Yonder stands little Maggie
With a dram glass in her hand
She's drinking away her troubles, Good Lord,
and blooming another man.
I learned this song as a child (my mother was a fan of The Kingston Trio), and often wondered at what was meant by it. Our venerable Library of Health Encyclopedia (circa 1928) explained a dram as being 1/8 ounce, and I could see how much a dram was on a medicine cup from the doctor, but the idea of a glass holding a dram seemed, on the face of it, rather odd. As I got older, I heard of the famous wee dram, but it sounded like saying you're going to have a nip of gin, when actually you're drinking a lot more than one swallow. So it rested.
Then, one fine Labor Day weekend, I was invited to go to the 2001 SF Worldcon as the guest of the Cordwainer Smith foundation. I was to be a hostess/greeter at the party suite, and as such would be dressed as one of his Ladies of the Instrumentality.
Naturally, this meant that I had to get up a costume. Not having illustrations to work from meant that I had a free hand, and after a lot of research and conferences with my designer (a/k/a Mom), we evolved a rather becoming ensemble based loosely on the Heian court gown with two layers (one Tyrian rose linen and one gold lurex), a wrap top, slim pants and white-red-and-black makeup (and darkened teeth). My hair (a hennaed redgold auburn) would simply be well brushed and hang down my back, being not naturally red, it is quite thick, normally unlayered, and at the time, quite long. I would wear red platform shoes ("Count two, think blue") and wear a tiny, concealed cross.
As it was, I caused a minor sensation. Handing out leaflets, everyone wanted to take pictures of "the girl in the kimono". Standing in the door as a greeter, everyone wanted to buy a drink for the girl in the kimono. ("It's not, strictly speaking, a kimono...") Somewhere around 8:30, I had to switch to club soda, if only because I was getting not more drunk, but more thirsty, and about 9:00, I got a half-hour break.
What sights I saw while wandering around the party floor were beyond description, and sometimes, beyond all belief. Parties of all kinds were in full swing, attended by all nationalities, ages, sexes, and (apparently) species. There were women in bondage gear. There were men in doublets and hose. There were aliens, robots, and replicants. There were parties with computer geeks playing with arcane devices. Peering into a darkened, quiet room, I wondered what was going on...only to see a normal citizen transforming into a vampire with the aid of a dentist. I walked through a roomful of actual Japanese, who seemed not to notice me at all. And then, there was the room full o' plaid.
One of their number saw me, and then, my hair, and practically picked me up (did I mention that some of these people -- both men and women -- were quite large in a way that is definitely not about fat) and thrust me bodily into the room. The men weren't all wearing kilts -- but a good many were, and some were dressed in a manner I hadn't seen outside of a travel poster. I smiled, a little puzzled, and murmured greetings. Sensing my alarm, Giant Great Kilted Man said something back that I couldn't quite make out, gently stroked my fox-colored pelt, and handed me a tiny glass, no larger than the end of a finger. I smiled, and indicated thanks. G.K.M made more gentle, liquid-sounding vowels and gutteral consonants and, with shining eyes and a huge crooked grin, held up a strange-looking bottle with many more consonants on it than vowels. Apparently, in a few minutes we were going to drink a toast with this liquid, which smelled like ... potting soil? Wet rotted oakleaves? Patchouli? I summoned up my courage and said it was quite an honor. I strolled around, looking down at this bitty glass and trying to figure out how to explain I don't generally drink whisky, or, failing that, how to dispose of said glass in a non-insulting manner. Unfortunately, as someone obviously not a part of their group, I attracted a lot of attention. And everyone was smiling, at me and each other, giant outdoorsy men and handsome, ravishing women, speaking in gentle, lilting voices with liquid vowels and harsh consonants, and no one seemed to pay any mind to the fact that though they could understand me, I couldn't understand them at all...while their language sounded like the last survivors of the Neolithic, their refined gestures and polite tones suggested a meeting of the Fae. (Yes, I have heard Scots before. But these people were downright unintelligible.) Then, Giant Kilted Man shouted for attention. A handsome Lady of Parts stood by him. He put one foot onto a chair, bellowed some more, and drank.
I was too intimidated to do anything else, and I have no idea what it tasted like. Then I looked down and reflected. It was a dram glass, a real glass holding, doubtlessly, a dram. I handed it back with a smile and a little flush, to a happy giant woman who also had a smile and a little flush, bowed, and walked out into the hotel.
Later, a small detachment of men in Air Force fatigues formed an honor guard around me to sing The Ballad of Lost C'Mell as a marching song...but, as I said, it was a long, strange evening.