It’s a scene that I’ve played at countless dinner tables at countless gatherings. The most recent came that evening when we were at having dinner at L’s grandparents. As dinner was being served, the bottle of wine came out. When it came to fill my glass with wine, I politely declined. Now, I still don’t know what triggered this in me. Maybe it was L’s dad, whose mouth widened in astonishment and said, “Really?” Maybe it was because Chuck and L, always trying to be my guides in life, started reassuring me that it was OK; that wine is actually good in some circumstances. But, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had to be defensive about my choice. And, when I feel defensive, I feel like ranting. So, let’s clear this up once and for all. This is why I just say no to alcohol.
I don’t like the taste.
Yeah. That’s it. What were you expecting? Some sordid tale of an extremist upbringing where I was constantly lectured on what would happen if I sipped the devil’s drink? Quite the opposite. Especially on my father’s side, I come from a hard-drinkin’ family. Hell, my dad has taken to brewing his own wine, and, just to get it used up, he’s taken to having a glass every day after work. Every family gathering features every family bringing one cooler full of beer. My aunt has been manager of the Lacombe Liquor Store ever since the liquor stores were still government-owned in Alberta. Even though he’s now married with two kids, my brother still entertains me with stories about how he can drink anyone under the table. And my sister’s no slouch either. I hate to destroy your misconceptions, but my upbringing was actually quite liberal.
I still remember the first bottle of beer I had. It was at one of those family gatherings. I was about 17. It was a hot tub party. Of course, when you spend hour upon hour soaking in a hot tub, you tend to get thirsty. Since (as previously mentioned) the alcohol flows quite freely at these family functions, I decided to finally try and fit in with my cousins. I went to the beer cooler and got myself a bottle of Molson Canadian. Twisting off the cap, I held the bottle up to my nose and took a sniff. The fumes stung my nostrils. I climbed back into the hot tub, and began listening on the dirty jokes my cousins were telling. Trying to look like I do it every day, I grabbed my bottle and took a sip. Never had I tasted anything so bitter. My face must have contorted into something really weird, because my sister asked me if I was feeling alright. I said of course I was fine! I was having a beer! I took another sip, and again made that funny face. Out of politeness, I finished that bottle, but I could never understand how people could enjoy such a foul-tasting substance. That was also my only bottle of beer.
My experience with wine has been similar. I got my first sip of wine when I was about 7 years old. Again, it was at one of those family functions. I’m sure we’ve all went through it in our childhoods. It was Thanksgiving, and as the wine was being poured, I pestered my dad if I could try some. Dad, feeling I was old enough, gave me a little bit in my glass. I lifted the glass to my lips with eagerness and drank it all down. That was the most sour thing I had ever drank. I may as well have been sipping lemon juice. This scene played out at Thanksgivings, Christmas dinners, and Easter dinners over the next few years, as I thought that maybe it would be better the next time. But you know what? It never was. It was always lemon juice. I just finally gave up.
I guess the only time I ever felt that the world was out to get me drunk was when I turned 18. I’m sure you’ll all agree that going to the bar on your eighteenth birthday is one of the big rights of passage into adulthood. So, as my eighteenth birthday drew nigh, my parents were perplexed. Since I had shown no interest in going to the bar, how could they do something alcohol-related on my eighteenth birthday? The plan was made for my godmother to come up and join in the festivities. There, under the stars, in my backyard, I watched my mother and godmother get wasted and attempt to sing Shania Twain songs. My brother was there, of course, and once again trying to show how manly he was by downing a six pack. Me? Even though this was all being held in the hopes of getting me drunk, I barely touched a drop. It was my birthday, for heaven’s sake! I just wanted my traditional birthday movie. I kept thinking, “I’m missing Batman Forever for this?” I just grinned and bore it.
Of course, the attempts to get me drunk didn’t stop there. My brother felt that, perhaps, he should take me to the bar, just because no one else had tried. So, we went. Now, I’ve never really liked bars, either. The fact that that is where you get alcoholic drinks is just one of many factors. I’ve never liked the low lighting, loud music, and thin smog of cigarette smoke. It all gives me a splitting headache (that, and some nasty flashbacks to junior high dances). Again, I was just doing this to make my brother happy. He bought me a Screwdriver, a Vodka Slime, and some shooter. I drank them, just to make my brother happy. And, you know what? They weren’t half-bad. Except for one little factor.
That factor also became evident in my aunt’s birthday gift. The aunt who manages the Lacombe Liquor Store felt that this occasion needed a special something, so she gave me a gift basket of Seagram’s Vodka Coolers. I politely accepted it, and put the two bottles of coolers in the back of the fridge in the hopes that they would eventually be forgotten and claimed by some other family member. But no, every time someone went for them, the red flags went up. “Don’t touch those!” a parent would exclaim. “Those are Mark’s!” Since they were mine, I figured I’d better do something with them. So, over the next two days, I had one when I got home from work each night. My parents were so proud. And again, they weren’t half-bad. Except for that one little factor again.
Every alcoholic beverage I’ve tried outside of beer and wine has had this factor. Just as it reaches the back of my throat, and I’m thinking that this drinking thing isn’t so bad, it stings. It’s a very uncomfortable sting. In some cases, I have to repress a gag reflex. It’s just a very unpleasant thing and I don’t like going through it. Maybe, over time, a resistance to this sting is built up and that’s how breweries have become the multi-million dollar industries that they are. But I don’t think I can hold out long enough to develop my resistance.
To recap: beer is bitter, wine is sour, everything else stings my throat. Therefore, I don’t like it. And, if I don’t like it, logic must dictate that I don’t drink it. I guess this is just symptomatic of a larger problem. I need to start to smashing the perceptions that I’ve led this sheltered existence. Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced it. So, I will continue saying no every time it’s offered. I will start getting defensive when you reassuringly explain that it’s OK. I’ve tried alcohol, and I haven’t liked it. GET OVER IT!
Now, don’t get me started on why I don’t drink coffee.