About time too. After a string of Spotifyesque delays, my latest book – The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations – is finally available in the US (Kindle! iBooks!).
TechCrunch readers will find a host of familiar characters in the book, which follows my adventures living (and almost dying) in hotels. It explains how I came to be best friends with Sarah Lacy (who is responsible in large part for my not being dead) and reveals how Mike Arrington gave me a job when no-one else wanted anything to do with me. On less traumatic, more amusing tech notes, it reveals how I was fired from the Guardian, the background to my semi-infamous hit-job on LeWeb, and how I once hijacked a MySpace-branded bus at the Future of Web Apps conference (and drunkenly threw a table at Jason Calacanis).
But the tech world is just a small part of the book. A few months back, Mike took particular delight in flagging the chapter in which I wake up very drunk and very, very naked in the corridor of a New York hotel. Here then, to mark the US launch of the book, to amuse Mike, and to remind me why I’m still sober after 634 days, is an exclusive extract from that chapter. Enjoy my embarrassment, do…
Chapter Two: Naked Brunch
Wednesday 20 February 2008. Virgin Atlantic ﬂight VS045 from Heathrow to JFK. I remember it vividly.
As we began our descent into JFK, passing low over Long Island and the tightly packed houses with backyard swimming pools that seem to cluster on the approach to every airport in America, I remember feeling happy, and strangely organized. Like a schoolboy beginning a fresh exercise book, I had neatly copied my two-month travel and accommodation plan on to the ﬁrst page of a brand new Moleskine.
The last thing I’d done before going through to departures was to drop the key to my apartment in the mail to my (former) landlady along with a letter, politely but ﬁrmly telling her where to stick her rent hike. Now I had no ties, no ﬁxed abode, and no responsibilities beyond a nightly hotel budget and the travel plan scribbled in a little black notebook.
The ﬁnal plan I’d made, in the cab to the hotel, was to cut down on drinking for a while. London had given my liver a thrashing. I’d read online that one of the signs of liver failure was a yellowing of the eyeballs and horizontal white lines across the ﬁngernails. The fact that I’d looked up those symptoms in the ﬁrst place, let alone that I was now checking for them every morning, suggested a month on the wagon might not be a bad thing. Instead of boozing, I’d drink orange juice and eat salads and go for long walks around the city. I’d get healthy again.
Oh yes, I remember that all very clearly.
The airport, the ﬂight, the planning, the cab, the plan to stop drinking. I remember checking into the hotel and putting my bag in my room. I remember having a shower and changing my shirt. I remember deciding to head out for a walk to orientate myself – to get a feel for where the local dry-cleaners and restaurants and bars could be found. I remember – ah, here we go, yes – I remember ﬁnding an Irish pub that looked friendly – Something O’Something’s – there was a plastic leprechaun, I deﬁnitely remember that – and I remember noticing the pretty brunette with the ponytail, wearing a CUNY sweatshirt and sitting on her own. She was reading Down and Out in Paris and London which I remember I’d used as my opening line. ‘I’ve always found the Rough Guides to be more reliable than Orwell…’
I shook my head, hoping it would hasten the return, if not of my memory then at least of the rest of my vision.
I had a dim recollection of a bottle of wine and a conversation about how she was studying Contemporary World Literature. I’m sure I found a way – after we’d drunk, I think, shots of sambuca – to mention that I was a soon-to-be-published author, but at the same time to shrug it off like it was no big deal. I’m pretty sure we left the Irish bar and went to another place down the street where her friends were celebrating – what? – something.
There was a bottle of Champagne. But after that – nothing. I can’t remember how I got back to the hotel. And I have absolutely no idea what possible set of circumstances led to my being slumped on the ﬂoor, head leaning against the closed door of my room. I shook my head again and slowly I started to focus on how long my hotel room was. And narrow. Weird. And that’s when I realized the ﬁrst of my two problems. I was slumped against my hotel room – I had that right – but, rather than being inside the room, I was outside, in the corridor. The second of my problems – and certainly the most pressing – was that I was stark fucking naked.
Think, think, think… how the hell had I got there? Were my clothes inside my room? And, if so, had I made it into the room, undressed, and for some reason walked outside again? And if not – oh God – had I walked naked through the hotel?
My brain simply wasn’t capable of processing all of these questions. All I knew is that I had to get back into my room before anyone saw me. I tried the door. Locked, obviously. I gave it a half-hearted shove with my shoulder and immediately fell back down to the ﬂoor, still drunk. ‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘maybe that explains the slumping.’
I had no other option: I’d have to go down to the lobby and ask someone to let me in. I looked up and down the corridor. When this happens in movies, there’s always some appropriately-comedic piece of bric-a-brac that can be pressed into service as a covering: a moose’s head, a vase, something like that.
Not in real life. The corridors in the hotel didn’t have windows; there weren’t even any curtains. No windows also meant I had no way of ﬁguring out what time it was. What if I’d been slumped there for hours? What if it was 10 a.m. and a nice family with young children was checking in and the ﬁrst thing they saw was a naked Brit emerging drunkenly from the elevator into the lobby, not-so-proudly cupping his genitals in his hands? That’s no way to start a vacation. It is, however, a great way to start a lawsuit.
My only lucky break was that I’d been given a room right opposite the elevators. I pressed the call button and the door opened straight away, which was good – it meant less time in the corridor – but also potentially bad as it meant someone had arrived at my ﬂoor not long before. I prayed that person had been me. As the car made its way downwards I caught a glimpse of my pathetic reﬂection in the elevator’s mirrored walls. ‘Dear God, Paul, you’re a mess’ I thought out loud.
Finally, the doors opened and I peered out into the lobby, trying my best to keep the rest of my body out of sight. All was calm and still, thank God; the clock behind the reception desk said 4.25 a.m. The only witness to my humiliation would be a solitary night porter sitting behind the reception desk, reading a magazine.
‘¡Ay Dios mıo!‘
And a tiny Hispanic cleaner, mopping the ﬂoor right next to the elevator. I hadn’t noticed her.
‘Lo siento,’ I said. My two words of Spanish.
‘Don’t worry, Maria, I’ll go.’ said the night porter, looking up boredly from his magazine. It was an interesting choice of words, ‘I’ll go’, as if this kind of thing – naked men walking out of the elevators at four in the morning – happened at the hotel every night.
He picked up a master key from behind the desk and ambled towards the elevator. Even though I was still shit-faced drunk, the next thirty seconds – which took the form of about three and a half years – were the most embarrassing of my life. I stood at one side of the elevator, still naked, ass pressed against the wall, genitals still cupped in my hands, while the tall night porter – I think he was Russian – stood as far on the other side as possible. ‘Sorry about this,’ I said.
He didn’t say a word.
A few hours later – 11a.m. – I woke up in my hotel bed and, for a few blissful minutes, I completely forgot about my naked elevator adventure.
I don’t normally get headaches with hangovers, but this morning was different. My skull felt like it was full of burning sand – burning sand that was leaking down my throat. Stupid sambuca. I stood up and walked to the bathroom.
Must drink water. Lots of water.
I turned on the tap above the sink and put my face in the bowl, letting the stream of water run over the back of my head and down the sides of my face. Then I tilted my head upwards and started lapping from the tap. Forget Evian or Perrier: there is no more delicious water than hangover water.
After gulping down about half my body weight of the stuff, I shut off the tap and stood back up, gripping the sides of the sink for support, water dripping from my hair down the rest of my body. That’s when I caught a glimpse of my naked self in the mirror. And that’s when the ﬁrst ﬂashback came.
There was no other mature course of action; I had to get out of there.
Extract from The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations (The Disinformation Company) reproduced with permission. The book is available now on Kindle and iBooks. The US paperback will be published in 2012.