About nine years ago, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Miami. We had been gifted some free plane tickets from a friend who couldn’t use them, so we decided to check out South Beach. It was a particularly brutal New York City winter, and neither of us had been to Miami before, so it was an easy choice to go relax in the sun and take in some classic deco architecture.
So we flew down, checked into the South Beach Holiday Inn, gaped at people much more attractive than ourselves, gasped at people much wider than ourselves, went to some truly awful nightclubs, and did some surprisingly excellent thrift shopping.
One thing we did not do was consume any alcohol, which was a drastic departure from how I would have conducted myself under these circumstances even six weeks before. It’s a long story, and I don’t really want to get into it here. Suffice to say: for 15 years, the acquisition and consumption of alcohol was the organizing principle of my life, and after a particularly debauched holiday season, I took part in the annual tradition of Sober January, enjoyed the lack of paralyzing headaches and watery diarrhea, and decided at the end of the month to continue teetotaling. (Sober January has lasted nine years and eleven days and counting.)
The point being, I was newly sober on this trip to Miami, and though it was a positive choice that I was feeling good about, I was not yet accustomed to being sober, and particularly being sober on vacation. If you’re not trying to break the landspeed record for taking Pacificos to the neck, what are you supposed to do on a beach vacation?
I was relaxed and I was having a good time, but I was a little jittery, and my wife and I didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We decided to find the best restaurant in South Beach and spend all the money we weren’t spending on Pacificos and tequila shots on a nice meal, a rare treat at the time. (Actually it’s a rare treat now, too. Then it was because we were broke, now it’s because we’re parents.)
So we asked around and ended up at a fancy seafood place at the south end of South Beach called Nemo. It was indeed a nice restaurant, it came highly recommended, and the food was great, but this was our first dinner at a nice restaurant since I stopped drinking, and though I didn’t feel any much anxiety or weirdness about it, my body was telling a different story: I knocked over both a bottle of Perrier and the little vase on our table within five minutes, I dropped my fork on the floor, and it took me ten minutes to stammer out my order. But the food was good and we had a nice time, partly making fun of the decor in the place.
It was the kind of place that is so aggressively “designed” that it’s distracting. I could feel my eyeballs jittering all over the place like a rabbit on a coke jag just trying to take it all in. Different colored glass on all the light fixtures, decidedly unchair-shaped chairs, rusty wrought-iron rods holding up lighted glass globes, a copper bar top… that kind of place.
We order dessert — my sweet tooth had returned with a vengeance to make up for 15 years of fulfilling my sugar cravings with alcohol — and then the check comes and it’s time to go, so I excuse myself to go to the restroom.
It’s just as overdesigned as the rest of the place — everything looks like it’s made out of slate, granite, or copper, and as a result it’s kind of dark. I look around the bathroom and don’t see any urinals, just a big slate trough about 8 feet long, like a super-fancy version of where you pee at the ballgame. So I shrug, unzip, and begin relieving myself. I have to stand up straight to get over the edge of this thing, but I don’t think much of it — my weird-o-meter had already gone off when I saw the long granite trough, and I didn’t bother to reset it.
Just after I get going, another guy comes into the bathroom and gives me a weird sideways look. He walks past me and disappears around a corner. Wait, what? I hadn’t even noticed that there was a corner to go around, so without stopping the stream I lean back to see where he’s going.
I can’t lean back far enough to see, so I take a few steps to my left, still peeing into the trough, until I see the guy up against the wall with his back to me… peeing into a garden variety, white ceramic urinal.
I manage to process this information right about the time the stream tapers off to a trickle: I am peeing in the sink. My first thought, as I realize the guy is about to come back out: So, what do I do now? Zip up and wash my hands? The guy walks by, decidedly does not pause to wash his hands, and gives me another, more contemptuous sideways look.
I can’t pretend this is the first time I’ve ever relieved myself in an inappropriate place, but I always had a heavy buzz to blame it on, and I’m feeling the unfamiliar sensation of my cheeks flushing and my pulse quickening — I realize that I’m embarrassed, an emotion I haven’t felt since high school, when I began canceling it out in earnest with beer. My former coping strategy would probably have been to give that dude the side-eye right back, wish him a pleasant evening, and maybe (if he had an attitude or something) try and slash a little on his pant leg.
Instead, I wait a few beats for the guy to clear out, in hopes that he’s either seated at a different part of the restaurant or on his way out the front door, to spare myself being outed in the middle of the dining room as a sink-defiler, and tiptoe back to our table, where my wife is patiently waiting for me. I wrestle for a moment with whether to share this embarrassing incident with her, and after a beat I do what I always do: I tell her all about it. We laugh about it and hurry out of the place before someone tries to stick us with a cleaning bill and take a nice long walk on the beach.*
*Actually, it was raining that night, so we went back to the Holiday Inn and watched the limited cable selection, but a nice long walk on the beach sounds nicer, doesn’t it? Other than that, this tale of urinary misadventure is absolutely true.