When I was an intern on Space Jam, me and another teetotaler discussed the mystery and appeal of alcohol. Growing up far too close to the wrong side of the tracks, I made grand gestures to distinguish myself from “bad kids” and their habits to appease authority figures. Abstaining from drinking was one of them. However, I found the practice working against me as my experience in the animation industry wore on. The internship ended. Other projects came about, particularly Futurama where for the first time I wasn’t the favorite on the crew. That job was so stressful, I would lose my cool at work. Had I started drinking earlier, I would’ve taken the edge off the day with a glass of wine with dinner after work.The change from teetotaler to connoisseur was gradual. I traveled to France, where wine was served like soft drinks and no one batted an eye. A little bottle of wine was served with dinner in economy class on the plane! In addition to religion (which seemed magical in Paris) the subject of alcohol and other controlled substances became a research project for me once I reset foot on U.S soil.
Life experience was the best transition: wine lunches with friends on Dilbert (which was such a boring-to-draw show, afternoons were best spent inebriated on a few occasions). Lodging in an Italian household where, once again, wine was served with dinner. Ultimately, came my M.F.A. career at the Academy of Art where the school stressed a work/life balance and hosted wine tours in nearby Napa and Livermore and gallery openings for specific departments at the Minna Street Gallery where there was an open bar. The AAU seem to say: “You’re artists. You create culture. Stop looking over your shoulder in fear of disapproving Puritans!”
My masters candidacy was as long as a Ph.D (seven years). As a student there were art history course for the masters level, where we learned how religion was a way of ordering society and really, so long as you were functional, no one cared if you had a glass of wine with dinner or a night cap with your bonbons. Even as a minority, I no longer felt held under scrutiny. I had a few IMDB titles under my belt to prove my accomplishments up to that point. Pat Buchanan’s rants finally meant nothing. Finally, I learned as a residential assistant that white and Asian kids are just as prone to imperfection. The only difference is power (obviously) and that their parents had the money to hide their “duds” in art school or fund their lifestyle should they drop out. Black and brown kids grow up thinking they intrinsically flawed thanks to all of the stereotypes projected on us. Little do we know as suffering fifteen year olds, that racism is a smokescreen for other people’s inner and filial turmoils. The family loser of a demographic that is perceived as perfect, is indistinguishable from their white collar siblings behind the veil of a nice house and car sponsored by pooled funds.
Just think of the old masters, they were all sons of well-to-do families that had no idea what to do with them. Or in Rembrant’s case, a lucrative marriage. All of Agatha Christie’s villains make so much more sense now that I’ve observed them in the flesh…
So, to revisit the conversation with the fellow teetotaler of my youth, I think of the conclusion of the conversation. Space Jam’s line producer came by and said: “You don’t unwind with a glass of wine at dinner? No? Wait fifteen years….