I am not a drinker in the sense of “he’s a drinker,” or “he drinks.” Those are people whose identity begins and often ends with drinking.

With me, it's one or two cocktails before dinner, or a bottle of wine shared with my wife at dinner. Oh, all right, sometimes both the cocktails and the wine.

I’m writing about this because I'm remembering a night some years ago. Seated in the dark on our pool deck, sipping the last of the evening’s bottle of Malbec, my wife Barbara and I found ourselves listening to raucous hijinks across the way.

By across the way, I mean the nearby block of condos in our Florida retirement golf community. We lived in a villa, which is Florida’s tarted-up word for a duplex—two houses sharing a center wall. Our place faced a preserve, and on the other side were more villas. They were all dark, so what we were hearing had to be coming from the condos.

You know what I mean: not the sound of people laughing at sitcoms, or “America’s Favorite Home Videos.” The volume level and verbal congestion ruled that out. We were definitely hearing hilarity fueled by devil rum. To be honest, I felt a little envious. So much shouting, such abandon. It’s been a long time since I partied that way. True, it was no fun mornings, cleaning up around the commode, but over time, you come to remember boozy nights wistfully. With fondness.

Half an hour later, I took Chelsea out for her last chance of the day to check her p-mail. We crossed the road, dark between streetlamps, and walked toward the next cone of light. Off to the right lay the seventh green. Beyond it rose the four-story block of condos. All the units had screened lanais, and behind a few, lights glowed dimly from kitchens or TVs.

As we walked, I heard something like death rattles, punctuated by coughing. It was the tail end of the party heard earlier, drinkers at the end of the downward spiral. The sounds were made more interesting by coming through the darkness from nowhere. I decided nowhere must be one of the blacked-out, first-floor lanais.

Alcohol operates in stages: from jocose to verbose to bellicose to morose, and eventually to comatose. I judged the people sitting in the dark to be fast approaching oblivion. One of two women kept repeating “never happen.” They were the only intelligible words in what was otherwise a confused mélange produced by three or more people simultaneously talking and gargling.

Chelsea and I moved on, through the next cone of light, into more darkness. After a few minutes, she stopped and turned, easing her hip against my left calf to herd me home. By the time we again reached the party point, all was quiet. The party people had finally lurched inside, or nodded off in the dark.

I wondered what it was that would “never happen.” My dog picked up speed, glad to be homeward bound. She was mostly blind, and didn’t like the dark. I felt grateful to her for not making me hold up my end of anything—drinking, talking. As we walked on in the soft Florida night, I wondered what she had made of it. Wondered as well whether a dog was lying on a dark lanai, hoping against hope for a last chance to go out and read the mail.

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