I have a long-time friend who summers in Provincetown; we met there in 1973 He’s very set in his ways -- he arrives on Memorial Day, he leaves on Labor Day. We make a point of meeting for dinner each year, just the two of us, so we can talk about books we’ve read. “I can count on one hand the number of friends I have who are serious readers,” he once said. And that’s a serious statement because he has more friends than anyone I know. And of course, aside from book chat, we regale each other with gossip and confidences.
Our favorite place is the Café Mews. We start off with a martini. On the rocks for me, with an olive or two. My friend likes his “up”. We also both order, year after year, the sea bass.
Three years ago my martini came in the largest on-the-rocks glass I’ve ever seen. Perhaps, I thought, we were being treated special because my companion is a celebrity. Anyhow, when dinner was over, I was still working on my martini. The cubes were melted, and I downed the last of what must have been three if not four ounces of gin. I reckoned, considering the size of the tumbler, that I’d had at least three martinis. Maybe closer to four. I stood up. Barely. I performed a slight lurch. There were no two ways about it: I was drunk. I was where Dorothy Parker had been:
I like a good martini,
But two at the most.
Three I’m under the table,
And four I’m under the host.*
I wasn’t able even to remember if the host … whom I was perhaps just a smidgen away from being under … was a he or a she. Another smidgen of gin and I perhaps would not have cared.
I also wasn’t able even to remember to pick up from the table the invitation my friend had given me for a party he would be throwing at another bar later in the summer.
Since I’d long ago reached an age where I like to maintain a semblance of dignity I was horrified that I might get arrested for DUI on the twenty-mile drive home. I couldn’t allow this to happen. No! No! So I walked Commercial westward and I walked Commercial eastward, and back again; a couple of years back I’d been cruised on this street but -- though hope springs eternal -- no such luck tonight. (If you were cruised ten or twenty or a hundred times a day in your youth you may be sure that, if you live long enough, the time will come when you will consider yourself lucky to get cruised once every four or five years, if ever.)
I paid for a wretched cup of coffee at a hotdog stand at the foot of MacMillan Wharf; it was bitter beyond bitter; it had probably been slowly cooking on the burner since morning. I walked some more. I sat on the benches in front of Town Hall. Finally, sometime between two and three hours after I’d finished dinner, I figured I’d sobered up enough, and I set out for home. I got there without incident.
The next year I ordered a Campari on the rocks. No way this could get me drunk, and I do like the mixture-of-herbs flavor, and the pale-red color of the concoction. Plus, always anxious for any literary allusion, I think I read once that Henry Miller’s favorite drink was Compari with a splash of soda.
But I missed my martini. The next year, tossing caution to the wind, I ordered another one. It turned out to be a generous-enough pour but didn’t seem nearly so lethal or as large-glassed as the one the year before last. When our meal was over I felt confident that I was capable of driving home.
There’s a place called Sweet Escapes about half-way home along the highway. They make the best ice cream in these parts, and, though twenty pounds overweight, I somehow felt deserving of a butter-pecan ice cream cone. Double-dip. Five bucks. Buck tip. Six bucks for an ice cream cone. What the hell … and whatever.
It was August. All the preferred parking was taken. I found myself pulling my pretty-new Toyota Tacoma into a sort of alley which had vehicles parked at angles on both sides. Alas, there was not an empty space, and, alas again, the long lane between the parked vehicles had no outlet. I didn’t want to back out of such a long row, and decided I’d do a smart 8- or 10- or 12-point turn so I could escape forward. I twirled the steering wheel sharply left, leaned forward to give myself room to turn to look out the side window toward the back. I inched backward. Someone blew their horn at me! I thought, oh, shit … I’d thought I had plenty of room. It was one of those sharp-toned horns like on a Buick or a Cadillac.
I cranked the steering wheel to the right and pulled inchingly ahead, going so slowly that even if I hit someone there could hardly be a mark. Then I cranked to the left and backwards again, leaning forward as before to gaze out the side window towards the back. Once more someone blew their horn at me! I slammed on the brakes. What the hell? Blow it out your ass! Again, I’d thought I had plenty of room.
Okay. Maybe I was too close. I certainly didn't want to bump a bumper; I didn't want any sort of confrontation. I inched forward some more, and then leaned forward to look back and make another stab at backing up. Another sharp blast! Jesus, give me a break. And so I pulled forward again and it was while shifting from my back-up position to my go-forward position that I realized it was me blowing the horn at myself. In leaning forward to turn around I was leaning on my own horn. My old truck -- a 1998 Nissan that just wasn't going to limp through one more inspection -- had one of those not-cool low-toned dull flat honks. I hadn’t had any reason to use the horn on my new truck; I didn't know it was sharp, not flat.
A few more pointed turns and I was on my way. No parking place, no ice cream.
Perhaps I was a little drunker than I’d judged myself to be when I left Provincetown. It can be a bit off-putting to blow one's own horn. And embarrassing.
*I change the words up a bit, liking my version better than Ms. Parker’s original. It should read: “I like to have a martini,/Two at the very most./After three I'm under the table,/after four I'm under my host.”