Monday, July 26, 2010

Waiting for the laundry to finish


At the East River Bar tonight, everyone just graduated from Princeton, and also everyone is wasted. Jack, the brother of my friend Ani, is celebrating 25 with his girlfriend Nelly. They were born two days apart. So here I am waiting in line with everyone else who didn’t buy either of them a real present, to get Jack the drink that’s going to really put him over the edge.

By the time I get there, Ani’s four drinks in, and tugs me ecstatically outside, squaring me off by the shoulders to any and all of Jack’s nearby friends. Some of them shake my hand twice or three times while Ani looks blithely on. Nelly’s sitting at a beer-sticky picnic table, brown hair hanging, with a permanent fading smile, like she’s just on the verge of forgetting what cracked her up a second ago. When I sit down she escapes her own trance.

“How in the fuck is DvF,” she says, reaching across the table, gripping me by my forearms. She’s talking about Diane von Furstenburg, where I’ve spent my summer as an intern.

“Nuts,” I say. This is sort of true. There are moments. Mostly though, it’s just a nine-to-five job. Like hers, probably. I tell her my best stories: Diane von Furstenburg passing by my desk, cocking an eyebrow at my canvass shoes; Diane von Furstenburg screaming at an ad-man about green dax shorts in her glassy office; Diane von Furstenburg announcing the Fall line in a room I wasn’t in, but heard about, the next day. Deco prints were involved.

I’m making money and living here and that’s what matters. I don’t know about Deco prints, but I’m learning. A guy sitting next to Nelly in fat-rimmed glasses and a red beard says, “Are you in school?”

“She gets to talk to Vera Wang,” Ani calls to him across the table. “Not to mention Marc Jacobs, and — who was it again?”

“I don’t know,” I say, even though I know she’s talking about Christan LaCroix.

“Was it Armani?” she says too loudly.

“No,” I say.

“Who was it?”

“Christian LaCroix.”

“Christian LaCroix,” she cries. “This motherfucker gets to talk to Christian LaCroix.” Nelly’s eyes widen. She’s beautiful. “About what?” she says in a way that is more cross-examining than questioning, more starving than curious.

“Clothes,” I say. I accept the beer she pours from a pale pitcher and she tells me that my job is impressive. My job has made an impression.

Some thunder cracks and we all cover our heads with ineffectual hands while the storm clouds piss down on us. Once frantically inside, we blink away the rain and Ani spots about twenty more people she knows. One of them is Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, who I recognize immediately. She’s still pretty in an older sort of way. “That’s Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth,” Ani says to me, pointing.

Beyond Kim Gordon is Ani’s cousin, Sadie, who I have never met but have heard a lot about from Ani. The two of them share a brownstone in the Lower East Side and Ani was expecting to hate living with her because they “run in different circles,” but actually they get along great, she keeps telling me.

One drink in, I start to feel good about what I’m doing. I realize I have a good job that people want to hear about. It is an impressive job. Ani throws me at Sadie and says, “I always thought you two would like each other.” Then she threads her way through damp and dry bodies to the bar, brings me a vodka tonic, and pulls the three of us into a group hug before teetering off again.

In what feels like backwards order, Sadie and I say hi to each other and I ask if she lives here even though I know she lives here. She tells me she shares a brownstone on the Lower East Side with Ani and that it is great, that they’re getting along so well. I ask her what she does and she says she works for the Department of Defense. Now I remember that I knew this already. I ask her how she managed to stay in Manhattan and work for the Defense. She gives me a long answer that I can’t remember, but it leads to a ticking off of her credentials: Princeton, then a year off, then LSATs and Yale Law in the fall. I can’t think of how I’ll bring up Diane von Furstenberg but it’s becoming more urgent. Sadie’s wearing Chelsea Boots.

“Are those Chelsea boots?” I ask. She says they are, and kicks her toe into the checkered floor. I finish my drink.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ve really been noticing boots lately.”

“Are you looking for a pair?” she says, scanning the crowd behind me.

“Well I guess you could say that.”


“I work for Diane von Furstenburg,” I say, looking off, “so I’m weirdly always on the lookout.”

“Oh, cool, I know her.”

“You know her?” How could she know her? I hate when they know her.

“I mean, I know of her.”

Much better.

In fact a lot of people know of Diane von Furstenburg (or “Diane,” as I refer to her tonight, even though I have never, do never, and would never), and as I move through more drinks and more minutes, all are impressed with my assistant-to-the-designer status. Some are asking me what she’s like, and they’re pushing up their big glasses, adjusting their high skirts and re-cuffing their cigarette pants while they listen and people-watch behind my shoulder. They ask where Bates College is in relation to Princeton. As is the case for the rest of the little trying schools, we know Princeton but Princeton doesn’t know us.

I get a few peoples’ cards. I complain about parts of my job that aren’t actually bad. I don’t want to boast, but I want to boast. I wish I had my own cards to give out, but at the same time, it might be cooler to them that I don’t.

At the bar I order two more pissy beers and talk to two more people, both recent graduates from Princeton’s engineering program. They stumble through gritty job descriptions and I fall into a euphoric sense of pride. I didn’t go to Princeton. I don’t know of their bosses, and they know of mine. I like being from a school they’ve never heard about.

One is telling me about how he does engineering work for the Marines, about how they’re actually engineering real invisibility cloaks out of some skin ointment that deflects some range in the color spectrum, and how the Marines are about to become invisible, when Ani falls from an unknown direction into our conversation. She looks at the engineers, whose names are Joseph and Erica, or else Eric and Josie, and says too loudly, “I don’t know these people.”

“Oh,” I say. They look blindly on to the bar.

“Blow-blow in five,” she says at normal speaking volume into my ear, indicating with a scrunching little finger a table of people in the corner. One of them is the bartender. They’ve got their credit cards and dollar bills out. Some of them have their shirts off and they all have the same hairy, concave chests. I say I can’t but I do a line to humor her and catch a better glimpse of Kim Gordon – she looks the same close up as she does far away – and ebb my way to the door.

Exactly halfway between the East River Bar and my Grand Street apartment, there’s a fire hydrant cracked open, flooding cars in a few impressive inches of water. Behind the hydrant, there’s a guy directing the flow at anyone who dares to cross the street. Some people are really angry and try to come up to him and give him a piece of their minds, but he just hoses them down and laughs. He keeps saying “It’s motherfucking August!” I think it’s kind of funny too, but I also know I’m about to be one of them. One of the Drenched People. I don’t know whose side to take, but either way, bee-lining down the cross-walk, I don’t go unnoticed, and for the second half of my walk, my clothes are stuck to my skin with icy water. I feel like I need a shower but it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.

My building stinks with weed and when I get to the fifth floor, I find the source: a boy, standing square on the fifth-floor landing, and a girl sitting in the stairs going up, fingering a long, skinny blunt. She moves to hide it behind her back and watches me ascend, watches the last of the hydrant water trickle from my skirt to the concrete stairwell.

“Fire hydrant,” I say. I’m looking at her, x-raying her chest to get a glimpse of the blunt. She’s wearing an oversized Disney shirt and black PJ bottoms.

“Do you sell?” I say. I had run out of weed quick here. She looks from my dripping body to the guy standing at the foot of the stair section. They look like family. Short, thick Latinos.

“What do you need,” he says, beaming. I can tell he has a lisp and he hasn’t even used an “S.”

“A gram.”

“Of what?”

“Whatever this is,” I say, throwing my chin at nothing.

“I have dime bags.”

“OK,” I say. “How much.”

“It’s a dime bag,” he says.

“OK,” I say, and I hand him a twenty. I don’t know how much a dime bag is. He’s smiley, missing some teeth, but young, maybe my age, and he disappears through his apartment door while I collapse in a heap next to the girl. She moves to the step above. I ask and she says her name is Natalie and asks if I want to share her blunt. I say yes. I can’t believe she could do the whole thing herself.

By the time her friend or brother or cousin comes back with the dime bag and ten dollars change, I’m high as Mars. The blunt is only half-smoked. He hands me the bag and tells me his name is Markus and that he hasn’t seen me before. The bag has a lot of stems in it.

“You should share this with us,” I say, nodding at the steaming blunt, and then I realize it’s not really my place to offer. Natalie looks unphased.

“Can’t,” Markus says. “I have a job. It’s been two months. Dyin’.”

I ask him what it is.

“I help the elderly,” he says.

“Oh I love old people,” I say. “They’re great.” Natalie gives me a look that's either mean or amused, I can't tell.

“It pays good,” Markus says. He tells me again that he hasn’t seen me before. Then he says, “I have E and coke. I sell to this whole building.”

“I just moved,” I say. “To the seventh floor.” I tell him I can get him shrooms even though I don’t know anyone with shrooms. He tells me he doesn’t want me to fake on him, that he really wants to try shrooms, and I promise him. I don’t know why.

“Where’d you move from.”

“Philly,” I lie.

“Philly?” he says. “My friend grew up in Philly. His dad works there now.”



We nod at each other, or to ourselves, for a little while. I say, “What about you.”

“Apartment 16,” he says, pointing next door.

“No shit,” I say.

“Twenty-three years.”

“Are you serious?”

“Why, how old did you think I was?” he says, beaming still. His teeth are tiny. In fact Markus looks exactly twenty-three. He doesn’t know my surprise isn’t about his age. Something makes me think I should keep it that way. “Twenty-two,” I say.

“No,” he says, “I’m twenty-three.”

Natalie’s handing me the joint. She hasn’t said anything for a while. I say, “You too?”


“By yourself?” I say.

“With my grandma. But my who family is always over here.”


“Not really.”

“It’s a nice building, I say. “I like the roof.” From the roof you can see as far as mid-town and all the way to Bergen Beach.

“I can’t complain,” she says, not in a complaining sort of way.

She’s stuck on the blunt approximately three times longer than I am each time we pass. She holds it in longer, too. I get the impression she has no interest in talking. She’s trying to burn through the joint as slow and as fast as possible.

“Know what I’m saying,” Markus says, even though he hasn’t said anything. “I’m gonna be a marine.”

“A marine?”

“Yeah, a marine.”

“I hear being a Marine is the most intense. Like worse than the army.”

“First ones called for duty.”

“Yeah,” I say. I didn’t know that. I don’t know anything about the marines besides that my friend Brianna’s boyfriend had smoked too many cigarettes to make it through boot camp.

“I’m just saving up because I’m gonna move to L.A,” Markus says.


“Yeah, Los Angeles. I’m the kind of guy who likes to move around a lot,” he says with his back against the door to his apartment, grinning. “Know what I’m saying? I can’t stay in one place too long.” He looks at the burning roach the way a freshly-recruited vegetarian looks at a piece of bacon.

The first white guy I’ve seen in the building is pulling his bike up the stairway, panting through the stale haze. Natalie’s peering down at him from her perch on the stairs, hiding the blunt behind her back, and the smoke’s spilling over her shoulder. The white guy’s actually getting fuzzier as he gets closer. I stick my new weed in my back pocket just in case, like he’s going to mistake the sour smoke for fog.

“My man,” Markus says, nodding at the biker.

“Sup, Mark,” he says. He goes inside his apartment. Natalie’s eyes, two red slits, linger on his door.

“I deal to everyone in this building,” Markus says, beaming. I know this isn’t true because my roommate is an Austrian woman, forty years old, who hates the smell. But that’s just one person. Sometimes you exaggerate.

“I think I need to shower,” I say. “But it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.” I think I catch Natalie smiling but it fades so fast I don't even know for sure. All I’m thinking is, I hope to God they don’t ask me why I’m here for the summer, flitting in and out of their permanent home like some brazen hummingbird.

“How long you staying,” Natalie asks.

“Through the fall,” I say, even though it’s only through the summer. It makes it sound less like a summer vacation.

“How come,” Natalie says. She hasn’t looked at me once.

“I’m working,” I say.

“Where at,” she says.

“In Manhattan.”


I tell her I can’t help her out any more with the blunt, that I think we might be inhabiting two different universes right now. She takes in the rest of the joint in one inhale and says, “Damn right.”

No comments:

Post a Comment