Back in the day, I subscribed to the ten stages of drunkenness, which I learned from listening to Jimmy Buffett: Witty and Charming (part 1), Warm Family Man, Patriotic, Clairvoyance, To Hell With Dinner, Patriotic, Witty and Charming (part 2), Break Out The K-Y, Invisible, Bulletproof, God's Own Drunk. On any given night, I was good for six to eight of these, sometimes clearing Bulletproof but never quite settling on God's Own territory. On a good evening, I could hover pleasantly around the second phase of Witty and Charming before English became optional. This was my party persona, and I would love to tell you that I practiced to make each stage separate and distinct, but that would be less than true. I made enough calls on Sunday mornings to check on that moment when the mess started to slide into sloppy, and I know that it is hard work to stay on top of a wave of binge drinking. It has swallowed up lesser men than me.
Which is why I retired. Really. There are plenty of folks whose names I can supply, on demand, who will attest to how much fun I was. For a while. Until I turned invisible.Then it became necessary to extricate me or my conversational hostages. Helicopter evacuation wouldn't be necessary, just a simple bag of Cheetos was enough to distract me, and the offended parties could slip out unnoticed. Nobody misses those days, but I do miss being witty and charming.
I had my chance last weekend at a work function. It was an end-of-year celebration for the tech-types, of which I count myself, held in the back yard of the district's Chief Technologist. My wife and I arrived fashionably late, and I carried in a six pack of assorted beers that were just getting old in our refrigerator. Our host greeted us and pointed us in the direction of the food and the cooler where our beer would nestle with the rest of the adult beverages. Unless I wanted wine, which was also offered. I politely declined, and made my way to the bratwurst.
It was next to the buns and condiments that I found myself in that tricky spot of standing next to other grown ups who were trying to make polite conversation while grazing. The back yard was small enough that my options were limited by the full picnic table and the lack of space to circulate. Soon my wife and I were surrounded by four more individuals who needed to be introduced because even though we worked in the same district, we knew each other primarily by school site. Now it was time to decide: should I shove the rest of my dinner into my mouth and listen politely, or should I engage? I chose the latter, and soon I found myself on familiar ground: Witty and Charming (part 1). All those conversational gambits that had worked so well with a drink in my hand all those years ago were still somewhat reliable and I found myself entertaining this small crowd with the love and support of my wing-wife, who kept the ball bouncing whenever I got stuck and I kicked it loose whenever she lost track herself. I nibbled at salad and felt the absence of a drink in my hand, but I kept going. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I half-expected to descend into invisibility, but it never came. I was funny and pleasant and managed not to offend anyone or their significant others. After a couple hours of this, my witty and charming wife pointed out that we needed to be on our way, since tomorrow was a busy day and all. We walked out of the back yard feeling quietly triumphant. I turned to her and said with mild hesitation, "I think tonight we were 'that couple.'"
She reflected for a moment and agreed. We drove home feeling what I can only assume is a stage of sobriety: Smug and Satisfied.