I had my annual physical yesterday and was asked the question we all hate to answer:
Doctor: How many drinks do you have a week? 0 to 2? 3 to 5? 7 to 10? More?
Me (hopefully): A week? Or a day?
Doctor (sighing with impatience because she’s asked the same question by all of her patients): A week.
Even though I have a physical every year and should be prepared to answer this with a smooth lie, I always stumble. I mentally perform my alcohol rationalization calculation, which is: amount of work stress + number of times I call my mother ÷ parties I attend on a given weekend = daily number of cocktails which can be defined as “medicinal,” and, thus, not applicable for the annual physical drink count.
“5!” I finally answer, hoping my enthusiasm will convince my doctor that I’m not lying.
“Try again,” she says.
This time I answer more honestly. “Well, I don’t drink nearly as much as my friend Phoebe,” I say. “Write that down on your little chart.”
Phoebe is one of my best friends mainly because she has even less self discipline than I do. She considers hard lemonade a suitable replacement for orange juice at breakfast. She has taught her kids how to make the perfect martini and how to score a ride home from the country club if mommy has one too many wine spritzers during her poolside canasta game. And, what I love most about her is that she never, ever makes lame excuses for hangovers or denies her love of drink.
When she was pregnant with her last child, we all stayed our distance for nine months because she is such a colossal crabass when sober. “I don’t know how anyone can raise children without a couple of drinks in them,” she said, greedily pouring a vase-size goblet of champagne the day she returned home from delivering the baby.
Everyone needs a friend like Phoebe: A tipsy role model who has managed to maintain her beauty (she’s a former model) and is super high-functioning (she runs her own business) even after guzzling whatever rock gut is placed in front of her at happy hour, which has inched closer to the noon hour over the years.
Phoebe and her ilk make you feel better about your own life. First, they let you know that there is a damp boundary that you have not yet crossed and probably never will. And, secondly, even if you do travel down that high-octane path, apparently, it won’t kill you.
I like to call Phoebe after a rough night. Let’s say I wake up after a night of too many tequila gimlets which prompted me to makeout with the party hostess right in front of her girlfriend, I can always count on Phoebe for comforting me with even worse behavior.
“Oh, honey, a drunken makeout session that resulted in a breakup of a longtime couple? That’s kid’s stuff,” Phoebe consoles. “Last night, I sold my daughter’s kidney to a guy who volunteered to get me a lime for my gin and tonic. He just picked her up to get her prepped for the operation. Jim (Phoebe’s husband) is furious. But it’s his own fault for not getting off his lazy ass and fetching me the lime from the bar himself.”
Back at my doctor’s office, my physician put down her clipboard, went to her medicine refrigerator and pulled out a split of prosecco. We click glassed over another year of willful self-denial, and I promise to never drink while taking prescription medicine. And since she doesn’t prescribe me any, I know it will be an easy promise to keep.