Memoir

Midnight City

My deranged journey home from a dark and drunken night.

Midnight City

New York City becomes another place deep at night. During the hours when most people are asleep, comfortable and secure indoors, the city becomes another beast altogether. I know this city from an addled point of view. Namely, drunk. My most recent experience in this New York was a rigmarole-like ramble that began with me and my friends sharing a surplus of drinks.

A friend from college was hosting a dinner party at her apartment, a place where one could stare at the Planetarium with ease. Many of our old classmates had come from out of town for the event, as had my girlfriend. As the party picked up and became livelier, it was hard to keep count, but plenty more bottles of wine and Champagne kept our glasses full.

While I knew that I had more than my fair share of Champagne, my wherewithal was negligible, making it impossible for me to point and say that drink was when I went from dinner-party tipsy to spectacularly drunk. However, I remember the blurry contours of mandolin-shaped bottles, and the rush of aggravation hitting me, gut-kicked like, coming at me all at once. I was upset, and set upon arguing with my girlfriend over what we should do next. I hate being stymied.

“Why should we go where everyone else is going?” I asked her with no shortage of vehemence. I was impractical. My facile frustrations, barely understood by even myself, bore down on my conscience, and while the rest of the party—including my girlfriend—walked west towards the bars, I began east. Left to consternation, my argument rapidly devolving into barbs and spite that forsook coherence and logic, I stormed away from my friends and girlfriend, and into the glares of sickly yellow cabs in raking streetlight.

In my drunken delirium, hot with anger, I entered Central Park. Just as soon as I walked into the park I became alarmed at the presence of people nearby. All of the admonitions and horror stories of Central Park at night immediately came back to me. I could not quite make out the figures of two persons, who were standing just out of the garish light from a lamppost. Yet they seemed intent on following me, their shadows long and clawing, as I quickened my pace. So, I ran, only pausing as I reached the boat pond, where I felt the sudden urge—the drunk’s urge—for a dip. I was myopic, concentrating on the latest thing to grab my attention. The open territory of the empty pond called out to me. I rolled up my pant legs and splashed my feet in the cool and soothing water.

With my mind impaired by the sea of alcohol I’d drowned it in, I shifted focus temporarily, forsaking thoughts of fleeing. I remember laughing, as in blind and abrupt elation. I was still angry on some level, still compelled to act outrageously, as if walking home would prove myself right in my girlfriend’s eyes. My desire to flee the park back in gear, I retied my shoes slapdash and quickly. With only one sock on, the other orphaned by a concession stand, I looked for an exit.

The gene for male pomposity having switched on, I ignored the possibility that my friends were worried and confused, and I continued east through the park. My sights followed the bulbous halo of light that crested the top of a particularly lollipop-shaped tree, close to the entrance of the park known as the Inventor’s Gate. I followed the downtown traffic to the 59th Street Bridge. As I traveled the bridge’s expanse towards Queens, I attempted to stay clear of the many persons walking opposite me in mismatched clothes, pushing shopping carts brimming with cans, bottles, the odd bits of electronic equipment sandwiched against decrepit books and magazines. They watched me censoriously, sharply, as the rumbles of passing trucks and cabs exploded in snarl-like reports. I could have been fooling myself, however, mistaking their guarded faces for threatening looks. I probably appeared harried, even uncoordinated. No doubt, I was suspicious-looking enough at that hour—a lone man, dressed up, slouching.

The East River was wine-dark as I looked across the water, trying to spy my home in Astoria. I could see the many twinkling lights of houses, but I could perceive nothing discernibly or vaguely resembling a beacon. I knew then that I still had so far to go, my braggadocio dissipating, finally faltering out of exhaustion. It was my own worst judgment that I did not take a bus, train, or any such maneuvers to expedite my journey home. I was still just proud enough to think I was making a point by walking. Following the foot of the bridge as it descended into Queensboro Plaza, I dragged my feet across the dark streets, wind-blown with Saturday’s detritus, and along the avenues that seemed to extend endlessly.

Hours afterward, with the night having retreated and the daytime coming in, I lay in my bed, longing to be back at the party before I acted upon impulse and foolish pride. With the remaining focus and battery life left in my phone, I apologized to my girlfriend and friends as quickly as the phone would dial and ring.

Later on, I came across the few photographs I managed to take on that long, deranged journey home. Apparently, some impulses of an iPhone wielder do not diminish when blithely drunk. In fact, they seem to be encouraged. The photographs were blurry and insipid. A shaky skyscraper in floodlights. A white-eyed pedestrian glaring at me behind the handlebar of his shopping cart. The dark hues of the East River. I could not exactly claim them as mementos.

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