In the fall of 1997 I arrived to New York University as a college freshman with two priorities. The first: to waste my parents’ money on a theater education. The second: to get drunk.
I accomplished both my goals, although in different ways and for different lengths of time. Which is to say: I wasted that money over the span of four years, but got drunk only once.
Nonetheless, I wanted to change this fact about myself once I hit college. I felt the false promise of self-reinvention. I bought a tube of dark lipstick and a Blackstreet C.D., and when finally I caught wind of a sorority party, I decided to attend. I spent the week leading up to it doing dexterity exercises in my dorm room to insure that if someone did throw up in my general vicinity, I’d be nimble-footed enough to steal away.
My overall thinking was that the vomit risk was worth it for the revels that awaited. I’d never been to an alcohol-laced party before, but I had seen a few John Hughes films. I hoped to go to the party and meet a beefcake-y guy who hoisted girls up above his shoulders. Who’d hoist me up above his shoulders.
“Put me down!” I’d yell.
“Only if you do a shot!” he’d yell back.
So I’d do a shot. And then another. And another.
“You’re crazy!” he’d shout. “Most girls can’t handle their liquor!”
“But I can,” I’d say.
“Yes. You can,” he’d say. “You’re a real special lady.”
This, in all likelihood, would be the beginning of a mostly physical relationship in which I’d use the beefcake for his body, but keep him at an arm’s length.
I attended the sorority party with a young lady named Melanie who I’d met in a freshman year acting class called Masks of Comedia. Pre-party, Melanie and I had dinner in our dorm’s cafeteria. It was during this time that I carbo-loaded so as to prep my body for proper alcohol absorption. I ate one sesame bagel and two plates of refried beans. Having finished, I removed the napkin I’d tucked into the collar of my delicate chemise. I looked Melanie in the eye in much the same way Jennifer Connelly looks Russell Crowe in the eye in the movie A Beautiful Mind when she says, “I need to believe... that something extraordinary... is possible.” I conveyed a fear of the unknown, I like to think, but also hope. Hope. Of meeting men who hoist women up above their shoulders. Of men who get you drunk, but make you feel understood.
“We can do this,” I told her. “I truly believe that we can.”
Melanie and I arrived to the sorority party at 9 p.m. on a Friday night. I had expected it to take place in some attractive Greenwich Village brownstone, and that is because I’d thought the sorority scene was made up of refined and wealthy ladies. ‘
Instead, it took place in a rundown apartment building just east of Union Square. A total of eight sisters lived on the first and second floors, and to host their party they used their individual apartments, the stairwell between the apartments, and, finally, the ground floor entryway. So when you walked in, you walked in.
When I walked in, the process of doing felt rather like passing from the natural world where there was fresh air and reasonable human behavior into an insane asylum designated for the treatment of grubby, promiscuous women. People were screaming and flying every which way. There were indeed a handful of beefcakes, but in person the smell of their cologne was just too much to bear.
The experience gave me a sense of not belonging, and Melanie made it all worse by abandoning me upon entry to chug a monstrosity called a “Forty Ounce Beer.” She chugged three in a row before meandering along to the sorority’s mascot, a jumbo, stuffed animal panda. Melanie straddled the panda, then dry-humped the panda.
At that point, I knew I’d have to soldier forth alone.
I knew I had to do what I was there to do.
I escorted myself to the bar.
I say “bar,” although it is perhaps better described as a filthy kitchen counter stocked with bottom-shelf booze. In order to serve myself, I had to squeeze between two couples that were both French kissing. I was about to tap one of them on the shoulder to ask them to move, but before I had the chance, one of the young ladies jerked out of her embrace so she could projectile vomit. The vomit went everywhere except on me, of course. I had trained for exactly this scenario. I propelled myself at top speed out of the kitchen in the first floor apartment, up through the stairwell, into the kitchen of the second floor apartment. There, I found another filthy counter stocked with the identical bottom-shelf booze.
From the options available, I chose a festive looking punch for the singular reason that it smelled like suntan lotion. It reminded me of a sunny day at the beach, which, in turn, helped calm me down after seeing someone vomit. The punch tasted like cough syrup mixed with gasoline. It wasn’t great, but it was doable. So I parked myself in the beanbag chair beside its serving bowl and began to drink. Over the course of the next hour I did so with negligible interaction from fellow partygoers. At one point I tried stretching my legs out for a more flattering presentation of my figure, but this just caused one of the perfumed beefcakes to trip over my foot and yell, “Watch your fucking feet!” and so I tucked them in again. I continued with my drinking.
I drank steadily for a total of two hours, at which point I was drunk. I thought, Oh, okay. So this is drunk. I felt confused and a little bit sick. I pushed myself up out of the bean-bag-chair and hobbled out the front door and into the stairwell. This should not have been a problem, but I’d lost the ability to balance, and to make matters worse, I’d worn a high peep-toe heel for my exciting evening out. I hobbled toward the staircase, then down the staircase. I made it only halfway before the inevitable trip-‘n-fall. Lucky for me, though, an emaciated sister had been standing at the bottom to break my trip-‘n-fall.
“AHHHHHH!” she screamed.
She was awfully loud for someone so teeny-tiny.
So I apologized, like you do, and seeing as how our bodies had landed such that I appeared to be mounting her from behind, I tried to make a joke.
“Buy a gal a drink first, right?” I tried. But the sister was not amused.
“What the fuck?” she screamed.
And then I farted in response. It was not intentional. It was merely the choice my body made on my behalf.
The sister screamed again.
“She’s farting!” she screamed. “On me!”
“Not technically,” I said. “Technically, I’m farting above you.”
One of her male contemporaries charged over and grabbed me by the collar of my delicate chemise.
“You’re outta here,” he said. “That shit was disrespectful.”
I’m not convinced a person does himself a favor mentioning the word “respect” at a sorority party. He, my molester, held me by the collar of my delicate chemise while the sister lay at our feet huddled in the fetal position. Beside us stood a young woman who’d removed her own brassiere so she could use it as a toilet. People were applauding in response, and, I’m sorry, but my feeling is that if one woman is allowed to urinate into her own brassiere—and believe you me: I am glad that she is—then another woman should not be chastised for a little toot. A little root-toot. A little trumpet de la rumpet.
I made the choice not to argue, however, and tried for the sake of a smooth exit to tell him I was sorry.
I took off my high peep-toe heels and made my way out the front door. I walked shoe-less back to my dorm and, having arrived, realized I had to vomit. I threw up in my awful freshman toilet in my awful freshman dorm. As I did, I thought, This is fucking disgusting. I’ll never drink like that again. It’s a common enough promise for someone in a regretful situation, but the noteworthy thing here was that I meant it.
I never drank like that again.
From that day forth I always drank in moderation. I established a system and was thrilled to see it worked. Prior to the next party I attended, I went out and bought myself a stopwatch to keep track of my drinking. I would allow myself one drink per hour, for up to four hours. I would use the stopwatch to time the intervals. I would stock up on bagels prior to the party for proper alcohol absorption. Each time I had a drink, I’d eat a bagel.
What this all meant, then, was that I attended this second party wearing a stopwatch, as well as a backpack that was large enough to carry many bagels. I thought I looked cool in a practical sort of way, but then someone said, “Cool backpack,” and although I said, “Thank you,” I did also intuit that what he meant, really, was, “That is not a cool backpack.”
Then someone else said, “Oh. Hey. Where did you get that bagel,” and I said, “I brought it in my backpack.”
And he said, “Do you have any more? I’m totally starving.”
And I said, “I do have several more. But I have to eat them all.”
“You have to eat them all?”
“Yes. I have to eat them all. I don’t like... Oops! Sorry. That’s my stopwatch. I can have another drink.”
What with my backpack and my bagels, I was not invited back to many parties. And that was just as well, I guess, for I had been right all along: I was better off at home.
Photo via paul-w-locke/flickr.
Sara Barron is the author of two essays collections, The Harm in Asking (out this week) and People Are Unappealing. Her work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, on Showtime's This American Life, NPR's Weekend Edition, and The Today Show. She is a frequent host of The Moth: True Stories Told Live in NYC. She's on Twitter @sarabarron.