October 10, 2007

How Alice discovered Wonderland

Two toddlers walk into a bar, and one of their moms picks them up and seats them on the banquette. They place their standard order: two Shirley Temples, extra cherries, and could we please have some peanuts? We are treated like the princesses we are, the only two children in the entire hotel. There may be a joke in here, somewhere. Bartender, make mine a double.

I'm on the left, about a year older than my friend, the other bar-hopping child in the photo. Actually, we are in Lake Placid, and it's cocktail hour. Since the bar is in a hotel owned by a family member, legal drinking age is irrelevant. For all anyone knew, the concept might not have been conceived, much less reached the law books when it would have applied to us as three-year-olds. We weren't children; we were small adults, and expected to behave as such -- or, perhaps, better than the imitations around whom we grew.

In the Camelot years of the 1960s, two toddlers could have their own designated banquette, with excellent proximity to the bar, and we did. We two little girls of privilege wore our white lace ankle socks, black patent leather Mary Janes, and frilly Florence Eisman (famous designer of children's clothes -- the only designer of kids' cocktail dresses in the days before baby Dior) attire with smocking and hand embroidered detail. We knew how to order a drink, never forgetting our pleases and our thank-yous, or how to keep our legs crossed so our underpants weren't on display.

Two toddlers toasting: if the average picture is worth a thousand words, the one contained on this blog is worth infinitely more. It tells the story, in its entirety, of my first 18 years. As 12-year-olds, we graduated to whiskey sours, hold the whisky -- our adolescent lemonade resembling the ones to which we would graduate, when we learned how to get a buzz on.

When we were 13, Uncle Teddy fired the restaurant glass washer, and appointed we former toddler princesses to take his place. Apart from running the ancient switchboard when it was raining, this was my first job, one with actual responsibility. We took our tasks like a duck to the proverbial water. The bus boys returned trays with half-filled wine glasses to us. We drained them, loaded up the dishwasher, ran it off and emptied it, the last being our first lesson in wine. Taste was never the issue.

However, we could distinguish a Moselle stem from a Burgundy glass from a white wine glass from a brandy snifter -- and no matter how many glasses we swilled, our breakage record was better than our predecessor, the grown-up to whose job we had been assigned. We were greatly saddened to be relieved of our duties.

We had, however, learned lessons well beyond our years: neither of us, since the age of Shirley Temples, had seen an adult respond to reality after 6 o'clock. I don't know about my friend, with whom I have since lost touch, but this inability to distinguish sobriety from altered states may well be why I became Alice, for Wonderland is a place where reality is in the eyes of the beholder, and its bearing on truth has never been established.

I grew up in the fun house of alcoholic blackouts, came of age in a fun house filled with substances grown in a multitude of gardens. If the White Knight is walking backward, and the red queen's "off with her head," what other lead have I than to remember what the doormouse said and take those instructions to heart?

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Anonymous Teresa said...

"If the average picture is worth a thousand words, the one contained on this blog is worth infinitely more."

Indeed it does. I envy your ability to conjure such a vivid sense of time and place with an economy of words. You give the "good old days" a much-deserved reality check here.

Reading your blog over these past couple of years, I've come to feel like we're in group therapy together—but in a good way—and you're the woman across the room I want to ask out to coffee and pie later.

1:30 AM  

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