A nine-martini night of blindness, casual sex, and crustacean love.
On New Year's Eve of 2004, some old college friends and I celebrated in New York City. The reunion took place about six months after our graduation. Although I had lived in New York the previous summer, loving interning at a magazine, hating interning at a magazine, I'd since moved back to Mississippi, where I pathetically substitute-taught at my former high school, slept in my old bed, drove my old car, and painstakingly completed applications for grad school. I had told myself when I left the city I wasn't yet mature enough to handle it.
That first night, eve of the eve, our group of twelve reuinted friends attended a Dave Attell comedy show, got drunk at a midtown bar, and binged on hot dogs at Gray's Papaya in the Village. The scene was college all over again. We universally struck out with a group of girls supposedly in high school whom I suspect might have been prostitutes. We interrupted our single friends talking to older women by claiming they had calls from their girlfriends. In the morning, having rediscovered that fun is the very best thing to have, we awoke sometime around noon, our clothes tossed haphazardly about the apartment where we were staying, socks draped atop the television and t-shirts dangling from the fan. All of this was watched over by a signed headshot of Steven Seagal framed in walnut on the mantle. The place reeked of boy. Vomit spackled the rim of every toilet bowl and cigarette butts floated in dozens of beer bottles and urine colored a spot on the carpet. It would obviously take hours of hard work to get the apartment back in shape. What now then? We all went to eat lunch.
On our way home from a burger joint, we stopped at a grocery store and purchased a live lobster. We named him Maury. Some people might think it odd to buy a living crustacean simply because they feel like doing so, and some people might think it odd to treat said crustacean as though it were a household pet. We were not those people. Maury proved terrible at fetch, but excellent at playing dead. None of us had the nerve to teach him how to shake hands. He made for a great companion until it was time for us to leave for the next party.
We had tickets for a "New Year's Eve Gala" at a bar downtown. Serena, a Moroccan lounge with black-velvet couches situated beneath Edison bulbs, was located beneath the Hotel Chelsea. In 1953, Dylan Thomas had died of alcohol poisoning while sleeping on one of its beds, and in 1978, Sid Vicious had (allegedly) stabbed his girlfriend to death in one of its rooms. We made ourselves right at home.
Given that so many of us were from out of town — not exactly fish out of water, but perhaps lobsters out of the tank — we all underwent a parallel sensory overload on entering the bar. Look at what the city had to offer! A brunette as blandly attractive as a catalog model walked out of the bathroom dabbing white crumbs from her nostrils. In front of top-shelf liquors, a bartender with a tattoo on the exposed side of her breast took well shots, each without a grimace. A faction of girls lit cigarettes in the corner despite the recent law prohibiting them. Mind, we were hardly ladies men. We definitely knew how to spell "ogle."
At the start of the evening, we kept mostly to ourselves, sipping cocktails, telling stories, but we soon ventured into the horde. Those days I still drank martinis. Three heaping ounces of vodka and a hint of vermouth were the perfect cure for my complete and utter dearth of charm. Almost. It took at least four martinis to imagine myself a lothario. Around my sixth martini of the night, I met a young woman, Cynthia, whose specific features I wish I could remember. I think she was blond. I hope she was pretty.
The two of us swapped turns screaming into each other's ear against the din of celebrating louts. I told her that I "aetifuek motoehtip" but also "qelithe theoin llqleaad" in my spare time. She told me that she "meklep weithto tlkepty" from long ago when "cxlkegh althermol" for extra cash. We got along swimmingly. Five minutes into our witty repartee, Cynthia excused herself to visit the ladies' room. Perfect opportunity for me to get my nth of the evening. At the bar, studying the side-boob tat on my server, I fell into a moment of imaginative revelry, combining memory of the past with consideration of the present. I thought of a television show.
In a particular episode of California Dreams, a sitcom from the producers of Saved By The Bell that NBC aired on Saturday mornings throughout my early teens, the lead singer of the titular band is set up on a "blind date" with a girl who turns out to be actually blind. (Hear the laugh track?) At first, pacing across the set in his signature plaid jacket with cut-off sleeves, the lead singer, Jake, contemplates the moral quandary of whether it's cool to date a girl who can't see, but soon, aided by the fact the blind girl has no trouble filling out her neon tube-top, Jake decides to follow his heart and learns a valuable lesson in the process: it's what's inside that matters.
At the bar on New Year's Eve, considering the girl in the bathroom, remembering the show from my teens, something else came to mind. Wouldn't it be funny, I thought, if I dated a blind girl?
"So is it 'Morrie,' as in Tuesdays With Morrie," Cynthia yelled on her return, "or is it 'Maury,' as in Maury Povich?"
At that moment, looking at the girl next to me, I thought with absolute certainty she was blind. Here is why. Due to the amount of Stolichnaya flowing through my veins, I could only catalog a fragment of my thoughts into the dusty vaults of my memory, whether short-term or long-term. So, looking at Cynthia after her absence, I could remember thinking about her being blind but I could not remember thinking about it as a hypothetical scenario. Fancy became indistinguishable from fact.
"Meet my friend," I said to Jay, putting my hands over Cynthia's ears. "She's blind." "Don't worry about her," I said to Darren. "She can't see anything." "Check this out," I said to Matt, waving a hand in front of Cynthia's face. "No reaction."
The poor girl did, however, show a reaction. She wrinkled her brow and chuckled quietly, as though it were all just some inside joke. Nowadays, thinking back on that drunken night, I partly believe the whole thing actually did start out as an inside joke — one I had with myself. I knew at the beginning of the night she wasn't really blind. The joke's failure to reach a punch line, though, caused me to forget its entire premise. Even today it seems crazy I didn't notice all the times she made eye contact with me.
Half an hour 'til midnight, Cynthia and I went outside to smoke a cigarette, gaggles of the sighted flanking us to either side. I continued to harp on her blindness, and she continued not to understand it. At one point, I took her hand by the wrist, ran her fingers down my face, and said, "This is what I look like." Her lack of comment could only, I thought, be a sign she found me hideous. We went back inside to wait for 2005.
The year began with a kiss between two people, one who supposedly could not see but actually could, one who supposedly could see but actually could not. They say love is blind. Back then I was too young to understand such a concept. People who truly know of love do not confuse fantasy with reality. These days I understand that some people, while growing up, never notice the temperature rising around themselves, their exoskeletons of juvenility and imprudence going red with the heat.
At the conclusion of our kiss, Cynthia pulled away from me and said, "You know I'm not blind, right?"
"What are you telling me?" Streamers landed on my shoulder. Conical hats bobbed near my head. Balloons floated by my feet. "You mean you can see?"
Rather than comprehend the situation, that I had been mistaken about her inability to see, I instead raised my arms to the ceiling, smiled in her direction, looked around the room, and screamed, "It's a New Year's Eve miracle!" I frantically told my friends Cynthia had been cured of her blindness. Their ecstatic response was less an indication of my persuasive abilities and more proof that they, like me, were more than half in the bag.
"Let's get out of here," Cynthia said. "Go back to my place."
Often I understand women as poorly as I understand myself. That was one of those times. Why would a woman in her right mind invite home a man who had spent most of the night mistakenly thinking her blind? Moreover, why would a man in his right mind go home with a woman he had spent most of the night mistakenly thinking blind? At her apartment, according to what little I recall, we got naked in her bed and made out until we passed out. I do not think we had sex. Condoms were not to be found in my pockets. I hope we didn't have sex.
The next morning, I woke with no idea of my whereabouts, the location of my clothes, or Cynthia's name. I could faintly see my H&M shirt crumpled on the floor. Check. I could get home from any part of New York simply by hailing a cab. Check. What about this girl's name? No fucking clue.
Contrary to popular belief, womanizers, drunks, and assholes, not unlike their fellow creatures of the sea floor, do have the capacity to experience pain. I honestly felt bad about not remembering her name. Right before I was to make a fool of myself by addressing her as "sugar," though, Cynthia got out of bed and put on a robe, saying she was going the bathroom. She left me alone. That was when a familiar face appeared at the door.
My friend Rick, who would later tell our entire group I'd looked like "the Sultan of Twat," naked except for a sheet bunched at my privates, told me about how he had come home with one of Cynthia's roommates, thereby explaining his presence and also, more importantly, revealing the "blind" girl's name. I put on my clothes in a rush. Outside of Cynthia's bedroom, as I wandered through the apartment, as I passed by an open doorway, I heard yet another familiar voice say, "Hey, buddy." I looked into the dark room.
That made three of us: Rick with Elizabeth, me with Cynthia, and Josh with Katherine. Our situation gave a new meaning to the term "clusterfuck." In a hurry, I gathered Rick and Josh into the hallway of the apartment and, in a whisper, told them we had to get out of there before the girls tried to make us breakfast. God forbid. The pot of water surrounding me — my current predicament as well as my overall life situation — was coming to a boil. We snuck out of the apartment.
On the cab ride across Manhattan, something registered inside me. This was the world I wanted to live in. I wanted to live somewhere I could mistake a girl for blind and wake up the next morning in a strange apartment with two of my best friends. I wanted to live somewhere I could ride home the next day through a city that offered the possibility for an infinite amount of similar predicaments. Maturity was not a requirement for living in New York. It was the result.
The trip took us half an hour. Around ten o'clock, Rick, Josh, and I, each of us weary from the old year, each of us sleepy with the new one, made it back to the apartment. There in New York, eight months before I returned to the city for good, we discovered that our friends had boiled Maury alive.
Photography by Lorenzo Dominguez.