The Last Day of My Twenties + A Decade of Hangovers

Actual footage of me while hungover

On the day before I turned 30, I woke up in the same state I had been in throughout much of my twenties; incredibly, deathly hungover. My best intentions to take it easy, drink water between each drink, eat something before drinking, and only drink red wine didn’t work, exactly the way they hadn’t worked so many times before.
We’d had a work event on a boat, cruising around the Hudson River, and got back onto land around 8pm. I followed groups of friends to a bar somewhere near Soho – I don’t know where – and instead of sticking with red wine I drank beer and vodka as it was handed to me.

After a few of those, I walked with my friend to the Prince Street subway and kept going to meet another friend at a bar on Mulberry Street. I wanted to feel like a grown up on the last night of my twenties, so I ordered three cocktails, and then listened to U2 on the subway ride back to Brooklyn and on my walk home. When I got home, I danced around my room for a bit, took my makeup off, put my on my pajamas and went to bed, really thinking I would be fine in the morning. The fact I remembered to take off my makeup, change out of my clothes, and turn the light off is some kind of miracle. I have woken up many times fully clothed, sometimes with one or both shoes on, with mascara on my face and the light on.

I spent the last day of my twenties feeling like I was going to die. I decided getting on the subway would be a mistake – no one wants to be that sick passenger causing havoc – and got a Lyft Line into work. As we barreled through potholes in Brooklyn Heights before dropping off the other passenger, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it in. I discreetly threw up in the plastic bag I’d brought for emergencies, and sat back hoping that would be it for the rest of the journey.

The driver noticed and handed me a box of tissues when the other passenger got out, and opened the door for me when we arrived at my office. I went straight to the bathroom, and spent most of the morning there until I got myself to 7-11 and got a Coke slurpee. This is my go-to hangover cure, something I started back when I was 18 and hangovers weren’t even that bad, and it has served me well ever since. In Australia, I can get frozen Coke from McDonald’s, but since they don’t have that here in America I have to rely on the 7-11s scattered sparsely around the city and Brooklyn to get my fix.

I have had some awful hangovers in my time, and while I’ve often been lucky enough that I can just stay in bed and ride it out until later in the day, there have been a lot of times where I’ve had to get myself to work or to meet friends. I’ve decided to write about the worst hangovers I’ve had in my twenties – the ones when I haven’t been able to stay in bed and hope for the best – as a memoir to some of the great times I’ve had… and maybe as a reason to ease off on the binge-drinking now that I am 30 and meant to be an adult.

The Time I Got Sent Home from Work:
Age: 23
Occasion: Drinks with work friends at Cruise Bar
Drink: Wine before I went out, then a mix of things – cocktails, shots, and black Smirnoffs
Details: I met some work friends at Cruise Bar, a place down near the Sydney Opera House/Harbour Bridge. Friends I hadn’t seen in a while bought me shots and one girl tricked me into buying us black Smirnoffs.
I fell over as I got out of the taxi when I got home and broke my watch – and bruised my leg – and then woke up early the next day with the lights on. I had to go to work in the city, so I walked there very slowly, and bought myself a Boost Juice, hoping the sugar would help. It didn’t. I had to keep going into the backroom to throw up in the sink in between serving customers, and eventually my boss sent me home. I went to bed, then dragged myself out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, where I drank about three glasses of coke and ate fried rice. Hangover cured.

Another Time I Got Sent Home from Work:

Age: 24
Occasion: Party where I didn’t really know many people
Drink: White wine pre-drunk, then whatever I could find at the party (yes, I was that person)
Details: I went to a party with my friend, and drank too much because I didn’t know many people there and felt self-conscious. I ended up going home with someone, we made out while listening to ‘The National Anthem’ by Radiohead (by the way, that song is not sexy at all, and I don’t recommend listening to anything from Kid A if you’re going to make out with someone), and then I got a taxi home the next morning.
I went to sleep for a couple of hours until it was time for me to go to work, and when I got there I threw up in a bucket in the backroom until my boss sent me home. I went home, had a can of Coke, and slept until I had to go watch and review The Whitest Boy Alive at Sydney Festival.

The Time I Wasn’t Allowed to Go Home from Work:
Age: 27
Occasion: Work party
Drink: Beer, cider… and then by some reports whiskey drank out of the bottle. Shots, probably
Details: We had a work party that started in the afternoon. I had lunch, then thought I would be smart and only drink one kind of alcohol that day. This was ruined when the first bar we went to had shit beer and I had to switch to cider. Then, my team won the Trivia competition and we were awarded a free cocktail, and it was downhill from there. We went to a karaoke place, and someone (not me. Really, not me) stole a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar. He brought it into the karaoke room where my friend and I were singing Amy Winehouse, Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Billy Ocean, and by some accounts I was swigging it out of the bottle.
I got to work late the next day, spent most of the morning in the bathroom throwing up, until I managed to walk to Harbourside Shopping Centre and get a frozen Coke from McDonald’s. My boss would not let me go home and told me to “Wait it out until 5pm.”

The Time I Threw Up in My Car:
Age: 27
Occasion: Night on Oxford Street
Drink: Vodka
Details: My friend and I went to The Annandale to watch a singer he likes – who we didn’t realize would be going on stage at 11pm, so we left before she came on – and had drinks at my place before we went to Palms. I had recently come back from the USA and had a lot of duty free vodka to share. We drank that at my place as we waited for another friend of ours to finish work, and then went to Palms, our favorite place on Oxford Street.
The next day, I had brunch plans with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I forced myself to get to the café to meet her, and she was feeling just as bad as I was. She was suffering from a migraine and threw up in the bathroom, and then decided to go home to bed. We cancelled our food orders but I stupidly drank my coffee thinking I would be OK. But I wasn’t. I went to get a frozen Coke on my way home, and threw up on myself and in my car as I was driving.

The Time I Had to Drive for Three Hours:
Age: 28
Occasion: Work party (seeing a theme here?)
Drink: Vodka, sparkling wine, red wine, vodka
Details: We had a work conference up at the Hunter Valley, and then we were having our Christmas party afterwards. I had driven two of my friends there because I knew I would be in no mood to spend three hours on a bus with work people the day after. They had given us little bottles of alcohol, and I drank mine in the hotel room before the party. I started drinking sparkling wine, then switched to red wine, and then switched to vodka when they stared serving spirits at the next part of the party.
I woke up in my hotel room, fully clothed, and couldn’t get myself out of bed to leave for hours. I drove one of my friends back to Sydney with me, got two frozen cokes at McDonald’s, but had to stop the car to throw up. Luckily, this was not on the freeway, but on a country road where there were no cars behind me and it was safe to stop.

The Time I Lost My Passport:
Age: 28
Occasion: Work party
Drink: Vodka, maybe one beer
Details: I went to a work party on a boat, and didn’t know many people. I drank too much to over-compensate, and then went with one of my work friends to his apartment before we went to another event. I didn’t think the second event would have free spirits, but it did, so I just carried on drinking vodka.
I got a $50 Uber from Chelsea home to Williamsburg, passed out with the lights on, woke up with a pizza stain on my dress and the crushing realization I had to get to work. I texted my boss to tell him I’d be late, and got an Uber pool to East 42nd Street. I didn’t throw up in that car, but I threw up in the garden outside while I was waiting, and as soon as I found a bathroom in the office. I didn’t realize this at the time but I along with my dignity, I lost my passport that night. Good work, drunk Justine.

I know that reading this will make some of you, if not all, think that I am an alcoholic. I have those thoughts sometimes too, and while I appreciate the concern, I really don’t think this is the case. I have noticed my hangovers are worst when I don’t eat, or don’t eat enough, before I start drinking.

Mixing alcohol is a bad idea, but then, so is drinking too much of anything. I am an optimistic drunk, I often think everything will be fine from a certain point, and I have a lot of friends who are the same way. I do know my limits, I do know what to do to ensure I don’t have a terrible hangover the next day but I’m often having such a good time that I just forget.

Perhaps turning 30 will help me to become more mature and better at making decisions when I have things to do the day after a night out, and these kinds of hangovers will become less frequent. Or maybe I’ll stop making myself feel guilty for having a good time, and just accept it. Self-acceptance is what getting older is about, isn’t it?

The Cranky Spinster in Barbados

I went on a vacation to Barbados. I was there for a week, partly to escape New York in February, and partly because I needed to get my visa replaced. When you lose your passport, like I did because I am a drunk idiot, you have to get your visa put into the new one. The easiest way to do so is to go out of the country and go through the whole application process again at a Consulate.

I didn’t want to go all the way back to Australia and the flights to Barbados were cheap. Everyone in the “Australians in New York” Facebook group who had been to Barbados recommended it, and so off I went, excited for some sun and a chance to relax.

I arrived around 1am and the hotel I’d booked for the week was not worth what I’d paid. The “king size bed” was two smaller beds pushed together and there was a big dip in the middle. The bathroom was dirty, and the WiFi didn’t work. I got out of there the next day and found a deal at a much nicer hotel a little bit further south in Dover.

I hadn’t slept well the night before. I was stressed out about my Consulate appointment, and angry about the bed. I’d waited for a long time at the Consulate, and I’d been rushing around the whole morning trying to find a SIM card and a new hotel.

By the time I went to check in, after I’d been at the beach all afternoon, a big group of school kids were checking in too. Half the group were staying next door to me, and the other half were above me. They were doing what school kids do. Running around, yelling to each other instead of talking, and slamming doors every few minutes.

I remembered myself at that age on a school trip in Sydney. Two of my friends decided to dye their hair in our hostel room. Our teacher caught them, and yelled at them to go to bed because she thought it was too late to dye hair. Since they’d already mixed the dye, they put it in the fridge and decided to finish it in the morning. This was a very bad idea.

Early the next morning, they got up and started using the dye again. When they opened the bottle, it exploded and hit one of my friends in the eye. She started screaming that she was going blind, the other friend with the dye started screaming she was sorry, and the rest of us started screaming at them to shut the fuck up. Another girl went to get a teacher, and when they came back our teacher screamed at them: “We came to here to sing, not to dye your FRICKING HAIR!!” In hindsight, we all knew that, and having someone else screaming at 6am probably didn’t help.

I didn’t really think about the other people on our floor in the hostel back then, but when I was faced with a group of young girls in the room next to me at the hotel in Barbados, I realized we really must have pissed some people off.

These girls were from somewhere in northern England. My guess is Leeds but I couldn’t be completely sure. (That’s not really relevant. An unwelcome American accent is just as annoying as an unwelcome English accent.)

I called the reception desk and asked them to tell the teachers to keep them quiet, and the guy who answered politely reminded me: “They’re children on a holiday,”

“I don’t care!” I said. “What about my holiday? I’m trying to relax here.”
“OK,” he said “I’ll tell the teacher to pass on the message but just remember, we’re dealing with children here.”

After they’d slammed the door for the fifth time and they’d yelled at girls in a room on the floor above to come and see what some guy had just put on Snapchat, I yelled “SHUT UP!”

This of course didn’t help. If anything, it made them worse. I know if anyone had told us to shut up back in the hostel, we wouldn’t have listened and purposely been even louder to annoy them. But, I was running on no sleep, and I was over it.

They eventually went to dinner at the front of the hotel, and I saw them as I was walking out to find somewhere to eat. I think they knew I was the one who yelled at them and for a minute, I was scared of a group of 13-year-old girls.
Then I remembered I am an adult.

Not that being an adult changed the way I was feeling or my reaction, or made me realize that I was in fact, being a fucking petty idiot. No. Remembering I’m an adult made me realize I am smarter than them, so I could get them back another way.

I considered leaving empty beer bottles out the front of their room, or getting a packet of cigarettes to smoke and then leaving the butts in the doorway so their teachers would see it in the morning and they’d get in trouble. But I didn’t, and settled instead on pushing their wet towels, swimmers, and uniforms off the railing where they were drying.

The thought of these girls ruining my relaxing vacation made me very angry, and I wasn’t going to let them do that without getting back at them in some way. Some may argue that by being angry at something I couldn’t control, I was making it worse for myself. Yes, thank you Captain Obvious, but this was my vacation and I will, generally, do what makes me feel good. And at that time, knocking girls’ wet clothes off a railing made me feel good.

Would I have reacted in the same way if I was younger? I know I would have been just as annoyed. I probably wouldn’t have been as tired, since a night without sleep was a lot easier at 22 than it is at 29. I don’t think I would have stayed in the hotel that afternoon when they arrived. I would have just gone for a walk, or to the beach, or to the hotel bar. But I’d been out all afternoon, and just wanted time alone in my hotel room.

There was a moment, maybe just after I’d screamed at them to shut up through the wall, when I felt very old. Like a cranky old spinster who has no patience for kids, and who wants to go and speak to the manager all the time. Even if I had done the same – yelled at kids through a wall at a hotel – when I was younger, I wouldn’t have felt as guilty or as conflicted.

I’m not a patient person, and I probably never will be. I’ve accepted this fact about myself and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I am bothered that the man at the reception desk didn’t take my concern seriously – probably should have asked to speak to the manager – and that when I tell this story, I’m fitting the stereotype of the old person yelling and shaking their fist at those innocent kids just having fun.

It’s a hard thing to admit to yourself, that you are getting older and in turn, beginning to act like those old people who put an end to all the fun you were having when you were a child. I didn’t consider the other people staying at the hostel during the hair dye incident, and I also didn’t consider my teacher. How annoyed would she have been having someone wake her up at 6am, to be told that two 16-year-old girls had an accident with some hair dye?

While I am, in fact, a cranky person rapidly approaching 30, it doesn’t mean I want to be judged on it. Is there a way to age, call people out on their shit behavior, and not be labelled a cranky old spinster? I know there will be more situations like this when I reach and move past 30. Maybe I’ll become better at handling them and not resort to throwing people’s clothes on the ground or yelling at them to “Shut up!”

Or maybe I’ll just accept myself as an impatient bitch who’s got no time for kids and their shit, regardless of my age.

Nostalgia Blurs My Memory

At least once a week, I think of leaving my job and starting over. I hear stories of people who decided their office jobs weren’t serving them any more and made that change without having anything new planned a lot. I hear stories about people developing something on the side, and then leaving whatever terrible thing they were doing to pursue that. You can’t look through Facebook, read a travel website, or scroll through Instagram without seeing another person who’s “following their dreams”, “living their best life” or making it as a travel blogger/influencer/social media something or other.

I’m deeply envious of these people and I think about doing this a lot. I also remember back to when I was a student at University, working in retail, and I start to idealize it. I worked for Telstra, through dodgy resellers, for two years. In that time I was yelled at, ripped off by my bosses, threatened with cameras from A Current Affair – not by someone who actually worked for A Current Affair by the way, just some random guy who thought they’d tell his story if he approached them – and called arrogant, a bitch, awful.

That two years of dealing with the public’s problems in Grafton and on the Gold Coast turned into another four years of the same, but at Vodafone in Sydney. The trends continued there too. I was blamed for phones with shattered screens, phones with water damage, phones that didn’t connect to the internet, phones that dropped their calls, phones that were too big, phones that were too small, and was yelled at more times than I care to remember.

A man told me that in 20 years he was sure if he came back into the store I would still be working there – I so badly wanted to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to come into the store then, because he would be dead – and a woman screamed at me for telling her to wait a minute before I could serve her. She later came back, brought me a juice, and apologized. A woman shamed me for having my top shirt buttons undone, even though I was wearing a singlet underneath, and another woman asked me if I had my period when I said I wasn’t feeling well.

I had to balance my shifts there with internships and other low-paying part time jobs I’d taken, and I was perpetually broke. I was tired and stressed out about what was going to happen if my boss decided he hated me and didn’t want to give me any more shifts. I had to balance all of that with University – amateur journalist and retail worker by day, student by night – and try to pass the course I’d signed up to pay a lot of money for.

And even with all that, I look back on that time and miss it. Even though I lived on bread, vegemite, sausages, lentil bolognese (a recipe I still use if I’m trying to save money) and cheap wine. I put it to anyone who hasn’t struggled with money at any time in their lives to try to feed themselves with $30 a week. I did it, and surprisingly wasn’t crazy overweight from just eating bread, sausages, and pasta. I also highly recommend drinking $5 bottles of white wine to get drunk before you go out. Doing so will give you the worst hangover of your life – at least you won’t feel like eating the next day so you can save some money – and it may also turn you off white wine forever.

Even though I was so broke I knew which ATMs – shout out to the NAB ATM down in Haymarket, and the Commbank ATM in Bondi Beach – would let me overdraw my account when I ran out of money. I remember that adrenaline running through my body, my heart pounding as I listened for the whir of the cash wheel to tell me if I was going to be able to eat that week or not.

Even though I stole $50 from a wallet I found on the street because I was so desperate for money. I was congratulated and clapped when I ran into the woman it belonged to at the police station, knowing full well she would know what I’d done and hate me when she counted her cash.

Even though I couldn’t afford to go out for dinner, concerts, events as often as I would have liked. Even though I couldn’t afford to go on holidays, weekends away, or to fill up my car with petrol sometimes. Even though I had to sneak alcohol into clubs, drink bottles of cheap wine before I went out, or rely on the kindness of strangers to get drunk with my friends. Or walk home at 3am because I couldn’t afford a taxi.

Now, I make a lot of money. I can take Ubers or taxis. I can go overseas. I can buy things for my apartment, have food delivered, drink top shelf liquor. Experience New York the way it should be experienced, without limits.
And with all the comfort my job gives me, I find myself nostalgic for that time. I think about how I used to be able to sleep in before my class. How I used to be able to stay up until 3am reading and writing. How I used to be able to walk out of work and not think about it anymore, even when someone had yelled at me for a problem I didn’t cause.

I didn’t have to argue with clients, justify my opinions and ideas, and feel left out in meetings; surrounded by people who are more passionate than I am. I didn’t have to check my email on days off. I didn’t have to pretend to care about something that I was only doing to pay my bills.

I’m nostalgic for that time because I didn’t feel the pressure of getting older or the “should” factor. I was hard on myself back then, of course, but I’m a Virgo and a perfectionist so I suspect that even if I win some kind of Pulitzer Prize I’ll be hating on myself for not doing it sooner, or thinking I should have moved that comma on page two before I published it. It was more acceptable as a 24 year old student to not be sure about what was next, than it is to be almost 30 and considering starting over. I know that even considering this highlights me as a huge fucking millennial cliché.

“Oh, poor little millennial. Isn’t satisfied with life. Isn’t satisfied with a stable job and a pay check. Typical spoilt snowflake.”

To anyone who thinks that, especially if you’re of an older generation, I’d like to tell you right now to fuck off. This is the world I live in. A world where the opportunities seem endless. A world where you can live basically anywhere and make a living. A world where we’re faced with uncertainty every single day, a world where we make more decisions before we even leave the house than you would have made in a whole day 20 years ago.

It isn’t the case for us that the job you get at 20 is the job you keep until you can retire at 65. It isn’t the case for us that the most common path is to find a partner, marry them, buy a house, and have children. We have more choices and, subsequently, more uncertainty. Questioning your job and path is not unique but it’s different now to 30 years ago, when the path you’d chosen at 25 was probably going to be the one you stayed on forever.

Why are my feelings of dissatisfaction, of nostalgia for poverty and University, so deep now? It’s a combination of exhaustion – from pretending I care when I don’t – and the pressure that comes from turning 30. I thought I would be satisfied making money and living in my favorite city, and everything that goes along with it, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m living a lie. This isn’t impostor syndrome – it’s not that I don’t think I’m good at what I do – it’s that pretending to care about a job and an industry that exists purely to invade people’s privacy to get data about them, and then uses that data to try to sell them a product they don’t particularly want or need is really starting to get to me.

I’ve written before about my search for something more meaningful, more personally satisfying, and my uncertainty about what that is. The uncertainty is still there, but the push towards the idea is getting stronger. The longer I’m forced to sit in meetings and discuss ways to tell a consumer to buy something stupid, the stronger this will get.

I can only hope that as I approach 30, the solution will become clear. I know I’m not the only one who feels this dissatisfaction, the need for something more meaningful, especially as I get closer to 30. I just hope I’m not the only one who wants to talk about it, explore it, and listen to that feeling instead of pushing it away.

Crying on the Phone – A Confession

Have you ever cried while on a work phone call? I have. Multiple times. Partly because the people I was talking to were really mean to me, and partly because I’m so unhappy with myself for making choices that led to me getting paid to listen to people agonize over tiny, pointless details.

I don’t cry out loud of course. If I can manage to hold back the tears until we say goodbye, I do, and then let loose as soon as I hang up. If I can’t, I ask them a question I know they’ll take a long time to answer, put myself on mute and sob. I always have a glass of water next to me – taking a sip slows my breathing down and helps me not sound like I’ve just been crying – so I have some of that as they wind up their answer and it’s my turn to start talking again.

It wasn’t always like this. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t to do with turning 30. I was doing the exact same thing when I lived in Sydney, and when I was 27, but I didn’t cry this much. If I was going to cry, it was because I was tired, frustrated, or I felt that I’d disappointed my boss.

Now I cry because I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at myself for choosing this path and selling out. I’m mad at myself for not working harder to do something more meaningful, more creative, and mad at myself for making this job the thing that brought me to and keeps me in New York. I’m mad at myself for being nearly 30 and still in a job I don’t love, and for not using the degrees I worked so hard to get.

“So, Justine, what we think is, we should be really focusing on this thing that doesn’t even matter and that probably won’t help us make any more money for our business, and that no one will even care about in a week, let alone a month or a year. What do you think?”

“Ha, what do I think? I think this is a waste of time. I think you’re wasting my time. I think you’re making the world a worse place than it already is, and that your company is pointless and ridiculous. I think I’d like to just hang up the phone, tell my boss I’m never coming back, and walk out. But I can’t do that because I’ve chosen to live in New York, and a condition of living here is that I need to make money. I hate you, I hate this, and I want to die.”

But I don’t say that.

*Unmute* “Yeah, I completely agree with you, we should be focusing on this thing that doesn’t matter! I’ll consider it and come back to you.”

“Good, because we really feel that putting all our time and energy into this pointless exercise will achieve a lot.”

“Yes, I’ll come back to you when I have a better idea.”

I deal with this conflict almost every day. On really bad days, I go for long walks in the East Village, Lower East Side, and Soho to remind myself what I like about being here. And every time I walk across Houston Street, and make the split-second decision to either turn right onto Mott Street or keep going and turn left up First Avenue, I remember what I love. The feeling that the streets have something to say. The knowledge that so many amazing artists, musicians, and writers have walked these streets before me. The way that so many crazy, smart, interesting people can exist in one place.

And when it’s time to go home, I walk to the N/Q or B/D train even if it’s further than going to an R or F stop so I can see that view of the city from Manhattan Bridge. The view that cheers me up in the morning, the view that makes me feel like I’m part of something special, the view that makes me put my phone away so I can take it in without distraction.

I know that if I was younger I wouldn’t feel this way. Working for this company when I was 26 was fun. I had time to decide if I really liked it, and I had time to decide what would come next. I didn’t ever expect to use that job to get to New York, but when the opportunity presented itself it felt right. I was 28 when I fought to come here. Now I’m two months from 30 and dealing with the reality that not everything is possible. Things do change when you get to a certain age.

I’m lucky (or, unlucky depending on who you talk to) in the sense that I don’t have a house, a child, or a marriage to influence any decisions I make. But that still doesn’t make it easy. I could give this up and start again. Go back to University and do something completely different. Be a student, be poor, be irresponsible again. Or I can suck it up. Continue hating what I do because I get to live in a city I love to do it.

I find myself feeling nostalgic for my youth, something I never thought I would say. Things have gotten progressively better for me over the years, and I’ve never been the kind to idealize being young. I don’t want to be a certain age again though, I just want that feeling of simplicity back.

I know what I want to do, but I know that I’ll need to work a little while longer to do it. I also know that seeing very successful people succeed at things I want to do is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I’m inspired because it means people can do what they want in life. On the other, it makes me very jealous and want to give up, because I don’t think my abilities are up there with theirs.

A lot of my friends have made big changes in their lives. Moving overseas, quitting jobs without backups and leaving cities they’ve been in for years to start over. And many of them have done so in their 30s. Amongst all of the negativity around ageing and not being in a certain place by a certain time, there are people who are doing what they feel is best for them, at the time they feel it will work. And you know what? It has worked. All of them are doing great things, and didn’t let that initial fear of failure or feeling of inferiority for not being at a certain place yet stop them.

There’s hope for me, and for everyone else, yet.

Nobu is No Good

I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in the wrong career. I was at some kind of networking meeting at Nobu in Tribeca.

Couple of things:

  1. Nobu is a very expensive sushi restaurant owned by Robert DeNiro. Rich celebrities and other people who want to pretend to be rich for a day go there to spend ridiculous amounts of money on small plates of sushi and pretend it’s worth it for the ‘flavor’ when really, it’s a huge fucking ripoff but no one says so because they don’t want to seem poor. DeNiro sadly wasn’t there when I went, but I don’t even think seeing him could have made that lunch enjoyable.
  2. Tribeca is the most expensive neighborhood in Manhattan. And that’s saying something, given how much it costs to find a place anywhere on that fucking island. Tribeca is where Beyonce and JayZ, Jennifer Lawrence, and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel live.

So there I was, meeting representatives from a company that takes all your data that you thought was private from online shopping sites, and sells it to people like me. We then use it to sell you some more stuff. That you likely don’t need. Yeah, this is a thing, and I’m part of the problem.

It came time to introduce ourselves formally, something American people take very, very seriously. It’s never just, “Hi, my name is Justine, I’m a Supervisor at my company and I’ve been in New York for three months,” which is what I said.

It’s things like: “Hi, I’m such and such from some company, and I’ve been there for three months. I recently made the move to New York, and it’s been super exciting but challenging. I think the highlight for me is selling stuff to people who don’t even need more stuff, super grateful things are going well for me, and I’m super happy to be meeting you and having lunch with you today! I’m super excited to start the conversation about working together and hope we can circle back about it and align on a game plan after today.”

OK so I slightly exaggerated the number of “super”s but the more I listen to Americans speak in business meetings, the more it sounds fake, and like a heap of corporate cliches and over-enthusiasm. I’ve never understood this need everyone has to fucking be excited all the time, and it’s a million times worse when at a meeting like this.

The people hosting us ordered for us – they’d been there before so they knew what to get, or so they said – and as it arrived everyone pretended to not be interested in the food, and just kept talking.

“Oh so you’re from London? That’s great, I love London.”
“Yes, it’s a great city, but not as big as New York! Hahaha.”

“And, you’re Australian? I haven’t been there! But I want to visit.”
“Oh yes, it’s beautiful, but not as exciting as New York! Hahaha.”

I stared at the plate of somewhat disappointing-looking fish and waited for someone to take some, but they kept on pretending to be really interested in small talk.

“Oh, so such and such isn’t at your company any more?”
“No, they left a little while ago. Super sad to see them go though! Hahaha.”

Finally, I reached toward the food and everyone stared at me.
“I’m super hungry! Hahaha,” I said as I took some fish. Everyone waited a full five minutes before taking any, at which point I’d helped myself two more times.

More food came out, and everyone continued to pretend to ignore it, while I reached for it first each time. Any questions that came my way were so pointless that I can’t even remember them. Eventually, when we were up to the fifth tiny serving of a $30 plate of sushi, the business talk started.

“Yeah we’d be super interested in working with you, maybe we can organize a meeting for next week so we can talk more about the possibilities?”

“That sounds great, we’re super slammed at the moment but we can definitely circle back when we get to the office and align our availability.”

“Yeah, that would be super!”

As more plates came and went, I stared at the superfluous decor above our table and considered what else I could do with my life.

“An Uber driver! You love driving. That would be really fun, and a great way to see more of New York. Oh but you need a car for that. Never mind.”

“A massage therapist! You could be like Phoebe from Friends, and have your own business in your apartment, and go to see people in their apartments… and then sell out to a big massage chain for the perks like she did. Oh, but you’d need to do a course for that. Could I do a course in New York? Hmmm… look into that later Justine, that’s a good idea!”

“A yoga teacher! You could just go and teach a beginners class and make sure people know the basics before they do the more challenging classes. Or do a combined meditation class! Ah but you need to do a course for that too… OK look into that along with the massage course though.”

And then, as a tiny plate of dessert landed on the table and everyone pretended they were too full for it, I realized: “Fuck. You need money to stay in New York. Doing a course here would mean not working for a while. And, if you don’t work, you can’t stay. Looks like you’re stuck for now.”

And so we left Nobu, promising to align with the others again soon and thanked them for the super lunch they’d treated us to. As we walked towards the subway, my colleagues trailed behind me, chatting about the lunch we’d just had, and caught up with me on the platform. Their conversation continued on the train and any time I tried to join in, they gave each other a look and pretended I wasn’t there.

When we got to our stop, I walked ahead, partly because I walk fast (it’s New York, pick up the pace or get off the sidewalk) and partly because I wanted to get back to my friends. Back to people who didn’t roll their eyes when I spoke, who didn’t expect me to be super excited at the idea of using people’s personal data to sell them more stuff, and who didn’t pretend that a tiny shared plate of fish is enough for them to feel full.

This lunch started months of questioning and self-doubt. Months of agonizing over whether living in New York was worth doing something I didn’t believe in. Months of wishing I was still 23, so I could leave the job and go back to Uni, the way I had after I worked for a bank for a few months.

I’m 29 now, and just giving up and starting over is harder now than before, especially since the only thing I don’t like about living in New York is what makes it possible for me to live in New York.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, every day, and wonder if what I’m doing is worth it. It is for now, but I don’t know how much longer it will be.


30 in Three Months

I turn 30 in just over three months. I don’t make a big deal about my birthday, usually. Unless you forget about it or don’t act accordingly on the day, that is. I’m both indifferent and intense about my birthday. Doing something big often adds a lot of pressure to the lead up, but when the day arrives I tend to wonder why people didn’t make more of an effort.

Some of the worst arguments I’ve had with people have been on my birthday, and I remember a couple of them (hello, 25) as some of my unhappiest days. That forced happiness, the expectation everyone puts on you is hard to handle. Having people ask you – over and over – how the day is going, if you’re having fun, what you have planned, what presents you got… it’s all too much especially when your answers are “Fine.” “No.” and “Nothing.”

“Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we’ve grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it’s not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Being sad on your birthday feels selfish. How dare you not love everything people have done and the extra attention you’re getting! You should be happy.
For me, my dread of birthdays has never been about age. It’s about hating the expectations everyone has for you, and having to pretend to be happy when you really just feel ordinary. I feel the same about Christmas sometimes, or I did when I was younger and it mattered more.

I don’t usually start feeling bad about my birthday until a month before. This one is different though. When I turned 29, people started (un)helpfully reminding me that 30 was coming up – even on the same day! “Nearly 30!” “Um no, I just turned 29, thanks.” I don’t know if it was meant to be funny but way to make my birthday even harder guys.


Look at the Google search results when you type in “turning 30 crisis.” There have been a lot of things written about this – as well as so-called inspirational pieces telling you what you should achieve by the time you turn 30.

All of them have the same advice:

  • Travel
  • Move to a new city
  • Run really far (either a half or full marathon)
  • Learn to cook
  • Learn about wine
  • Learn a new language
  • Go to a music festival
  • Sing in public

My problem with these kinds of lists is, while they’re meant to give you ideas of things you can do to add meaning to your life before a certain age, they seem to assume that once you turn 30 you just stop trying.

Probs not going to not learn a new language just because I’m 31… and I’m definitely not going to stop going to music festivals. I might change what I do at said music festivals (I’m never camping at one again) but I’ll still be enjoying them long, long after 30.

Then, there is the idea that there’s no real hurry to get everything done – 40 is the new 30 for us millennials! Right guys? It’s OK, we’ve got another ten years to get our shit together! But this attitude is still putting limitations on our lives. Why can’t I go to a music festival after 40? Why can’t I have big nights out and party after 40? Why can’t I (as unlikely as it will ever be) run some kind of marathon after 40?

And what about physically aging? I asked for input from some friends on the matter and was told not to worry because I still “look young.” And? What does 30 even look like?

Gloria Steinem on aging

This is what 30 looks like, but I don’t really care about that. How does not having wrinkles stop me from feeling anxious about my age? Sure, I’d love my 23 year old metabolism back, but that’s not going to happen so why worry? I still have fun and achieve good things no matter what my face looks like to others.

Even though I don’t want to buy into the “rules” or “helpful hints” about what to do and how to live before I turn 30, I’m finding it hard not to. Maybe I’m being really fucking millennial here, but most of this is coming from wanting to do something meaningful.

I don’t want to explore this desire by way of a relationship, marriage, or children – I’m still happy being selfish for now – but rather, I want to feel that I have achieved something meaningful. I just don’t know what that is yet.

While I figure it all out, I’ll be creating pieces to explain my existential crises.

“30 Before 30” will be a series of personal essays, detailing my feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, and flat out fear in the lead up to my 30th birthday.

I hope you’ll share the journey with me!