White Magic


MY TWO FRIENDS fell in love at a cocaine party.

Recently, something reminded me of what an amazing concept this is. In certain company, it is the greatest meet-cute of all time. In other company, it is very likely a dark wart on their history never to be spoken of. It is, if nothing else, a Hall-of-Fame moment for the rolled-up twenty.

The really weird part is that this course-altering event wasn’t all that much different from a normal house party at our friend’s place. This was years ago, maybe 2007. Portland, OR. I arrived unaware of the sinus-cleansing extracurriculars.

If you’ve never been to a coke party, they aren’t as debaucherous as Tony Montana would have us believe. There wasn’t a Lazy Susan spinning with the stuff atop the dining room table. There wasn’t a neon sign blinking above the doorway to the den: “BLOW.” Nobody even remotely began screaming stock tips into a cell phone.

Folks were drinking cheap beer in the kitchen and living room. There was an assortment of chip dips. People went out to the front porch to smoke. The lone oddity was that guests would simply disappear into the back room in pairs and threes. I had a hard time even believing this was an actual cocaine party once the hosts mentioned it to me.

Then, we all played Apples to Apples.

I stopped doubting.

I didn’t partake in the sniffer Olympics. Somehow, I am the one adult for whom D.A.R.E. worked in the ’80s. Decades later, I still have a healthy phobia of hard drugs. I know that one toot up my nasal canal or shot into my arm will instantly explode my heart. FBI agents will then knock down the door, dramatically revive my frozen cardiovascular system just so they can throw me into federal prison. My mother will cry.

It happens. They made VHS videos about it. I am certain.

But back to the point: because of that most Ziggy Stardustian of party favors, people gathered at this house. Right there, at that specific moment, Karen and Grant met on a drizzling Portland evening. If not for one, the other wouldn’t have occurred. As mentioned, I’m not a blow party aficionado. Maybe true love happens there all the time?

I’m guessing not.

Chance like that has also been on my mind lately. How can you accurately wrap your mind around chance?

I mention this, only because it is so unbelievable that my friend met her soulmate at this party. Perfect strangers before sharing some Colombian antihistamine. So many years later now, Karen and Grant (Not their real names) are married –she a petite, dark-haired school teacher; he a lanky, perpetually t-shirted computer programmer. I often think about their private moments, holding hands under the covers, reminiscing. How do they look back on that cold December evening? How did they answer the inevitable wedding week question from distant relatives: “So, how’d you two meet?”

“At a party.”

Or: “At a par-tay. (Karen wiggles tip of her nose with the end of her finger)

Perhaps, maybe: “At the world’s most self-confident Apples to Apples game.”

It doesn’t really matter. These two are not drug addicts. They are good people who met and fell in love because of chance. That is the key here. But the success rate of coke party romances must be astronomically low.

I kept replaying this fact, but was unable to really do anything with it. I was at the intersection of love and chance and cocaine, and I wondered, what does it mean? How do these things tie together? Am I forcing them just to meet my editor’s deadline?” [Ed’s note: no. These things, of course, obviously and naturally tie together.]

I began working backwards like any good investigative journalist would. First: ask Google how many people have fallen in love at cocaine parties. The internet is the lazy journalist’s best friend, and I am just such a scribe. I wasn’t looking for anything concrete, maybe only data from some esoteric university study with some numbers to show me what the algebraic equation of Karen+Grant+chance+ booger sugar all means.

It goes without saying that Google didn’t know any more than I about how many relationships have started and, more importantly, thrived after such illustrious big bang moments. Chance, however did shine on me, as I found one helpful article. Psychologists, apparently, have been pondering something along the same lines. They call it the “Cocaine Rush Phase” of new love. Too good to be true? I wondered. No! This article was legit—I mean first, it was in an honest-to-god source like Psychology Today, and second, the title of the article could have doubled as a Bobby Brown album: “Falling in Love is Like Smoking Crack Cocaine.” That was enough of a background check for me.

Aside from some uncomfortable quoting of Garth Brooks lyrics, the article did a fine job of comparing the two rushes and proves they have a striking similarity. So sayeth psychology’s brightest minds:

“[S]moking crack cocaine leads to enhanced mood, heightened sexual interest, a feeling of increased self-confidence, greater conversational prowess, intensified consciousness…and it gives you the best matches playing Apple-themed board games.”*

The piece unwound by explaining how we don’t tend to make wise life decisions while in that fireworks phase of love or with a nose-full of white magic. It essentially said that there is no way anyone who goes ga-ga at a coke party will last.

And yet, Grant and Karen are here. They are fine people and a fine couple. They are both slightly shy, and maybe this unexpected boost helped them defy the odds of Psychology Today and Bobby Brown alike.

Would it happen for anyone else? Almost certainly not.

But that’s the fascinating part about chance that I began to embrace. There’s no way to come to a meaningful conclusion about chance and luck and love. It’s un-hackable. I think that is the important thing to draw from this story. Despite Studio 54’s best efforts at match-making, there is an uncontrollable element to love, which may be why humans are so addicted to it. It may also explain why so many try and replace it with mirrors and credit cards and lines.

Or, at the very least, iffy Johnny Depp movies.


*Yes, that last one is mine.

About Patrick Wensink

Patrick Wensink (@patrickwensink) is the author of the bestselling novel Broken Piano for President and the essay collection Everything Was Great Until it Sucked. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Oxford American, Salon and many less-reputable sources. He lives in Louisville, KY.
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