RSVPhillippi | March 2017
The Drinking Ages
By Dennis Phillippi
Recently I was talking with my friend Caroline when she said, “Have you ever noticed that whatever time your flight is, it’s always the right time for a drink?” We were, by the way, having this conversation in a bar, and went on to have a protracted discussion of drinking on airplanes. You know, how we went through a Bloody Mary phase on planes; how great it is to get bumped up to first class and get to drink out of a glass; how, in an airport bar, the answer to the question “Do you want to pay two more dollars for the big beer?” is always “Yes.” This isn’t a conversation that would be held between two people in their twenties, this was a conversation between two people who can barely remember their twenties. It made me realize that what is called for now is a basic primer on drinking throughout your life.
Obviously we begin with underage drinking. We all agree that underage drinking is bad. The judgment of anyone under 21 years of age is extremely suspect. They are, after all, the same ones who insist on wearing red pants, using strange vapor smoking devices, and never seem to check the weather before they go out. Having said that, I don’t know anyone who actually had their first drink when they were 21. If someone doesn’t drink an alcoholic beverage before they reach adulthood they likely don’t plan to ever have one. That’s why I don’t know them. I would never condone underage drinking, but what I would really never condone is drinking and driving at any age. The reason young people don’t get to drink in this country is because young people can’t seem to get it into their thick heads that no one is a better driver after drinking. Not even Billy Joel.
In your twenties, when you are able to drink legally, chances are you will continue to make bad decisions where alcohol is concerned because you are under the impression that you are allowed to do so. Aside from the propensity of young people to get behind the wheel pie-eyed, there’s also the tendency of novice drinkers to lose control of their volume control after a few drinks. Generally this is a pretty good barometer of a person’s experience with hooch. Listen to me; no one is ever more charming when shouting. A subset of this breed are the people, almost exclusively men, who also lose control of their awareness of personal space. If you’re five inches from me, and still yelling, you need to look around and see how the adults are behaving.
In your thirties you have probably become more of a seasoned drinker. Unfortunately this often leads to the next brand of intolerable tipplers, booze snobs. Just because for the first time in your life you can afford beer that doesn’t come in a can, doesn’t mean that you have to turn into one of those people who is obsessed with their beer “not being too hoppy.” This also applies to complicated mixed drinks. Look, we’re happy for you that you can pony up the dough for a complicated cocktail, but you’re still likely to look like a tool if you not only order a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, but also insist on deciding what kind of firewater you want in it. If you’re in a bar that mixes fancy drinks let the bartender be the professional.
By the time you reach your forties you should know what you want to drink and how many of them you are going to have. Your metabolism is slowing down by this point, so it’s important to standardize your dosage. A side note, drinkers in their forties have made it to the age where a considerable percentage have gotten divorced. There are few more dangerous combinations than divorce and drinking in public. Not that I’m encouraging you to do your drinking in private, I’m encouraging you to keep your private life private. I don’t need, or want, to hear about what an awful person your ex-husband was. I’m sure you’re right, he was a terrible husband, now keep it to yourself. In addition, if you’re in your forties and divorced, and drinking, there is no set of circumstances in which that girl or boy in their twenties is going to be interested in you. You just think they are because there’s nothing someone in their twenties enjoys more than free drinks.
In the sixth decade of your life you have been learning the ropes of alcohol consumption for thirty-ish years. You have a responsibility to be an example to those coming up behind you. You’re in your fifties, so there is no excuse for staggering, slurring, weaving, stumbling or babbling incoherently, unless you’re having an aneurism, in which case it’s okay.
It’s impossible for me to personally address drinking in your sixties and beyond, other than to say I encourage it. There’s something truly heartening about seeing a couple in their seventies still enjoying a glass of bourbon together—as long as you don’t contemplate what a glass or two of bourbon made you and your significant other do later. Some visuals can’t be gotten out of your head no matter how hard you try.
So, to summarize, everyone gets a grace period of a decade or two, but ultimately we are all expected to act like civilized individuals, even after that fourth glass of wine. Most importantly, in the age of Uber, there is simply no excuse for drunk driving. The older one gets, the steeper the consequences for doing so. It’s bad enough to be a guy in his mid-twenties sitting in the hoosegow, but you don’t want to be the guy in his fifties sitting next to him.