Waking up one afternoon after a long night of drinking, Mark Brennan Rosenberg found himself curled up on the bathroom floor of a stranger's apartment. He vaguely remembered meeting a guy at a bar and going home with him. However, upon venturing out of the bathroom, Rosenberg discovered that the apartment was completely empty; his trick had moved out, furniture and all.
This is just one of the true stories that Rosenberg recounts in his memoir, Blackouts and Breakdowns, a series of vignettes chronicling his drug-and-alcohol-fueled adventures in the New York City dating/hookup scene. The author's penchant for drama no doubt owes something to his lifelong love of ABC soaps, especially All My Children. (He even dedicates his book to Erica Kane, Susan Lucci's character on the show.)
Now sober since 2008, the twentysomething Rosenberggroaning when asked about his age, like all misguided youth who can't see how young they really arewill read from his book April 3 at the Center on Halsted. This is the latest stop on his "Blackouts and Breakdowns Bar Crawl Book Tour," a four-month nation-spanning odyssey that began in January. Google is sponsoring the Chicago reading; Rosenberg guaranteed that it will be "a shit parade" as well as "a great networking event."
Although the tour has included many non-bar venues, it still might seem surprising that someone in recovery would promote a bar crawl in the first place. Rosenberg isn't concerned. "If someone else has a problem with me being in a bar, that's not my fault," he said. "I don't drink, but I'm perfectly comfortable going to a bar. That's where people hang out, where communities gather. … It's very hard to get people to come to a book reading at a bookstore. I wanted to think of a unique way to get to know the audience and new fans."
His addictive tendencies were on display early. Hooked on coffee by age 10, he moved on to harder stuff, although the serious partying didn't begin until he relocated to New York City for college. "After college, the party ended for everyone else," he admitted. "I just kept going." That didn't happen for much longer, though; he became sober at age 25.
Rosenberg was quick to point out that his goal as writer and public speaker is not to lecture audiences about the dangers of substance abuse, or even to encourage sobriety. He's simply telling his story: "I talk about a lot of the crazy-ass shit that I used to do and how I overcame that. It's not supposed to be preachy [or] about you getting sober. It's about how I got sober.
Originally targeting the East Coast, the tour has expanded to more than 40 cities nationwide. The lineup includes the expected meccas like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but Rosenberg has discovered that the most memorable destinations to be off the beaten track. "It's been the places that you wouldn't expect that have had the best turnouts, the most fun," he said. "The response has been unbelievable.
"One of our best events was in Fayetteville, where the University of Arkansas is, and it was amazing. ... Fayetteville is a wonderful community, a very liberal town in a very conservative state, and they have so many interesting things going on there! I would move there in a heartbeat. Oklahoma City was another placea fun, quirky little town. Tempe, Ariz., was really fun.
"When you live in New York for 11 years, you don't think there's anywhere else to live. But I've found at least 12 cities I want to live in already."
In addition to Blackouts and Breakdowns, Rosenberg will offer Chicago audiences a preview of his new book Eating My Feelings, which hits bookstores April 19: "I think it's more relatable because it's all about food and body image … how we view ourselves, and how the things that we're told as children affect our decision-making process as adults.
"When I was younger, I was very overweight, and I still, to this day, view myself as heavier, even though I'm not any more … when we get older, especially being gay, you have to live up to this standard of how you're supposed to look, how you're supposed to act, how you're supposed to present yourself so that you are the perfect gay man."
As he approaches the fourth anniversary of his sobriety, Rosenberg reflected on his journey. "There are days that I miss drinking so much," he conceded. "I had fun, I got myself into these crazy adventures that I will cherish for the rest of my life, but at the end of the day I've totally changed my life around for the better. I'm having the most fun I've ever had."
"Blackouts and Breakdowns: An Evening with Mark Rosenberg" will take place at the Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted St., Tuesday, April 3, 6:30-8:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $5.
Rosenberg's books can be ordered at www.blackoutandbreakdowns.com .