I had never tried cocaine, and as I neared middle age I began to wonder what I was missing. I know it was available in my privileged suburban high school: the drug of choice for the WASPy jock and the student counsel president pressured to get into Princeton. But it went on under my naive nose. I was living in a John Hughes movie, focusing on music and black clothes and being misunderstood. I had heard tales of students sampling coke in the coed bathrooms of my hippy college, but I was too busy staring at cafeteria crushes and Guatemalan tapestries to notice.
And then the crack epidemic erupted, and snorting lost its sexiness. If you tried the powder once, you would do it again, get addicted and start shooting up or smoking it in dank alleyways with homeless men named Bubs. I was not interested.
So I was surprised when it seemed to reappear with a vengeance earlier this decade. At first a fellow attorney mentioned doing “blow” at her birthday, then a trainer talked of having “nose candy” at after-gym parties. I read personal ads online inviting dates to go “skiing” with them. The lawyer told me that those were all euphemisms for cocaine. I was getting curious.
By the summer of 2005 I started asking friends, then colleagues and finally everyone I wasn’t related to where I could “score” some coke. Nothing panned out. Users ran out of supplies, were unavailable or in rehab. I doubted that the euphoric high would happen for me that summer.
Until one night in late August when I met up with Joyce for an early drink. It was a clear, cool evening and I accompanied her outside to have a cigarette. She went back in while I began a flirty text to a cop I had dated. Then a man stopped to chat me up. He was dressed in ill-fitting, thrift-store clothes and stared intensely with his almost black eyes. After a shower and a trip to Century 21, he could be good looking, I decided. His slovenly appearance was incongruous with his deep, clear voice. He claimed to be a Harvard-trained actor, and I planned to IMDb him when I got home. I evaded his invitation to spend the evening together by explaining that my friend was waiting inside. But I did not object when he followed me into the bar and sat next to me on the ruby banquette.
His jittery manner was disconcerting, and while he and Joyce were locked in a competition to see who could name the most state capitals, his arm kept creeping around my shoulder.
Then the actor asked if I wanted to “do a bump,” which I knew by now to be another euphemism for cocaine. I was intrigued, but I wasn’t tempted. Especially after he followed me to the ladies’ room and tried to kiss me. I hoped ignoring him would get him to leave. Instead, he reached his hands into his bulging pockets, and with his eyes wide open, he pulled out bunches of little baggies full of fine white powder.
“Put that away!” I insisted, terrified.
He smiled and dropped one of the little baggies into my lap before putting the rest back into his pocket. Without saying good-bye, he exited the bar. It was as if a fairy had come along to grant my druggy wish. I placed the dollhouse size baggie of cocaine into my purse, and Joyce and I left before the spell could wear off. She said I should have taken more.
Back at my apartment we assembled the powder on a salad plate I had bought in Tuscany and figured out how to snort it through a rolled-up dollar bill, careful not to sneeze. I knew I got it right when I sensed a cool burning in the back of my throat.
I felt a burst of energy, like a double espresso, but it was hard to tell since I was already drunk. We invited company over and a group of us sat on my balcony smoking and drinking until late into the night.
The next morning I awoke to find the giant bald man I had invited the night before naked and snoring on my bed, and Joyce was still sleeping on the disheveled couch. The smell of stale cigarettes and beer was nauseating. My head throbbed. I wasn’t sure I would make it through the grinding of the Mocha-Java.
I realized there would be no shooting up or men named Bubs in my future. And without that danger, I wasn’t sure the drug was all that fun. After all I was almost middle aged; and, although it may not be euphoric, a cup of coffee could give me a pretty good high.
Juliet Koskoff was a public interest attorney for five years. She is currently a writer living in Manhattan.