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Always Leave While You Can Still See Straight
Leave it to me to celebrate the occasion of my thirtieth birthday with inappropriate remarks to a coworker.
Since I turn 55 today, please indulge me in a brief birthday reminiscence.
On August 14, 1997, I had a lot to celebrate. I’d been living in New York City for nearly two years, I had a reasonably popular site on the burgeoning World Wide Web, I was making a small reputation as a science fiction writer, I’d had a screenplay about my missionary adventures optioned by a McKenzie brother, and I finally had a decent-paying job at a tech startup that came with the added benefit of lots of close new friends—not to mention the chance to meet rock stars like Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee. Oh, and I was turning thirty.
My crew of work friends took every opportunity to party hard, so despite the fact that it was a Thursday night I was able to recruit nearly a dozen to make the trek to my neighborhood in Brooklyn for some food and libations. A few of my writer friends who lived nearby met us early in the evening at a nice Mexican restaurant, together with my girlfriend, whom I was eager for the gang to meet. Our table was long and raucous. I believe I had a margarita with my chimichanga. I know when I tried to kick in for the check I was forbidden by the group from paying for anything the rest of the night.
After dinner, most of us trooped over to Mooney’s Pub, a quiet, friendly bar on Flatbush Avenue. My friend Teresa, a science fiction editor, was already there, and she wanted to be the first to buy me a birthday Guinness. This set the pattern for the rest of the night, a delirious and increasingly disjointed whirl of beers and shots, as everyone insisted on taking a turn buying drinks for the ex-Mormon. It had been less than two years since I’d tasted my first alcohol—a G&T on a trip to San Francisco—and while I had been certainly been drunk before, I had always kept it within reasonable bounds. Until that night.
There was Jack Daniels and there was Guinness, which were not new to me, but I was also handed a lot of things I’d never tasted before and have avoided tasting since—Jägermeister, Midori, Kamikaze shots. Sometime after midnight, a work friend I’ll call Astrid handed me a glass of something that looked coppery in the bar’s swimmy light.
“Here’s something you have to try,” she said. “You’ve never had anything like it.”
I took the glass, trying to focus on it. “There’s stuff floating,” I slurred.
“It’s gold,” she said, “little flakes of actual gold. Very classy.”
Astrid was maybe the coolest person at a workplace full of cool people, albeit in a Daria-esque kind of way. If she thought this drinky was classy, then it was classy as shit. I clinked glasses with everyone nearby and downed what tasted like molten lava. Astrid burst into laughter.
Goldschläger, as it turns out, does contain tiny bits of gold. But it’s also a cinnamon schnapps and was by far the most fiery liquor I’d ever tasted.
I don’t think my hilarious coughing fit was quite the end of the night, but it was close. In fact, I was having the best time of my life, surrounded by the greatest people I’d ever met. I would have stuck around all night if my girlfriend hadn’t started insisting it was time for us to go home.
As she dragged me slowly toward the exit, my heart overflowed with such joy and love that I insisted on hugging every one of my wonderful friends who were still there. “Rick, I love you, man!” I mushed as I wrapped my arms around him. “You’re the besh, Andrew, I love you sho much. You know I love you, right, Marlene? J.B., you’re the greatesh, I jush love you, man.”
Then I came to Astrid, on whom I admit I nurtured a small office crush. Squinting and swaying a bit, I said, “Ashtrid … can I fuck you?”
She patted me on the shoulder. “No,” she said in the way a heroically patient kindergarten teacher might. “Go home.”
Thankfully it was only a block or so to our apartment, and thankfully I had someone to show me the way. Thankfully the porcelain of the toilet bowl was very cool against my forehead, and thankfully my aim was, mostly, better than my judgment.
I was too ill the next morning to make it to work, but not so ill that I did not recall with perfect horror what I had said to Astrid. I fretted and stewed about it all weekend, mortified. Monday morning at the office, I sought her out right away. I’m sure my embarrassment was scrawled all over my face.
“Astrid, I have to apologize,” I stammered. “Thursday night at my birthday party, I said something truly horrible to you. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’m one of the people who helped get you that drunk in the first place.”
In vino veritas, as Alcaeus of Mytilene would have said in a language that was not Latin. But certain truths, if expressed at all, are perhaps better served by a nice chianti than a seismic eruption of Goldschläger. ∅