One summer night, when I was visiting an uncle and aunt of mine, we were all sitting in the house, talking and listening to the violent rain storm outside. It was very late, and we were about ready to go to bed, when suddenly we were all of us practically electrified by a series of blood-curdling shrieks. I was too paralyzed with fear to budge, but my uncle, who is very brave, ran around briskly and in no time at all discovered that the horrible screams were coming from the lady next door, who was clinging to the roof of her house, clad only in a nightgown, her long hair streaming in the rain. No one would answer the door, and the lady, herself, deaf to all inquiries, continued to emit her terrifying yowls.
There was nothing to do but call the police, but while we were waiting for the patrol car, my uncle found a ladder, climbed up it, and tried to shove the lady back through the little bedroom window which, presumably, had been her medium of exit onto the roof. To his intense surprise, the lady’s husband then appeared at the window, quite calmly, and said, “What are you doing here?” in an annoyed tone. “I am trying to put your wife back off the roof,” replied my uncle, somewhat nettled from trying to balance himself on the ladder. “Oh, that’s all right,” said the man. “There’s no trouble here. Go away.” At which the lady ceased her cries long enough to add, “Yes, and who asked you to butt in?!”
My uncle was so startled he almost fell off the ladder. At that point the police arrived, and it seemed that the lady and her husband had been killing a couple of quarts during the evening, and they were just playing a game. They were quite angry at my uncle for having broken it up and even debated as to whether or not they could sue him for having called the police.
Back in uncle’s house, we were all telling him that it never pays to interfere with a couple who are in wine—no matter how desperate the situation may appear on the surface. “Hell,” said my uncle. “How did I know what she was doing up there on the roof? I thought she might have gotten her foot caught in a mouse-trap.”
The conversation then turned on the difficulties of dealing diplomatically with those whose minds have been addled by the use of strong spirits. How do you handle a woman who at two o’clock in the morning decides that more than anything else in the world she wants to take a horse home with her? What do you do with men who call you up in the middle of the night and want you to come right over to the Kit Kat, and when you tell them that it is the middle of the night, they answer, “Why?” What is the best way to propitiate a romantically inclined young man who protests thickly that he wants to settle down in “a little Hudson by the cottage” and then bursts into tears at the beauty of the whole idea?
I can’t help thinking that the majority of women who do drink, do so with more dignity and more sense than the majority of men.
As usual in discussions on this subject, someone said the customary “If there’s one thing I hate to see, it’s a drunken woman!” and the other men hastened to agree that the feminine souse is indescribably more revolting than the male. Now this is something which always whips me up into a froth, especially when it is mouthed so dogmatically, because I consider it a debatable statement. It is undeniable that a drunken lady can appear most unappetizing, but not any more so than can a drunken gentleman—and there are a lot more of the latter. (Having worked on newspapers in a “convention” city, I know what it is to wade through hotel lobbies overflowing with solid citizens wearing name-badges, paper hats and the noisiest jag in seven counties. I don’t care whether it’s the Elks, the American Legion, the Republican National Convention, the New York State Embalmers’ Association or the Dairymen’s League—they all blow their tin whistles, sing loudly in the elevators, and bellow across the lobby, “Come on up to 732! The boys are all up there!” Now I may be wrong, but I just happen never to have seen the League of Women Voters acting that way. Although I admit I would give a pretty penny to have heard Nathalie Couch or Sarah Schuyler Butler that was, shouting “Whaddya say we go up and join the fellows?”)
Of course, there are individual cases of obnoxious female inebriates. We all of us know some little woman whose alcoholic frolics are an infringement on the pinhead concession at Coney Island. There is, for example, the alleged Russian princess, whose chief charm is her title, and whom I have never seen when she didn’t appear in an advanced stage of somnambulism—interpolated with spasmodic little ejaculations which convince me that royal hiccoughs are no more dignified than those of the common proletariat variety. There is also the heiress to an impressive American name who, at the age of nineteen, is timid about standing up in nightclubs because when she does, she invariably falls flat on her face and has to be plucked from the floor by a couple of waiters.
Then, too, there is the actress who volunteered to do a solo dance one night at a club in the East Fifties. The master of ceremonies was delighted, and introduced her—“Among our guests tonight is that lovely little actress, Miss X, who has consented to favor us with a solo number … ” Miss X wove out into the middle of the floor and began a series of astonishing convolutions. The master of ceremonies turned his head for a moment to speak to the orchestra leader, and when he glanced back, he was indeed startled to see that Miss X had removed the top part of her vestments and was standing before the assembly, nude to the waist. He quickly led her from the floor. Then he returned to the microphone and said, in hurt, reproachful tones, “Miss X. We are disappointed in you.”
These, however, are but scattered instances. I admit that the desire to disrobe publicly when in one’s cups does seem to be a strictly feminine tendency. After all, I never yet saw the man who wanted to slip his shirt off his shoulders after four sidecars. But for one lone girl who wants to get up and do an exhibition dance, I have seen a dozen such terpsichorean gents, frequently over the age of sixty, when their intentions are more flexible than their muscles. If they don’t insist on a solo buck and wing, they at least want to show you how good they can rumba—and if there is one thing worse than being in a place where there’s rumba music with a man who can’t rumba, it’s being there with one who can’t but who does anyway.
It may be because there are more men who drink (or because, when they drink, they drink greater quantities) that their vineyard conduct seems to me more reprehensible than that of the women. But I can’t help thinking that the majority of women who do drink, do so with more dignity and more sense than the majority of men. In other words, so far as I’m concerned, Bacchus was a lady.
It is, therefore, up to you—the fragile little woman—to go out of an evening, match drink for drink with your male companion, and still retain your wits to a degree where you can cope with the situation when he argues with waiters, wants to fight with the man at the next table, insults the doorman, flirts with the hatcheck girl, is alternately amorous, jealous, and quarrelsome. When he boasts, in muddled but interminable accents, of his career in the big world of business, you are supposed to listen with tact and enthusiasm, even though he is whistling his s’s and repeating every third sentence, for emphasis, just like the straight man in a burlesque show. If it’s a joke he’s telling, he will repeat the punch line, laughing fit to kill each time, and asking you if you don’t think it’s good. You are not to answer, “Well, I thought it was good two hours ago when you first told it to me,” because then he will get mad and say, “Aw, what do you want to be like that for?”
If he insists on driving his car home, himself, even though he has to fiddle five minutes before he can locate the ignition, you must try ingeniously to keep him from driving on the extreme left side of the street and passing every red light, although the only cooperation you will get from him is a remark to the effect that he’ll thank you not to try to teach him how to drive his own car, at which moment he slams on the brakes—throwing you up against the windshield—and stops half an inch away from a truck, the driver of which leans out and says, “Why doncha go out in the country and loin how to drive?!”
If he has reached the stage where every dance you attempt with him takes on the appearance of an adagio number—with you in the role of ground-worker, carrying him around in your arms—you either have to pretend that you are having the time of your life, or else tell him you are too tired to dance, in which latter case he will grumble bitterly that you are a kill-joy and why don’t you ever want to do anything to please him?
If he refuses to go home at four o’clock in the morning and you should try to persuade him that it’s after all not an utterly illogical idea, he will say that he might just as well not have gone out at all and why don’t you ever want him to have any fun?
Many a giant intellect shrinks magically to midget size after an over-dose of Scotch and soda.
You have to be prepared to see to it that he pays his check, that he gets his right change, and that when he shouts, “Where the hell is my scarf?” you can pull it out of his coat pocket and hand it to him before he raises a rumpus. If he gets sick, you have to pretend not to notice it, so that he won’t be embarrassed. If he passes out cold, you must see that he gets home all right. If he leaves his cigarettes burning in the ash tray, you have to put them out before they topple over and set fire to the table cloth. If he tries to attack you, you have to evade him good-naturedly—and refrain from commenting that in his condition he would be incapable of attacking a mouse.
In other words, you must pamper him, soothe him, agree with him, guard him and minister to him. You must never resort to anger (after all, one does not employ anger with a child that is not too bright), and any attempt at logic is a laughable waste of energy. If he says, with a flash of perspicuity, “You think I’m drunk, don’t you?” tell him, Certainly not, because if you say Yes, it will only egg him on. And never, never expect any show of remorse or shame the next day, no matter how odious his performance the night before. You will be far more apt to hear him proudly prating to his friends, “Say, I had a beautiful can on last night. Can’t remember a thing from the time we left Tony’s!” in the same smug tone as if he had made a hole in one.
None of you need think, either, that I am referring solely to gentlemen of an uncouth and lowly stratum. In fact, it sometimes almost seems as if the higher the position, the lower the bibulous manifestations. The Social Register is full of tipplers whose abundant idiocies are as violent as they are unrefined. Nor is it a question of mentality. Many a giant intellect shrinks magically to midget size after an over-dose of Scotch and soda—the potent philtre which transforms authors and artists into caper-cutting pests, and dignified statesmen into object lessons. A captain of industry whuffling in his cups can be just as much of a vine louse as a clerk on a spree, and my name is not Ella Boole, either.
Now the point is this. Every girl who goes out at all frequently in these parlous times is sooner or later going to be exposed to a drinking man. He does not have to be an out and out souse, but I have seen even beer-and-light-winers go under the table and commit social faux-pas of a distressing nature. You ought to be prepared to handle any and all types who may be encountered while in that curious state known as inebriation. You should learn to judge by instinct alone the obstreperous ones who can no more be cajoled into order than you can pet a porcupine, the erotic ones who believe that liquor is the open sesame, and the lunatic fringe whose treatment requires the ability to make snap decisions, a shock-proof constitution, and infinite patience—since they are apt to run the gamut from wanting to charter an airplane and fly to Tahiti down to taking a poke at a policeman or seeing if they can spit through their teeth in the Japanese Garden of the Ritz.
One way of forearming yourself for all contingencies is to go to Columbia University and take a course in The Psychology of the Problem Child. This will equip you to deal with the average male drunk. Another method is to curtail your masculine acquaintanceship to members of the Temperance League or to gentlemen who shy away from alcohol because it is bad for their gout. This, however, does not let you in for a life of undue gaiety. The only course left is to make up your mind you will shoulder your cross and bear it with as good grace as possible. Unless, of course, you decide to go them one better and become the outstanding lady drunk of your generation. This will undoubtedly ruin your reputation and cast a reflection on your whole sex, but you can certainly have an awful lot of fun until cirrhosis of the liver finally sets in.
[Photo Credit: Robert Frank c/o The Art Institute of Chicago]