By Madeline Klosterman
don't drink in the afternoon," Sheryl said. "If I did, I'd have nothing to look forward to at night." Sheryl was an old acquaintance I'd run into on my way home from work. I was headed for the subway to Brooklyn when I saw her. I instantly stopped and we quickly exchanged pleasantries.
She was about my age and, like me, had worked at the same job for more than 15 years. When I asked how work was going, she tilted her head and thought.
"Okay I guess. But sometimes I think to myself, what the heck am I doing? I have to get out of here and do something else. The next day I think, well, it's not so bad. It's comfortable. It certainly could be worse."
I smiled and nodded. I recognized her thinking. "I think we all do that when it comes to work. It's a form of self-delusion."
Sheryl laughed. "For me it's survival. But it's also why I drink. It helps me forget so I can get up and do it again."
We stood at the entrance to the subway station, hearing the trains screeching in below. Colleagues rushed by headed for their ritual nightly trip home. We seemed like an island around which floods of people passed, all headed in the same direction.
"By the way," Sheryl said suddenly, "You've had lots of changes at your company. Have you survived the bad press and all that airing of dirty laundry? It must be hard."
I'd been hoping she wouldn't bring up the scandal at my office. For months, events at the company had been making the front pages of papers across the country. Thinking about it always put me in a bad mood.
"It's been a difficult summer," I told her. "The scandal broke in July and here it is late September and it's just letting up. It's made coming to work especially difficult."
"I'm so sorry. How have you been coping?"
I paused for a moment, smiled, then answered as frankly as I could. "With gin. The good thing about alcohol is it works. After one drink it all goes away."
"What?" she exclaimed laughing. "You're a gin drinker too?"
"Yes. When the scandal broke, it was gin and tonics. Then I moved to gimlets. Now I have mint growing in the garden and I muddle that with a bit of sugar and shake. I don't know what they call it but the drink's become a close companion. It's got me through this mess."
"Gosh, I completely understand."
I was surprised how quickly our chat had moved from work life to our favorite cocktail. I somehow imagined myself as the only one overindulging to get through bad tidings. But if Sheryl was any indication, it seemed everyone was drinking back their troubles.
Was corporate life so miserable that we needed to forget? Or were the good feelings a well-shaken cocktail produced the quickest way to the fulfillment we hoped we'd find but hadn't? It seemed like a question recycling from the 1950s, when cocktail culture was the after-work norm and became a staple of American culture.
"I actually wish I didn't drink so much," Sheryl admitted before we parted ways. "But frankly, at this stage of my life, what else do I have to look forward to?
It's what you said, alcohol works.
"And at the end of the day, it's the gin and tonic I look forward to the most."
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