Welcome Week Stories: False Alarm

I don’t why and I don’t know how, but by some act of divine intervention, I suppose, I ended up at a penthouse Stern party — of all places — overlooking the twinkling Manhattan skyline on the fourth night of Welcome Week. And that’s only where the story begins.

For some of you cool cats, that situation might not sound too out of the ordinary, but I’m not exactly the typical guest to luxurious, elevated social gatherings pioneered by a gang of wannabe Jordan Belforts. It was quite an unprecedented experience for me, and the night only increased in strangeness as the moonlight soaked streets fell into a deeper sleep. Knowing me, I had chosen something unquestionably uncool to wear, but nonetheless I was hitting it off with some cute Columbia student who didn’t seem to have too much of a superiority complex. I remember looking out of the panorama windows at an expansive view of the Empire State Building and thinking, “I could get used to this.” Here is a message to past Jemima — you really shouldn’t get used to this.

The moment was glorious, but as the beverages began to deplete, I sensed a shift in the atmosphere. I continued to dance and revel in my faux new life until hysterical shouts began to echo around the walls of the apartment, then my innocent little heart suddenly dropped.

“The police are coming — everyone out,” some girl yelled as she sprinted toward the elevator. I bolted in a similar direction, grabbing the group of friends who I had come to the party with. There was a hysterical semi-circle of swaying bodies blocking the entrances to the elevators. One of whom was practically sobbing, “None of the elevators are working.”

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It was then that I realized I had no memory of how I had made it to the top of the building in the first place — if the elevators were broken, I must’ve taken the stairs. But, surely I would remember ascending a sky-scrapers worth of staircases? Especially with my upsetting lack of fitness. Either way, I knew there was only one way down. I can’t think of many things that are more challenging than descending 17 flights of stairs after a party — it’s the ultimate breathalyzer test. The entire thing felt like a rescue mission. I had a stranger on each arm, and we were all using each other to maintain balance as we essentially flopped down the steps in front of us. Along the way, I saw missing shoes, jackets and the heaving bodies of those who had compromised their safety to take a pitstop on the tenth floor.

I lost my friends along the way, but found them waiting for me at the bottom. Apparently some girl had gotten bored of the party, so she decided to tell everyone that the cops were coming. But that wasn’t the main question I had as I sat panting at the foot of the enormous building.

“How did you guys get down so quickly?”

“We walked down a few floors and took the elevator the rest of the way.”

You live and you learn.

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 27 print edition. Email Jemima McEvoy at [email protected]

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