Retching in the New Year

Meredith Sellers recounts a New Year’s Eve she’ll never forget and remembers why she still can’t drink tequila.

James Ensor, Comical Repast (Banquet of the Starved), c. 1917-18. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I’m not much of a “party person.” I like being social, but I prefer a low-key dinner party to a full-throttle puke-in-the-bushes rager. I have the alcohol tolerance of a high-school sophomore and, on more than one occasion, have downed a few beers only to end up falling asleep on the hosts’ couch, chair, floor, dog bed—all before 1 am. An ideal party for me consists of good friends, a couple of inexpensive but not-total-shit beers, and a series of thought-provoking, tipsy conversations.

A few years ago, my boyfriend and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party by a beloved friend of mine. It’s important to note here that New Year’s Eve isn’t really a thing in Philadelphia, largely because of the next day’s Mummers Parade, which goes well into the evening and parties harder than any Times Square ball drop ever could. So most New Year’s celebrations in Philly are ill-attended, half-hearted events created out of a sense of obligation. My friend had recently started dating a new guy, who was hosting a party at his apartment. I barely knew him, but his apartment was located in a neighborhood best known for its overpriced bars, basic bitches, and optimal views of the night’s fireworks. With few other options, we decided to go and invited another couple along.

The couple, Jimmy and Ruby (all names have been changed here), came over early so we could all arrive at this barely-an-acquaintance’s abode together. “I brought this so we could pre-game,” Jimmy said, holding up a bottle of Cuervo. I hesitated, but then thought better of it. It was New Year’s and it’s not often I get trashed and I deserve to get trashed sometimes, right? I got some glasses, we toasted to the New Year, and I swallowed the fiery potion, trying my best not to sputter. “It’s smooth,” Jimmy cooed. It wasn’t.

When we arrived, my friend greeted us enthusiastically, escorted us up a couple flights of stairs, and flung open the door. I knew not a soul in the room. This is going to be really fucking awkward, I thought to myself, pinning a smile to my face and making my way towards the drink table. I poured a glass of wine and retreated to a corner.

As we got into the groove of the party, I slowly started to socialize and made my way out of the corner. My friend was talking to an older guy, and I walked over to chat. She introduced me to the man, Cristiano, and promptly cavorted off.

“So what do you do?” he asked me.

“I’m an artist. I teach,” I shrugged.

“An artist?!” he said, excitedly. “I’m a helicopter engineer.”

I was impressed at the mechanical ingenuity it must take to be an engineer for an object that both transports living, breathing humans, and, you know, can fly. I felt like an idiot.

Cristiano continued, “But it’s always been my secret desire to be an artist.”

“Oh, really? Anyone can be an artist, it’s just an incredibly stupid career decision.”

“I’ve been painting in my basement for years. Can I show you my art?”

“Sure,” I said, bracing myself.

This is the kind of uncomfortable conversation we often get into as artists, with friends of our mothers, our dentist, a neighbor down the street. (“Oh you do art? My niece does too. She is just so creative! She once made me a flower out of toilet paper for my birthday. I love creative types.”) Cristiano pulled his iPhone out of his pocket and feverishly scrolled through his photos.

“Here’s one!” he declared. The image he showed me was a muddy visual mash-up of a Modigliani painting and a how-to-draw-anime instructional. I was horrified. He had borrowed Modigliani’s classic poses, strategic flatness, and sense of sad longing, but, instead of the master’s poignantly empty eyes and understated melancholy, there were huge, glistening saucer plates, streaming droplets of out-of-the-tube blue tears in a conglomeration of confused brushstrokes.

“Oh, cool.” I managed. He showed me one after another of the same rote gestures. “So you like Modigliani?”

“Oh yes, he’s a master—but these, these are my Modiglianis.”

I was wondering how I could manage to extricate myself from this man’s painful desire to have an art career ripping off one of the 20th century’s greatest painters, when our still-barely-acquainted host made an announcement that we should all head outside to catch the midnight fireworks and ring in the New Year. I excused myself and downed another glass of wine before linking back up with my boyfriend and heading out the door.

We stood on a pier, crammed as tight as sardines next to drunk, bleach-blonde girls, sans coats, perched on four-inch heels without so much as a protective layer of pantyhose. The one next to me loudly complained to her date that she was cold. We were in the heart of Basic Bitchville, sniffing whiffs of nauseating perfume, waiting for these fucking fireworks, and I was pissed. Aside from asking myself why I didn’t stay home to watch reruns of The Twilight Zone, I was worried about my cats, wondering if they were going to lose their shit back in my apartment and piss on my bathroom rug. The fireworks started going off. They were nice, if you’re into watching things explode, but they went on too long. They ended and my boyfriend and I looked at each other and shared a kiss, alongside all the couples next to us. I felt like a walking cliché.

My boyfriend and I decided to ditch the never-ending awkwardness of the party with Jimmy and Ruby and seek a better fortune in the sea of bars in the neighborhood.

“Oh man, you got stuck talking to the helicopter guy? Me too,” said Ruby.

“I couldn’t get away,” I stammered.

“Did he show you his art?”


At this point I was munching on fries, reflecting on how many drinks I’ve had and feeling surprised that I was not that drunk. I finished my beer and contemplated ordering another. Suddenly, my stomach churned. It hit me. I was going to be sick. I needed to get up and get myself to the bathroom. I was inebriated. I couldn’t get up. I grabbed my empty cup and vomited into it. We immediately threw down enough money to cover our food and drink and a hopefully handsome enough tip that one day that waitress might forgive my wretched soul should she ever recognize me in public, and we bolted for the exit.

To this day, I still can't drink tequila.