“A three-hour tour.” The words rang in my head as I hopped aboard the surprisingly small sailboat in New York harbor. I was about to embark on a typical New York night on the town that sounded fun when described to me but turned out to be a deathtrap. I try not to be a catastrophist as often as possible, but some situations so obviously require a survival strategy that catastrophic thinking is a life skill, not a diagnosis.
The vessel in question was a beautiful, picturesque, and clearly dangerous 120-year old sailboat. I know nothing about anything remotely nautical so I can’t tell you it was a blah, blah, blah footer with a blah, blah, blah sail. What I can tell you is that the interior of the boat was the size of two average New York kitchens put together. If you’re a New Yorker, you know that this is not a lot of space. If you aren’t a New Yorker, we’re talking roughly the size of your bathroom. There were no guard rails and the minute I stepped onto the vintage dinghy I was handed a drink. A quick scan of the other passengers confirmed that I was right to be worried. Everyone else was drinking, some of them possibly on drink number three. Oh my God. Someone is going overboard tonight and it can’t be me. I’m a strong swimmer, but falling off a boat onto the inevitable dead body floating in the Hudson River is not on my bucket list. I looked around at my fellow passengers, trying to determine who was most likely to slip, fall, and get hepatitis that night. There were a few outstanding candidates already.
Before I describe Thurston, Lovey, Gilligan, Ginger, and all the rest (poor Mary-Anne), I must explain why I was risking life and limb on the bathroom boat.
It was free.
Not only was the ride free, but so was the champagne, caviar, tuna tartar, truffle cheese toast, and chocolate raspberry bites. How did I get in on this action? It was a confluence of very New York events: my friend had an extra press pass to an event, the event was sponsored by a schmancy hotel, the hotel was promoting their celebrity chef restaurant, and the hotel managers thought a (branded) boat ride for hotel guests would be a good idea. One more thing; if someone ever asks if you’d like to go to the kind of event that hands out gift bags, you always say yes. It is possible to live a very glamorous life in New York City without spending a dime if you’ve got a few pals and are dedicated to “yes.” Sure, you’ll get some clunkers (heavily model-attended documentary screening at Soho House with generic wine and cheddar cubes), but you also get the good ones. This system has afforded me a very plush existence. I live the star-spangled lifestyle of the never rich and occasionally famous almost entirely because I believe in the code of “yes.”
Back to the boat. I didn’t regret saying “yes” to this particular excursion, but I wasn’t happy about its safety rating. Alcohol, Hudson River, unavoidable floating corpses, and a boat with no guard or hand rails added up to an orange alert. The only solution was to pick a decent perch from which to watch the night unfold and inhale as many crème fraiche and caviar tidbits as possible, and never move. If anyone wanted to socialize, they’d have to come to me. Fortunately, my paralytic terror was interpreted as aloofness which drew the other guests to me like sugar babies to a 93-year old on an oxygen tank.
First came the guy my friend and I named, “The Just Doesn’t Know Bro.” TJDKB was pickled well before we hit the high seas and maintained his buzz throughout the evening. Watching him not die was like watching a Mr. Magoo cartoon. You think it’s going to be lights-out for our oblivious hero, yet he manages to elegantly put himself right and keep drinking as though a 500-pound boom hadn’t just hit him in the head. This guy wove his way to me and launched into a long description of things he’s into. All I can remember is that he really likes to read “fiction books” and play hockey. I was very polite. He thought I was riveted. Not so. That’s how he got his name.
Then there was “the girl in precarious stilettos who got ignored by her date.” There’s not much to say about her except that at first I hated her for her perfect legs that were about the same length as my body. Then I felt sorry for her because she had gotten all dolled up and her date pretended he didn’t know her.
It wasn’t surprising that she was ignored by “Inspector Gay-dget.” He had other fish to fry. By which I mean meeting every man on the boat who was very tan and wearing an enormous watch. His moniker was mostly about his outfit. He was wearing a trench coat that must have cost upward of $5,000, was replete with completely extraneous shiny gold buttons, had inexplicable leather straps around the cuffs (maybe not so inexplicable if you’re into that kind of thing), discretely placed indiscrete logos, and no sign that it was water repellant. All he needed was a fedora and monocle and it would have been perfect. Nonetheless, he was French, gorgeous (if you’re into tall, dark hair, blue eyed, bloom of youth kind of guys), and the scion to a publishing fortune. He was also…I feel like a bad person saying this, but it’s true…amazingly dumb. But not so dumb that he didn’t know to fall back on language barrier to cover up his befuddlement and blank stares. Sadly, that dog wouldn’t hunt. He had been speaking quite animatedly to a passel of well-groomed advertising guys in bright pastels before he shimmered over to me. Maybe I should have talked about his coat.
TJDKB smelled money on the kid and immediately pitched him a fantastic real estate deal. Inspector Gay-dget nodded, squinted to show his deep interest, and played with his champagne glass like it was a Tinker Toy. Gay-dget’s date clearly wanted to connect with someone and TJDKB would talk to the mast if he thought it was listening; they were a match made in heaven that never happened because standing up meant certain death for her. Everything always comes down to shoes.
In this case, “all the rest” (again, apologies to Mary-Anne) was composed of cute PR boys and girls, a few journos who were also there for the free grub, and the mostly male European AARP crowd. EAARP represented with crumpled poplin and linen suits, barely-there comb overs, grumbling in French, obvious distaste for anyone they didn’t know, and more money than you, me and everyone we know could fathom. They had undoubtedly paid for the canapés.
As weird as it was, it was a typical New York night.
Of course, there is no typical night out on the town in New York. Many nights share the same elements, (high and low, danger, sex, commerce, food, “yes”) but it’s the people who make every experience unique. In this case, we had a motley crew that would never have been in such close proximity to one another had they not all been looking for a free drink, a free thrill, a free snack, or the effect of a very costly marketing stunt.
And best of all, no one died. I didn’t think they had it in them, but my fellow passengers had just enough Darwinian instinct to make it back to shore. All’s well that ends well except for one detail. I forgot about sea legs. I tottered off the boat clutching my purse and gift bag, made my way to a flight of stone stairs, walked up them confidently, and tripped into a face plant on the top step. Skinned knees, belongings everywhere, and concerned onlookers. Humiliating enough to make me pop right up shouting, “I’m fine! No problems! Totally fine!” while I searched for my purse and goody bag. Amazingly, the bottle of champagne in the bag was intact. Excellent! I didn’t die, got dinner and a show, and I had a bottle of champagne that would be extra tasty because it almost wasn’t.
And because it was free.