Saturday, March 16, 2013

Liquid lunch

I sat fully clothed in a ladies'-room stall at Union Station, taking deep long swigs from a bottle of red Spanish wine, periodically checking the time on my cell phone, feeling nervous about the afternoon-long training session I would be conducting at work within the hour. 

The walls of the stall were silver metal and textured, cratered, pebbled. I had slung my big shoulder bag over the corner of the door, so that the strap fell into the crack between the door and the communal wall that adjoined the next stall. The strap blocked some of the light and view that might have come in through that crack, and the bag at about my eye level blocked any glimpse someone might have caught of the motion of my arm lifting the wine bottle up, repeatedly but at long intervals, to drink. I tried to tune out the all-too-human sounds and smells around me, thinking of a David Foster Wallace story I'd read recently about a man's father who worked as a restroom attendant at a posh hotel all his life, the Zen of maintaining grace and dignity under those conditions. I looked up toward the ceiling when it started to kick in, as if looking up at the face of God. I knew that I would write the scene up in a blog post later. I knew what I was doing was weird and even downright disgusting, but where else was I going to go and drink a good one or two thirds of a bottle of wine straight from the bottle? I couldn't exactly do that at a table in the food court, or on a bench, and I didn't want to do it anywhere near work.

Clearly I often ask myself the wrong questions.  

I told a few friends that I did this. I suppose joking about it made it seem more normal, like how it's sometimes OK to say, "Duuude, bro, I was sooo wasted." Or how it's somehow OK to talk about having a hangover, how other people will pipe up with their morning-after bacon-sandwich remedies. I came home from work and told my housemate that I'd had a "liquid lunch" prior to my presentation. I went out to a nightclub that night (yes, on a Wednesday, and yes, I drank there, too) and told three friends about "pre-gaming" for a work presentation. Their responses hit a few different points on the spectrum. One said, "Ooh, that's bad" (meaning, bringing boozy behavior into a work environment, when you care to stick around like I do), but seemed sympathetic. Another said, in a harshly (but paternal) chastising tone, "Christie," in this tsk-tsk sort of way, and seemed baffled -- he's mostly seen me out at parties and clubs, when I've been drinking, and was surprised when I told him that I'm painfully, freakishly shy. (This is the same person who once said of me, "Well, you're sort of a diva," when we were talking about someone else with diva-ish tendencies. Note: I truly would not classify myself as in any way a diva. A diva feels entitled, speaks up for her needs; I mostly do not.) And the third was the most empathetic, started talking about how, when performing with his band, he gets minor stage fright and his leg starts to shake. I was grateful for his lack of judgment, but also glad for the other two's candor and perspective. 

I don't know what to tell you about this episode. At the time, sitting in that stall with the bottle of wine, the same kind I'd brought as a to-share gift to my writing group the other week, I knew that of course I would write a blog post about this. But I was thinking about the scene, the very one I started out with up there, the silver textured stall walls and the red wine from Spain, the flushes and the sinks going and the voices echoing and the turnstile succession of different shoes on either side of me. What I still don't know, as I'm typing these words right now, is what it means. 

What is there to say? What's perhaps chilling is that I mostly look back on this and just see something matter-of-fact. I was nervous, because I'm always nervous except when I'm drunk. So I went to the Wine & Liquor Store and bought a bottle of screw-top (not corked; I don't exactly carry around a corkscrew in my purse) bottle of wine, and I even bought this blue, star-spangled gift bag, tall and narrow and wine-bottle-shaped, because somehow that made the purchase and the short walk from there to the restroom feel less shameful. I could pretend it was a present, I could pretend I had another cultural event to attend that evening, like the writing group, perhaps a book club or some urbane dinner party. 

I went into the stall and drank it like medicine. 

Its lucid warmth spread through me as I'd hoped, but when it came time to go back to the office, I couldn't let it go -- I wanted to bring a bit of the wine with me, just in case the serenity started to wear off and the jangling nerves woke back up. So I walked to the Washington, DC-themed gift shop, which currently has a display of pink cherry-blossom-bedecked stuff, and bought one of those insulated coffee cups (pale pink, of course, with cherry blossoms all over it). Back in the restroom, I poured as much of the wine as I could into that cup. It splattered a little when I clicked the lid on. I threw away the bottle in its gift bag. I walked back to work, feeling scared but also an illicit thrill at going right past the security station, whereupon all who enter must show their ID badges, and on up to my floor. I stopped at the restroom on the third floor, which I know is always unlocked and where I'm certain to not run into my own co-workers (especially the folks currently interviewing me for a permanent full-time position with the organization), and took a few sips then threw the cup away, dropped it right onto a soft cushion of disposed-of paper towels and covered it up with a few more towels just in case. I floated back to my desk, gathered up the materials I needed in order to conduct my part of the training (earlier in the week I had led the entire three-hour session; this time the chief of web stuff and I were going to "tag team" to make it easier on me, as well as more lively and interactive for the ~16-student class). I breezed into the fourth-floor Learning Center with my cheeks flushed, my pupils huge, my words less staccato and more fluid, my heart overflowing with generosity, nigh-boisterous during my portions of the tag-teaming. 

What can I tell you? The wine helped. 

I didn't feel awesome after only having consumed liquids (a mocha frappuccino for breakfast, wine for lunch) until training was over a few minutes past 4 p.m., and made a ravenous lunge to the vending machine for the world's most appreciated Snickers bar. I felt headachey, and wondered about the wisdom of going out to a club, just a few hours after returning home, where I knew I'd drink yet more booze (because I wanted to dance, and if I'm going to dance, liquor is a prerequisite; this is non-negotiable). But I did go out, and I told my friends what I did, and I drank some more and I danced and I had a very good night. 

The next day, a co-worker of mine enthused about what a good job I had done. I wasn't sure whether he meant both days or just the wine day, but he seemed to mean it. 

I guess all it means is that life is not an after-school special with tidy moral lessons. If it were, I would have gotten disastrously drunk and made an ass of myself during the training and gotten fired. If it were, I would at least have been punished for "burning the candle at both ends," for getting up at 6 a.m. for an hour-plus Metro commute to work and drinking wine for lunch and speaking for significant chunks of three hours then going out that night and drinking alcoholic slushies and staying out till 1, then getting up at 6 a.m. to commute into work again. All of this during a deliriously insomnia-plagued week that had also been crammed with job interviews, no less. 

But life isn't like that, and I feel fine. It's not the norm for me to drink at all during the workday; this week was unusual for me. Do I feel as if, in drinking a bottle of wine in a restroom stall during my lunch break in "preparation" for having to give some daunting presentation, I crossed some hopelessly taboo line and can never really go back? Yeah, I do feel like that. But I don't feel as if I'm some Marilyn Monroe, Lindsay Lohan, living-too-fast, "Candle in the Wind" type. People do weird shit. They have their reasons. It isn't always the end of the world. 

In other news: 

-Yesterday I got a voicemail message from the volunteer coordinator at the Fairfax County Office for Women/Domestic & Sexual Violence Services. She's already linked me up with a specific ADAPT Program group of offenders whose group-therapy sessions I'll be observing and then, after some additional training, helping to facilitate. Her call was partly to go over next steps -- because I'll be working with offenders and not victims, I'm "exempt" from some of the post-Tier-1 training the office is conducting this week. But she also said, "I wanted to let you know what a phenomenon you've become here at the office." A few weeks ago I'd e-mailed her to let her know that my preference was to work specifically for the ADAPT Program, and I just typed a little bit about why I felt this role was important and valuable. Apparently she forwarded my e-mail around to staff members who work in that program, and I've become some sort of inspirational reminder of why they do what they do. 

-Also, on Monday I have my sixth job interview for the same position (yes, seriously) that I'm up for at the organization where I'm currently temping. I've already met with anyone whom I would possibly be working with in this position, as well as a couple of VPs a few levels above them, and one dude who was, like, a god or something. Some sort of deity with a special office on a different floor, sitting in silhouette with sunlight streaming in behind him as he asked me things like, "How do you define success?" The half-hour "interview" on Monday is with someone in "Talent Acquisition" in HR, which sounds promising. But the negative part of my brain wonders if maybe this is when they break it to me that, after all of this rigamarole -- the jittery and sweat-soaked interviews, the show-and-tell of work samples, the timed on-the-computer writing test -- they have chosen someone else. I mean, that would be pretty weird if they set up a meeting just for that. Or maybe the HR person is going to give me some final flaming hoops to jump through -- ask for my permission to do a background check, ask me about some quirk that came up when reviewing my work history (not that there could be anything I haven't already explained, probably too openly and honestly). So we'll see. In the meantime, I'll maintain this narrowed, tunnel-vision-esque, purgatory-like frame of mind, not allowing myself to think too fully about job heaven or job hell, just plodding along, with as much equanimity as I can fake, and the phrase "Come what may" a repeated refrain. 

-I received a nice message from D., a regular member of the writing group I just started going to; he was at the first meeting I went to but not the most recent. He said that folks at the last workshop had raved about my micro stories, and that he'd gotten the link from K., and that he liked my writing.

So you could say that things in my life are going pretty well. 

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