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Chapter 14
My name is Don Tillman and I am an alcoholic. I formedthese words in my head but I did not say them out loud, notbecause I was drunk (which I was) but because it seemed thatif I said them they would be true, and I would have no choicebut to follow the rational path which was to stop drinkingpermanently.
My intoxication was a result of the Father Project – specificallythe need to gain competence as a drinks waiter. I hadpurchased a cocktail shaker, glasses, olives, lemons, a zesterand a substantial stock of liquor as recommended in TheBartender’s Companion in order to master the mechanicalcomponent of cocktail making. It was surprisingly complex, andI am not naturally a dextrous person. In fact, with theexception of rock climbing, which I have not practised since Iwas a student, and martial arts, I am clumsy and incompetentat most forms of sport. The expertise in karate and aikido isthe result of considerable practice over a long period.
I practised first for accuracy, then speed. At 11.07 p.m., I wasexhausted, and decided that it would be interesting to test thecocktails113/290for quality. I made a classic martini, a vodka martini, amargarita and a cock-sucking cowboy – cocktails noted by thebook as being among the most popular. They were allexcellent, and tasted far more different from one another thanice-cream varieties. I had squeezed more lime juice than wasrequired for the margarita, and made a second so as not towaste it.
Research consistently shows that the risks to health outweighthe benefits of drinking alcohol. My argument is that thebenefits to my mental health justify the risks. Alcohol seems toboth calm me down and elevate my mood, a paradoxical butpleasant combination. And it reduces my discomfort in socialsituations.
I generally manage my consumption carefully, scheduling twodays abstinence per week, although the Father Project hadcaused this rule to be broken a number of times. My level ofconsumption does not of itself qualify me as an alcoholic.
However, I suspect that my strong an-tipathy towardsdiscontinuing it might do so.
The Mass DNA Collection Subproject was proceedingsatisfactorily, and I was working my way through the cocktailbook at the required rate. Contrary to popular belief, alcoholdoes not destroy brain cells.
As I prepared for bed, I felt a strong desire to telephone Rosieand report on progress. Logically it was not necessary, and itis a waste of effort to report that a project is proceeding toplan, which should be the default assumption. Rationalityprevailed. Just.
Rosie and I met for coffee twenty-eight minutes before thereunion function. To my first-class honours degree and PhD, Icould now add a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. Theexam had not been difficult.
Rosie was already in server uniform, and had brought a maleequivalent for me.
114/290‘I picked it up early and washed it,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want akarate exhibition.’
She was obviously referring to the Jacket Incident, even thoughthe martial art I had employed was aikido.
I had prepared carefully for the DNA collection – zip-lock bags,tissues, and pre-printed adhesive labels with the names fromthe graduation photo. Rosie insisted that we did not need tocollect samples from those who had not attended thegraduation party, so I crossed out their names. She seemedsurprised that I had memorised them, but I was determinednot to cause errors due to lack of knowledge.
The reunion was held at a golf club, which seemed odd to me,but I discovered that the facilities were largely for eating anddrinking rather than supporting the playing of golf. I alsodiscovered that we were vastly overqualified. There were regularbar personnel who were responsible for preparing the drinks.
Our job was merely to take orders, deliver drinks and, mostimportantly, collect the empty glasses.
The hours spent in developing my drink-making skills hadapparently been wasted.
The guests began arriving, and I was given a tray of drinks todis-tribute. I immediately perceived a problem. No name tags!
How would we identify the DNA sources? I managed to findRosie, who had also realised the problem but had a solution,based on her knowledge of social behaviour.
‘Say to them, “Hi, I’m Don and I’ll be looking after you thisevening, Doctor –” ’ She demonstrated how to give theimpression that the sentence was incomplete, encouraging themto contribute their name. Extraordinarily, it turned out to work72.5 per cent of the time. I realised that I needed to do thiswith the women as well, to avoid appearing sexist.
Eamonn Hughes and Peter Enticott, the candidates we hadeliminated, arrived. As a family friend, Eamonn must haveknown Rosie’s115/290profession, and she explained to him that I worked evenings tosupplement my academic income. Rosie told Peter Enticott thatshe did bar work part-time to finance her PhD. Perhaps theyboth assumed that we had met through working together.
Actually swabbing the glasses discreetly proved the most difficultproblem and I was able to get at most one sample from eachtray that I returned to the bar. Rosie was having even moreproblems.
‘I can’t keep track of all the names,’ she said, frantically, as wepassed each other with drinks trays in our hands. It wasgetting busy and she seemed a little emotional. I sometimesforget that many people are not familiar with basic techniquesfor remembering data.
The success of the subproject would be in my hands.
‘There will be adequate opportunity when they sit down,’ I said.
‘There is no reason for concern.’
I surveyed the tables set for dinner, ten seats per table, plustwo with eleven seats, and calculated the attendance atninety-two. This of course included female doctors. Partners hadnot been invited. There was a small risk that Rosie’s father wasa transsexual. I made a mental note to check the women forsigns of male features, and test any that appeared doubtful.
Overall, however, the numbers looked promising.
When the guests sat down, the mode of service moved fromprovision of a limited selection of drinks to taking orders.
Apparently, this arrangement was unusual. Normally, we wouldjust bring bottles of wine, beer and water to the table, but, asthis was an upmarket function, the club was taking orders andwe had been told to ‘push the top shelf stuff’, apparently toincrease the club’s profits. It occurred to me that if I did thiswell I might be forgiven for any other errors.
I approached one of the tables of eleven. I had alreadyintroduced myself to seven of the guests, and obtained sixnames.
I commenced with a woman whose name I already knew.
‘Greetings, Dr Collie. What can I get you to drink?’
116/290She looked at me strangely and for a moment I thought I hadmade an error with the word-association method I was usingand that her name was perhaps Doberman or Poodle. But shedid not correct me.
‘Just a white wine, thanks.’
‘I recommend a m............
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