To the long, irrational list of substances I despise, allow me to add champagne, that celebratory bathwater better suited for spraying than sipping.Though bubbles can be as invigorating as a Coney Island plunge come January, I find champagne’s dry sourness as noxious as Glenn Beck. When toasting, I favor effervescent Stoudt’s Pils—a lively low-alcohol beer that doesn’t cause a temples-crushing hangover—to champagne’s morning-after gift.
Nonetheless, a confab last week demanded I drink the French swill—namely, my Paris-dwelling friends Bati and Emily. After half a decade hunkering down in Crown Heights, the twosome relocated to Paris last year, citing jobs and socialism. “Sure, you’re not going to make as much money as in the United States, but you’ll have your health care covered,” Bati told me at the time. “And if we decide to have a baby, the birth costs will be covered.”
“Babies are…great!” I said, mustering all the enthusiasm I’d have for a proctology exam. At 31, I’ve watched a growing number of married friends drop like dominoes into family life, popping out newborns with assembly-line precision. On one hand: Puppy dogs! Rainbows! Dolphins leaping in the ocean! Completing the circle of life is a marvel, made doubly special by your intimate relationship with said friends. On the other hand: Oh, no! Birth is the death of your old life and the beginning of a new one. Daddy no longer has time to slug pints with his pals, especially with diapers to be changed and colicky infants to soothe—darn good reasons to drink.
You could say I’m selfish. And that I’m frightened of fatherhood. Ding. You’re correct on both fronts. New York City is a land of arrested adolescence, of gelled-hair men in their forties hitting the clubs in search of women young enough to be their daughters. If I were back in Ohio, I’d be an old maid, my girlfriend’s womb looked upon like the barren Gobi Desert. But in New York, there’s nothing wrong with delaying marriage or baby making. Hell, after three-plus years of coupledom, my girlfriend and I are only now entertaining the idea of owning a dog. It’s baby steps, minus the baby.
Back to Bati: We arranged for dinner at The Islands (803 Washington Ave., betw. Eastern Pkwy. & Lincoln Pl., Brooklyn, 718- 398-3575), Prospect Heights’ finest Caribbean canteen. At its core,The Islands is a takeout joint, where lamb, chicken and shrimp are jerked fiery and flavorful. But up a narrow flight of stairs awaits a lowceilinged hideaway with seating for 15.This intimacy, combined with the restaurant’s BYOB policy and service as slow as the shifting Tectonic plates, makes for long, alcohol-lubricated affairs. It’s normal to polish a six-pack before meals arrive, creating a scrum for crisp chicken, tender oxtail and fluffy mac ’n’ cheese.
Upstairs, our nine-person crew sat in our customary spot near the window. Outside, snowflakes swirled down as if God suffered serious dandruff. I grabbed a Dale’s Pale Ale, a nicely hopped brew that debunks the notion of crapped canned beer. “Put that down,” Bati ordered. “We’re celebrating.” He brandished champagne and uncorked it, releasing a puff of pressurized air recalling a smoking gun. He filled eight glasses, leaving one empty.
Perhaps someone else doesn’t like champagne, I thought, reaching for a full glass.
Though I dislike the hooch, it’s a littleknown fact that the eighth deadly sin is wasting booze. Bati hoisted his goblet as if it were the Olympic torch. We followed. “It means a lot for everyone to come together tonight,” Bati began, his voice cracking like broken glass. “It’s so great to see everyone’s faces.” We clinked. We sipped. I teared up. If nothing else, at least alcohol allows me to express my emotions.
Through misty eyes, though, I noticed that Emily sipped water. “Where’s your glass?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “We have some other good news, too,” Bati began, pausing beats: “Emily is pregnant.”
My gut instinct was to make snide, inappropriate comments such as, “Someone’s firing with a loaded six-shooter” or “You hit a hole-in-one.” But Emily beamed like a thousand-watt light bulb. Here was happiness in its purest state.Why spoil it with rotten words spoken out of insecurity? I smiled and finished the champagne, its taste, for once, slightly sweet.