It’s 8:30 p.m., and I’m with Matt at a place called Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, on 77th and 2nd. We’re balls deep into our third platter of barbecued meats (specifically, two dueling reddish toned piles—shining neon orange Buffalo chicken wings and sanguine sauced-up ribs), and I have hit a wall. I hold my hands out in front of me, noticing my fingers as fingers for the first time in hours. Beneath the coating of hot sauce and meat grease I see flashes of my own flesh and I contemplate my hands, wondering if, within another pitcher of Budweiser’s time, I will try to eat them. And then I look at Matt sitting across from me, tearing cartilage innocently from the end of a chicken wing’s tiny ulna, and muse—how much longer before he tries to eat them?
I don’t know how long I’ve been out. I go from gazing at my marinating hands, to Matt’s reassuring smile, I look up and around me and notice others. Lots of others. There are 50, maybe 200 at Brother Jimmy’s all of the sudden, business suit-clad men elbowing the barrel-wood bar-top, miniskirted women with sunken chests whose fingers (clean) thread around the stems of wine glasses. I stare—the women at the table next to us are drinking blue out of Mason jars and have removed their shoes. I feel invisible.
“Matt,” I venture, my voice sounding not my own. I lean over the table, balancing my wrists against its edge, my fingers splayed out in ten sticky hooks. I say something like, “This place is really busy. There are millions of people here. What… are we doing here?”
Before Matt can answer our waitress arrives again, offering another pitcher as if Matt and I are two of the most normal people she’s ever seen. I look at her through narrowed eyes, cautious and skeptical. Matt has answered “Yes!” I glare back at him. Could he be trusted anymore? Could anyone?
Earlier that evening I’d met up with Matt outside the cheerful Southern BBQ spot, and spent my time waiting for him properly social-mediaing my proudest purchase in recent history: a Groupon for two hours of unlimited BBQ and beer for two people. No questions asked. No background check needed. Just $20, two hours and one ambitious friend. Neither of us had any idea how dangerous it would actually turn out to be.
I am the type of person to hesitate to spend $20 on my electricity bill or to throw $20 toward a doctor visit, but I bought the Groupon in question with the particular lightness one can only associate with the glamour of Treating Oneself. Living in New York is just a string of events of Treating Oneself—the Third Cocktail, the Purchased Breakfast When We Have Perfectly Good Yogurt In The Fridge, the Afternoon Sushi Treat (does no one else do the Afternoon Sushi Treat?). These are necessities when leveraged with the fact that sometimes we get to second- and sometimes third-base with complete strangers on rush hour express trains every day, that flying cockroaches exist in a very salient way. This specific Groupon was purchased during the emotional aftermath of a visit to the Urgent Care center at New York Presbyterian when a bite from a Bed-Stuy mosquito turned my wrist into a war-zone of rollicking cellulitis. You get the picture.
Going into anything “unlimited” with an I Deserve This attitude is not wise. The evening at Brother Jimmy’s began mildly enough—the place was pleasantly quiet, our waitress did not snort at the sight of the Groupon like some waitresses might’ve, the Budweiser arrived shortly after we sat, the BBQ platter followed and was placed between us, gleaming under the light with the winking promise of Your Day is About to Get so Much Better. We indulged, slowly at first; I was very conscious of my white cotton top.
Many hours later (Matt and I were so charming/ not gross old businessmen that we received MORE TIME FOR FREE from the waitress), we had gone through dozens of Wet-Naps, and chicken and pork bones littered our table like little grave stones, etched with curt epitaphs from our incisors. A dime-sized dollop of barbeque sauce stained the front of my shirt. The pitcher had been replaced. And replaced. And replaced. It had gotten weird; we had stumbled into something we weren’t prepared for. There were questions of Why.
Matt issued an Emergency Stop Eating for Ten Minutes and Just Drink pause, I sat and mulled over what my $20 had actually gotten me—or, rather, what it had taken from Brother Jimmy’s. The place seemed very popular, for one—didn’t seem like they needed a skimpy $20 from me in exchange for their entire stock of beer, chicken, and ribs. People were willingly paying full price for things. Plus, our food was effing divine—it’s not like they gave us some crap they threw together for the trolls of the Groupon-dining set. The waitstaff was impeccable, things were served wittily in mason jars, not unlike at my favorite craft cocktail bars, and they kept coming around with Wet-Naps. The amount of Wet-Naps used by Matt and me alone could’ve easily surpassed $20. All things considered, I was perplexed—why did this Groupon exist? Did this Groupon exist for anyone else on earth? Had I slipped into an alternate universe of limitless gluttony and drunkenness and would I ever get out and was I going to die here? Or had I already died and had I taken Matt down with me?
After four hours, three-and-a-half pitchers and some 15 to 20 whole pigs and chickens, we emerged into the now-nighttime Outside World. We curled out onto the sidewalk drunk, giggling, walking the wrong way toward the subway, peering into lamplit Upper East Side apartments, our gaits stupid. We parted at Union Square, and went off solo into our own hangovers. We would be obnoxious on Facebook. I would wake up at 4 a.m. positive that I would vomit. I would not vomit. I would wake up again at 8, on time for work, and drift through the day, somewhat unsure that the previous evening with Matt had ever happened, somewhat sure that the $20 was still in my bank account and that I hadn’t written a waitress at a Southern BBQ restaurant a note on a napkin that said, “You are the best waitress in NYC we love you a lot.” I would promise myself to never buy a Groupon again. They were too powerful, they were too accessible. It was all just too easy.
Matt texts me around noon that day. His mother has bought him a Groupon to share with me. It is for a harbor cruise. “There are drinks included,” he writes. “But I don’t know if they’re unlimited, or what.”
Lauren Rodrigue works in marketing and blogs.