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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Night of a Thousand Wines

It started with a baby horse and ended with fennel seeds. The rest is Twitter history.

I did not set out to become the patron saint of pandemic drinking, but it seems to have turned out that way. I blame it on a horse, although I don’t suppose I can hold the horse totally responsible. I also blame it on sun-dried sushi. In any case, let me explain.

I spend every summer in the Hudson Valley in New York, where I’ve had a house for a million years. It’s beautiful, rolling farmland, cornfields and pastures and apple trees. Animals abound. This summer, my next-door neighbors bought a mare and then discovered she was pregnant. On a day shimmering with heat, the mare had her foal, and my neighbor, knowing I like animals, texted me to announce the birth and invite me to come and see the baby. Such an invitation is, in my estimation, not to be ignored, so I put aside whatever work I was doing, rallied my husband, and headed over.

The barn smelled warm and milky. The mare obliged us by stepping to the back of her stall so we could see the foal, who was dark and leggy and as hoppy as a rabbit. I squealed when I saw him because he was so perfect. He nuzzled each of us in turn and then hopped back to his mother, and then came back for another sniff. At one point, he maneuvered his lips around my hand and tried to suckle. Damn, I thought. This colt is not even a day old and he has already learned about disappointment.

We finally tore ourselves away from the horses and my neighbor proposed that we celebrate with a glass of wine. It was late enough in the afternoon to make that seem like a good idea — who isn’t drinking during the pandemic? — so we headed up to their patio. As I mentioned before, it was very hot out. As I haven’t yet mentioned, I had been working all day and not gotten around to eating. Along with the wine, they brought out a platter of sushi and placed it in the middle of the patio table, where it was immediately and harshly punished by the sun. A few bottle-green flies, sensing an opportunity, dive-bombed the platter. It was a merry gathering, everyone giddy about the foal, and the wine — a light and lively rosé — flowed. I knew I should line my stomach with something before pouring the wine down, but I wasn’t liking the looks of the sushi sweating in the sun. We talked and talked and drank and drank, the sun slid around in the sky, the horses nickered way off-camera, we drank a little more. I’m guessing we were there for about two hours. When we got up to leave, I discovered just how drunk I was. My all-time record had occurred many years before, when I was in college and was wearing a clown costume I had borrowed from a friend, but this felt like a close second. I muttered a thank you and a goodbye and put my husband’s arm in a death grip to be sure I could make it to the car. I felt like I was wearing a giant sandwich-board sign saying I AM DRUNK but no one seemed to be taking note.

When we got home, I announced that I was going immediately to bed. It was about 7:30, not my usual bedtime, but I didn’t think I could stand squarely and figured getting into bed was the way to round out the evening safely. I threw myself in bed and let the room rotate a little. After a moment, I started worrying that my neighbors, whom I don’t know that well, would think I was a doofus. I sprawled there for a few more minutes in the dark. I realized that everyone else in my family had gathered in the living room to watch a movie, which inflamed me with some sort of indignation: How dare they watch a movie while I was here spinning in the bed? I then realized I didn’t want any members of my family to hang out with me; I wanted my cat, who I believed would be judgment-free. But, being a cat, he did no one’s bidding and was nowhere to be found. This seemed like just too much to bear: First the pandemic, then a disloyal cat?

My phone was on my nightstand, and in the dark and while lying sideways, I decided to keep myself company by talking to myself on Twitter, as one does.

Ordinarily, I’m an excellent typist and very anal about correcting typos, but this was not an ordinary night, so I just let fly on the keyboard and posted when I got to the end of a thought, minus my usual proofreading. I railed against my cat for abandoning me and my family, for daring to watch a movie without me, and I thought about the exquisite foal and his encounter with my disappointing fingers, and how his innocence had been lost.

After a while, my husband came in and asked if I was okay.

“Of course, I’m okay!” I barked.

He said a few people had texted him, asking if my Twitter account had been hacked. I was outraged, the way only a drunk person can be outraged — idiotically, inconsolably, irrationally. I could not have been less hacked! I posted that on Twitter, too, just to make the point.

My husband went back to the movie. I remembered that I hadn’t eaten anything, but I no longer wanted dinner; I just wanted some chocolate candy.

I sneaked out of my bedroom and rattled around in the kitchen, where the evening’s second biggest disappointment occurred. We had no chocolate, and really nothing that could be called candy, except for some sugar-coated fennel seeds I’d bought at an Indian grocery. Grabbing a handful, I complained about this to myself on Twitter and went back to bed to eat fennel seeds and feel sorry for myself.

This went on for a few hours until, worn out by the drama of the evening, I fell asleep. The next morning dawned fresh and bright, and after I unglued my eyes, I had a nagging feeling that I had been busy the night before. I knew I hadn’t said anything specific that I regretted — save a few insulting remarks about fennel seeds — but I thought maybe I had been a little…uncensored.

I had been. And many thousands of people had followed along.

I want to mention here that I was not mortified. A little sheepish, and definitely hung over, and I knew I had probably surprised a few people by letting rip quite the way I had. But mostly I was amazed that I seemed to have captured some widespread feeling of outrage, exhaustion, annoyance, discontent, hysteria, mania, and the desire for candy. Maybe the relentless drumbeat of bad news this year made everyone want to just suck down a few gallons of rosé and rant about life’s small (and large) indignities (or observe someone else doing so). Maybe the performative nature of public life and especially social media made my moment of unscriptedness feel refreshing. I do think we’re all sick and tired (to quote Fannie Lou Hamer) of being sick and tired, and anything that lifts that load, even for a brief time, feels exhilarating. I am glad to have lifted it that night.

A few things to note:

  1. I do not wish to glorify drunkenness. That said, it does happen.
  2. Make no mistake, my cat is a great cat. He showed up when he felt like it that night and kept me company.
  3. My neighbors still speak to me and in fact invited us back for another few glasses of wine.
  4. I now make sure there is chocolate candy in my house at all times.

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own book club (join me!)

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