Then when it's all over I swear never to drink again, which is why the bottle of Bailey's my sister-in-law brought me for Christmas is still sitting on the kitchen shelf. I may imbibe some limoncello from time to time, but for the most part, I put most of my wine in the tomato sauce. "I don't drink because I don't have time," I told the older woman. "Well, see," she said. "You foreign men don't have time to drink."
I don't think she's right. I know plenty of relatively sober, responsible local males. But it's true, I don't drink that much. This is probably because, as I have aged, I have witnessed the deleterious effects of alcohol on fellow human beings. Some have real health problems, others just balloon up. Either way, it's pretty obvious that it shortens one's lifespan. Public authorities alert us to this all the time, but we tend to ignore it, look right past those signs that say, "Drinking is bad for your health." But it is! Those signs are actually correct!
I am not going to start any temperance campaigns here in Estonia. I have already pissed off enough people. But that impulse is there. Driving my niece home one morning, I passed a group of men sitting outside a supermarket drinking beers. "Oh look, the drunks are already out ..." I said. "What makes you think they are drunks?" she asked. "They are men drinking beer outside a store at 10:30 on a Sunday morning," I said. "That means that a) they couldn't wait until they got home to drink and b) they couldn't even make it until lunch without a beer. What else do you call such people? They are drunks."
This reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother's middle-aged bachelor friend about the film Smokey and the Bandit. He has a TV in his car so that he can watch Burt Reynolds (the bandit) escape Jackie Gleason (the sheriff) while he drives around town. In the film, the very cute runaway bride Sally Field hops a ride with Reynolds. "She's so cute!" I told my brother's friend."She's a slut," he answered. "No she's not!" I protested. "She's Sally Field. She's the flying nun. The flying nun is no slut." "Let's get this straight," my brother's friend said. "She's a woman who ran away from her husband-to-be and is now riding around with Burt Reynolds, who is a criminal," he said. They he nodded to himself and repeated the verdict, "She's a slut."
Crass? Sure. Misogynistic? Perhaps. But my brother's friend taught me something that day. Sometimes we have to just call things what they are. And even if they haven't descended to the lowest rung of drunkenness, those guys outside the store are not normal. I wouldn't catch one of the fathers of my daughters' friends hanging outside a store on a Sunday morning drinking. And could you imagine if it was me drinking out there? What would they call Giustino? You know exactly what they would say. He's a drunk!
I told my niece that morning of my secret plan, to round up all of Estonia's alcoholics and deport them to Piirissaar, that tiny spot of land in the middle of Lake Peipsi. "I will be a bonding experience," I said. "They can all dry out together!" But she spotted the hole in my sinister plan immediately. "But Piirissaar is so small," she said. "I don't think they would all fit."