Tuesday, October 6, 2009
(Penguin Press, 2010)

C h a p t e r   O n e .

   Ruth ReichlRuth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, defunct as of five minutes ago.

HOSE FIRST STEPS AWAY from the Condé Nast building were footfalls of trepidation and anxiety. My mind raced with the thought of bills coming past due; and the rush of blood having to face my family and friends made me positively delirious. As traffic swelled and the cool breezes of New York City in the late afternoon brushed the hair away from my face, I teetered on my heels as I approached the curbside of 42nd Street waiting for my Town Car—the last Town Car I would expense for the magazine.

As my driver approached, all feeling left my body and my arms collapsed; letting a box of personal items fall to the ground. As it ruptured on the pavement and broke apart—like the gentle wantons at Grand Sichuan—I felt the hot flash of tears across my cheeks. No more Daniel; no molto Mario; no mas tapas: what was I to do now?

I decided that I needed a drink. Not just any drink: but a drank! A serious drinker’s drink—whiskey, bourbon, scotch—the kind of drink imbibed by journalists in the Nixon-era 70s when all hope was gone. A drink that would have felled Keith Richards at Studio 54. Inside the black Lincoln, I instructed my driver to take me to Langan’s Bar & Restaurant at 150 West 47th Street.

No more Daniel; no molto Mario; no mas tapas; what was I to do now?

Langan’s is a hallowed hall of unmitigated Irish loathing and high spirits. It was also the famed watering hole of the late Steve Dunleavy, the renowned rightwing New York Post columnist: a charming Aussie I’d encountered many times in the past and admired for his unapologetic joie de vive.

I walked up the steps to the bar, pushed a barstool aside and glared at the man behind the stick: “I’ll have a double Crown Royal. Neat.” Then I flipped my hair and sat down.

As Eddie Money blared annoyingly over the sound system, the bartender returned with my glass. I might have stood out among the hoi polloi in my tight black Donna Karan power-suit (a trinket of my Times glory days): but I cared not. I wished to sail aloft the hedonistic gossamer clouds of alcohol. In this case, and at that moment: Canadian rye.

I took a small sip, nervously; almost shaking. A warm, thick taste coated my tongue and I lolled it around my mouth, pursing my lips and savoring its’ smoky flavor. In seconds I felt the uncomfortable burn as it moved to the back of my throat, tauntingly. And yet it tasted so good! It tasted like … freedom! I quickly took another sip, then another; greedily gorging myself on the viscous sting of rebellion and repressed teenage angst! I clasped my hands firmly around the base of the long, tall glass and stroked it as I brought it up to my wet, hungry mouth. I wondered if I could take it all …

I locked my legs against the back of my chair and braced myself. Leaning back and thrusting my chest forward, I drew the glass to my mouth and sucked back at the devilishly delightful taste, taking all of that hot power in my last gulp of its staggeringly large load: filling my cheeks like a winter’s gray squirrel in Central Park. I bobbed my head forward and back for a moment, savoring the overwhelming majesty of this new dark brown friend of mine … (Or was it foe?) Then I swallowed. I swallowed every last drop and was fully compelled to lick that big glass from top to bottom in an effort to savor every moment of perfection. Exhaling, I felt the alcohol move between my lips and breathed its ecstasy into my flaring nostrils.

I dropped a twenty on the bar, turned on my heels and strolled out into the gleaming city of New York at twilight. In that instant I had matured from a jilted, weepy mistress and transformed like a phoenix into a fiery angel of retribution. A voracious succubus of all things alcohol … in heels! And I wanted more—much more!

I called to my driver as I scorched the pavement with my stilettos: “Buckle up, baby: It’s going to be a long night and a bumpy ride!”

Mick Stingley is a freelance writer who lives in New York City. He is featured in Rock and Roll Cage Match, available from Three Rivers/Random House. He is 40 years old and refuses to cut his hair ’cuz he’s so fuckin’ metal.

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