I’ll never know for certain if a predilection for drinking was always within me or if Brooklyn drove me to it, beating it out of me with endless social engagements centered around alcohol. Of course, I wouldn’t be demonstrating very much personal responsibility if I blamed everything on the borough; I am aware I play a distinct part in picking up a shot glass before swigging back my beer. But where else is the beer-and-shot combo so prevalent, affordable, and revered? Not that I don’t dabble in other types of alcohol, too—specifically well drinks and wine, those other happy hour staples. But these temptations never beckoned me in other cities; for me, they are a function of living in New York, where the claustrophobia of wall-to-wall concrete is psychologically affecting and the option to take the subway home is readily available.
Ah yes, the subway: I’ve thrown up on the subway on the way to work, back when I had a more mind-numbing cubicle job. Proust immortalized the idea that smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory. If that’s the case, it’s fortunate that I rarely smell vomit; it’s the odor to which I’ve often woken up after a night of binge drinking. I tell myself you’re not a real New Yorker until yakking on the train before work. But there was also the bathroom at work. Then on the way to Duane Reade to buy two-for-one coconut waters to alleviate the hangover. Then going to meet friends for drinks after work and repeating the cycle until I decided to go three days without drinking cold turkey. This usually meant not going out at all, because to go out in Brooklyn is to drink.
I used to think my form of liquor intake wasn’t alcoholism in the pure sense, because I didn’t want to do it every day—I didn’t need to do it every day—but I have gradually come to realize that it’s just a different, even more extreme version than the popular conception of alcoholism. So extreme is it, in fact, that I recently had to toss out an entire outfit covered in my own barf and borrow a dress from someone else in order to get to my next destination in time.
There is something about getting blackout drunk that I’ve become dependent on. Whether it’s the temporary emotional reprieve it gives me or the endless supply of storytelling material, I can’t seem to stop. Last year, there was a particularly soap-operatic evening when I should not have taken that last whiskey shot someone offered me over at Boobie Trap before I went to temper it with a slice or two at the bar’s sister spot, Pizza Party. I was with my then-boyfriend (in retrospect, I think he was attracted to me because his mother is an alcoholic as well—Oedipus is a helluva complex) and two other friends. Because my ex had always taken an adamant stance about never helping me when I got to a blackout state in order to prove a point about my “problem,” I found myself slumped over at the table, causing a scene simply as a result of my non-responsiveness.
The next thing I remember is my two other friends coming in from across the street, picking me up from the floor, my top riding all the way to my neck so that it exposed my entire chest. Even in my stupor, I knew to be embarrassed. Soon, the two friends were escorting me outside as my ex slunk away in humiliation. He was often ashamed when I got to that state. But to me, this behavior had seemed normal ever since I arrived in Brooklyn in 2010, a time when I was still in my early 20s and it was all so novel. Indeed, within the first six months of moving here, there was a photo of me on Brooklyn Vegan from a show at The Shank in Greenpoint (RIP) passed out with a sign that said “Trash Bag” strategically placed on my body. It would set the tone for my entire New York existence.
As I was guided outside by my two friends, one of them became belligerent over my boyfriend’s refusal to be the one who put me in a cab or assist me in any way. She proceeded to scream insults at him and then threw a punch at his ear, which further pulled me out of the blackout. I was the cause of this. Maybe if I had knocked back one or three drinks less the night before, my boyfriend wouldn’t have been unable to look at me the next day when he wasn’t chastising me for putting him in the sort of position that would force him (had he been willing) to be a caretaker. I saw what he meant. I know what part I played in creating this type of environment, but what role did the environment play in creating this version of me? Brooklyn offers symbiotic businesses like a bar across the street from a greasy pizza place in order to let people who love drinking know that it’s normal. Brooklyn makes it possible to find friends who understand that you’re not necessarily a fuck-up or an alcoholic if you like to imbibe on weekdays; you can always find someone to clink glasses with any day of the week, and that’s part of what makes drinking feel so natural here. Anywhere else, you would be viewed as a lush.
It’s not realistic to go on this way forever (liver reasons and all), to evolve into some bar troll who some people might affectionately call a “bad ass,” when, really, they would never want the fate of a washed-up old drunk for themselves. This goes double for women, who become automatic sexual pariahs in a bar setting very quickly after a certain age—dark lighting or not. Nobody wants to be the scenester who never found something else, or the aspiring artist who turned drinking into his or her art form. I know this, and yet I’ve also found that there is something defiant about carrying on the tradition of hard-drinking and hard-living, like the habit is my own version of Madonna calling her recent Met ball dress a political statement regarding how older women are viewed. As I do get past society’s expiration date of comporting myself this way, the respectable thing would be to start reining it in, but if my goal were to be respectable then maybe I wouldn’t be in Brooklyn at all. After all, when has this borough ever prided itself on being basic? Changed though it might be, there’s an undeniable core of rebellion that still exists within many of its residents, certainly, and even within the place itself. And as long as I’m here, I don’t feel the pressure to “get my act together.” There are so many acts in this life, after all, and messy as this one might seem to some, it’s what I want to be doing now.
It’s customary for a dipsomaniac’s tale to offer a moral of some sort. So here’s mine: The borough’s warm alcoholic embrace can easily influence you; it can be a fight to stay sober against so strong a pull. That embrace can be tight, and hard to escape. You might find that you don’t even want to leave its warmth at all. This is my experience, anyway; maybe I’ll tell you in person someday from my old woman’s perch at the corner of the bar.