Chapter 1: Failed Night Out
Rob calls me at home around eight, as I’m just getting ready to go out and lay in some cheap beer and candy. He wants me to review this new bar downtown called The Fat Piece, which he says has been getting a lot of traffic from the indie film scene and the more well-known plague kids. This leaves me agitated, near tears, as I had a whole Me Night planned, as I haven’t had a Me Night in over a month, but I can’t say that because this is my job we’re talking about, so I try to sound cool about it rather than pissed.
“Not interested,” I tell him. “Give it to Seymour.”
“Seymour’s logged seventeen clubs this week,” he rumbles back in his baritone voice, as though he’s ready for my response. “You’ve logged nine. I’m doing you a favor here by giving you this club. You need another one to fill your week out anyway.”
“I had plans for tonight,” I tell him.
“You had plans to stay in, get drunk, and watch hardcore porn,” he snaps astutely. “All you have to do is go downtown to this club for an hour, have a cocktail, take a couple of pictures, and leave. I’ve even called ahead for you, so you’re on the list. Get to work.” Shit. If Rob called ahead, they must want this place, or want it enough to keep me from calling these people and exuding my own damp charm.
I change from my cut-offs and concert shirt into jeans and a much more intense and expensive concert T-shirt that I bought for the specific purpose of going out on assignments like this. It’s one of those stupid-looking ones with crosses and sequins and dead trees all over it, and says ‘NO REMORSE’ at the bottom back near my ass. My laptop tells me that The Fat Piece is down on Ludlow, floating between subway stops like an island, a good six or seven blocks separating it from any sort of public transportation. The idea of going it alone makes me frustrated—if I go alone, I’ll have to talk to someone who works there—so I call Kali, a friend of a friend who I wouldn’t mind stumbling out of my clothes with, and who actually lives near the place. When I tell her the bar name, she gets all bubbly and recites three names of well-known people she’s heard of hanging out there, one of whom is actually a plague victim that I’m familiar with. We make plans to be there in an hour.
It is too muggy to be a Tuesday night, and everyone Washington Heights seems to be outside, basking in the French onion soup air. Everything and everyone stinks of sour milk and urine. My neighborhood is mostly Dominican and troll, and not only do both groups produce the largest families I’ve ever seen and the foulest-smelling garbage I’ve ever smelled, but city planning doesn’t really give a shit about them and takes their time getting up here to pick up trash, leaving the sidewalks lined with shiny piles of leaky garbage bags that stuff your nostrils with rank disease. My walk to the subway means passing through a huge outdoor barbecue where mamacitas chain-smoke, old timers play Dominos on top of milk crates, and great clusters of little kids, some skinny and brown, some bulky and green with long lizardy tails, go screaming around my feet, catcalling each other in rapid-fire Spanish. Airplane-sized liquor bottles, tiny blue baggies, and fried chicken bones dot the sidewalks like offerings to an out-of-work god. Two surly-looking troll teenagers loiter conspicuously at the stairs down to my subway. “Coke, weed,” one of them growls at me between jutting yellow teeth.
The well-lit air-conditioned subway car jerks and rattles as we speed downtown, and rather than scan the line of hideous faces sitting across from me, I focus on the ads along the ceiling, telling me that I can have tattoos removed, that I should buy scrotum-enhancing underwear, that I can find quick solutions to my debt problem by contacting the firm of Hoskins, Hastings, & Nyarlathotep. Soon, my eyes hurt from all the stimulus shoved at them, so I throw on my headphones and try to focus on the new Morrigan album. They’re doing good stuff with the guitars on this one, but I think their vocal style is leaning dangerously away from that raspy croon that makes them so palatable.
Downtown, the air seems even thicker, probably due to the huge crowds or late-night partyers. Nothing smells any different, though; the whole world reeks of an infected piercing. My eyes are trained to focus on the street below me, but even I can’t help but stare in horror at the mangled mongrel faces of every Nazi and vampire and inhuman monstrosity that brushes brusquely past me. Up in my neighborhood, the architecture at least suggests humanity, with its high arches and baroque designs, that Olde New York stonework built by human hands and engraved with dates. Downtown, everything is a block, with neon and billboards replacing natural wonder. The concrete slabs dotted with light loom over me like stern teachers. The crowds push against me, and I’m forced to grit my teeth and push back, lower my shoulder and twist my body.
Along the way to the bar, I pop into New Branch, a British-style meat pie shop that I frequent; the employees are pretty gracious, meat pie is a good hearty base food for a night out, and they have beer. My beef-and-gravy pie and brown ale is served to me by a towering man with luminous green eyes and three rows of razor-sharp teeth—probably trans-genetic, though he might just be mixed-race—who makes small talk with me about the heat and my plans for the night. I tip him well, and he says, “Cheers.”
Kali meets me on the corner of Houston and Chrystie, waving giddily when I’m halfway down the block and flashing me her typical too-wide-too-gummy Fright Night smile. Still, as we hug hello, I notice her tight black tank top and cut-offs over her skinny white body, and feel her heart pounding through her bird’s chest, and suddenly, my body makes up my mind for me, fights against my fatigue and nihilism and begins formulating a plan via rushing blood.
“Hector, you have the coolest job,” she says as we turn a corner down a narrow cobblestone street reeking of piss and nail polish remover. A nearby pile of rags sprouts a pair of glittering eyes that follows us as we walk. “I mean, really, nights like this fall into your lap without you even asking.”
“It’s all right,” is all I can answer. “Wish it paid better. How are you? You look good. Thin.”
“Thank you,” she sighs. “There’s nothing worse than three weeks of dieting without a single compliment. You’re too sweet.” This tells me all I need to know about how this night will end.
The Fat Piece is the only building on its block with a door; the other buildings are grey warehouse-looking monoliths adorned with the occasional boarded-up window. A sign hangs over the entrance that features a giant thong-clad butt. A six-foot dude with a bionic eye checks my ID and makes sure I’m on the list; I try to excuse Kali, but it turns out his name is Chris and they know each other, so I take pictures of the outside of the place while Chris makes small talk with Kali and paws at her shoulders and stomach with his big hands while she pushes him away and giggles.
The place is decorated in your traditional post-apocalypse-meets-boiler-room-meets-opium-den décor, with exposed pipes and bare light bulbs surrounding huge black cushioned couches and cramped tables no larger than bar stools themselves. The place could be more packed, but it still has a couple of high-profile characters hanging around it for a Thursday: two models make out in one corner, and a whole table of plague victims chats loudly in the center of the bar, their bloodshot eyes and grey pocked skin glowing faintly in the dim light. I order the house special, the Fat Piece, from a teenage bartender with an Afro; the drink itself appears to be an infusion of gin, cognac, bitters, guava juice, and kava-kava.
“That’ll be twenty-three dollars,” he says with a lisp.
“I’m the reviewer from Nightlife Now,” I say, hoping he knows what that means, and thankfully, I get the narrowed eye and slow nod of someone who’s been expecting me. Kali and I clink glasses and down our drinks; the liquid makes my tongue go numb, and immediately cuts the tension in my shoulders and spine.
“You’ve been a real stranger lately,” says Kali, leaning across the table and smirking at me. “We used to hang out. Why’re you avoiding me?”
Because I’ve been too depressed to think about getting laid? “I’m avoiding everyone,” I say. To the bar’s credit, I can actually hear myself speak and think; there isn’t some horrible dance beat blaring over the stereo.
“But why?” she asks. “That’s lame. You always have a great time when you come out.”
“Maybe it looks that way,” I say, and then change the subject to keep from getting teared up and hyperventilating and admitting to this girl I want to bang that I think New York is trying to kill me. “What about you? How’s the night life been? You still seeing that dude from upstate?”
While Kali begins speed-ranting about how she had to leave the panty fetishist she was dating, I span the room and try to focus on my tingling inebriation and not how lousy this all is. The sweat in my shirt is turning icy in this bar’s air conditioning, and I feel cold, weak. Everyone around me is dressed in clothes stylistically calculated to look less expensive than mine. Sad thing is they’re not stupid, I’m just pathetic for working the joints they enjoy on their own, and this fact comes to me in the form of a stinging in the back of my eyes and a flash of hatred for Kali and the city and everyone within a five-block radius of this awful bar. Across from us, the plague carriers burst into laughter. Before I know it, there’s another drink in my hand, then another.
“Do you have any cash?” asks Kali, finally. “Chris usually deals a little coke on the side. I’ll go half on it.” I hand her fifty bucks I can’t spare, and she disappears, leaving me to stare at the bartender as he idly texts someone on his phone. If only there was someone for me to text—maybe I’ll text my roommate, or Suzanne, that waitress I met the other night. Anyone, anyone who’d make a comment or a connection with me.
How’s your shift going? I text Suzanne.
whoziss she texts back.
I get another drink—“You have to pay for the next one,” whines the bartender— throw it back, and resolve to drown my agitation in pleasure. No going home, no getting work done. No one here is a worse person than me, and I’m resolved to punish myself for it. Kali sticks her head in the door and winks at me, and I follow her out. The way Chris hugs her good night and the glint in his whirring robotic eye tells me that she got the coke, and that she probably did something to the huge bouncer other than give him my hard-earned cash.
Inside Kali’s cramped studio apartment, we settled down on her pleather couch, and she cuts us out a few skinny lines of the rocky white powder. The first half a rail lets me know there’s something tougher than coke in here, something prescription-based, because my nose burns and the rush of the drugs comes with a burst of clarity, a sense of electric euphoria, and a raging hard-on, and this is good, this is partying, this is the perk of this job and this life in this horrible smelly place, I’m gonna plow this skinny chick and punch through that wall and bite out God’s throat and everyone will fucking love me for it.
Kali doesn’t say anything, but almost immediately peels off her top, rolls her head back, arches her spine, points her small pierced nipples towards the ceiling. “Good stuff,” she exhales. We do another half-line apiece, and then she twists towards me and plants her mouth on mine, her soft, nimble tongue darting around my intangible teeth. Her hand grasps at the crotch of my pants and kneads my hard-on, and I hook a pinkie in the ring that goes through her left nipple, causing her to moan softly into my mouth. We’ve never done anything extensive before, Kali and I, just made out at a bar or two; we’re drinking and party buddies mostly, but I’ve always thought of fucking her, so it’s good that I’m getting down to it, will probably make me feel even a little better—
And then, it’s gone. She sits back, stares me in the face, looks me up and down, and then scoots back to the other end of the couch, her hand leaping from my erection like it was red hot; I nearly yank out her piercing, she goes back so quickly.
“Let’s get Chinese food,” she says.
“Really?” I ask, shaking with drugs and boner.
“Yeah!” she cries between sniffles. “Yeah! Let’s get some dumplings, and lo mein!”
She pops to her feet, gets her cell phone from her purse, and runs around her apartment, still topless, while ordering a mountain of Chinese food that I’ll probably be expected to pay for. The drugs and the booze and the misery leave my stomach grimacing at the idea of oily take-out, so I use the edge of my credit card to scoop the remaining coke back in the bag. Kali’s in the bathroom as I leave, thank God, so I don’t even have to shamefully say goodbye to her.
“186th and Columbus,” I tell my cabdriver. He eyes me warily until I say, “What, did you not hear me?” and then hauls ass uptown, grumbling at me and I sweat and sneer and try to keep from grinding my teeth.
My roommate’s not home when I get back, and I consider cutting up the rest of the tainted coke and getting disgustingly wired, then staying up all night drinking the whiskey I keep hidden in our cupboard and jerking off while imagining Kali spread-eagle on her couch, but the very thought makes me feel like a lowlife, so I get the whiskey, crank my AC and lie, wired, in my room, taking deep gulps from the flask bottle until finally I manage to black out.