Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A Lost Weekend (Or Something Like)

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I've based the following short story on an anecdote an old school friend told me about an experience one of his workmates had early in his career in sales. I can't say that it's loosely based, because I'm sure that if anyone involved should ever read it, they'd recognise the episode right away. But I have changed the names to protect the guilty; (to be honest I can't even remember the names of the original people involved, so if by some strange quirk of chance I've accidentally managed to use the original names by mistake, I apologise to all concerned.)
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A Lost Weekend (or Something Like)

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go to the firm’s summer barbecue. Usually, I was all for taking part in social events but so far they’d consisted of nights out on the town, and that had been fine: that was my idea of socializing. This one was different: it was being held at noon on a summer Sunday. I wasn’t usually up until noon on a Sunday. My regular Saturday nights out made sure of that.

The rest of the guys on the sales force pestered me all week: “You’ll be there on Sunday, won’t you Paul?” they’d keep on saying, along with things like “We look forward to it every year,” “You’ll finally get to meet my wife,” and “You’re going to love it.”

I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to love it. Being an organised event, there would be awards and prizes given out and if there were going to be awards then it was pretty certain that there would be speeches too, and I always got bored listening to speeches.

The promise of a free bar almost swung it for me, but this was back in the days of restricted licensing hours, and since all the pubs stopped serving at 2pm on Sundays, the free bar would only last for two hours.

I mentioned my reservations to Mike. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “The prize giving's all done light heartedly, no speeches at all really; as for the bar, they’ll stop serving at two all right, but there’s always plenty of wine to see us through the rest of the afternoon.”

As it happened, two of the guys I normally went out drinking with on Saturday were at a wedding that week, so it looked like I’d be staying in the night before. Under the circumstances, I could get up early on Sunday and make it to the barbecue.

It went quite well to begin with. I always got on well with the guys I worked with, and it was great to meet their wives and girlfriends. I was there by myself, and Mike’s wife and a couple of the others picked up on that saying they felt sorry for me being all alone; they pretended to mother me, and flirted with me. Still, the guys didn’t seem to mind, and it was all in fun after all.

When the prize giving started, I got the surprise of my life. The sales director stood up and the first name he called out was mine: “Best new salesman,” he announced, “is Paul Harris.”

All the guys applauded loudly and overdid the cheering a little. I stood up and went forward to receive my prize. I can’t say I wasn’t flattered, but I was more embarrassed than anything. Anyway, what the hell was I going to do with a trophy?

Only it wasn’t a trophy the boss gave me. It was a bottle of whisky and not just an ordinary bottle either. It was the biggest bottle of whisky I’d ever seen. When I got back to my seat, I checked the label and it was three litres; that made it a little over four times the size of a standard bottle. “Fantastic,” I thought, “Much better than a flaming trophy, and worth coming for.”

The barbecue continued. The bar closed as expected around 2pm but there seemed to be plenty of wine to keep us going. I noticed a few glances toward my whisky, and to be honest, I fancied having one myself, so I opened it and for a while we all drank whisky from wine glasses while most of the women stuck with the wine.

We all got very drunk as the afternoon went on. I looked at my whisky bottle. There was less than a quarter of its contents remaining. I couldn't find a glass, so I unscrewed the top of the bottle and started to swig straight from the bottle neck.

Mike spotted me drinking from the bottle, and laughed; then he started to clap slowly and chanted “Down in one! Down in one!” The other guys heard him and spotted what I was doing; soon they were all chanting  along together: “DOWN IN ONE! DOWN IN ONE!

What can I say? I was already very drunk, and I know it wasn’t a good idea, but before I knew where I was I’d drained the bottle. There were cheers from my colleagues; some of them slapped me on the back, as though I’d done something to be proud of. I didn’t feel good though; I didn’t feel at all good.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. I remember feeling very sick and rushing to the toilet, but I don’t remember coming back. Somebody must have taken me home, because that’s where I awoke: back home in bed, on top of the bedding, fully clothed.

I had the mother of all hangovers. I noticed it was light outside, and I glanced at the clock. Shit! It was the morning, and I’d slept right through my alarm. I had just over half an hour to get up, get showered, do whatever I could about this bloody hangover and then get to work. I resigned myself to being late this morning.

I raced around getting ready, at the same time as dosing myself with paracetamol. I thought it best not to drive into work, as I suspected there might still be quite a lot of alcohol in my blood stream, so I rushed out and jumped on a bus.

I arrived at work about twenty five minutes late. I raced through reception, jumped into the lift and arrived on the floor I worked on. I stood outside on the landing to compose myself, then opened the door and walked slowly into the office.

As people saw me, they went quiet; this caused others in the office to look in the direction they were looking and they too stopped talking immediately. There was total silence as I started to walk the length of the office. Then someone started to clap slowly. Someone else joined in, and then another until by the time I got to my desk, the entire office was giving me a slow hand clap.

I spun around defensively. I might have made a fool of myself at the barbecue, but I’m sure lots of other people did too. Why single me out? “OK you lot,” I shouted, “I got drunk, and because of it, I’ve got into work nearly half an hour late, but what about it?”

I’d stunned them into silence again by shouting at them. Suddenly the silence was broken by a couple of people giggling. Then Mike walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “But Paul,” he said, “Today's Tuesday!”

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