I was a late bloomer. Drinking never appealed to me in high school. Maybe it was because I was shyand/or depressed. I was always filled with contempt for people around me who were loud, horsing around, unaware of the circumference of their waving limbs, bumping into me, stepping on my toes, totally unapologetic about having more fun than I was having- right in front of me.
However, after a long, calculated process of overcoming my shyness through various personal tests that I created for myself (I’ll go into these shortly), having settled upon and embraced Welbutrin as the cure for my depression, and having discovered that I love the sweet taste of Bourbon – my life is a lot different. Better, I’d say.
Having become a happy person, everyone around me endeared themselves to me by their mere existence. I remember sitting on a bench at a bar watching a jock-ish, bridge-and-tunnel guy attempting to flirt with a slutty bridge-and-tunnel girl. I thought about how each of them had probably taken some care earlier that day in picking out their outfits. If I were asked to fill out a survey I would have had to admit that I found their ensembles rather “tacky”, but no- because right then I imagined them looking in the mirror, measuring their insecurities and pride, feeling hopeful about the night’s opportunities, just as I had, and I loved them.
In high school and college I had always prided myself on not relying upon alcohol as a crutch, as I imagined others did in order to talk to people and have a good time. I practiced one of my personal exercises at a club, Don Hill’s, where I would stand somewhere near the middle of the mostly-empty dance floor, legs together and straight, hands dangling at my sides, no cigarette or drink to play with, staring straight ahead, and see how long I could hold that position before the awkwardness and embarrassment overcame me. Other more practical goals I set for myself involved approaching and talking to strangers whom I wanted to know. That was rewarding in both increasing my confidence and making new friends.
So, starting around two years ago, I would let someone order me a Makers and Ginger. That’s my drink. Unlike past occasions when people thought they could turn me onto alcohol through a vodka cranberry which I found bitter and would nurse throughout the entire evening, barely making a dent, I actually enjoyed the taste of the Makers and Ginger and eventually would finish it.
One of the biggest changes that came with drinking was my new-found ability to dance. My whole life I had sat on the sidelines and physically resisted both friends and strangers who tried to pull me up from my seat by my arms onto the dance floor. Dancing is now one of the elements I most look forward to in a prospective night out.
I have to interrupt my apparent direction and reveal my true train of thought, that even now as I type, I still feel I have a toe stuck in the Alpha Zone. I’ve only heard about the Alpha Zone once, secondhand. My friend Ben told me about a scene in a documentary he had just watched on Jimi Hendrix. One of Hendrix’s buddies describes him as being in the Alpha Zone before he died. He says it’s when you know you’re going to die. I don’t remember any further details but I immediately recognized that I already had my own interpretation, my own sense of this, and now I could give it a name.
So from here forward, whatever you know about Jimi Hendrix’s Alpha zone, or if it is a well known phenomenon in general, keep in mind that I am referring to my own variation.
The Alpha Zone is when you are moving just slightly faster than your thoughts – your inhibitions surface just as you’re already performing the questionable task. You watch almost in slow motion and disbelief when it’s already too late, it’s just up to chance whether or not you’ll land unscathed. Then again, sometimes in the Alpha Zone, you’re not doing anything, you’re just sitting there, but you know that you have no control and therefore anticipate your time coming sooner than later, maybe so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.
Returning to the first story, throughout the last two years, every few weeks I would have a night where I would say “Now this is the drunkest I’ve ever been!” or a morning where I would feel a little crappy and think “Is this my first hangover?” But after a night of drinking and dancing I would often wake up after only a few hours of sleep, more invigorated than usual.
When I conquered my sober shyness, I made the final push with such momentum by way of rationalization and reward that I think I may have shot passed the norm for which I was originally aiming, and crossed into that region inhabited by weirdos. I no longer have any perception of where the line is.
Using this new found, but what I think must be innate ability to bluntly yet charmingly command a situation, and with a little extra spirit from some alcohol, I’ve had some fun or at least interesting nights where I went home with near-strange men (i.e. they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who I knew) simply to see where they lived. I would let them kiss around my face while I looked at their iPhoto libraries and tried to extract conversation. I’d let them pass out, sleep next to them, wake up early, maybe watch TV and leave, sometimes having made a new friend. That really only describes one situation in particular but there are a few others with just slight variations. Just to ease your worries, friends, I always text a certain pal the name and address of any stranger with whom I leave.
Other times I think I’m commanding a situation but it turns out not to be true at all. Like the recent occasion when I was very excited to meet a stocky Jewish guy and asked just for his e-mail address to continue our discussion about comedy, only to discover he had given me a fake address AND fake unsolicited number. That’s another story that I plan on delivering soon.
Then, about two weeks ago (11/17/07)…
The day after a typical night of drinking and dancing, I began my morning with the assumption that I had left my new digital camera at my studio, since it was not in my bag. I checked my e-mail as usual and at first was pleasantly surprised to see a letter in my inbox from F, a recent friend who I don’t hear from often. But the subject was cryptic: “Don’t freak out!” I thought it must be a mass e-mail, but the letter read “I found your camera on the floor [last night]…”
I was very embarrassed but when I talked to him he assured me that I had not seemed that intoxicated and said there had been a drunk woman searching for her missing bag, rooting around through everyone’s stuff, recklessly pulling up different items from a pile and my camera must have fallen out then. Still, I was disappointed in myself because I usually never leave a place without checking for four things: Camera, Wallet, Phone, and Keys.
A week goes by, I don’t remember anything standing out. Then two nights of going out and having to wake up early the next day. The third night is Thanksgiving and I’m determined to go to sleep immediately after dinner. Maybe it would have been easier if I hadn’t convinced my parents to get a chicken instead of a turkey this year.
I was lying in bed too tired to fall asleep without the aid of Tryptophan when a friend called to invite me to another Thanksgiving dinner nearby. Hosted by a Russian family, I drank vodka and ate a steady, delicious stream of potatoes, Russian style coleslaw, and cornichons until 1:30am when they brought out the desserts. It was a rowdy evening, but wholesome.
The next morning (11/24/2007), I had to be at work at 11am, was the usual 15 minutes late, blah blah blah blah and somehow ended up out at night again, at one of my bar-with-dance-floor haunts. Totally exhausted, but carefree and full of wired energy, I stashed my stuff somewhere, including my cash, so I could then search for someone to buy me a drink and not be tempted to buy my own if I didn’t succeed.
But I kept running into people I had grown up with and I didn’t want to seem like a mooch. I texted a friend M, who is always willing to treat. I wrote him to get here soon because I was thirsty but he kept responding that he was “ambivalent” about coming. Maybe this was the first cave-in of the evening: Frustrated and losing nerve, I asked my best friend K with whom I had arrived to lend me money for a drink. I borrowed $10, got my whiskey-ginger and started to make the rounds.
Of course right then, my drinking patron (M) arrived and not to pass up a freebie I soon accepted another drink from him as well. So now I’ve got a drink in each hand which makes it difficult to maneuver in a crowd, so I worked at finishing one as fast as possible just to have a free hand.
In my circle I’m known for wearing a fanny-pack. This is where I keep my Camera, Wallet, Phone, and Keys. It’s especially handy for dancing. A fanny-pack gives you the security of having your valuables on you without the awkward lopsidedness of a shoulder bag or purse. It can even act as a buffer if someone tries to grind you.
But vanity… For some reason that night, apart from my large tote which I don’t mind leaving on a chair because it only has things like an umbrella, magazine, book, bottle of water, etc., I had brought a small fancy purse just for walking around the club. Within the purse was a fanny-pack holding my camera and wallet. Earlier that evening I had misplaced my phone at K’s house and for some reason I had left my keys in my coat pocket, the coat being stuffed into the tote.
However many drinks later from my patron and other benefactors, I found myself talking to a guy to whom a friendly acquaintance had just introduced me, and who was waiting in line for the bathroom. When it was his turn I said “It’s your turn!” He said he was enjoying talking to me and to just come in while he peed. No big deal, so I did, and mostly looked away while he peed and continued our conversation. I have no memory of what we were talking about, just that we were the same amount of silly-drunk and seemed to share a similar sense of openness.
Then we made our way to the dance floor where he said, “Wanna make out?”
“Sure” I said. So we kissed a little while dancing. Then he said he had a girlfriend.
I don’t remember how I transitioned to the next scene, just that I was a little hungry, M wanted to eat, K wanted to stay, and I had no idea where my little purse containing my fanny-pack containing my camera and wallet was. But M would take me to a very good restaurant and everything right there and then was so loud and full of motion and smoke that I just wanted to go eat.
I grabbed my coat and tote. It’s not that I looked for my little purse and was surprised not to find it. I had no recollection at all of where or when I had put it down. So, I left my wallet containing my credit card, two ATM cards, expired learner’s permit, 2 different health care cards, unlimited Metrocard, magnetic key card for my studio building for which I have no replacement, and my new digital camera (replacing one I had dropped and broken), which I MUST have on me at all times.
M and I took a cab to Blue Ribbon where he ordered me a matzah ball soup, a fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens (I had ordered this combo a few nights earlier), and I chimed in a slice of chocolate cake. I don’t even remember waiting for the food.
One thing I must make clear is that I do not and will not eat anything of the sea. I despise all seafood, ranging from the most obviously unappetizing crustaceans to seemingly innocent seaweed. I cannot count the times I have been eating at a restaurant with someone who has said “You’ve just never had really good fish. Try this. It’s not fishy!” And I would humor them with a small bite and a near-gag. But what I’ve come to realize is this: Fish is inherently fishy. It’s fish!
I was a very picky eater growing up and the matzah ball soup, fried chicken, and chocolate cake is a good survey of the kind of foods with which I’ve always felt comfortable. It does not reflect all the non-sea related food hurdles I’ve overcome and come to love such as eggs, cheese, steak, spinach, avocado, just to name a few. But overcoming my distaste for seafood is not even on my horizon.
And in the entire kingdom of the sea, there is one subject I’ve always felt, and always said I’ve felt was the grossest possible thing a human being could put in their mouth. That is shrimp. It’s see-through and it looks like a giant bug.
I think a past boyfriend once persuaded me to try a nibble of a piece of shrimp and I think I spit it out or winced as I swallowed it mixed in with some other flavors.
At Blue Ribbon our food had arrived. I was excitedly looking over my crispy fried chicken which as I had learned a few days earlier came with honey instead of honey mustard without my even asking! I had probably drank some water by now and taken a few bites of my food. All of a sudden M is talking about how this is his favorite dish and lifts a giant comma of a shrimp off the edge of a martini glass, dips it in a dark sauce and holds it out toward my face asking me to take a big bite.
I leaned in an inch, met the shrimp, took a big bite out of the top fat part of the comma, grimaced and chewed and chewed. It just tasted like a fried tastiness in a sweet and salty sauce. I couldn’t taste the shrimp, but I had to chew and chew and break apart these unfamiliar bendable structures. Still holding the remainder of the comma, M brought it closer and said to just take one more bite. I chomped a much smaller piece into my mouth, joining it with the previous acquisition and I chewed and chewed. Eventually I swallowed part of it and kept thinking about getting the rest of this alien being out of my mouth by way of my throat. After my mouth was clear I drank water and ate mashed potatoes to get a new taste in it. I tried to convey to M how crazy it was, what just happened. And of course, here I would have a photo of the historic shrimp if I hadn’t lost my camera.
The cake arrived. I was pretty full but managed to eat most of it. M put me in a cab with money and I made it all the way uptown, home, probably around 5am. My phone still missing but at least definitely at K’s house, I didn’t have an alarm to set. I fumbled my way up to bed anyway.
I sat up at 10am, just the right time to get ready for work and sent an e-mail to friends who were out the night before asking if they’d seen my stuff. I didn’t include F, who had found my camera the first time. I was too embarrassed. I made it to the office 15 minutes late and got down to business. I didn’t necessarily feel hung over, but when I remembered the shrimp, and that it was still in me, I almost threw up. I had to take measured steps to ease my nausea, sipping water, taking deep breaths, looking away from the computer, standing up. I told my boss I’d barely slept in days and she said I didn’t look tired at all.
Soon A replied to my e-mail that my stuff was found and safe. Feeling partially redeemed by chance, I e-mailed F to tell him the story and that I’d been too embarrassed to include him in my group e-mail that morning since he was the only one who knew that I had already lost my camera that month. To my dismay he replied that once again he had been the one to find my belongings and had actually handed them over to A.
The more I thought about things, the more uncomfortable I began to feel with how much undeserved luck (Can luck be deserved?) had been bestowed upon me. First of all, there was no reason why I should still be in possession of my cool purse, my wallet and its contents, my camera, and my fanny-pack which had even gone to Nepal and back with me.
Furthermore, I had barely even been coerced into not only trying, but trying twice and swallowing the cocktail shrimp. While sober, I might have done a thousand more questionable things before eating shrimp. Now I realized that I might have ended up doing anything that night had I not been in the safe company of M and Blue Ribbon.
I don’t think I had been living in the Alpha Zone during the preceding weeks. I was enjoying a robust love of life and had only been approaching the speed of Alpha at what might have seemed a safe distance if it was something someone could comprehend. I guess you aren’t always aware of the exact moment of the crossover. And this was not just an Alpha Zone of chance- it was my own doing. My own lack of resolve, my carelessness, gluttony and vanity. Now I’ve gotten myself stuck here like a spaceship crashed on an unknown and mostly unfriendly planet in a sci-fi series.
There is a particular Alpha-related sensation I want to describe: The feeling of the sudden awareness of Alpha. It’s that feeling when you’re falling and it’s too late to regain your footing or any control; you’ve given up everything to chance. It’s part “Oh shit!” and part “Let’s see what happens.” The “Oh shit!” part is fast and instantaneous, it flies right by you in time. The “Let’s see what happens.” part moves in slow motion with you- until you land and sit there dazed and aware of the fact that you might as well have been a tree falling with no one to hear, or you clutch your bruised knee and breathe in or, well, luckily I’ve never had the other outcome – nothingness.
After work on Saturday I came home to my messy death-trap of a room where on many drunk nights I might stand on an unstable stool and attempt a daring reach for a cup on a ledge or miss a step on my loft bed ladder and just be watching from my mind’s eye as I tumble onto various levels of mess, just waiting, curious to see if I’ll land in one piece.
Even after my drinking-based recklessness began I’ve still only managed to have these Alpha-conscious moments in my bedroom. It’s the least safe place of all. There’s no doting suitor, no annoyed but might-be-concerned suitee, and no M to watch out for me and it’s a ridiculous physically rigorous obstacle course.
That’s my bathroom door.
I fear death a lot and I taunt myself by imagining my death written up in the New York Post. I can just imagine a trying-to-be-sensitive-even-though-and-because-it’s-inherently-funny piece about a young New York artist and musician falling to her death from her rickety IKEA twin loft bed. And if such a piece were written I would hope it would note, although I know it would not, that with this particular model of loft bed comes a warning label advising that only one person may be on the bed at a time, thus consigning the sleeper solely to nights of solitude.
It’s Thursday, November 29, 2007, 2am as I write from my loft bed, and I haven’t gone out in the evening since that Friday, November 24. That shrimp really made me think.