On The Rocks, With A Twist
(FORTUNE Magazine) – It was pretty cruddy out when I hit the street with my friend Bob. A fine, icy drizzle was spitting down and a truculent wind cut through our topcoats. We have a pop sometimes after work, Bob and I, to wash away the stuff the day has left on our face. The place we usually go is "21." It has comfortable chairs, and the martinis are honest, dry, and cold. I had one. Then I had another. I was fine. I've been drinking longer than some of you have been alive, and it takes quite a tranquilizer dart to bring this elephant to his knees.
The nuts were tasty and the olives were salty and time passed and after a while it was about 7 P.M. and time to go to the Kelly party at Michael's. Michael's is the junior high school cafeteria of the chattering classes, and that night it was to host about 300 people gathering for a good cause and also to get loaded in the society of friends and associates they hated, admired, or were comfortable with. Bob peeled off for Jersey. I meandered up Sixth Avenue with a pleasant grin and a positive attitude.
It's possible I was already kind of potted when I hit the party. It's hard to tell. The noise and backslapping and schmoozing go to your head faster than liquor, you know, and I was two martinis ahead of the pack.
Power drinking is a big part of what we all do for a living. You can get by without it, but it's rough at times. Try spending a week in New Orleans sober. I remember my pal Rafferty, who has been pounding himself like carpaccio into a paste of inebriation for the past 30 years, standing in the middle of Bourbon Street at three in the morning and screaming, "You're a pussy!" because I wouldn't have "one last cocktail." You can tell the serious drinkers among us, incidentally, by the fact that they never have a drink. They always have a cocktail.
At any rate, I got to the Kelly party and ordered a perfect drink for a cold night at the cusp between winter and spring--a big glass of brown fluid. I drank it.
The next sentient thought that I had was about eight hours later, at four in the morning, when I woke up standing in my underwear in the middle of my bedroom, staring into a blackness as perfectly profound as the dark chasm of confusion and shame in the pit of my soul.
A number of questions asserted themselves to my semiconscious premind. How did I get home? Could I possibly have driven a car? Had I had dinner with Dworkin, as was our plan? I didn't remember eating. A freezing band of titanium ratcheted tightly around my forehead. I didn't remember anything. Or, now that I thought about it, in the cold gunmetal light of dawn, I did recall a few things, as one ascertains details of a blasted wartime countryside in the bright flashes of incoming rocket fire.
I was standing at the bar with my arm around one of the Kellys, screaming something affectionate into his face. He was looking at me as if I were a complete moron.
I was weaving through a crowd, greeting people with a bit too much verve. It's conceivable that some were clearing a way for me as I went.
I was talking to my friend Lou, a gentleman and scholar, and a titan of industry. Was it possible that I had set up some kind of lunch whose date I could not now recall? What had I said? No, that was gone.
Morning again. I took a shower for about an hour. I called a cab to take me to the city, since I had not driven to my death the night before, and my car was safely at the office. Dressed, pulling my socks on with the trembling fingers and throbbing temples that tell you that a certain part of your life is over.
I stepped out of my house expecting my cab to be there. Instead, a Town Car from our company's car service waited. "What are you doing here?" I said to the guy.
"You called us last night," he said.
About a week later I was talking to my friend Harbinger. "Wanna go out for a drink?" he asked me.
"Nah," I said. "I'm not drinking for a while. I disgraced myself at a party the other night."
"Oh, yeah," he said. "The Kelly party." He hadn't even been there. Later that day Lou called me and, among other things, asked whether I'd like the name of a good psychiatrist. I told him I already had one.
And now I must go on, walking around with toilet paper on the heel of my reputation until someone else makes a public ass of himself in glorious Technicolor. I'm not worried. Next time it could be you. If so, would you please hurry up?
This I'll tell you now: No matter what happens in the next 50 or 60 years, I'm never going to get that bleary again. One drink, maybe two--that's the limit for me from here on in. Three at the most. Four, if I'm not driving.
A man's got to know his limitations. I actually remember who said that.