Elevator Number Four

I’m at a work dinner at a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. There are two tables of people in our party. I am at one table and my wife is at the other. There are about twenty of us in the party and most of us drink wine. We go through bottles fast. Since they know I like wine each time a new bottle arrives at the table the table tries to ensure I get a glass to sample.

Although I like wine I don’t drink very much of it at a time, two glasses at most. Three glasses puts me in the “Oh fuck, why did I drink so much” state next morning. I’m being very careful with my wine consumption – I make sure people only pour a small amount and I drink it very slowly. If I can keep this up all night I might still feel good in the morning.

Jean walks over from her table and leans next to me. She puts her wine glass down next to mine. Her glass is full, mine only has a splash in it. She talks to me a little. She picks up my glass and walks off back to her table. I stare at the full wine glass, looking my hangover in the eye.

Jean is pregnant. She’s still working. It is early enough that you can’t tell by looking at her. This is our second baby and Jean knows from experience that when you are pregnant at work people treat you differently. They don’t treat you seriously. They think you are a short-timer. They touch your stomach. Jean hates this. So she acts as though she’s not pregnant.

Jean likes wine too. If she didn’t drink even a glass of wine at a work dinner colleagues would notice – they are smart, perceptive and suspicious. So Jean tries air-sipping the wine, which leaves her with the problem of disposing of the evidence.

At the next table I have a full glass of wine. I have to be careful here. I take my time drinking her wine.

“Hey Brent, try some of this Brunello – you like Brunellos, right?” says a coworker. They are drunk enough to start buying expensive wine. “Finish that Rhone and try some of this Tuscan stuff!”

My glass is now refilled with the strong and potent red wine. I am beginning to observe my own behaviour. This is a dangerous sign that my control is diminishing. The Brunello tastes good.

Jean is next to me again. “Hurry up, will you? I need the empty glass.” I knock off the last of the Brunello and Jean walks away with the empty, leaving me contemplating another full glass. This is going to hurt. I console myself with the thought that with her pregnancy nausea she feels awful most of the time. I’m just going to feel awful for a few hours.

At this point of the evening I have drunk about twice my usual. My boss is on the next table and he is brandishing one of those bottles with a plain, old school label. This means fancy wine and judging by the shape of the bottle, a Bordeaux. Here it comes again.

“Brent needs to try this,” he says in his commanding voice. “He’ll appreciate it.”

I finish Jean’s second wine glass and watch as the Bordeaux is poured in. Most of the fore part of my mind is not caring about the consequences, but there is a feeling of panic pushing in from behind. Desert arrives – Bananas Foster covered in Brandy, but they set fire to it so the alcohol burns off. I am thankful for that.

Next morning the family is at at breakfast. I have trouble articulating words. I stare at my food. This is a nice hotel, expensive and modern. What is normally divine, fresh food is trash talking me. The orange juice is telling me how useful it is for lubricating my stomach contents. The eggs are just tempting me to try to swallow them. The bacon is the lone voice telling me it will make me feel better. I try a bite. I wash it down with orange juice.

That one mouthful has transformed me. Now I am doing all I can to stop puking. I calm my mind. I sit still. I look in to the distance. I take a deep breath. I put the orange juice down and sip some water. This is not good. I stand up and figure out my exit. I don’t know where the bathroom is. It is not a good feeling know you are going to puke but not knowing where the nearest toilet is. Rather than trying to hold a conversation with a waiter while trying not to puke on them I race out of the restaurant. My plan is to catch the elevator up to our room and use the bathroom there.

I am focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. At the elevator lobby I push the up button. I wait. There are four elevators here. One is coming, I can see the numbers counting down as it heads towards the lobby. It stops on the way down, picking up passengers. Fuck. I know the firefighters have some override sequence they can use inside an elevator to make it go to a specific floor without stopping but I don’t know the special code to summon an elevator in case of emergency or imminent hurling.

The bell rings. The doors open. Out dawdle an elderly couple with lots of bags, checking out. I fight my way in through the bags before the door closes and push the 11th floor button. The elevator starts and lurches up. I can’t deal with lurch right now. I can hold back no longer.

As I’m evacuating my stomach I notice that this isn’t my regular spew, but more like what people call projectile vomiting. Well now I know what that’s all about. The entire elevator floor is a mess. The focus I feel when vomiting is intense. I need to empty my stomach while also making sure I can breathe enough to live. Some part of my mind knows the post-vomit peace is approaching. I can’t stop my stomach retching even though there’s nothing left. I want this to end. I want that peace.

At the 11th floor I rush to the room past a maid. I tell her that I’ve puked in the elevator and it needs to be cleaned up. She acts as though I didn’t talk – it is someone else’s problem. In our room I wash and change t-shirts.

A different elevator arrives to take me to the lobby where I go to the front desk to confess my sin.

“Uh yeah, you’ll need to send someone to clean up Elevator Number Four. I vomited in it.” The desk lady looks at me like I’d just puked on the floor. Now I know what that look is. “I’m serious, it’s a mess.” She stays silent and shocked. I don’t think she wants to deal with a hungover vomiting guest. I wander off back to the restaurant to rejoin the family.

At breakfast I feel a lot better. I eat some toast. About half an hour later we head back to our room. The yellow Warning cones are out around Elevator Number Four. “That’s the one.” I say, pointing to its doors. “Don’t use that one.”


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