Friday, March 22, 2013

The Worst: Probie'd

[If you missed my earlier post: This series of stories will explore some of my more embarrassing achievements in the category of "drunken fail". And if you're wondering what "probie'd" must not watch NCIS.]

There’s a bit of a contradiction to this story: Of the tales in this series, it occurred most recently, and at a time when I had already cemented my status as a star in the drinking game. In fact, it’s the only one that took place post-college. And yet, it all happened because I was young and na├»ve. …And stupid, basically (though that particular characteristic is sure to be a running theme throughout these stories).

It was the fall of 2005, and work had brought me to sunny San Diego. This was the fourth business trip of my young professional career, and by now I had earned the trust of customers and coworkers, having shown myself to be someone who could hold both his booze and his tongue. Most of them were either married, respected within the professional community, or—in many cases—both. If you have ever watched Mad Men or House of Lies, then you know that those are precisely the type of people that get the craziest after business hours, especially on the road.

But they were also old. Now, in fairness, I was 26 at the time; back then, anyone over 35 had one foot in the grave. At my current age, I see things a little differently. But the plain fact was that almost all of my coworkers and customers were on the other side of 40. And now that they had let me into their circle, surely I’d easily prove my superiority. Hell, I’d rise through their ranks and take the throne! Yeah! I could out-drink them with one liver tied behind my back!

*draws an arrow back to the earlier part about being stupid*

On Tuesday, the second day of the five-day conference at the Omni San Diego Hotel, we held an evening reception for attendees on the outdoor terrace. San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is magical at night from an elevated vantage point (as I would further confirm in 2008); when you add in the perfect weather and the glasses of 12-year-old Glenfiddich I was swimming through, it was damn near euphoric. Want to know the best part about being the most junior person at a business party? Everyone else is buying. Corporate credit cards were still warm, dry blankets of financial irresponsibility back in ’05. And there was plenty of room for a 26-year-old “kid” to curl up under one like a stray cat brought in from the rain.

After the party, a coworker (we’ll call him “Work Unk”) and I moved downstairs to McCormick & Schmick's, where the rest of our cool table—the bad boys and bad girls of the professional development conference—were to meet up. It might have occurred to me that my dinner had consisted only of several neat glasses of scotch and a few appetizers, but that didn’t stop me from waving off the bartender’s offer of a menu. No need, my man—I already know my order: scotch!

We were joined by Ms. Purple. She was a punk scene party girl in her earlier years; but now, in her 40s, she had “quieted down.” Now she focused on being an industry professional by day and dedicated mommy by night. But the wildchild gene was still in her blood, and on business trips she was dangerous. She had begun treating me like a little brother (to this day, in fact, she calls me “Little Bro”), and was now about to do the most “big sister-y” thing to me she could: Set me up for an epic fail, all for her amusement.

She bought a Buttery Nipple for Work Unk, who refused to take the girlie shot. Ms. Purple had barely motioned the shot glass in my direction before I was removing it from her hand and tossing back the concoction like a damn man…well, a man drinking a Buttery Nipple. Unk’s refusal to do the shot earned the kind of derision from Ms. Purple that was only to be expected. When pushed far enough, he defended himself by planting his foot in the turf and stating that he could go shot-for-shot with her all night.

Here’s what happened over the course of the next 97 seconds, in precise order:
  1. Purple accepted Unk’s challenge.
  2. Purple ordered up two shots of Jager.
  3. Purple reminded us that she was the only one with a rental car, and was therefore the night’s designated driver by default.
  4. Purple announced—without my warning or approval—that I would be taking her place in the challenge.
  5. Purple let loose an evil cackle from atop the cliff while watching me sail towards the ground below, with a fresh bootprint on my back.
Before leaving the hotel bar, another two rounds of Jager shots were done. They would not be the last of the evening. It was like the Jagermeister Hunger Games. Ever hear of immersion therapy? Well this was that in reverse. I didn’t fear Jager before that night, but now I flinch like a battered woman any time a bottle of it is raised in the air.

We eventually met up with the rest of our group: Papa, in all of his grinning glory; a sassy, cougar coworker (“High Heels”); a sassy, cougar customer (“Cowgirl”); and a quiet-but-funny customer who was openly gay (“Turtle”). The only thing anyone seemed to know (or would tell me) about the club we were going to was that Ms. Purple had picked it out. A wise man would have considered that more than enough information with which to draw up a few theories; but a wise man also would not have gotten into a shot-taking contest on an almost empty stomach after drinking scotch for a few hours.

The seven of us squeezed into Ms. Purple’s rented Toyota, Cowgirl sitting on either Papa or Unk’s lap [I just don’t remember anymore] in the backseat, and High Heels sitting on my lap in the front seat. I should probably take this moment to note that High Heels would, several years later, become my manager at my previous employer—more specifically, my team manager, who repeatedly reintroduced me to her husband in St. Petersburg last fall. Back in ’05, we’d worked together for over three years, but really hadn’t spent much time around each other. Now she was in my lap. As unusual as it all was back then, when the memory pops into my head now, it’s flat out surreal. The woman who signed my timesheets and conducted my performance reviews once sat in my lap in the passenger seat of a cramped midsize rental car while I was obliviously screaming towards my drunken fate like Major Kong. Life’s something, ain’t it?

We made a stop on the way to the club…at a sex shop. I was merely a passenger at this point—in both the car and the night in general. Ms. Purple had a specific purpose for stopping, but I (a.) didn’t want to know, and (b.) didn’t ask. …Though I think it involved nipple clamps. The rest of us toured the aisles of dildos and whips like tourists in a fuck toy hedge maze. I’m fairly certain Ms. Purple made a purchase before we left, but… That’s one of the rarely-acknowledged benefits to booze: Selective memory becomes that much easier—and merciful.

When we finally walked into the nightclub, things seemed...dull. It was hazy (could’ve been a smoke machine, could’ve just been my accelerating inebriation—flip a coin) and music was pumping, but that’s about it. There were some people, but if attendance numbers were in the double digits, I’d be shocked. And the chicks that were there…woof. They were rough-looking. They were the face “rough-looking” makes when it smells a really bad smell. They were a train loaded with ugly traveling south at 30 mph colliding head-on with a train loaded with butts that's traveling north at 27 mph. They were…men?


I tried to process everything I was relearning about the world. To that point in time, I had never been in a gay bar. Mind you, I wasn’t against gay bars, or homosexuality. I’m a cheerleader for gay rights, actually (the more guys that are into other guys, the more chicks there are for me! …oh, and basic human decency, equality, blah, blah, blah). There was a gay bar a couple of blocks from the apartment I lived in at the time, and I always wanted to check it out. But I had no gay pals back home, and I was far too much of a pussy [ironic phrasing] to go in alone.

The people in this establishment fit into one of two categories: either men dressed as women, or men dressed as themselves, their selves being men who had no interest in women. I was in the “men staring at women” category. Make that “woman”; as in Ms. Purple, who was with Turtle at the bar, the both of them laughing their asses off at me.

I knew they were interpreting my expression as me being uncomfortable about being in a gay bar. Keep in mind, my customers—and many of my coworkers—at that time were computer nerds, systems and software programming geeks, etc. A lot of them were nice people, don’t get me wrong; but these were not men and women with varsity letterman jackets collecting dust in their closets. So me being a big, towering, former college athlete, obviously I was in some way homophobic, right?

No, my stare wasn’t about being in a gay bar, it was about someone feeling I needed to be tricked into being in a gay bar. Purple never bothered to ask if I’d be interested in going, she just assumed I wouldn’t be; and, therefore, she conspired to win some kind of comedic victory fueled by self-righteousness. The irony, of course, was that she was being closed-minded by assuming that I was closed-minded. But whatever. I walked over to them and began hacking away at her smugness. “This is awesome! I always wanted to check out a gay bar!” I watched the feeling of satisfaction drain from Purple’s face a bit, before she called to the bartender, “Two shots of Jager!”

Fuck…I forgot she could do that.

I remember at least one more round of shots while we were standing at the bar. Then, at some point after that, I remember standing with Cowgirl, Papa, and Unk as we watched something happening out on the dance floor. What we were watching, I don’t know—thanks again, booze-induced selective memory. Though at that point of the night, my memories aren’t just selective, they’re mostly erased. I was blacked-to-the-out.

It wasn’t even 10:00 pm. *sigh*

I do, for whatever reason, remember stumbling through the hotel hallway, towards the door of my hotel room. Everything for hours before and after that, though, is gone. My alarm somehow went off the next morning, and my Wednesday…well, you’ve already read that part.

While Unk, Purple, and the like had a healthy arsenal of jokes that they threw my way for the rest of that trip, the postscript, on the whole, was fairly tame. Sure I had blacked out—early—at a gay bar with customers and coworkers; but I hadn’t vomited, I hadn’t gotten lost or arrested, and I hadn’t pulled a “Bangkok”. On the whole, those results weren’t bad.

Then, a few weeks later, a new story finally reached my ears. It went like this:
At some point late in the night, I had disappeared. Not for real long, but for long enough for it to be noticeable. Amidst this, High Heels went to the ladies room. When she opened the door, it slammed into someone on the other side. When she leaned into the bathroom, she saw me, standing with Cowgirl, with a guilty, sloppy grin on my face.
How can I say this?…

Let me see if I can put this into perspective for you: I, the most junior person on my team, had just gotten caught making out with an older female CUSTOMER, in the women’s room of a gay club, by a coworker of significantly higher rank who (at that point) had absolutely zero loyalties to me, all while blackout drunk.

You know that unshakeable little touch of paranoia that eats at your soul for the 24 hours immediately after you awake from a bad blackout? Well for the next couple of weeks, I began updating my resume every time senior management walked past my cubicle. I saw something different in High Heels’ eyes when she looked at me. You could say it was newfound respect for my virility, but I’d dated her secretary the year before that—my virility wasn’t on trial. No, this…was power. This was, “I know something that could jeopardize your ability to pay next month’s rent.”

I didn’t relax, really, until a few months later. Cowgirl emailed me for the first time since the San Diego trip. The topic was a work-related issue, but once we’d resolved that our conversation became more casual. Summoning courage, I admitted that I had heard “the story”, and apologized for my actions.

“Oh, no,” she replied, “You don’t need to apologize! I dragged you into the bathroom!”

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