A Cautionary Tale of Quarantine Happy Hour

And why Dry January became Dry February.

In the month of October, I somehow spent nearly $500 on wine. One day while driving home, I passed by a wine store and decided, “Why not?” We’d been ordering the same bottle of Whispering Angel rosé via delivery, and it was getting a little old. And this is how a local wine shop became a welcome, luxurious addition to my list of weekly errands.

Every week, I’d think to myself, Oh, I’ll just pop in and see what’s new and exciting. Much to my liver’s dismay, there was always something new and exciting—many things were new and exciting to a person who’d been stuck inside for a week. Honestly, it was like any possible deductive reasoning skills I had flew out the window somewhere around month three of quarantine. Who knew that wine could have “notes of honeysuckle” or “taste like summer?” It was 50 degrees outside—positively freezing for Los Angeles. I wanted to taste the summer! And it was by this logic that I would end up leaving the store with six bottles of wine. By the time the week was over, the bottles would be empty, and I would be back for more.

There was something ceremonious about uncorking a bottle of wine right at five o’clock every day. Some afternoons, I’d take a bottle and a book to the par, and read while the sun set, like I was Diane Keaton in a Nancy Meyers film. Other nights, I’d pour glasses for me and my partner, and we’d settle in with take-out and a movie. And still other days, I would be on FaceTime with a friend, and we’d open our bottles together, enjoying a heavy pour as we talked about how little had happened in our lives since we last caught up. “It’s happy hour!” one of my friends sang to me, and we tapped our glasses to the iPhone camera before taking a long, grateful sip.

On the one hand, this ritual made me appreciate wine a lot more. I bought the book Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, a memoir about a journalist who quits her day job to become a sommelier. As Bianca learned about wines, so did I. She explained how sommeliers stick their whole noses into a wine glass to catch all the fragrant notes, and I started to see if I could compare. (In the beginning, everything just smelled “like wine,” which was disappointing.) Bianca insisted that Muscadet had a bad reputation purely because its name was too close to that of the cloyingly sweet Moscato, so I picked up a bottle of both to see what she was talking about. (Muscadet is very good, Moscato is like syrup—which is also good, but not as a happy hour wine.) Bianca said that liking Sancerre (my favorite) was pretentious, so I explored a wine called “Touraine” instead, which is also made in the Loire Valley and is just as good, honestly, and a lot less expensive. Bianca also said that some of the best wines in the world come from Burgundy, so I went to a very tall bookshelf that I had never visited in the wine store and gawked at the $100+ pricetags of the bottles. I picked up a red, allowed it to sit in a decanter, and then poured it for me and my fiancé on yet another monotonous Saturday night. We couldn’t believe how delicious it was, even if it was absurdly expensive. As the weeks lagged by, so did the wines I tried: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Carricante, Vermentino, Nebbiolo.

If it all sounds a bit indulgent, that’s because it absolutely is. I’d start with one glass at 5 o’clock and have another by dinner. At this rate, I was drinking a half bottle each night, nearly every night. I was enjoying yet another Happy Hour Facetime with a friend when she told me she’d received some disturbing news. For the past three months, she’d been in a “Mom Pod” with two other families in her neighborhood, but one of the mothers suddenly opted out. After not hearing from the woman for weeks, she finally resurfaced. She wouldn’t be re-joining the pod, she announced in the group chat, because the alcohol intake had officially become a problem for her. She was now sober. I felt the Chasselas go sour on my tongue.

Truthfully, I was already beginning to feel as though this cute little quarantine ritual was becoming an outrageous indulgence. For one thing, wine can be very expensive. On top of that, if time is money, then I was also wasting a lot of that, too. Obviously wine has that lovely way of making you want to sit down, be still, and relax—but the way it messes with your sleep and your morning after generally means that “just a glass or two” can cost you well into the next afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean to say that I ever felt like I had problems managing my alcohol consumption. But my friend’s anecdote definitely made me question the role that alcohol was playing in my life: whether this was a precarious little joy ride or a slippery slope into disaster, I wanted off.

I quietly made a New Year’s Resolution to participate in Dry January. The first week was the easiest, but as work started to get busier and busier, it started to get harder to resist the urge to drink. Eventually, I realized that the “Happy Hour” ceremony of it all was the real draw for me—the one chance I had at feeling like there was a marker in my day, and the compulsion to phone or text a friend for no reason at all. Instead of purchasing bottles of wine, I got an electric kettle and started making teas. Just like wine, there’s a tea for everything—sleep, happiness, relaxation, immunity, you name it. The fancy wine glass was replaced with a cozy little mug. It wasn’t quite as chic, but it would do.

I also became obsessed with Kin Euphorics—a liquor-free beverage that boosts your mood. Kin is kind of like a micro-dose of an energy drink mixed with a super-charged tea; it has tons of mood elevators like L-Theanine and other “nootropics” that give you a slight little lift. (I have no idea if there is any science behind any of this.) I was incredibly suspicious of the whole ordeal, but I was on week three of Dry January and I was willing to try anything. Now, I find myself reaching for it every day right around five o’clock.

Anyways, here I am nearing March, and I still haven’t had a sip of alcohol. I won’t tell you that not drinking has changed my life—that feels a little dramatic. However, I can honestly tell you that I do not miss it. That’s what feels like the most revelatory part of it all. I always felt like I could never “not drink,” but now that I’ve stopped drinking, I’ve identified what it was I really liked about alcohol in the first place. It was a chance to be social, to be ceremonial, to make a little fuss about the passing of time in a day. It turns out, you don’t actually need a liquor content to make any of these things feel just as special.


THREE QUICK THINGS:

  1. For NYT Mag, my friend Jenna Wortham chronicles “The Rise of the Wellness App,” a wonderful long-read about the role these apps play in how we define and monitor self-care…and whether any of it is actually working.

  2. In a bit of good news, the science journalist James Hamblin (one of my favorite writers on this pandemic!) gives the headline we’ve been waiting for: A Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer. Hamblin is optimistic that herd immunity and vaccine rates may reach a point where we can actually enjoy a relatively normal (if domestic) summer. “For some, the summer of 2021 might conjure that of 1967, when barefoot people swayed languidly in the grass, united by an appreciation for the tenuousness of life,” he writes. “Pre-pandemic complaints about a crowded subway car or a mediocre sandwich could be replaced by the awe of simply riding a bus or sitting in a diner. People might go out of their way to talk with strangers, merely to gaze upon the long-forbidden, exposed mouth of a speaking human.”

  3. My friend JP Brammer just announced that his debut book, Hola Papi, is available for pre-order. If you like gay things, advice columns, and reading things that will make your heart break and burst at the same time, then JP’s writing is for you.


NOW READING: I just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, and Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas. I’m now excited to start The Acts of King Arthur & His Noble Knights.


Parting Words: Rather than end on a quote, I wanted to end on these ways to help people from the power outages and severe weather in Texas. If you have the ability to give, please do so.