Sleepless in the City

Just out of college, I scored a job at a big ad agency in New York City.  I’ll never forget the phone call that marked my entrance in the working world.

“Congratulations. You can start Monday at 9am.”

“Yikes, what time can I start Tuesday?” I thought.

The job consisted of entry-level busy work and a starting salary that made it tough to afford lunch, let alone a place to live.  As such, I humbly moved back home with my parents in the suburbs of New Jersey.

Adding insult to insecurity, the last bus to my hometown left at 9pm making a social life nearly impossible.  After work, I’d join coworkers for happy hour and, just as the night started ramping up, I had to flee for the bus station.

Only I never told anyone– I’d excuse myself to use the restroom and just disappear.  The next day, when coworkers asked what happened I’d claim to have met a woman or run into an old friend, “we did some shots and the night went crazy from there”.  Ironically, these excuses earned me a reputation for being the wild one in the office.

“You never know where his night will end.” my cube mate, Doogie, boasted admirably.

Actually, I do.  With a bunch of balding dads on a bus to the ‘burbs.

The situation sapped my confidence.  Telling a woman I lived at home would be bad enough[1], admitting I turned into a pumpkin at 9pm was unbearable.  Unconsciously, I stopped considering myself dateable.  I’d meet friends and make generic conversation until I had to sneak out.  That is, until I met Julie.

On Thursday nights, a dive bar near work had a 2 for 1 happy hour (“It’s like you’re losing money if you don’t go!” my buddy Gyro convincingly claimed.)  As the unofficial start of the weekend, it looked more like Senior Week than a post work happy hour.  I was getting in one last order before my curfew when, over the music and petulance, I heard a voice.

“There’s a guy bothering me– would you pretend you’re my boyfriend?”

I turned to find Julie, a petite 20-something with super curly hair and different colored eyes, which I’d never seen before and found incredibly hot.  (Note: Hot when it’s natural, intentionally creating this look with colored contacts would be creepy.)

Discounted cocktails were suddenly unimportant.

“What? Yes! Of course!” I shouted chivalrously.

I offered one of my beers (they were both for me anyway) and we yelled at each about our jobs and how we weren’t using a thing we learned in college.  I kept watch for her stalker, although she never mentioned him again.  (A female friend later advised there was probably no other guy, it was a pickup line.  Well played!)  Then I noticed the time — 8:40pm.  Crap.  How do I excuse myself?  Meeting friends across town?  Have to go back to work?  The excuse didn’t matter, leaving was leaving.  And I didn’t want to.

If I stay might things go so well that she’d ask me home?  She didn’t seem the type. Could I say “It was really nice meeting you— mind if I sleep on your couch?”

With no plan, I took a deep breath, a big sip of beer and decided to roll the dice.

As the clock passed 9pm, I felt like a renegade.  Take that suburbs!  We got another drink (“My round” she said, how sexy is that? Plus really helpful cause the special had ended) and laughed at increasingly stupid things.  I was having so much fun I totally forgot I was screwed– until Julie announced she had a big morning and better get home.  She gave me her number and an on-the-cheek-but-near-the-lips kiss and left.  My excitement quickly disappeared.  I was stranded in NYC.

With nothing but a debit card and $47 in the bank, my options were nil.  I cringed at the idea of calling my parents an hour and a half away. “Mom? Dad? Your little executive missed the last bus home because a girl had neat eyes— can you come get me?”  My parents have always perceived me as more together than the reality and I didn’t want to sully that, so I decided to get a nightcap and reassess.

I don’t know if there’s something in Guinness that sparks clarity or just prompts you to make mediocre decisions with conviction but three sips in it dawned on me I had access to just one building in the city.  So I headed back to work, told the indifferent night guard I had a deadline and slept on the floor in my cubicle.

While uncomfortable, I was the first one in the next morning.  After freshening up in the sink, I donned a promotional t-shirt from our Pepsi account (long live casual Friday) and started the coffee.  As people filed in, I proudly wished them good morning, taking only mild offense to everyone’s surprise at my punctuality.  I never saw Julie[2] again but will always credit her with helping me find my first pad in NYC— my office.

For the next year, whenever I wanted to stay out I crashed in my cubicle.  I kept a blanket and fresh clothes in a filing cabinet and needed only to be awake before the first employee arrived (worst case, the ding of the elevator was my alarm).  As I grew more comfortable, I appreciated the perks– free internet, big screen TV in the conference room, technically I even had a cleaning lady.

Finally, I felt in the game.  Inviting someone over still wasn’t possible but at least I could stay out and earned the occasional invite back to a woman’s place.  And when this happened they were guaranteed a perfect gentleman– I was just happy to sleep in a bed.

[1] Dear Mom & Dad– I love home. Not only did you welcome me without charging rent but after four years in a college dorm the place felt HUGE.  Add in laundry on the premises and cabinets full of food and I appreciated our house more than ever.  Gracias, Michael

[2] I called Julie twice and neither conversation flowed.  We weren’t as compatible minus cocktails and think we both recognized it.


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2 Responses to “Sleepless in the City”

  1. Maureen Mitchell Kotulich Says:

    Loved your story…You are a great writer 😉

  2. michaelsomerville Says:

    Thanks so much! I have a lot of fun stories, etc. I haven’t written down or shared before– looking forward to getting it out there.

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