Drunk by proxy
My friend Carl was getting married. His older brother Lenny wanted to give him a bachelor party. Carl declined the honor. Lenny insisted. It went back and forth for a while, until Carl finally consented to a low-key evening of going out for drinks with “the guys.” Carl called me up and invited me to be one of the guys.
“I don't get it, Carl. I mean, I appreciate the invitation and all, but you know I'm not a drinker. I'd hardly fit in.”
“That's okay, Zee. In fact, that's why I'm inviting you. I'll need at least one friend there with my best interests at heart.”
“Uh, Carl, you do know that your brother is going to be there?”
“Oh, yeah! Like I said. I'm desperate to have someone on my side.”
The chosen venue for the event was not particularly intimidating. Carl and Lenny chose a TGI Friday's in Sacramento, sufficiently centrally located for the convenience of the participants. As it worked out, there were only five of us at the big event, so it was hardly a blowout. Carl, Lenny, and I were joined by Tom and Jerry, both friends of the brothers and neither of whom I knew. Tom seemed nice enough in a generic sort of way and I suppose Jerry was okay, too, if you like awkwardly geeky guys with glasses who snort when they laugh. I actually felt a pang of sympathy for Jerry, who seemed even more out of place than I did.
We were seated at a round table by a relentlessly pleasant server to whom Lenny explained the plan of the evening:
“This here is my brother,” he said, pointing to Carl, who was sitting at his right. “He's getting married next weekend and we're here to celebrate the end of his freedom. We're going to take turns ordering drinks, starting with me, and Carl has to drink whatever we drink.”
The server sought clarification: “So you'll order the first round for everyone and then it'll go around the table?”
Lenny shook his head. “No, Carl and I will have the first drink. Then it'll be Tom's turn to order a drink, which he and Carl will have. Then Jerry will pick and then Zeno. Carl has to match each of us, so we're ganging up on him.”
The server smiled sympathetically at Carl, who was already looking queasy. “Very good, then. Would you gentlemen care for any appetizers?”
“Maybe later,” replied Lenny. “But we're not going to have any food yet. Carl's drinking on an empty stomach.”
The server favored us with the indulgent smile of someone who had seen it before but was prepared to do his duty in hopes of an alcoholically generous tip. Lenny launched into his initial assault on his brother's sobriety:
“I want a special blend of Kahlua and cream with an extra shot of Stoli in it. One for me and one for my brother.”
The server smiled. “Right away, sir!”
Lenny practically chugged his weird coffee-colored concoction as soon as it arrived, presumably to get things off to a brisk start. Carl sipped at his glass with a vaguely uncomfortable expression on his face, while Lenny egged him on. Tom was chuckling and I was tight-lipped, but Jerry was getting into the spirit of the occasion, almost giddy.
“Come on, Carl,” coaxed Jerry. “There's a lot more where that came from! Don't keep us waiting!”
I wondered if perhaps Jerry had had a few warm-up drinks before the event, just to get in the mood, but I was soon to find out just how wrong I was. I don't remember what Tom ordered when his turn came, but it was something less sticky-sweet than Lenny's order—a more conventional choice, if just as alcoholic. Then it was Jerry's turn, and Lenny made an announcement:
“Okay, everybody. Special rule. I'm Jerry's pinch-hitter. He can order anything he wants for himself and Carl, but I'll drink his.”
Tom and I were clearly confused by Lenny's statement, but Carl knew what was going on.
“Is that kosher, Jerry? Drinking alcohol is sinful for you. Can you make others drink it with a clear conscience? Isn't that a problem, Jerry?”
Jerry squirmed in his seat, but his answer was resolute:
“It's not as if I'm taking a drink. Lenny drinks anyway. So do you. I'm just choosing.”
“That's right,” said Lenny. “There's no reason a Mormon can't choose a drink for Carl and me since we have no moral objection to booze. Jerry can keep his clear conscience.”
Tom and I exchanged quizzical glances over the Mormon who sat between us, hunched over the drinks menu and trying to find something suitable for the occasion. Lenny sneered a bit when Jerry chose the strawberry daiquiri, but perhaps our LDS companion figured that strawberries would go well with Kahlua. I don't know.
Lenny and Carl quaffed their daiquiris and it was my turn. Lenny looked at me expectantly while Carl looked at me hopefully.
“What's your pleasure, Zeno?” asked Lenny.
I pretended to consider the drinks menu. I let a few seconds tick by. The server had noticed that it was time for the next round and hovered over us.
“You know, I think that I would like a nice ... tall ... glass of ice water.”
Lenny was beside himself: “No, no, no! That's not the point of the game! That's all wrong!”
Carl was laughing as I replied: “No, it's not all wrong, Lenny. It's probably what Carl was hoping for. He knows I'm a teetotaler. I'm Carl's ringer. He figured he could get a break with me and he will. Ice water, please.”
The server grinned and hurried off. Lenny looked exasperated while Carl looked grateful. “Thank you, Zee, thank you,” said the groom.
“You know, Zeno, you could have done like Jerry” said Lenny. “I'd pinch-hit for you and you wouldn't have to drink any alcohol. I'd do it for you.”
“Sorry, Lenny, but I don't think I'm like Jerry.”
“Yeah,” muttered Tom, with a sidelong glace at the momentarily abashed Mormon. Tom coughed and it sounded like “hypocrite,” but maybe it was just a cough. And if it was just a cough, perhaps Jerry stiffened when he heard it because he was afraid of catching a cold.
Carl and I slowly sipped our tall glasses of ice water and a slightly more natural color relieved the greenish tinge that had been developing on his face, but we were merely postponing the inevitable. A few drinks later and Carl had to rush to the restroom, brother in hot pursuit, to rid himself of a witch's brew of mixed beverages.
The wedding came off without a hitch, Carl looking clean and sober while his bride was conventionally radiant. I knew almost no one at the reception, but eventually Carl had a chance to mingle with the guests and we had a few seconds to chat.
“You're looking well, Carl.”
“Thanks, Zee, but it took a couple of days before I felt halfway decent.”
“Yeah, well, you did almost puke your guts out last weekend.”
“Very true. Too true. At least I wasn't driving. Lenny did the honors and took me home and rolled me into bed. He agreed, though, that the evening was a bad idea.”
“Really? I'm just a little surprised. I wouldn't have thought Lenny would admit to that.”
“No, my brother can change his mind when the evidence is persuasive enough. In this case the evidence was the vomit I spewed all over the inside of his sports car on the way home.”
The wedding reception included a sit-down dinner service. I found myself sitting at the same table as Jerry and his wife, a perky blond brood-hen. I moved in for the kill:
“Hi, Jerry. Nice to see you again.”
Jerry looked up at my greeting and swallowed.
“Oh, hi, uh, ... Zeno. Good to see you, too. This is my wife Terry.”
Terry favored me with a big smile, “Nice to meet you, Zeno. Where do you know Jerry from?”
I smiled back with a toothy grin.
“Oh, didn't he tell you? We went out for drinks with the boys last weekend. It was a drunken bachelor party for Carl. Boy, was I surprised when Jerry ordered the strawberry daiquiri!”