Under The Influence

Let the good times pour.

UNITED STATES—There are perils to digging into the habits, good and bad, of Oprah, Marilyn, Hitchcock and Brando. I learned from Marilyn to breakfast on grapefruit. Blame Cary Grant for my greasy foray to H. Salt Fish & Chips. A really dangerous craving resulted when I discovered that both Brando and Hitchcock had a penchant for midnight ice cream binges. To be sure, there’s a danger with celebrity-sanctioned foibles.

The one that really got to me, however, was Ernest Hemingway for whom imbibing wine had a very special place. He said that in the evening he’d rather go without food than forego his glass (or bottle) of wine. This brought back strong memories of Mexico, where I lived for many years. There I could freely have a caguama of beer one night and hearty red Rioja wine from Spain the next: ah yes, the sparkling yet strong Siglo in its burlap sleeved bottle and the sweet Liebfraumilch- a Rhine wine which means the milk of a beloved woman.

In the major city of Guadalajara there is a constantly flowing system of public transport. One is not threatened by Saturday night checkpoints or having to drive.

When I read about Hemingway’s life and drinking times, it brought back a sharp nostalgia for what I lived in Mexico, and it drove the first real wedge between me and Los Angeles, a city I love. But the Los Angeles years have been drought years in more ways than one. I have drunk very little in the way of wine, and have been very uptight when I did.

Nothing more horrible than to socialize with friends and, before long, worry about being sober for the trip home intruding on my good time. I say this as somebody who can easily do with or without it, but when it’s part of festivities it’s like fun, but without the full innocence of fun.

How can I sell this city to someone who is used to the alcoholic dimension of living and socializing? Delving into Hemingway’s eating style and liquid passions unleashed a real resentment at the rigid control we endure. Papa’s love for wine got under my skin, and got me wistful for Mexico where my life and wine was integrated. It got me peeved.

It got my rebellious, defiant to reclaim this pleasure. So I had a couple glasses of cabernet sauvignon and began to feel that warmth rise up in my gullet and a glow blossomed in my cheeks. I would not be remotely comfortable behind a wheel, but I had one more errand to fulfill before calling it a day. I walked all the way from Hollywood to West Hollywood. To be on the safe side.

It’s about two miles. After closing the laundromat, I turned back and walked up Fountain again. Nobody on the street, like a holiday night. I almost made it back to the City of Los Angeles, with about three hundred yards to go. I was there by an open corner lot which was a community garden. There’s a sheriff’s car prowling the empty street—it’s after 11—the black and white pass by and I feel relief. And then the sheriff’s car turns slowly around in the middle of Fountain. They pull alongside me.

A young sheriff itching for action asks for my ID. “Haven’t I seen you before?” I suppress an urge to say, Yeah on TV or at the laundromat.

“What are you doing? It’s after 11 at night?”

“I’m walking home.”

“It’s a long way.”

He wants more, I can tell, but I’m not going to give it to him. The young sheriff takes my license and hands it to the older pudgier calmer sheriff, seated in the car, who punches my data into the computer and there are misgivings. I know everything is OK, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have misgivings when a sheriff punches my ID into a computer.

I tried to relax, reminding myself this was the hilarious reprise of a Ray Bradbury story inspired when the Beverly Hills police stopped him simply for walking. In my case, I was not going to explain. It was exasperating to reveal my aim of having drunk a couple of glasses of wine, and choosing to hoof it so I could stay clear of the law, and getting stopped like this.

My license came back to me and I was sent on my way. It was very disconcerting to be avoiding the law to be law-abiding and then they stopped me.

I have learned my lesson. If I wish to drink I will drink, and henceforth if I need to I may be inclined to drive afterward. I lay claim to full citizenship as an Angeleno, propelled by events to a state of fearless and lawless grace.

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: the Grady Diet” and the humor collection, “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.

By Grady Miller