My Sober Year – Chapter One
Here is the first chapter of my book. Enjoy (I hope)
MY SOBER YEAR
BY ANDREW GOODNOW
Chapter One – Hangovers
Head throbbing. Mouth dry. I pulled myself out of bed and placed two feet on the cold hardwood floor. It creaked the moment it felt my weight. Rising, I felt the pain of too many draft beers. The first rush of blood to the head is always the worst part. At least for me.
I walked into a small kitchen and saw what the last five days of neglect to my body had done to the cleanliness of the apartment. Dishes caked with week old spaghetti sauce filled the sink. Yesterday’s khakis and button down shirt lie crumpled on the floor. Why in the hell they were in the kitchen was beyond me. Beer cans littered the counter, not because they had not been thrown away, but because the garbage can was already spewing fast food bags from its top. A stack of pizza boxes was almost as tall as the trash receptacle itself. It was no wonder we had the occasional rodent.
I began my morning ritual by stumbling toward the near vacant fridge and pouring what was left of a 32 oz. bottle of Lemon Lime Gatorade into my pasty mouth. Half dripped down my chin and onto the once white undershirt I slept in. Just another stain. Next, I put four pain relievers in my mouth and chewed them to a fine powder. The taste was putrid, but breaking the tablets into little pieces hurried the absorption process. This kind of headache needed an immediate solution. I washed the powder down my gullet with a long, cold swig.
I jumped in the shower to let the water wash away the previous night’s adventures. On a day like today I would shave because I always shave when I’m hung over. Sure it is painful and there are times when a nic will bleed for hours due to the high concentration of alcohol running through my body, but my boss is far less likely to suspect that I was late because I was drinking until the bartenders flicked the lights if I walk in with a clean shaven face and a neck tie. The status quo at work is my style. Fly under the radar at a big company and hide. Many a long, prosperous career have been made like that.
After getting out of the shower I intended to pick up my toothbrush. I’m not sure why I did not notice when I had a sharp blade to my mouth, but my hand was shaking as I reached out. For the first time in my life I could pin point that I had a real, honest problem. Everything seemed common place. The binging. The blacking out. The vomiting. It was fun to piece the night together with stamps on my hand and receipts. It was all about being young and having too much fun. Isn’t that what you were supposed to do in your twenties?
Alas, my twenty seventh birthday had passed. I wasn’t all that young any longer. I wasn’t all that old. But now was the time that I should be growing up. Perhaps seeing a few more zeros in the bank account. A few less bar tabs that I didn’t remember running up. More focus on my career. Or for that matter, any focus. Direction of some sort.
I looked at what I had become in my half foggy bathroom mirror. I wasn’t yet sober from the previous night, but I was aware enough to know that something was wrong. My hand shaking. Long, dark bags under my eyes. A second chin rolling in front of my neck. It wasn’t fun any longer. It wasn’t a good time.
As with most realizations it took more than one bout with a shaking hand to take any sort of action. I got to work at 9:22 am. For the next seven hours I did as little as possible. I made as many people laugh as I could. Surfed the internet. Took a long lunch where I had three margaritas or maybe it was four. After lunch I felt better for the rest of the day. I got a little tired around four, but I took down a Red Bull and powered through the last hour of the workday.
At 4:30 every afternoon I would search for the best happy hour specials for that particular day. Not being the highest paid employee, I was economical in my drinking. Always looking for an establishment with $1 domestic drafts, half priced well drinks, margarita Monday, Two for Tuesday, Wild Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, or the TGIF special.
When I was in college there was a saying in my frat house. “You are not an alcoholic until you graduate”. Needless to say, I stayed for five years. There wasn’t an excuse to drink every night. There was a reason to drink every night. Even better, there was always someone to drink with. For me there was nothing better in this world. I was in college and I was going to party and I was going to have the best time of my life and I was not going to let something as silly as going to class get in my way. I was head strong. I was in charge of my life. I made all of the decisions. The other slogan that used to be thrown around was “The word no doesn’t count after 2 am” You can see where there might have been some misdirection.
After college I did the gen Y thing and went to a new job every couple of years. Always searching for something better. Or maybe I was switching before my employer caught on to how much of a degenerate I was. None of these jobs had any real promise for me. I was there for a paycheck. Lots of back office crap.
My first job was working in the operations department for a large stock brokerage firm. I would see the brokers rolling in at 9:30 every morning, hung over as fuck, wearing suits that must have cost more than I made in a month. I was in awe. Envied them.
One day one of them, I think his name was Jerry Tremstill, needed a favor from me. He had told a client he processed a trade. Unfortunately for both he and the client the trade was never entered into our system and the client was going to be out “Tens of thousands of dollars” He seemed to be distraught.
“Brian, I’m not sure what happened, but this client needs this money. It is an old, retired couple. Guy is a World War two vet or some shit. I cannot believe this trade did not go through.” He was running his hand through his polished black hair incessantly. I could not help but to feel for both he and his elderly clients.
“Is there any way you can back date this?” Jerry asked.
“I’m not sure I can do that.”
“This would be a huge help. My ass is on the line here man. What is it, a five hour difference?”
I did it. Not so much because I felt like I wanted to help him or the World War Two vet, but because I wanted him to know who I was. I wanted him to remember me. I wanted to be invited the next time he went out for drinks and put down his Amex Black Card. Be a part of that crowd.
There were never any invitations. There was hardly any recognition of me or what I had done for him. Jerry Tremsill in his shiny, wing tipped shoes. The only thing I got out of that transaction was a reprimand from my boss for having completed a backdated transaction that cost the firm $5,688.90. (I will never forget that number) I was subsequently put on medium – alert probation, whatever that was supposed to mean. I never said a word about Jerry Tremsill. I felt weak and used. No use in telling anyone I had been played for a fool. Worse still, I found out that the transaction had not been for an elderly couple. It had not been for a war hero. It had been for a buddy of his who mistimed the market. I did the dirty work for a couple of scumbags. Cheats.
I learned a few things from my first job. Stock brokers are salesmen. Good guys finish last. When you go into something with bad intentions you should expect nothing more for yourself in the end.
Two months later I found myself at a new job. This time in medical supplies sales. More specifically, bed pans. I processed client orders. It was my first role that involved professional client interaction. I even had an office. It was about the size of a walk in closet, but it had a door and it made me feel like a big shot for about three weeks. After getting yelled at for a delivery of the wrong brand of bedpans that “big shot” feeling wore off.
“How do you expect a 300 pound woman to shit in a six inch bed pan? Are you stupid?”
As a matter of fact, yes. I did feel stupid. That day, getting yelled at for a delivery of bed pans, I wondered why I didn’t go to law school, pursue my MBA, or try out as a tackling dummy for an NFL practice squad. Is this what I went to college for? Bedpans? 300 pound women shitting?
That lasted for ten months. One day my boss asked me to attend an equipment demonstration conference in Minneapolis. Had it been Vegas I might have stayed, but if I was going to be subjected to watching people sit, lie and stand above metal shitting containers I’m sure as hell was not going to Minneapolis in February to do so. It was time to go. A future in bedpans is not where I saw my life.
When I thought my life could not get lower than the bedpan industry, it did. I decided to go back to work in finance. Another back office job where I had limited interaction with clients. This, however, was not a huge brokerage house. It was a small boutique shop, Jamo Capital Investments, catering to only the wealthiest individuals in the country. The man in charge was Larry Gentles. On my first day Larry introduced himself and welcomed me aboard. I was impressed by this. He made me feel like I was a part of something. I remember thinking; a guy managing $12 billion has to be pretty busy. It struck me that he had few wrinkles on his face and a full head of salt and pepper hair. More pepper than salt. Here I was thinking this business was high stress.
The pay was remarkably high for a back office job. I was in charge of the client statements at the end of the quarter. This meant that for two out of every three months my work load consisted of nothing more than answering the random customer call inquiring as to how much money their account had gained this quarter, a broker asking me to verify a client had enough in assets to transfer out, and going to as many happy hours with my friends as I possibly could. Never mind the summer months. The golf course was our office. Living in New York City, I never played much golf. Until that summer. Client after client after client. Golf and drink until oblivion. Repeat. The only words ever said about money and investing came from my boss’s mouth. “Don’t worry about it. Everybody is making money.”
A more intelligent person may have realized what was going on, but I was blinded by 5 irons and coolers full of Amstel Light, the preferred beer of the richest two percent of America.
I got to the office at 8:15 one morning, early by my standards. I had been drinking shots until just a few hours before I sat at my desk. That morning required a couple extra large coffees and a handful of aspirin. It was the end of the quarter and I had a job to do. I was getting paid far too much not to show up hung over.
I was almost done with the gigantic styraphome cup full of sweet, delicious coffee that was keeping my head from falling straight onto my keyboard when I heard a knock on the door.
Who could that be?
I was the only person in the office as I was out drinking with co-workers who I know would not be in until at least 10. They were real lightweights.
I got up and I heard another knock. This one louder. Then there was shouting. It sounded like there were several people outside now. At first I figured it was a group of people who had gotten off on the wrong floor. Maybe they wanted the Kennel Club on the 36th Floor instead of Jamo Capital on the 37th. Dog people tend to be fairly intense.
Wrong and wrong. The next three hours were as blurry as the last three hours of a really good night of drinking. I was shown a warrant, arrested, and interrogated by several people from the Securities Exchange Commission and the FBI.
Fraud? I hadn’t committed any fraud. I reconciled account balances at the end of the month for clients and went to happy hours. Please don’t take that away from me! I love my job. I need my job.
In the end I was released. Maybe the authorities could tell that I had no clue as to anything they were talking about. The dead giveaway is when I asked what a derivative was. I was no criminal mastermind. I was a puppet. Someone with enough knowledge to process account balances and do it well. No smart enough to figure out that I was working for one of the largest ponzi schemes in the history of finance. Good-bye happy hours. Good bye great paying job. Goodbye summer golfing. Good bye lifestyle of the super wealthy.
Hello, Page Six of the New York Post. For about a week I was famous. Unfortunately for me it was not the good kind of famous. I was now associated with elderly people losing every penny that had. I was a villain. $93,000 a year was not worth this. The funny thing is that Larry Gentles knew this was coming. He jumped on a plane to Venezuela. No extradition. He even did his employees a solid. He sent out six months worth of pay to all of us minions before the feds raided the operation. Apparently his vast empire of theft enabled him to buy enough information to keep him out of jail.
It has always struck me as odd that a guy who made a fortune by ripping people off, the same people we played golf with, felt some compulsion to pay his employees after he had been caught. Loyalty can be found in strange places sometimes.
Needless to say, it was time to take that six months worth of pay and spend it as fast as I could before it was confiscated by some government entity. Better I spend it before it goes into some beauracracy never to be seen again. At least I would put it back into the service economy. Sometimes it is easy to convince yourself to do the wrong thing.
In two months it was gone and I was in serious financial trouble. I was making enough money to keep me living a lifestyle fitting of a guy who likes going out and spending money on alcohol, women and other “investments” that will never appreciate. Breaking such a lifestyle is tough to do.
The stigma of Jamo Capital attached to my name was not exactly helpful in my pending job search. A couple of email responses included the words “thief” “immoral” and the question of “how do you sleep at night?” For someone who didn’t know the story of Jamo Capital, sure those seem like reasonable reactions. But how do you try to convince someone that you simply aren’t smart enough to have been able to pull something like that off?
Three companies asked me to come in and interview. “Thank God! Someone will hear my side of the story.” I thought.
Each interview, if that is what you could call it, was identical. They did want to hear my story, but that was all. They wanted the story of Jamo Capital from a firsthand source. I was able to provide senior level partners at private equity firms the “inside scoop” as one of the men had so eloquently stated it to me. I was a story to tell at their country clubs, their children’s prep school sporting events, gossip for the white collar elite. I was a pawn. A position I was becoming accustomed to occupying.
After the third mock interview I swallowed my pride. I called my father.
Flipping open my phone made me queasy. The feeling of failure. Maybe it was my pride being shoved so far down that made me fill ill. It was a low point. To numb the pain I had three glasses of whiskey. Not too much, but not enough. I doubt the entire bottle would have made that call palatable. I know it would not have.
There are times when the alcohol would cause me to self reflect. That was as good a time as any.
My mother answered the phone. Happy to hear from me she kept the conversation to obligatory mother talk.
“Are you eating well?”
“How is your roommate?”
“When are you going to meet a nice girl?”
“Tonight, if I’m lucky.”
“How is the job search?”
“Can you put my father on the phone?”
A question answered with a question. That’s how my life felt.
After exchanging a couple more minutes of mother – son banter and pleasant good-byes she called out, “Preston! Brian is on the line.”
“Hello. “ He said. I might as well have been a business associate.
“Hey, it’s Brian”. – Like as his only child I should have to introduce myself, but I did.
“Haven’t heard from you in some time.” – The cold in his voice was disapproving.
“Sorry. I’ve been busy.”
“Well, ripping off your investors will keep one occupied.”
Motherfucker! I was never going to live it down with this man. He was going to go to his grave thinking I designed this Ponzi scheme. I bet he had to make up his own story about me at his country club.
“Well, no. I’m trying to find a job. It hasn’t been easy. “
“That does not surprise me.”
“Father?” – I felt like I was already asking him.
“Yes Brian.” He replied.
And then I said the words that made my face red and my heart sink.
“I need your help.” I was asking again. I was in pain
“I’m not sure how I can get you out of this mess. You have made it and you will have to deal with the consequences of your actions.” He said.
“I need a job. An interview. Something. “
“Brian, just ask for the goddamned money!”
What is it with this guy? I could feel my heart beating. Pounding. Trying to break free from my chest.
“I don’t want your money. I need your help………….”
There was a pause. I’m not sure how long, but I began to wonder if he hung up.
“I will have to think about it.” He replied.
“Ok” – I said – dejected.
“Is there anything else?”
“No. That’s it.” I said
“Bye then –“
The line went dead. No dial tone. Only a blank screen on my cell. I felt like I was seven years old. I had lost my baseball glove all over again. I never could please him.
That phone call is why I got the job at Medisure. My father may be a bastard, but he is a bastard who knows people. He sat on some board with the CFO of Medisure. The guy owed my father. I’m not sure what my father had on this guy, but it must have been pretty big. I didn’t even have to interview. It was like that.
Because of my father I had my job. I could pay my rent. Grateful and humiliated. I needed help. Just a little help. Help from my father. It was truly depressing.
The work days came and went. A paycheck. That’s all. I got put in a back corner doing a job nobody in this world really wants. I never saw myself working in a cubicle the size of my fourth grade desk, but that was where life led me. A paycheck, a job that was gifted to me, and eight hours a day confined to a space that resembled a cell – only without a window.
Another stack of thick manila files filled my in box. I looked at them and laugh. It was my responsibility to approve or deny high risk medical procedures. Not always a responsibility that made it easy to sleep at night. A whole lot of “What ifs?” filled my head.
Thank God for the booze. The booze helps.
Every day I made myself a “Good and Bad” list. The Good, procedures I was happy to approve. The Bad, procedures that made me feel entirely shitty about having rejected. I kept a running tally on a Microsoft Word document. I hoped to one day write a book about the shit I saw. I’m sure there are some privacy issues there, but fuck it I thought it would make a good read.
The top three does something for me; it reminds me that there is a balance to my job. There are good things I am able to do and really horrible things I don’t want to do. It is not all bad ALL the time. Though there are days where I find absolutely no joy in anything. Anything at all. My father’s buddy who got me this sweet gig must have figured that I don’t give a fuck about people (given my past work experience of swindling people of their life savings) and that I would have no issue with denying people of the medical coverage they paid for. I must have seemed like a giant asshole. A desperate, giant asshole in need of a paycheck.
That day’s list:
Heart transplant for a 48 year old male. Three children. Married. Lives in Omaha, NE. Works as a contractor. Annual income of $74,000 though I would guess he takes a big piece of his income under the table. Chronic heart problems since birth. The procedure was to be his fifth. By all estimations he is a healthy man. Average height at 5’11 and slightly heavy at 192 pounds, but nowhere near obese. If all goes well this man should continue to lead a normal (whatever normal is for this guy), healthy, productive life.
Experimental leukemia drugs for an 18 year old male. A high school athlete. Cross Country, hockey, and golf. Living in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. A small hamlet of a town in the Northwest corner of the state. It starts snowing there in late October. I Googled it in doing my due diligence on the kid. His doctor caught it quick. It is an aggressive form of the disease, but this new drug could save his life. He has a lot to look forward to and if this drug can save him then let’s do it. Risky, but worth it.
Skin grafts for a pediatric burn victim. A nine year old girl from Chicago was trapped in a burning building. A firefighter got to her before she died, but she had burns covering every square inch of her body. The bottoms of her feet were burnt. The contents of her file made me shiver. The skin grafts are developed in a laboratory grown from a cross section of the burn victims DNA. Highly expensive, but the success rate has been excellent. If she were 40 or older I probably would have rejected the claim, but this young girl needs this. Kids are so fucking cruel as it is. If she can be just a tad less hideous then I’m all for it. Some might call this cosmetic (my boss questioned me about this being necessary), but I think this is much a matter of having a life as it is surviving. Besides, my boss was a dick.
The gut wrenching Bad list for today:
Experimental Chemotherapy for an 81 year old woman. Bone cancer. Terrible. Even if she made it through the agony of chemo what would her quality of life be?
Bone Marrow transplant for a three year old. Fuck me. I cried when I saw the file. Tampa, FL. Parents are blue collar types. The odds of success were almost zero. It would be chasing a dream.
A liver for a suspected alcoholic. Car Salesman. Divorced. Seattle, WA. Doctor suspects heavy alcohol use. Age 38. Fuck him. He brought it on himself.
All of the procedures had a success rate that I considered to be so low that the cost was not worth the outcome. The money would be better spent on other customers. After all, that is what insurance is. The spread of risk. The scale has money on one side and a pool of human life on the other. They are balanced with my decisions. Not providing chemo for one means the money to give an eighteen year old kid leukemia drugs that could save his life. It is not a perfect system, but it is the one I have to work with.
Some days I feel like a monster. Kept hidden in a small cube where nobody could ever find me. That is for the best. There are a lot of angry families out there convinced that my decision cost their husband, wife, uncle, child, nephew, mother, best friend, lover’s life. They would not be wrong to think that.
On that day, after making these decisions, 4:30 was not there soon enough. On that day I found a bar equidistant between work and my apartment. Funny enough I hadn’t heard of it until coming across it on The New York magazine’s website – a vast wealth of bar information. Cooligan’s. $2.50 20 oz pints until 9 pm. I needed that drink. Rejecting a three year old’s bone marrow transplant was going to take until at least 9 pm. It was all I could think about. In the elevator, on the subway, walking in the street. My mind on that three year old boy – his smile, his grey teddy bear, his mother’s tears. I needed that drink.
Most every bar has a defining characteristic. Some have several. Cooligan’s had nothing. A bar with one too many coats of finish over the dark wood. Stools with all four legs, none of them even. The bartender was just a guy wearing a Mets t-shirt. No catchy signs on the wall. Nothing neon. Just a dark bar, a cash register, and couple of TV’s with layers of dust that muted the colors on the screen.
Cooligan’s did not have a website. It did not have dumb twenty three year old girls with cleavage pouring out of their shirts behind the bar. (Some days that is appealing. Today was not that day.) It was just a bar. My kind of bar. Boy did I need that drink.
The bartender walked toward my end of the bar. He was casual. No hurry. Not worried about what I thought. He was just the guy pouring drinks.
“I’ll take a 20 ounce Sam Adams please.”
“We only serve 20 ounce beers so it looks like you are in luck” he said with a far friendlier tone than I had expected. It was like a load off my shoulders. Someone was friendly and wanted me there. For that I’d tip double.
I wasn’t sure how lucky I felt, but two dollars and fifty cents later I had a large American crafted lager coating my lips with foam.
The first sip always makes me tingle. I could feel the beer running through my body. Everything loosens. The world slows. My mind could take the rest it had been looking forward to all day. The first sip is magic. I wish they could all be first sips.
At 8:52 my glass is half empty. Eight minutes to finish and order yet another Sam Adams. I had no idea how many I had put back, but I was at the point where balance is more of an art that an instinct. I’m not sure if my bar stool spun or if it had a few screws loose. I was not convinced I would stay on that bar stool all night long without falling. Be it my fault or a bar stool malfunction.
At 8:54 I emptied the glass’s contents into my mouth. My tongue was numb to taste. That was just as well. At that point in the night I was drinking for effect and not taste.
My last “happy hour” beer arrived. Bittersweet. I wish I could say that was the last beer I drank. I cannot. I wish I could explain what happened after I left the bar. I cannot. What I know is what I can prove. Four calls to my ex-girlfriend. Janelle. She did not pick up. Smart girl.
Eleven text messages sent to women that all read “What’s up tonight?” (What does that even mean?) A mass text no doubt, sent at 11:21 pm on a Wednesday night.
My dress slacks had a rip in the knee. I woke up with a limp. There was a half eaten slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza on the kitchen counter. The box had red blood smears on it, I’m guessing from my knee. It could have been mistaken for red sauce if I did not know any better.
On my dresser freshly crumpled receipts from two other bars. The receipts being my only memory from either establishment.
In aggregate I spent $58 to drink in two places that I did not remember. Nothing gained other than a hangover and a bloody pizza box. I woke up and encountered the mess from the previous night and I asked out loud: “Why?”
The bags under my eyes told a story. Last night’s story. The story I tell every night. A story that starts and ends the same way every time. The story of insanity. A story told by dry, blurry, and in the end, blood shot eyes.