Last week, our intern Molly Dunn wrote about her experience ordering her first adult beverage upon turning 21. In honor of National Dry Martini Day (yes, that's a thing; they're all things now), Dunn bravely ordered a serious drinker's drink. And, as you'd expect, promptly spit the foul thing out.
We all applauded Dunn for her attempt at braving the classics side of the cocktail menu for her very first go-around at the bar, even if she ended up enjoying her Appletini far more. And that's because our palates develop and change over time.
I remember the height of sophistication for me as a 21-year-old was ordering an Amaretto Sour or, if I was feeling nostalgic, a Tequila Sunrise. I relished the Buttery Nipple shots that college bars sent around throughout the crowds on the weekends, because they tasted like the Werther's Originals that my grandfather used to hand out in church. And I was pretty sure that wine didn't get any better than the Schmitt Söhne Riesling found in the bright blue bottles I later used as flower vases for daisies because that's what girls do in college.
But none of those things were my first drink. No, my first drink was something far more in keeping with my subtle redneck roots.
In the summer of 1997, I was 16 years old and walnut-brown thanks to a lifeguarding gig at our neighborhood pool. To say it was an easy job would be an understatement. I think I did less actual work than the entire cast of Empire Records combined (although we did superglue quarters to the ground several times to screw with the smaller kids at the pool). Everyone in the neighborhood was on swim team and therefore knew how to swim. Besides, the pool was less a place to swim and more a place for neighborhood kids to congregate in the summers in the days before the Internet ruined our socializing skills and thirtysomethings were yelling at people to get off their lawns.
As such, the neighborhood pool was a breeding ground for summer flings and young love affairs. The lifeguards were the arbiters of these relationships, judging your flirting skills from afar while perched in the wooden stands under crooked umbrellas or storing up information about which girls Colin or Joey or Shawn brought to the pool which days so that the data could be used for blackmailing/extortion purposes later on. ("Listen, dude. Do you want us to tell Martina that you were here with Lindsey yesterday? GO TO THE GODDAMN SUNNY'S AND BUY US SOME COKES AND GET ME ONE OF THOSE CLEARLY CANADIANS.")
And if you, as a neighborhood kid, wanted to have a date night with one of your little paramours...the lifeguards were the ones who made that happen. We all had cars -- something that was a bit rarer 15 years ago -- and if you bought the booze and the gas, we would take you anywhere you wanted to go. And, in what we apparently saw as a form of chaperoning, we came with you.
Which usually meant a group would head out in the humid summer nights to Addicks Dam, a long and quiet stretch of grasslands that backed up to the neighborhood. I was never a drinker in high school (you're welcome, parents; see how good I was to you?), but I always liked these little trips. I couldn't imagine it was fun being drunk, but I sure as hell liked to watch other people act like loons.
Until one night, when I finally decided to partake in the sweet nectar that was so often the catalyst for these late-night romps off to Addicks Dam: Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. Vaguely berry-flavored (and not even strawberry-flavored at that) malt liquor had somehow become the drink of choice in my group of idiot friends, I'm imagining because it was highly cheap and the saccharine "berry" flavor masked the underlying grain alcohol/gasoline taste of the liquor itself while getting you very drunk, very quickly. It was the ambrosia of high schoolers, so to speak.
I drank a few swigs off the bottle while seated in the back of my friend Shawn's van, Shawn who was too old to still be lifeguarding or hanging out with high schoolers. Shawn whose two-tone van would have set off pedophile alarms in my head if any of us had really been aware of what a pedophile was back then (and not that poor, simple Shawn was a pedophile anyway). It was offensively sugary stuff, with a sticky finish. It coated my mouth and lingered for hours while Shawn and I went back and forth between watching our friends' fumbling attempts at making out, and making fun of their awful attempts.
It was oppressively hot outside, the tenth straight day in a row that summer it had been over 100 degrees. The van's vinyl seats were coated with our sweat, the mosquitoes plaguing all four of us. But no one cared. We were living the teenage dream: alone in a van in a desolate prairie with only the light from the headlamps illuminating the thick darkness, Peter Frampton blaring from the speakers, berry-flavored booze in hand and at least one pair of us getting to second base.
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Not bad for a first drink, although it was another ten years before I ever tried Boone's Farm again. It was as terrible as I remembered, although not nearly as sweet.
What was your first drink, readers?