TRIP REPORT: I Went To Lit Sober
Originally written March 21, 2013 for vice.com.
The Lit Lounge, if you aren’t from New York, is a leering black hole from which few memories escape intact. If the standard, workaday memory is already 50 percent confabulation, the average Lit memory is about eight frames of reality cobbled together with stains, visible regret, and thick strands of ropy vomit. It is not a bar for the light of weight, or the early of work hours. Or the sober.
Having come off a bit of an excessive weekend/week/several weeks, I’ve decided to take it easy for a little while and let my body rebuild. Please though, I’m no hero. There are literally millions of boring humans on this planet whose boring lives do not require them to stew their livers and sinus cavities in a caustic broth of various poisons on a seminightly basis. They simply come home from work, pop in a House DVD for a few hours, then take their clothes and shoes off before they go to bed.
I’ve been more than happy to play tourist in this quaint little lifestyle for the past few days, but before my jaunt through sobriety, I’d promised a friend of mine I would DJ this week with him at Lit. I tried to bail but he put my name on a flyer, so by law I had to go. Again, I appreciate the sympathy, but there are literally hundreds of people who had to call an early end to their drinking days and still somehow manage to enjoy the festive camaraderie of bar life without a single sip of alcohol. I would merely be walking a few hours in their arrow-straight footsteps. And besides, how eye-opening would it be to observe such a familiar social setting in the exact opposite state of mind as its participants? I mean that’s the whole reason we take acid, isn’t it?
Here is how my evening went:
10:00 — Got in and ordered a club soda. Ordering a club soda means one of two things to a bartender: You are fighting against God’s will to quell a tidal wave of rising barf, or you are a former alcoholic. I don’t know which category they think I fall into because when I said thanks, a burp came up and it sounded like, “ThaaaUNGHx.”
10:12 — People are just starting to fill in here and are probably on only their second or third drink. Every conversation I can hear sounds pretty articulate. There’s one short guy at the end of the bar who looks sort of like Charlie Day, same build too. He’s talking to the bartender. This is all normal stuff.
10:15 — Talking to two guys about conventional business, shit that happened during our day, Smiths lyrics, recent movies. One of them has a slight slur going, but this doesn’t put him at any perceptible advantage or disadvantage in the trialogue. He’s holding his own just fine. More importantly, neither of the two has sussed me out as sober.
10:20 to 11:10 — Time to DJ. I’d mistakenly thought this would be easier to do sober than wasted, but it was actually kind of nerve-racking. A lot of people will try to tell you various things that DJing “is,” like an art or important, but all of what DJing IS is playing songs that don’t make people throw a glass at you. That said, some of what DJing is is fucking up the volume or starting a new song too quickly (at least when I do it), and some other of what DJing is is not giving a shit when that happens. Booze helps with this. At least it does when you’re a nervous pygmy shrew of a man who wears his regrets and embarrassments like a tween girl’s charm bracelet. Still shaken that the gain was up so high on that Singaporean cover of “Funny Funny.”
11:12 — The next DJ told me she “really liked my set.” This seems suspicious.
11:15 — Bummed a cigarette to a British girl who liked the pin on my coat. Then we talked about what part of Brooklyn we’re each from, then how shitty it would be to have to be in a war, then how much worse it would have been to be in a war 500 years ago. Then the conversation was done, and we stopped talking until we each went in. There was literally no more to say. I think she knew I wasn’t drunk.
11:20 — I had no clue the bathrooms here smelled like this. Someone should say something.
11:24 — Getting bumped into a lot. You might think this would be irritating, but it’s more just startling. Drunk people have their own rhythm, which, for all the spills and accidental ass grabs, conforms to a functional sense of collective motion which makes a large mass of them difficult to navigate using regular human ambulation. They’re like a field of Brownian particles I’m trying to traverse on a static vector. That’s not me being sober by the way, just a loser.
11:27 — I’m talking about snow tires for some reason.
11:32 — OK, boredom is now setting in. Like that deep physical sort of boredom you’d get when you had to wait on your mom at the outlet mall, the kind that wells up from the very center of your chest. I’m starting to pick up on all the empty spaces between interactions that are usually filled with burps, trying to remember people’s names, and just sort of enjoying sensation. How do real sober people manage this without being incessant chatterboxes? Oh wait, they all are.
11:40 to 12:13 — People are dancing to rap. I am not happy to see them enjoying themselves, but I’m not mad or anything either. They’re just a thing that is happening right now in this universe.
12:14 — Not feeling so jovial about being a goddamn cigarette dispenser to every last rando out here.
12:21 — I asked for my new club soda in a short glass instead of a water cup with a straw to avoid questions. I then caught myself thinking the phrase pro move and became ashamed.
12:31 — The other DJ just said, “You look like you’re bored.” I didn’t know whether to lie or not, so I just shrugged.
12:32 to 12:44 — This just fucking sucks.
12:45 — A remarkably dour-faced girl just handed her coat across the bar for the bartender to take and store under the cash register. Like, without asking first or anything. Can you do that? She’s with a curly haired guy who looks like one of those super freckly redheads that used to be in movies a lot in the 80s.
1:00 — Some short guy is dancing by himself and looking around. Pretty sure this would normally instill some sense of sadness or schadenfreude, but the boredom smothers all other feelings. It’s like how you can’t get drunk while you’re on shrooms.
1:21 — Oh fuck. Dour Face is from London and wants to know where’s the best place to go for an insane, off-the-rails party. She is very disappointed in Lit and in New York City. In London, you can have the best, most fucked-up time of your life every night of the week. She’s having a hard time with the directions to Coyote Ugly.
1:22 — Now she and Freckles are tag-teaming the DJ to request songs. Frecks is even leaning into the booth to see the DJ’s laptop and poking his fingers all over the screen. I feel like I should hate them, but I don’t. Still just riding the boredom. I do want their night to suck though.
1:32 — One of those neo-goth girls who have a good Instagram is doing a shot of sambuca next to me. The one with the bun? Fuck, how are there so many all of a sudden? I think I’ve met her before. Maybe I should ask which one she is? Nah, that’s stupid.
1:43 — Short guy found a girl! And she’s short! Still not happy for him on an emotional level but analytically very satisfied.
1:44 — “Analytically satisfied”? The fuck does that even mean?!
1:56 — I’m not sure if I recognize this guy outside from earlier or if he’s a new guy. I’m glad this isn’t just a drunk thing. Or am I? Fuck, what if I have that Oliver Sacks disease?
1:58 — Just googled the disease, it’s called prosopagnosia. For some reason I always forget its name. What’s that disease called, right?
2:09 — Back DJing. Techno doesn’t make sense. I feel like a chimp trying to put those triangle blocks in the right-size hole. Wait, why am I even playing techno? Jesus Christ, it’s because the last DJ left on a techno song, and now I’m scared to move away from dance music. Actually scared.
2:12 — Squash Gang works. Now I can get back into the goth crap.
2:17 — Shit, the last time I used my vocal chords was almost an hour ago.
2:40 — How is this place still packed? It’s a fucking Tuesday. Get a fucking job, you apes.
2:42 — I just spilled club soda down my sleeve like a sloppy drunk. And not on purpose either. What’s the fucking point.
2:57 — Tried dancing. Felt like someone’s dad.
3:01 — Everybody’s faces look like the demons from that movie The Devil’s Advocate, the muscles all drawn and thinned unnaturally by the shadows. Especially when they laugh. Imagine if you were schizophrenic and this is what the whole world looked like to you all the time. No wonder that dumpy girl pushed that guy on the subway tracks. We’re lucky that shit doesn’t happen every day.
3:15 — I seriously can’t talk to anyone in here. I know a lot of sober people get annoyed around drunks, but that isn’t the case with me. I’m not annoyed, it’s like I’ve been plopped into a different culture where I can’t speak the language. There’s definitely no joking. The rhythm is completely off — like when someone on too much coke or E is trying to talk with you, and the words are all skittering out of their face on some messed-up jazz tempo.
3:26 — Three girls are fuck-dancing to Lil John a foot away. I wish I could like this. Why can’t I like this? I think I’ve gone past sober at this point into straight-up depressed.
3:29 — Some dude on a stool is laughing with such protracted mirth his whole upper body is arching back in slow motion. I remember that.
3:36 — This was the worst idea. I feel like I’m in a high school where I’m the sole nerd and everyone else is a carefree, superconfident burnout who’s already gotten into the state school so they don’t care about this last semester. I just realized I’m all tensed up like I expect someone to wedgie me.
3:45 — Last call. I have never in my life felt relieved at those words, and I used to bartend.
4:01 — Oh cool, we can smoke in here now. WAIT, THAT’S NOT COOL AT ALL. GO HOME. GO THE FUCK HOME. WE CAN ALL GO HOME SO WHY DON’T WE GO HOME. GO HOOOOOOME.
So what did I learn from my night off the sauce? It’s not so much that sobriety sucks (though that’s still moot), but it has absolutely no place in a bar setting — except at the door, on a stool, checking IDs and not smiling. Bars are not fun places, that’s why you have to drink in them.
A person I work with once told me he hates Adderall because “I think whatever is in it, is already in me.” I guess the same must be true with booze and the sober people who still go to bars, that in some Polar Express kind of way, it’s already in them, but it isn’t in me.
All in all, I ended the night more tired than usual, nowhere near getting laid, and having saved just enough money not drinking that I was basically making minimum wage not to enjoy myself. I can remember the entire night, but why would I want to? It was awful. And even if it had been great, I realized the most important lesson of all is that the details the alcohol wipes clean are the stuff there wasn’t much of a point to remembering in the first place.
All shit I could have told myself drunk. Great.
Hi! It’s Thomas — like from up there. The guy who wrote this? Hey, thanks for reading the whole thing. Not to be all “spare some change?” after a 7-year-old article about DJing, but if you CAN spare some change, and you want to spare that change at me, well shucks, that’d be mighty appreciated. I think this is my venmo. It’s @Thomas-Morton-5 if you want to look it up all proper. Oh, while you’re stalking me, my twitter is @babyballs69 and my instagram is @babyballs. (I got in early on that one!)