This post was originally published on February 24, 2016.
I never showed up to work with pints of vodka pumping through my system. Neither did I throw back whiskey in the bathroom on my breaks or chug beers on my lunch hour. Still, during the years when I had a regular full-time job, I managed to get a buzz on many times. The trick was to do it only when everyone was drinking. I didn’t want to have a problem, you see, and I spent years controlling and managing my drinking to prove to myself—and everyone around me—that I drank like a normal person.
You decide if the following is normal.
Perhaps the best (or worst) drunk experiences happened during my tenure at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. I worked there as an administrative and public relations assistant for nearly three years. One of my responsibilities was coordinating the opening receptions for exhibitions. These receptions, as you might imagine, offered guests bottomless cups of wine. Part of my job was to oversee the pack of student employees who poured it. Sometimes, when there weren’t enough kids to do the job, I had to do the pouring myself.
Pulling those receptions together was a major stress fest and making sure they went off without a glitch flooded me with anxiety. I typically started drinking the second the wine bottles were opened, even before the 100 or so guests showed up. This meant I had a nice happy buzz on by the time the crowd started stuffing their face with all the food. This was always when I experienced a big wave of terror wondering if we had run out of the froo-froo hors d’oeuvres.
On one particular occasion, we were short a student, so I had to pour wine for the guests. I thought it would be both cool and funny to chain smoke at the same time, since we were outdoors in the museum’s courtyard. Doing so put Rachel, the student-worker who was pouring wine by my side, into hysterics. What a wonderful example I was for these budding collegiate minds.
“Do you think this is inappropriate?” I joked with her, now getting good and drunk. At the time, I was 26, which hopefully buys my stupidity a little leeway.
“Whatever,” was her response. Based on 18 years of freshman wisdom.
For a while, I pulled off pouring with the cigarette. Then, I just got too buzzed and pouring with one hand proved a liability. When a super-posh fifty-something blonde approached the table requesting some red wine, I pulled out the bottle and proceeded to miss the glass entirely mid-pour. Unfortunately, the blonde was wearing a white silk blouse. She didn’t think it was nearly as funny as Rachel—who, in her own buzzed state immediately burst out laughing—and I.
“Oh my God,” the woman said, wiping off the wine dripping from her sleeve.
“I’m soo sorry!” I yelled.
“It’s okay,” the woman said, not trying to make a scene. “I’ll get it out.”
She walked away, and that’s when Rachel and I really cracked up, which was a pretty shitty reaction to ruining someone’s expensive shirt. At the time, I felt little remorse, massaging the slight guilt I had with the thought “She’s a rich bitch. She can just buy a new shirt.” It is true the USC receptions drew some upper class types, but still. What did I know? There are plenty of people who walk around decked out in posh attire that they’ve purchased on credit. And even if she was a rich bitch, she still didn’t deserve that.
This job at USC definitely saw me drinking the most. It’s no shock that during my time there I hit my first bottom and found myself in the rooms of AA.
But before this, there were many other occasions where I found a way to get drunk at work.
My first internship out of undergrad was at Los Angeles magazine, where I spent three months fact-checking articles under the supervision of the research editor. I loved interning there so much I really wanted to land a spot full time as an editorial assistant. But that was back in 2001 when everything was in print, and publishing jobs, especially in LA, were very tough to find. The editorial staff at the magazine like never left. In fact, 15 years later, the research editor I worked under is still there.
When we all went out as a staff for drinks at the Cat and Fiddle to celebrate the completion of the always-grueling “Best of LA” issue, I told myself I’d behave. At the time, I was just 22. Despite being young in my drinking career (I waited until 21 to start drinking ambitiously), I had already suffered some embarrassing fallouts when smashed.
I would only drink beer, I told myself.
So I drank my pint, and then I drank another. With just two in my system, I felt ballsy enough to grill the current editorial assistant, a reticent man in his mid-thirties, on how he got his job.
“So, how did you land it?” I demanded. When I wasn’t tipsy, I was very reticent myself, especially at the office, and certainly didn’t speak to the full-time staff unless I was spoken to. The assistant was obviously taken aback by my abrasiveness. “I’d kill for your job,” I continued. “I really want to work here.” To be honest, I have no idea how he responded. As far as I can recall, he didn’t give me any pointers, and I’m pretty sure he excused himself from the conversation as fast as he could.
Of course, there were plenty of other drunk occasions.
After the internship, I landed a job at Men’s Fitness magazine, not in the editorial department, but in the art department. Publishing, which is sort of an offshoot of the entertainment industry, isn’t exactly the most conservative environment. In the art department there were lots of fights with silly string between me—the photo assistant—and my nemesis Charlie—the art assistant. One time he pulled my chair out from under me when I sat down. My boss, the photo editor, was suspected of stealing the collection of Homies dolls stacked on the lead graphic designer’s desk.
No one ever got to the bottom of that.
So, when we were treated to lunch on Joe Weider’s dime (which happened a lot) everyone would order beers or wine. Usually, they stopped after one or two drinks. As you can imagine, I kept going. When you drink on the job, you have to exert tremendous effort to not appear drunk. You rip the smile off your face, you walk gingerly trying oh-so-hard not to stumble and you focus very diligently when speaking to not slur your words.
Inevitably, if you’re drunk enough, you fail.
I failed, many times. But thank God for the publishing industry that didn’t give a shit.
I don’t work in an office anymore, though I have during my six years of sobriety. As anyone reading my stories knows, I have also worked in restaurants. I’ve seen many drunk employees trying hard to cover up their inebriation. When I do, I have tons of compassion for them and typically try to keep an eye on them so they don’t do something embarrassing. But I also suffer retroactive embarrassment for my past actions.
Thankfully, I never barfed on myself in front of coworkers.