Last night, fortified with cheap vodka and buoyed by the world’s best push-up bra, I made my way onto a patio packed with Playboy bunnies, bling-bedecked boys, wanna-bes, wallflowers, and the requisite pair of wide-eyed ingenues posing provocatively against a wall in between bouts of violent puking. The beer flowed like water – if water looked and tasted like piss and had a tendency to run out just as you got to the spigot – and the ocean lapped gently at the base of the cliff on which said patio precariously perched. Beer pong balls flew through the sky with astonishing speed, and the low rumble of drunken conversation and thudding bass permeated the air, mingling with the pervasive scent of expensive perfume, cheap cologne, sea salt, and the sickly sweet jungle juice that stained lips, tongues, clothes, shoes, and just about everything else it touched.
I think the party may have had a theme, but other than the ubiquitous throngs of barely-dressed, heavily made-up girls who may or may not have been wearing costumes, it was hard to tell. Either way, it didn’t matter. The night air was cool against my own scantily-clad skin, the alcohol was warm as it coursed through my bloodstream, and the party was just the right combination of exotic strangers, all-too-familiar faces, and that pervasive sense of carefree abandon that seems to spring fully formed from all D.P. balconies at about 11 p.m. on Saturday night.
So why wasn’t I enjoying myself? Sure, the first few minutes of the party were great. The rush of excitement that comes from exiting the swarming throngs of Del Playa. and finally finding your way to the right balcony, where presumably the swarming throngs will be much more stimulating, was there. The pre-party shots I had so wisely gulped down as I was getting ready were hitting me with just the right amount of intensity. And, I had a perfectly attractive guy – a lifeguard no less – shuttling me from party to party, his perfectly-formed arms protectively slung around my bare shoulders. It should have been a great night. It should have been a perfect evening of drinking, dancing, and maybe even a little end-of-the-night mouth-to-mouth with the lifeguard.
There was drinking. There was even a little dancing. But, it was short-lived. I was tired. I wanted to go home. And when it came time for the mouth-to-mouth, all I could think about was getting back to my big, empty bed, putting on my pajamas, and falling asleep to one of my favorite films. I ended up walking home alone; hands in my pockets, and gaze enviously darting from blissful drunk to blissful drunk. Why couldn’t I be enjoying myself like that? Why couldn’t I forget the fact that I had just gotten off a long shift at work and was due to pull an even longer one in the morning? Why couldn’t I just dress up, drink, and debauch with the same reckless abandon that had come so easily just a few months ago?
It would be really easy to blame my revelry reticence on the fact that I’m currently involved in a sort-of-relationship that can best be characterized as something Facebook would file under the “It’s Complicated” tag. I’m sure that had a lot to do with my reluctance to explore the lifeguard’s mouth-to-mouth skills, not to mention my overall discomfort with the sheer volume of bad pickup lines I was being bombarded with. Why is it that as soon as you mentally take yourself off the market, the whole world wants to take you home? But, under normal circumstances, the mere fact of having someone to whom my loyalty and affections are already attached would never stop me from enjoying myself at a party. So, I really doubt that was the problem. It must have been something else.
As I made the long walk home, I couldn’t help but run through possible reasons for my odd behavior. What had changed recently, what was making it so hard for me to just relax and enjoy a night out in I.V.? Then it hit me. With surprise, and quite a bit of sheer horror, I finally realized what was going on. I had turned 21. I had turned 21, and swept up in the excitement of finally being able to go to bars, I had been spending most of my off-hours in downtown nightspots rather than at I.V. house parties. Could it be that I had turned into one of those people I used to hate who, upon turning 21, started acting like they were too old – and thereby too cool – for the I.V. scene? It couldn’t be.
I love Isla Vista. I love the sheer volume of 18-25 year-olds that rules the city’s streets. I love the anything-goes atmosphere, the combination of laidback, beach-town cool and high-glamour designer style that characterizes the I.V. party scene. I love that everyone knows how to play beer pong, and that every party ends with a cheesy sing-a-long or a late-night burrito run. How could I possibly outgrow a place where appropriate party attire can range from the aforementioned Playboy bunny costumes to caution tape, tuxes to tinfoil, swimsuits to sports jerseys? That wasn’t supposed to happen for at least another year.
So, what was going on? As I turned the corner onto my street, I saw a girl being propped up by two friends. Her dress was falling off, her hair was disheveled, and she was clearly struggling to stand upright. As she narrowly avoided walking into a parked car, I recognized a bit of myself in her – especially the parked car thing, since my one brush with a potential drunk in public ticket stemmed from the exact same behavior. I have been there, and I have since learned that I don’t like spending all night trying not to puke only to wake up in the morning with no recollection of the previous evening’s activities.
Sure, I love to drink. Don’t get me wrong. I will gladly pound vodka Red Bulls, Jaeger Rockstars, and pretty much any combination of booze and energy drink I can get my hands on. I’m also a newly-minted beer and wine connoisseur, with a soft spot for Hefeweizen, Skinny Dip, big pitchers of Gio’s Blonde, and almost any white wine. But, with alcohol so readily available at bars (go figure) I find that I’m often tempted to drink less. I don’t have to fill up on whatever’s available just to ensure I get a good buzz going before it runs out, and getting wasted isn’t the only form of amusement available to me. There’s much more dancing, much much more conversing, and at the inimitable Elsie’s, there’s even Ms. Pac-Man to play. When it comes down to it, I think it’s not so much that I’ve outgrown the I.V. party scene, but that I’ve outgrown the desire to trek up and down D.P. looking for a party that may still have alcohol left, all for lack of anything better to do.
I.V. parties can still be a lot of fun, but after three years of living with the consequences of my intoxicated actions, I’ve learned that reckless abandon isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe growing up isn’t so much about learning a different, more mature way of living. Maybe it’s just about learning how to live with yourself. And, I guess I’ve learned that as much fun as late-night mouth-to-mouth with a luscious lifeguard is, being able to wake up in the morning without any second-thoughts or unwanted hickies, is much more my style.
I don’t think I’m going to be shelving my costumes and caution tape for good, but I do think it’s time to reexamine my partying priorities. As the school year starts up again, I think it’s time for more parties at my house, more quality time with friends, and more activities centered around something other than the mere consumption of alcohol. It’s my last year in the rabbit hole that is Isla Vista, and once my friends come back from their respective summer vacations, I intend to take full advantage of it – albeit in a way that works for me. In the meantime, I’ll be practicing my Ms. Pac-Man.