A few years ago, I had an idea.
I would walk up to a vending machine and ask for a free drink.
It was a weird way to spend an afternoon, so I thought, I’ll try it once.
So, I went up to Skybox, a coffee and food vending machine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I asked for a water.
I got a Coke.
I was ready to go.
But I was not prepared for a rude look.
“No, no, no,” a young man in his 20s, who was about 6 feet tall, told me.
He was standing at the counter with his hand over his mouth.
“Are you drunk?”
“No, sir,” he said.
I was taken aback.
“You’re drunk,” he told me, “so I don’t want you to leave.”
It turned out the guy who gave me the drink was the manager of the Skybox.
The manager told me that the staff is trained to spot when someone is drunk.
But he said he also learned the hard way that some people are not aware of the warnings that they are being given.
So I decided to call my friends.
“I need to ask you something,” I said.
One of them, a bartender, was willing to do a test.
I put my hands on the counter and pressed my lips against the countertop.
Then I put them against my lips again, this time with my hands behind my back.
Then, I turned around and tried again.
I didn’t move.
I still didn’t feel like drinking.
So the bartender called my friend.
I told him I’d take the test.
The next morning, I walked into the restaurant.
It looked like a normal, crowded place.
And I didn, too.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you don’t know,” the manager told my friend when I walked up to him.
“It’s a very small sample size.
We’re going to see if you can do the same test.
But we want to be sure that you’re not intoxicated.”
It took me a few days to realize that I was drinking.
It took me several more days to discover that I had no idea what was happening to me.
“If you want to know what it’s like to drink, it’s really hard,” I told my friends in our meeting.
“But it’s possible to know it.
I can tell you that I know it’s OK to be drunk.”
But it wasn’t OK to drink.
The bartender told me to go to the manager.
I left and went to the restroom.
When I got back to the table, the bartender said, “I’ve got to tell you something.”
“I think you’re drinking too much,” I explained.
“So I’m going to have to call your manager.”
So the manager called me back.
He told me I had a drink problem and needed to come to the management desk.
He said I would have to come up to the counter at 8:00 p.m. to get the free drink because I had violated the company’s alcohol policy.
But the manager said I was welcome to leave.
The guy who was waiting with me told me he would have the manager check up on me.
At that moment, the manager had an extra cup of coffee.
He asked me if I wanted to be on the phone with the manager and I told the manager, I’d love to, but I’d have to take a break.
He then called my mother.
I’m not sure if she knew what was going on, but she did not like what I told her.
“Is that okay?” she asked.
“Yes, it is.”
The manager was very sympathetic.
He explained that there are no alcohol-related violations, and that my mother was not drunk, so she wasn’t violating the company policy.
“This is really a misunderstanding,” he explained.
But, he added, the problem is not with me, but with my drink.
I should have known better.
My mother, who lives in New Jersey, called me a couple of weeks later and asked if I had any questions.
I said, yes.
But she asked me how I knew she was drinking and I explained that I knew that I wasn’t drinking.
My mother was furious.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded.
“What did you think I was doing?”
She was angry because she had known about my problem for months.
But the management manager was not angry.
He came up to me after the manager left and apologized for his error.
“All you have to do is check your drink,” he promised.
“There is no problem.
There is nothing you need to worry about.”
The management manager told his staff that it was not OK to discriminate against people with alcohol problems, and he was making progress.