The grand plan was to stay sober for the month of January, and it failed. It collapsed the moment we touched down in the Bahamas and felt the silky warmth outside the Nassau airport. The whole place was wet with the prospect of booze—its bars, its dewy palm trees, its bikini-wearing swimmers, its cerulean wading pools. The plane’s tires hit the tarmac, and from then on, rum was god.
In the boxy cab we removed our loafers, took off our socks, stuffed them in a spare pocket of a hand-me-down attaché case and shoved our heels back into the miniature leather gondolas. The engine growled down hardy roads, handling the this-way-that-way roundabouts with the finesse of an arcade pinball.
It was 13 degrees in New York and we had taken up our father’s offer of a trip to Paradise Island.
The Atlantis Casino Resort revealed itself all at once. The skyline resembled a monstrous coral reef that decided to gasp for air. Inside, were marble citadels festooned with mock-Roman buttresses. Beyond that, an array of maritime myth figures with tide-blown hair stuck to the ceilings. There were more aquariums than elevators, not to mention the hanging gardens, the thrones for photo ops, the fountains—a lost city reassembled, cobbled together from the garage sales of billionaires.
Inside the resort, everyone was drunk. The old men in shirts that flapped in the air conditioning, sneaky 17-year-olds with room keys connected to their fathers’ credit cards, day-tripping cruise ship skippers laid over in the Bahamas for the night, gamblers, dancers, swingers, bachelors—and us, drunk (despite our previous resolution).
It was the rum, that sugar cane spirit, the thing once responsible for the economies of these blissful islands. Maybe there’s a reason why we never drink rum in New York City.
“Señor Frog’s?” the taxi driver said. “Well, sure, but it’s for the teenybopper set. I usually work by the Hilton, right there, and they’re so nice when they’re sober. But then, ugh, later, well, they’re lifting each other up, drunk.”
It was our last night, and we were passing the boutique row in the main drag of the town—Coach, Cartier, United Colors of Benetton. We had been drinking most of the day.
“I have a friend who works there, at Señor Frog’s,” the cab driver said. “I tell him, man, what did you put in those children’s drinks!”
The cab stopped and by the deck of Senor Frog’s the receiving line of stumbling girls in tank tops grabbed at the wooden railings. The spring break aesthetic had been thawed out for winter. “I’m a Vageterian!” read one of the signs on the wall. We walked beside them to the bar, had frozen rum cocktails, and watched as the stragglers went after desperate pairings. The rum moved their feet and behind them cruise ships the size of Central Park began to inch out of the bay beside Paradise Island.
“Stay here?” a girl said into her phone outside. Bahamian men barked, “Cab! Cab!” at us as they pulled up out of waterside alleys, curling lips of tide flouncing beyond the dock. She too swayed tipsily as the DJ dipped hints of keyboard—a new song—into his mix, and it evaporated into the opening melody of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”
“I don’t even want to be here,” said the girl into the phone.
Upon returning to the Atlantis, we encountered a slurring man in Nantucket Reds and a checkered shirt who was flailing against three black guards trying to contain him.
“A little too much of grandma’s medicine,” our cabbie averred.
Inside, we made our way to a club called Dragon. The dance floor worked its way around the bar in a crescent, with a roped-off section just beyond it, and buckets of ice—waiting for their bottles—lined the marble countertop. Nothing foreign, but nothing comforting; any resemblance to New York made this whole economy of sun and rum further from a thing we could like. An enormous white man who self-identified as a Harvard graduate, living in a penthouse nearby, was nice enough to fill one of the buckets with Patron.
He turned to our brothers, who are identical twins.
“I love twins, but usually of the other gender,” Harvard said. “I love fucking twins. Man, I gamble, and I play better when I’m fucking.”
We did a shot of Patron.
“You have any problems,” he added. “You let me know.”
We did have a problem. Beyond that roped-off section stood a girl with far-away eyes, eyes like an untouched ocean, dancing like the undulations in a lava lamp. She was standing with three men, each wearing a similar pec-hugging shirt.
But she was leaving, out of the club and back toward the stone temple hallways, back toward the hotel suites. Before we could say anything, though, she smiled, took the man’s hand and was gone.
We ended up standing at the bar next to our father.
“You know, I’ve been watching you. You drink too much,” he told us.