Having consumed my entire life’s quota of alcohol during the first half of my adult life, I no longer drink at all. Recently, though, I had to attend a work-related reception and dinner in Montreal, and though I did not drink, I couldn’t help imagining how different the evening would have been had I done so. Here, then, is the recap of my experience in Reality vs Alternate Alcohol Universe (AAU).
Reality: Outside the city, on the bus with colleagues who are enjoying an en-route cocktail or two, I send a Snapchat to my wife: my sad face and the caption, “Stuck in traffic and sober.”
AAU: Outside the city, on the bus enjoying an en-route cocktail or two or three, I send a Snapchat to my wife: my grinning face and the caption, “Stuck in traffic, but cheers!”
Reality: We arrive to find the bar area crowded and loud, rendered almost painful by my tinnitus. I make straight for the bar to pour myself a glass of water from a series of bottles sitting there.
AAU: We arrive to find the bar area crowded and loud, and I add to it by greeting co-workers like they are fondly remembered classmates at a high school reunion. I make for the bar to submit the first instalment of the considerable investment I plan to make in alcohol that evening.
Reality: I find a far corner and stand there, nervously sipping my water. I return to the bar for a second glass and discover that some of the bottles contain carbonated water. I predict correctly that this will be the highlight of my night.
AAU: I find a corner and stand there, nervously sipping my drink. I return to the bar for a second one, after which I find a group of people to stand near, nervously sipping my drink. Because I can’t entirely hear what’s being said, I contribute to the ambient noise by laughing loudly in the appropriate places. Also: a third one.
Reality: With some relief, I see that they are no circulating hors d’œuvres. I devote myself to making solid eye contact with the servers.
AAU: I enter a lively discussion about Lebron James, even though we cut our cable in the fall and I haven’t seen a single NBA game this season. I suddenly have strong convictions about Lebron James.
Reality: By now I have checked my phone several times for emails, texts and Scrabble.
AAU: Group selfie!
Reality: I duck into the bathroom for a breather. Also: all that bubbly water.
AAU: I duck into the bathroom for a third time; all that beer.
Reality: Dinner is served. It’s assigned seating. I take my seat.
AAU: Dinner is served. It’s assigned seating. I surreptitiously switch seat tags to sit with someone I know. It’s not surreptitious at all but everyone is too polite to object.
Reality: I’m seated next to a very nice man whom I know a little and whose daughters I also know a little. We chat politely about our children while we wait for the first course.
AAU: I switch to red wine.
Reality: I realize with horror that we have run out of children to talk about and suddenly understand that this is the sole reason some people have such large families.
AAU: I enter into a loud discussion with the person seated across from me on how we are blessed to be living in what is clearly the golden age of beer. The topic somehow touches on Millennials, the decline of shopping malls and Lebron James.
Reality: I embark on deep introspection regarding my fish entrée – peering into my sole, as it were.
AAU: I embark on a quest to obtain by any means possible a second bottle of wine.
Reality: I listen politely to some speeches.
AAU: I point out to my tablemates in barely concealed whispers that the dollop of chocolate mousse on the dessert plate looks exactly like the smiling poop emoji.
Reality: After the meal, I find an empty chair in the reception area and wait for the return bus ride home.
AAU: Sorry; things get a little blurry at this point.
Reality: On the bus, I isolate myself with earbuds and my book to tune out the boisterous reveling in the back of the bus.
AAU: I’m in the back of the bus, singing a bawdy version of “I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt” that is not nearly as hilarious as I think it is.
Reality: I wake up in the morning with regret that I couldn’t be more sociable without the crutch of alcohol.