Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Story at 11

posted Fri, 29 Oct 2004

I don’t drink. It’s not for moral reasons. It’s not for health reasons. It’s because I don’t like the way most alcohol tastes.

But other people seem to become uncomfortable around me if they are drinking and I am not. I don’t care if they drink. They can do what they want. I don’t think I act in a way that should bother others – I mean, I don’t think I act judgmentally. Why would I? I don’t care. I’m not judging anyone else for drinking. I just don’t like the way it tastes! (Except for Bailey’s and you’d have to be insane not to like that. With extra cream, of course.)

I admit I was slightly judgmental in college – or that’s what my friends tell me. But I think it was more indifference to the liquor and fascination with their reaction to it than judgment of them. Alcohol was not a big deal in my house when I was a kid. My dad had a beer when he got home from work. My parents had parties and served liquor. When we lived in Spain, my parents drank wine and had sangria.

If my siblings and I wanted a sip of beer or wine, it was OK. One time Jenny – she must have been about four or five – tasted my dad’s brandy. Maybe it was scotch. But instead of a sip, she slammed it like a shot. Her eyes flew open and she gasped for breath. She didn’t ask for a taste for a good long while after that.

When I got to college, alcohol was not the forbidden fruit that was suddenly available. Other students were drinking beer like it was going out of style, but I was puzzled. It was just beer. What was the big deal? It didn’t even taste good! I became the designated handler, more or less, and eventually, because really, it’s not much fun having a sober person around if everyone else is drinking, stopped going to the parties that existed solely for drinking.

As an adult, I have faced more pressure to drink at work dinners than I ever did at college. When offered wine, I decline it. I don’t like wine. Why would I waste calories on wine when there is a perfectly good dessert to be had? But they pester me. Have some wine, they urge. Usually they stop after I decline once or twice with a smile. But one time, two colleagues persisted. And persisted. Why wouldn’t I drink, they wanted to know. I finally had had enough. I was livid.

You guys are being horribly rude, I said. It is none of your business why I don’t drink. It is rude of you to ask why. For all you know, I am an alcoholic, this far from being pushed over the edge.

That shut them up.

I get a similar reaction when people learn I don’t have a TV. They get uncomfortable. Am I judging them for having one? No. Not really. I just choose not to have one. We didn’t have one for most of my childhood. It started by chance. We moved to Spain when I was six and we didn’t take the old black and white with us.

When we returned to the States, my parents decided they would rather have us read and play than watch TV. Neighbors offered to give us their extra TVs. Kids at school asked if we were poor.

It bothered me a bit to be different in that way, but I was already weird in so many other ways – smart, ugly glasses, clothes that I made myself, played violin, rode my bike to school with a violin strapped across the handlebars – that one more thing to set me apart wasn’t going to break me.

I did get a TV when I got my first job out of college, and I discovered that I spent all my free time watching TV, which was the main reason I got rid of it – although not until after thirtysomething had gone off the air. I wouldn’t even answer the phone Tuesday nights from 9:00 to 10:00.

When I lived in Miami, people asked me in horror, “What do you do?” I explained that I took a Portuguese class, that I tutored algebra, that I took violin lessons, that I was involved in the Miami Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association, that I was a mentor to an at-risk high-school girl, that I swam, that I took salsa classes and that I read. “And what do you do?” I would ask politely in return.

My boss doesn’t mention it so much anymore, but he is still puzzled and appalled that I don’t have a TV and defensive that he does. I have tried to explain to him that I do not have a TV in my house for the same reason I do not keep ice cream or chocolate in my house: that I am incapable of enjoying things in moderation. The same obsessiveness that channeled properly gets me up at 5:15 every work morning to swim is the flip side of the obsession that would have me watching every episode of every reality show made. And of every other show. I’d never get anything else done.

I think, though, that I am really a giant Rorschach test for how people feel about their own drinking and TV watching. And that makes it really fun to watch how they react to me.

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