Kile Ozier was encouraged to cultivate a taste for alcohol at home. Without the pressures of a political life in the closet and a killer epidemic, it might not have become a problem … .
I actually remember my very first drink.
I must have been four to four-and-a-half years old, as my Dad—who died in February of 1957, shortly after my 5th birthday—is the one who offered it to me.
Nope, this isn’t about alcohol irresponsibility of a bad father; my dad was a fantastic dad. A test pilot for Lockheed (F-104) who left every morning before dawn, he would return home, every afternoon, in his two-door turquoise T-bird, pick me up and off we’d go for a drive and to “talk about things,” as I would explain to my mother on our return home.
I often wonder what would have become of me, how much better a man I might have been, had Joe Ozier lived and remained my father into my adulthood.
But this is about my first drink; and there were a few of ‘em…
The fist sip of beer was as described, above. Some late-afternoon / early-evening backyard barbecue with the gang of test pilots and their wives and someone’s home other than ours. I can picture it, now. Brown, Southern California stucco, wooden picnic table, the golden glow of pre-sunset, a couple of the men had cigarettes and I walked up to the table and asked if I could have a beer.
My dad sat me on his knee and, to the delight of all ‘round the table, said something like, “…sure, son, have a sip of mine. If you like it, you can have your own…”
I discovered bitter. Not interested: which way to the root beer?!
General laughter, memory fades … .
Fifteen-plus years later, I suppose I had my first beer-of-choice in my sophomore year of high school. In our small, essentially rural Southern Oregon town of Klamath Falls, the jocks (of which I was peripheral, being a swimmer) and the Accepted Few of the Politicos (of which I was a card- and cause-carrying member) did a lot of under-the-radar partying through high school. It was pretty much all about beer.
Somehow, I came into possession of a box that looked like a row of leather-bound books, but opened up into a small bar; with glasses and room for three fifths of the hard stuff. I thought it was cool, and may have procured it at a garage sale or something, my senior year, and added it to my ManCave bedroom, where I’d taken over our basement.
So, my mom, in an inspired moment, decided I needed to be introduced to quality liquor; thus, she planted a fifth of Crown Royal in my leather-bound bar.
That night, my buddies and I drank all of it, mixed with Coca-Cola.
The next day, Mom was horrified, crying, “You don’t mix Crown Royal with COKE!”
So, those were my first drinks…
Drinking became something glamorous for me. I read all of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Ian Fleming during high school; leaving impressions of Baccarat crystal decanters and goblets, tinkling ice cubes, towering and delicate martinis and bold, hearty, ski-slope Martini & Rossi.
I was proud to know my wines, embraced a smug snobbery, and shared with my peers my knowledge of top-shelf liquors. Georgetown was a drinking school; replacing fraternities and such socials were the crowds and cliques that inhabited certain bars and certain nights. It was a badge to be drinking amongst one’s friends. Adult. Accomplished. Sophisticated.
I was good at drinking. Too good.
Without noticing, I became perhaps a little over-absorbed in what I was drinking. It was not unusual for me to be thinking “gin … or scotch, tonight …” on my way to a party. What had originally been an exercise in camaraderie and a place where I went to be happy at some point spilled over into where I would also go to console, or to nurse a wound and finally, to simply make time pass when I was bored or depressed.
I don’t know what finally tipped the scales… living a closeted life as a Republican on a presidential staff; failing at my first same-sex relationship; losing the love of my life to AIDS, facilitating easier deaths of scores, then hundreds of men as they succumbed to the savage, early years of the epidemic; struggling through jobless days in a move to Los Angeles as the ugly realities of the film business became familiar to me. Whatever was, ultimately, the catalyst; I began to numb myself, night after night, then afternoon after afternoon—seeking, if nothing else, the quickest, most painless way to get to tomorrow.
Until, in the wee hours of Friday, December 7, 1991 when I took my last drink in a Silverlake Bar. It was probably beer; I really don’t remember. I remember bits and pieces; arriving, drinking, cruising, leaving, getting in my car and driving recklessly away, nicking the bumper of a car in an intersection (in the parlance of the law: hit-and-run), being chased, losing control of the car and awakening, hours later, having been cut from my car and brought into the ER with a lacerated face, dislocated hip (later replaced, twice), broken knee, and internal injuries that put me into the Intensive Care Unit for ten days of touch-and-go.
I got the hint.
This missive isn’t meant to warn against the dangers of alcohol. Rather, it is simply my story of how it went from something fun to something else, entirely. December 7, 1991 is my Pearl Harbor, my Waterloo—the moment in which I saw that I would likely be better off, not drinking. So, I don’t.
Fortunately, I have no problem being around alcohol. I still love the smell of a good, red wine; smile at the sharp, juniper-berry scent of good gin, sometimes think of how refreshing a light pilsner used to be on a hot day. However, I find I do not yearn for any of this. It has been one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.
Were I to apply this discipline to the gym, I’d be a walking god.
This is what came to mind when I was approached to write about My First Drink. It’s funny how remember my first one, but I don’t remember my last.
Image credit: jenny downing/Flickr