I had my first drink in a hotel room in New York City. I was 19 and I had taken a year off from college. I was working for a company migrating OS2 to Windows95 and a Novell network to windows.
When I first started I wrote a .bat script that could be emailed to the local office secretary who would run it on her (yeah, her) computer. It would download an image of windows95 and audit the local network. Then, as she was leaving for the night, she was to run another script that would bounce around to each computer on the network, pull the files off the secretary’s machine and then ping the next computer on the inventory list, and then write back to a text file on the secretary computer to say it was done. Then they’d all come in the next morning and follow the instructions on the screen.
They thought it was brilliant but it really didn’t fit with their scheme to live off expense accounts for a year while traveling to every major city in the US. So we didn’t tell anyone about the script and spent the next year spending absurd amounts of money living like kings on that sweet Windows95 budget allocation.
We were in New York the longest. I stayed in a room off of 43rd at the Casablanca. Each morning I would nod at the tiny man who lived next door to me. He dressed in an olive three-piece suit. He would scowl back at me and stab at the elevator button.
At night the hotel staff would bring each room a bottle of wine and a selection of cheeses and chocolates. I would give the wine away to people at the company or just to random strangers on the street.
One night I decided to drink it and see what would happen. I put on a movie on HBO that was sure to have a gratuitous nude scene or two (oh, to be 19 in the 90s!) and began to choke down a rather violent red.
I finished half the bottle and didn’t feel anything.
I decided to walk around outside to see if it needed some time to get to work.
I had absolutely no idea what being drunk was supposed to feel like. I had heard people in church claim that they were drunk in the spirit, and so I expected a weird trance like experience.
I walked around Times Square. It was 1996 and Times Square was just beginning to get gentrified. There were still porn theaters and shady characters everywhere. I walked for at least an hour, looking at the people passing by and waiting for something to happen.
I went back to my hotel room and looked out the window. It was starting to rain and the lights of Time Square smeared and twisted.
I picked up the half empty bottle and sniffed. I didn’t understand why people bothered with this stuff. I poured the rest of it down the sink and hid the bottle in the trash under half a box of tissues.
I sat down on the bed and opened my duffel bag. Inside I had pictures of people back home. Senior pictures mostly, we had exchanged and mailed them to each other in a confusing display of bonding and status seeking. I couldn’t remember what anyone really looked like. I just had one picture of most people, sometimes two. It had been so long since I had seen some of them I couldn’t picture them in any other way than smiling blankly with perfect hair and new sweaters.
I didn’t know anyone in New York unless you counted the funny little man who wore olive suits. I worked with two guys in their mid-forties. This was a vacation for them, a chance to be away from the wife, eat a steak dinner and maybe slip off to the strip club after they dropped me off. This wasn’t the way I had imagined New York at all. My perception of New York was mostly informed by Woody Allen movies. There weren’t nearly as many art shows, dinner parties and neurotic women as I had been lead to believe.
I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. The clatter and noise of the busy city went on below me. I wished I could be like those people. I wished I had somewhere to be.