The taxi took a wrong turn and the bank machine I stopped at was out of money. I had a number of excuses as to why I was going to be late to the cocktail party, and while the cabbie did take a circuitous route, and I did have to walk a few blocks out of the way before finding an ATM that was stocked with greenbacks, the main reason that I walked into Chad’s apartment late was because I was dreading another get-together with politico-religious zealots.
I’ll stay one hour, then bolt out of there. I’ll tell them I have to get up early for work.
But it’s Saturday, some will say.
And I’ll respond, yes, but an investment banker’s work is never done.
There was no hoopla or camaraderie when I entered. Chad and some of his friends were gathered in a circle sipping Chardonnay as I crept up on them like the Hong Kong flu.
“But I digress,” said Chad.
“Digress from what?” I asked and shook Chad’s hand. He was pleased to see me.
“The Rosicrucian order, seventeenth century Paris,” said Chad before making some brief introductions of his Yale fraternity brothers.
“Well, don’t let me stop you.” I went off to mingle.
At the bar I decided to make myself a drink; something exotic with a real kick that might even call for a tiny pink parasol and a wedge of lime. The only glass I could find that wasn’t fluted was a pewter mug. I poured in some bourbon, a dash of Liquore Galliano, a smidgen of bitters, a touch of scotch, some of this and some of that.
Chad was working a summer internship at the firm I worked for. I also knew him when I attended Yale for one semester before transferring to NYU.
The only reason I went to Chad’s cocktail parties was in hope of meeting a nice girl; preferably an artist type, which was a long shot, or at least one who wasn’t so consumed with assets or what kind of car you drove.
Anyway, when I went to take a sip of my drink I nearly chipped a tooth. Whatever I put in that mug had turned to gold. And when I say gold, I’m not just talking about the hue. This was the real thing; a solidified blob of bullion. Solid fucking gold. I had just performed alchemy in a two-bedroom flat on the Upper Eastside.
At first I thought it was a joke, a fraternity stunt that his brothers were playing on me, so I quietly pulled Chad aside and told him I had something to show him.
“Where did you get this mug?” Chad’s tone was laced with anxiety.
“I found it on the shelf,” I said. “Look inside of it. You’re not going to believe it.”
“No, you don’t understand. You’re not supposed to use that mug.”
“Forget about that. Look inside.”
“But you’re not in the club. You’re not…” Chad sighed. He was completely flustered.
“Relax. Okay? I’m sorry. What club?”
“Skull and Bones,” he whispered. “That’s a ceremonial chalice.”
I surreptitiously lowered the mug to my hip, and told Chad I’d go into the kitchen and clean it out.
“Then just put it back on the shelf where it belongs,” he huffed, and walked back to his buddies who were now pantomiming tennis volleys in silent braggadocio.
The chunk of gold was stuck in the mug, so I grabbed a butter knife to try to dislodge it but wound up making a series of dings. I got so flustered with trying to get the gold out that I started banging the mug repeatedly on the counter. Chad came running into the kitchen when he heard the commotion.
“What’s going on in here?”
“What was all that noise?”
“Just chopping some ice.” I said, concealing the mug behind my back the whole time.
When Chad returned to the living room, I rummaged through the kitchen drawers looking for a screwdriver, but by now the mug was bent to shit.
For some reason or another, I knew that pewter melts at only 450 degrees Fahrenheit and that gold melts at a much higher temperature, something like 1940 degrees Fahrenheit, so I turned the oven on. While it heated up, I went back to the bar and tried to reenact my alchemistic trick in a wine glass. Some of this, some of that, but to no avail.
I turned and stood facing the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in my life. Her name was Monica and we immediately struck up a conversation. She told me she was studying graphic design at Pratt, and I became so rapt in her beauty that I completely forgot about the mug in the oven — that is, until smoke started pouring out of the kitchen.
Second later, the sprinkler system went off, but by then Chad’s kitchen was engulfed in flames.
We were standing on the street when the third fire truck pulled up, and Monica seemed pretty upset. Granted, it was nothing compared to the delirious frenzy Chad was exhibiting as he watched his apartment go up in flames.
I asked Monica why she looked so glum.
“Oh, it’s just that some of my sorority sisters gave me a gag gift because they think I’m really materialistic and only concerned about money. And I left it in the apartment.”
“Oh, really? What was it?” I said, watching the smoke spiral out from the windows of Chad’s apartment and refuse to dissipate in the night sky.
“Promise not to laugh, but they had my birth control diaphragm plated in 14-carat gold. Gosh, it was so embarrassing. I put it in some mug I found on the shelf,” she said. “By the way, do you happen to have any idea at what temperature gold melts?”
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
Michael McDonnell is currently working as a journalist for the entertainment section of a northern New Jersey newspaper.