Santa Claus wants to buy me a drink.
“How about it?” he says, leering as much as a grown man can leer while wearing a cushion stuffed inside a scratchy red overcoat. I think, though I cannot be sure of it, that he pats his padded belly as he asks me.
We are in a bar in North London at the witching hour of two in the morning. The seminal holiday classic Deck Da Club by the Ying Yang Twins is playing at a decibel best described as vuvuzela. I have ended up here, somehow, after following the formula set forth by behavioral scientist Jon Levy in his 2016 book The 2AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure. Tonight, already, I have met a slam poetry contest winner, a woman who works in production on some of England’s biggest reality TV shows and someone with her fingers so firmly on the pulse that she already has the lyrics from Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” inked on her back.
I have traversed the four corners of London. I have drunk five different kinds of gin, three of them in martini form. And now it’s two in the morning and I’m in some godforsaken bar in some godforsaken suburb having crashed the dregs of an office Christmas party at which every male attendee had to dress up as Santa Claus. (The women are all dressed as elves. I’m too tired, and too drunk, to form a coherent opinion about this, other than that I know it is wrong.) It is two in the morning and I find myself thinking: WWJLD? What Would Jon Levy Do?
Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist, if behavioral scientists looked like Oscar Isaac and behaved (scientifically) like a cross between a Bear Grylls risk-taker and a lowkey James Bond who only did the going-to-parties portion of being James Bond. He shot to fame in 2009 when he created a monthly supper club based out of New York called “The Influencers Dinner,” where guests — including Olympians, actors, entrepreneurs (one solitary Winklevoss twin has attended) and royalty — are not allowed to share their last name or profession until the end of the evening.
But Levy’s real area of expertise is in the science of adventure. That is, is it possible to manufacture it? And if yes, how? “Our notions of adventure are usually from movies,” Levy tells me, sagely. But real-life adventure doesn’t have to adhere to The Hangover-levels of absurdity and, crucially, it doesn’t require a millionaire’s bank balance and penchant for illicit drugs. “I don’t even drink that much,” Levy admits.
All an adventure should possess is a challenge or risk that needs to be overcome, be exciting, bring about some personal growth, and be remarkable enough that it becomes a good story. In order to achieve all this you have to follow Levy’s ‘epic’ model for adventure: establish your team, location and mission, push your boundaries, increase the stakes, continue the fun. (E,P, I and C. Neat, huh?)
Whether or not you’re going to have an adventure will become clear by two in the morning, according to Levy. Such is the crux of “the 2 a.m. principle”: nothing good happens after 2 a.m., except for the most epic experiences of your life.
I follow Levy’s advice doggedly, and yet my night has been marred with hiccups. I pick my team according to Levy’s principles: people who can make fun wherever they go. One is my up-for-anything charisma-magnet best friend and the other is my housemate who is 22, which is kind of the same thing. But my friend cancels last minute and my flatmate has a cold, seriously impeding her ability and inclination for epic adventure. The constraints that we give ourselves — we’re not allowed to use our phones except in an emergency (booking an Uber doesn’t count); talk to one stranger at every location we visit; no photos, be in the moment — only make everything more difficult. When we finally make it to the Santa bar, my flatmate casts one disdainful look at the establishment and announces that she’s going home, leaving me to my own adventure-seeking devices.
Levy wasn’t born with the gift of the garrulous. He honed his practice over years of the combined application of risk-taking and abject stupidity. He has run with the bulls in Pamplona, charmed his way into a chateau in Monaco and convinced a woman working behind the duty-free counter in a Swedish airport to quit her job and join him on a holiday in Israel. He met his wife at a different airport following his exact formula for adventure. He established the parameters (JFK on a layover), pushed the boundaries by initiating conversation with a beautiful stranger, increased the stakes by challenging her to sit next to him on the plane and continued the fun by making out with her at the terminal. (“Honey,” he calls out to his wife while we’re on the phone, “I’m telling a reporter how we met!”)
Levy’s anecdotes are all equally breathless and insane and invariably end up with him kissing a gorgeous woman in the early hours of the morning. So what would Levy do when faced with Yung Santa Claus, breathing his beer-soaked breath all over my face?
The answer is that he would probably say yes to the drink. But as the metaphorical clock strikes two, I think of Levy’s final piece of advice, which is to know when to fold ‘em. “Unless your night is really exceptional,” he says, “unless you’re in a dance off with Usher or you’re talking to someone who you think is going to be really important in your life, just go home. Because if you don’t, you’re going to end up at a pizza place at four in the morning, exhausted the next day, and you’re less likely to participate in the future.”
Usher is nowhere to be seen, and if that Father Christmas imposter is the love of my life, I’ll never know. Because at two in the morning I take Levy’s best, most useful piece of wisdom and I call it. I hadn’t had an epic evening. But after all, tomorrow is another night.
Photo by Julian Wasser via Getty Images.