I am too old for this.
At 6:00 a.m., my clock radio turns on, and music blares from the speakers, shattering the blissful morning quiet, the latest Beyoncé song reminding me that the weekend is over. Waking up on Mondays is bad enough, but waking up on Monday when you have a really bad hangover, the kind of hangover that makes your toenails hurt, is damn near impossible. Half in a coma, I dig around under the mass of pillows crammed against the dark green wood of my headboard, searching for the radio’s remote control to snooze for another blessed ten (maybe twenty) minutes. Mercifully, my hand makes contact with the remote somewhere in the upper right-hand corner of my bed, and I wave it in the direction of the nightstand, silently begging for the room to fall silent. That is to say, as silent as a third-floor apartment in Manhattan can ever really be.
A lot of people dream about waking up in New York City. Hell, Sinatra wrote an entire song about it. Unless of course you are trying to sleep, in which case New York is where very tired, cranky, hungover people go to die. If you’re like me and decided to drown your Sundaynight anxiety in a bottle and a half of pinot noir and a pack of Parliaments while watching Law and Order reruns until 1:00 a.m., New York
City, at six in the morning, is undeniably, irrefutably hell on earth. I probably should have realized when I rented my shoebox-sized apartment in the West Village for $4,000 a month that having a third-floor window overlooking Greenwich Avenue with a direct line of sight to a firehouse did not bode well for REM sleep. Since I moved here the concept of sleeping late—of sleeping in general—is pretty much one I have long since forgotten.
I begin to doze off again, when the damn radio clicks back on. Now the annoyingly perky DJ announces time, traffic, and weather. “Better get going people. It’s another hazy, hot, and humid day in the Big Apple.” Clearly, the DJ didn’t handle his Sunday-night blues the same way I did. Or maybe he just liked his job and didn’t find excessive Sunday-night boozing necessary. I hear that some people have it that lucky.
I give myself “the pep talk,” the same speech I give myself every morning before heading to work at Cromwell Pierce, one of Wall Street’s biggest powerhouses. You can do it, Alex. You can handle it. You will not let him break you. Talking to myself has become a habit since I started working on Wall Street. If this pace keeps up, by the time I hit thirty I’ll be certifiably insane.
Much to my horror, I realize the industrial-size bottle of Advil I’ve been working my way through over the last six months is in the bathroom and, since I’m pretty sure my head is about to explode, I have no choice but to get up. I swing my legs out of bed, my feet hitting the cool wood floor. In minutes, I’ll be shoving my battered toes into any number of pairs of four-inch heels that make my twenty-four-year-old knees feel like they belong to a sixty-year-old woman. I shuffle to the bathroom, flick the switch on the wall, and experience a full assault on my eyeballs courtesy of the fluorescent lightbulbs lining the top of the medicine cabinet. I groan as I try to shield my contracting pupils from the blinding light, blinking until the blue dots disappear and I can actually focus on my reflection in the mirror. Blindness would be a welcome reprieve. Surveying the damage after a night of heavy drinking was never this bad in college, and for some reason, only two years after graduation, I look much more haggard than I did after a similar night back at the University of Virginia. I decide to blame the lightbulbs.
Gazing into the mirror, I discover I must have slept facedown in the same position all night long, because the sheets have left creases on one side of my face that I fear may need to be surgically removed. My long, dark hair is tangled and it will take me an hour to comb the knots out if I’m lucky. My usually rosy complexion looks sallow and dry, and there are dark, puffy circles under my green eyes. I neglected to brush my teeth before face-planting; this morning they’re blue and my lips are crusted with a deep ruby stain, which, to tell the truth, would make a really nice lipstick shade. I wonder if the people at Sephora could come up with a way to turn your lips this color that didn’t involve alcohol poisoning.
“Just five more minutes,” I mutter to myself as I lean against the shower wall, allowing the scalding hot water to blast my half-asleep body. I begin to wonder if humans could sleep standing up, you know, like cows? It occurs to me that if we can’t, falling asleep in the shower could very well lead to my being found dead and alone two days from now, after the water in my flooded bathroom seeped through the floor into the apartment below. Juan, the super, would force open my door to discover two empty wine bottles, an overflowing ashtray, a carton of chicken lo mein on the coffee table, and my naked, pruned body in the bathtub.
Oh no. No, no, no, no. I will not be written up in the New York Post as the girl who drowned from a hangover in her own tub. I limp out of the shower and get dressed in khaki pants and a white button-down shirt. I tie a bright scarf around my once narrow waist, figuring that if I’m well accessorized maybe no one in the office will notice I’m still drunk. The constant drinking has made my clothes a bit too snug for comfort, one of many unwanted side effects of working on the Street. Joy. I search for the usual necessities: iPhone, wallet, and keys.
One of the worst things about not remembering going to bed the night before is trying to locate all the pieces of your life the following morning. I finally find my iPhone behind a sofa cushion, and for reasons that I can’t fathom, my wallet is in my fridge next to yet another bottle of wine. Yet for the life of me, I can’t find my keys. Anywhere. And my apartment, as I previously mentioned, is not large. I glance at the filthy, overflowing ashtray on my coffee table. I know I didn’t have cigarettes in my apartment when I came home yesterday, because I quit smoking last Thursday. Which means I went down to the twenty-four hour bodega at some point last night . . . which means I had to have my keys to get back in. (At least the alcohol hasn’t done any permanent damage to my powers of deductive reasoning.) It doesn’t take me long to figure out where I had left them, and when I throw open my front door my suspicions are confirmed. This is why I insisted on living in a building with a full-time doorman. Without one, I probably would have been killed in my own bed last night, and my face would’ve been splattered across the front page of the Post anyway. There are no small victories in life.
I scoop my gym bag and my newspapers off the floor with one hand, scurry out of my apartment, and hail a cab. I scan the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The headlines chronicle yet another massive investment bank going under, the stock market declining the most in a single session since the 1920s, and more layoffs being announced throughout the financial sector. This isn’t helping my headache. Working on a fixed-income trading floor, the government bond desk specifically, has been torturous lately. Treasury bonds are the safest place in the world to put your money (except for under your mattress), so we’ve been mind-numbingly busy as everyone’s been selling stocks and other securities in exchange for bonds guaranteed by the government. The last few months have been incredibly stressful. I promise, if you polled a random sample of Wall Street employees, the majority would admit to getting drunk more frequently these days. (Though I don’t know how many of them would admit to finding their wallets in the refrigerator the next morning. But they lie.) I vaguely remember the way things were just a few months ago, before everything got really bad, before we all needed to drink ourselves to sleep. It didn’t used to be like this. I check my phone quickly and notice that I have missed calls from my two best friends, Annie and Liv. I don’t bother listening to their voice mails, because I already know what they say. They’re well aware my mental state isn’t good. They also know the liquor store delivers.
Twenty minutes later I hop out of the cab and race through a set of massive gold doors, the name Cromwell Pierce proudly engraved in the marble lintel. I try to walk lightly across the floor so that the click clack click of my heels won’t reverberate throughout the cavernous lobby as I make my way to the escalator. I repeat my new morning mantra as I walk:
Click, clack, click. A few hours, you can handle anything for a few hours. Easy.
Click, clack, click. Maybe he won’t be in today.
Click, clack, click. Of course he’s in today. He’s always in. You’re fucked, Alex. You’re royally fucked.
I bow my head and stare at the metal slats on the escalator as I ride it to the second floor. As I step off, I’m immediately confronted by security guards and place my bags on the conveyor belt running through the x-ray machine. I hate the x-ray machines with a passion. One morning I had a thong in my bag (for reasons that I’d rather not recount at the moment), and that was the one day the security guard made me empty the entire contents of my tote in front of everyone, so he could ensure that I wasn’t carrying some sort of concealed weapon. Security on Wall Street is second only to the White House. I’m not complaining. All I’m saying is that sometimes you don’t want your purse x-rayed. That’s all.
The elevator is packed, and I find myself standing next to two middle-aged men in perfectly pressed pants and pastel polo shirts. I don’t know who cast the movie Wall Street, but whoever it was never took a lap around Cromwell Pierce. If any of my colleagues even remotely resembled Charlie Sheen or Michael Douglas, coming to work would be a whole lot more enjoyable. As I stare blankly at the Journal, I listen to their conversation. Casually, the man in the blue polo says to the guy in the yellow polo, “You out east this weekend?”
“Yeah, Southampton. Played Shinnecock on Saturday.”
“Ah, beautiful course. How’d you play?”
“Had some trouble off the tee, but pretty well, thanks. What about you?”
“Westhampton. Spent some time with the family before my son heads off to school this weekend.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Where?”
“Brown. He’s going to play lacrosse.”
“Fantastic. What position does he play? My son’s a sophomore at Harvard.”
“Harvard, huh? That’s terrific. He’s a defenseman. Yours?”
“We’ll have to go to a game together sometime, cheer the kids on, you know?”
“Definitely. Can’t wait for the season to start. The Bears versus the Crimson will be a great game.”
Both men nodded in agreement. Of course, that was only the surface conversation. Underneath the polite banter, which you can decode if you’ve spent enough time in the business, the real conversation went something like this:
“I belong to a more expensive golf club than you do, which means I make more money than you do.”
“Screw you and your exclusive, world-famous club. My kid’s going to play lacrosse in the Ivy League.”
“Oh, you think that makes you special? My kid already plays in the Ivy League.”
“That’s great. If your kid is a middie, that means he’s smaller and weaker than mine. Hopefully, they can match up against each other and my son can level yours out on the field.”
“We will never, ever, talk to each other at games. I will pretend I have never seen you before in my life.”
“Harvard’s for fags.”
“Brown’s for pussies.”
News flash: I work in the giant adult sandbox from hell.
I haven’t always felt this way. Just last year I would have found that conversation amusing. I would have cared what was going on in the markets. I would have been excited to come to work. But 2008 has sucked on every level imaginable.