Alcohol Poisoning at NYC Phish

IN the city for a quick two nights of Phish at Madison Square Garden. Prior to the second show, Sunday December 30th, my two travel partners and I attended a “pre-show” at the Cutting Room featuring an ensemble called Jazz is Phish. These were crack musicians playing Phish arrangements, with various instruments performing the vocal melodies. The son of bass guitar legend Jaco Pastorius, Felix, played bass in this configuration.

An hour before arriving at this beautiful caberet-style venue we dined at a Greenwich Village BBQ joint called Mighty Quinn’s. I mention this only because we encountered a tall, stunningly beautiful brunette before we left. So when a tall, stunningly beautiful brunette entered the bar area of the Cutting Room I did a double take. Same woman? No, but when she glided over to sit on the couch I occupied, I no longer cared.

I only remember her as Sheila. Tall, slender, and very stylish. Striking. Smooth talker that I am, I started by asking if her long fingers frequently get cold. “I have really long finger too,” I pointed out. “Mine are always cold.” Slick!

She affably admitted her fingers are usually cold too and chatted happily from that point on. I learned she is twenty-five and lives in Hoboken, where she is earning an engineering degree. She was at this venue solo. Her name is Chinese (Xixuan), so difficult on the memory. She seemed impressed that I pronounced it perfectly the first time, but I dubbed her Sheila anyway. This is a name I could remember.

Sheila hadn’t thought to adopt an Americanized name. She’d only been in the US from Xinjiang, a large territory in NW China, for two years. Her excellent English betrayed this short time period. Her naivety and lack of American cultural knowledge did not.

A musician and singer, Sheila finds jazz fascinating. There’s nothing like it where she’s from. Phish, The Grateful Dead, and hippies are also unknown there. I learned this as I tried to explain why so many shabbily-dressed hirsute folks were mingling around the bar area of The Cutting Room, waiting to enter the room with the stage. Sheila had no idea what jam bands were. Or mind-expanding chemicals, for that matter. I told her she’d picked a fine event at which to expand her cultural horizons.


Part two of our encounter took place in the music room. I emerged from the restroom to find Sheila seated at one of a couple dozen four-top tables. I sat with her, eventually joined by my travel mate Jason.

I ordered a Sprite with plenty of ice, in which to dump silver tequila from a water bottle I smuggled in. I’m not rich enough to blow money on NYC bar tabs. Sheila did not share this problem. She laughed when I offered her a shot. Probably a safe idea on her part. No telling what I had in there.

Money seemed to be no object to her. She dressed expensively and drank that way too. She enjoyed a girly cocktail to go with her tequila shots. A lot of tequila shots.

“The Chinese drink a lot,” she explained. “

I thought that was Russians,” I replied, for no particular reason.

As the show progressed the shots kept coming. Sheila happily shared them with multiple people and became a fluttering social butterfly. The fully emerged from the social shell she described to me earlier. Perhaps she drank more in celebration of this.

Jason, “Sheila”, and me. Before the liquor took hold.
Our view of the stage.

Miraculous foresight allowed me to get Sheila’s number before her condition cratered. She enjoyed Jazz is Phish so much I wanted to take her to the see actual Phish in a couple of hours. “You should at least come and see the scene outside the show,” I suggested. “You need to go to Penn Station to get a train back to Hoboken anyway, right?”

Sheila chuckled at this notion. “I don’t take train. I take Uber.” she explained, suddenly looking even richer.

Given this information, I checked the StubHub ticket prices for the Phish concert. $225 for the upper, upper level. Maybe she’d pay it without flinching?

The current performance wrapped up about thirty minutes later, and so did Sheila’s night. As far as she knew. When we stood to move to the bar area and exit she staggered into me. So much for the high alcohol tolerance she touted earlier.

She made it about ten steps before completely collapsing. The waitress that over-served her helped me catch her before she hit the floor. I dragged her to a dining room area that included a couch. Not sure if it was there to comfort obliterated patrons, but it served that purpose well.

I didn’t care for the waitress. She lost me earlier when she hit me for a $20 minimum. “You only spent four dollars. It is minimum twenty dollars,” she barked in a Russian accent. One would think the $100+ tab she ran up on Sheila would’ve covered the table. Then again, you’d think the waitress would’ve kept a slender young woman from drinking a pint of tequila in ninety minutes. All she cared about was jacking up that tab.

Now a bouncer had joined the action at the couch. We tried laying Sheila flat on the couch in hopes she’d just pass out. Instead she felt like going somewhere. Like a toddler squirming to get out of a car seat or a playpen. I played the role of safety bar, sitting in the middle with my long arm reaching across to the arm of the couch. Sheila kept climbing, trying to get to the floor to fall down. Luckily she wasn’t very strong and her sweater felt like cashmere. At one point her instinct was to make out with me. Obviously I refrained, but I liked where her head was.

While this played out, the waitress had Sheila’s phone in front of her frantically trying to get her to unlock it. “I need to call family member! You must give pass code!” Sheila slurred a few numbers that didn’t work. “If you don’t unlock phone, we must call police instead!”

Good ole Apple had the next attempt locked out for fifteen minutes in no time.

Soon the bouncer started talking to me. “She must be on drugs. This can’t be only alcohol.”

I had already established that Sheila was unaware of recreational drugs, just like she didn’t know what jam bands were. That was part of her naivety. “It’s not drugs, dude,” I insisted. “She just drank a ton of tequila, probably on an empty stomach.”

The General Manager (I assume) popped by at one point. “Is she with you?”, he demanded, not at all nicely.

“No. I just met her here.”

“Then why do you have your arms around her?”

“Because I’m the one currently keeping her off your floor, jerk!” Some people. He went away.

After twenty or so minutes I needed to leave. Jason and our friend Ashley were waiting to head to the Phish concert, and I wanted to join instead of corral a drunk girl. It’s not like I was liable. I gave the bouncer my number and told him to call me with an update. He never called.

Roughly four hours later a text volley began between Sheila and me.

I’ll let you know how next time works out.