which is actually the thing people use to clean up other people’s missteps so it is the best thing to spill if you’re going to spill…) I will have the good grace to be embarrassed about it – to get up from my chair and help.
I hope you will too.