The only time I ever want to be something is outside a party so I can get in.
- Andy Warhol
"You can have whatever you want," the editor says to me, an affirmation that sounds sort of spooky as it comes out of the mouth of someone whose vodka soda is threatening to fall to the ground. "It's clear here to everyone. You're so well-positioned, smart… beautiful." It’s July and I’m in Greenpoint, sitting outside a bar I’ve never been to before, which is apparently a regular spot for New York’s underground theater crowd. We’re at the after party, after the play. The playwright has invited his audience to stay in his orbit and drink. “Everyone’s always invited,” I heard someone say, while enthusiastically gathering his belongings.
At the bar, there are twinkly lights dangling around. I biked here from my summer sublet because the G train was down. In the summer, I thought while riding over here, Greenpoint feels like a fairytale town. Insulated from the rest of New York, and its excess of ambition, although, as the city gets hotter and hotter the people seem to mellow out. The regular members of New York’s literary scene seem to be free to come and go as they please. They’re in the Berkshires. They’re in Europe. Their messages say they don’t want to be disturbed right now. They’re reading Moby Dick by the pool, or being creative with Diet Cokes in their dark rooms. A few people have stayed, hosting readings and plays, which I’m new enough to scroll through Twitter and really seek out. No one here at the bar is thinking about this coming fall, when a new cohort of ambition will flood in, each member storming in, wanting something, sending emails, employing carefully-considered exclamation points while maintaining a professional tone — Best, Many thanks, Yours. Last fall I sent those off, too, but I’m over it now. Tonight it is hot. The dress code is casual. We’re practically naked. The regulars have had two iced coffees, already, today. They are looking for something fresh to hold onto.
In the patio corner, I watch a fat bald man rub sweat off his head and pull out of his backpack a half-full bottle of kale juice.
That guy had sat next to me during play. “So – have you ever been to one of these before?” he’d asked, raising his eyebrows and smirking. I said it was my first time, and the vapor of the girl in the row behind me clouded my view for a second. I brought my friends Molly and Jack. The play was four acts, the setting was Copenhagen, and the theme was age gaps. The room the play was taking place in was so small, I felt I was practically on stage, and this kept me engaged until intermission, when I pulled an edible out of my bag. The room got very hot during the second half, and Molly started using her copy of Harper’s as a fan. My mind wandered off about three quarters through, until one of the actresses got on her hands and knees and started crawling around in purple high-heeled boots, which I thought I’d seen earlier that day in a targeted ad. When it was over, Molly smiled, she said there was some good writing in it. Jack said the play functioned as an aphrodisiac. We walked from the play to the bar, trailing the rest of the audience, which included Sarah and some other editors Molly recognizes.
Sarah has just been promoted at the publishing house, and I realize she thinks she is doing her job at this party — plucking me away from the table where I’m talking with the cast and asking me what I want to “do.” She is congratulating me on my article. She says she sees herself in me. She says she wants to see me step into my power — if not tonight, soon. She’s warning me about one of the dudes. Finally, she’s asking what I want in life, as if her New Yorker tote has a genie inside. What I want is to go back to the corner, but if I said that out loud it would be rude.
In the corner, there are four pints of beer, several cups of vodka soda, and five guys discussing the closure of a magazine they all wrote for in the early 2000s. There are four packs of cigarettes and only one lighter. Sarah and the other editors have been pulling Camels out of their bags all night, as if they’re taking us somewhere. We are accessorizing our words with cigarettes. The Camels are forgiving our silences, inviting our imaginations to join us at the bar, and making our observations more pithy than usual. It feels like the editors are placing bets on us, encouraging us. It feels important that I go with the flow. I remember that my body is just a vessel. It’s my ideas I want to see sold.
But you can have whatever you want — it has a nice feel. I imagine if it were for real. I imagine the words are planted in the sky and fall down to earth until they reach the spot where the concrete hits the rubber on my sneakers. They fill me up with direction and pressure. Like leggings that make you suck in your stomach, they fit you well but could always fit better. I wonder if I should go home and figure out what I want. I imagine running off down Metropolitan Avenue, my converse going faster and faster, letting my vodka soda fall to the ground.
But I can’t ditch because my friends are here, and, if I tune my ears right, I can overhear Jack’s conversation with the playwright. Jack asks him why he focused exclusively on the relationships between young girls and older men, until he drops the hardball questions and the two bond over Rohmer, instead. Jack starts making reference to other plays he’s seen and books he’s read. He’s talking about an obscure 17th century text. Now he’s talking about something I haven’t read. When talking to guys like Jack, I used to be able to feel myself shrinking smaller and smaller, until I was tumbling down a rabbit hole surrounded by hardcovers and the boy’s voice started to sound just like my father. This doesn’t happen anymore. Now I’m grounded like dirt. I make jokes.
Jack and I used to have the same job: we were publicity interns. Jack liked the publishing house. I did not. All day, we wrote write pitch letters describing other people’s prose with adjectives that meant very little to me. The house seemed full of people with no feeling for their own lives, content to stay in all day buried in the books we had coming out. I always thought there was some basement dungeon, where they stored adjectives like dried fruit, for days when their imaginations ran dry, as it does, on a nine to five, but no one ever took lunch off to show me.
In front of me, Sarah is listing out some ideas of what I might want for my future. Do I want to be a book scout? Work in publicity? I look over at Harmony. In the play, Harmony was a retired porn star, floating through Europe, crashing in older men’s apartments. Flighty girl, future uncertain. Now she’s pretending she’s Greenpoint’s lead fairy. At the after party, her role is to find the most interesting conversation on the patio and keep it spinning. She takes a sip of red juice that makes her pupils dilate and transforms herself into a warm ball of curiosity. I watch her float into Jack’s conversation with the playwright, hear them talking about age gaps, and leave for the table where the potions are.
Sarah asks what I thought of Harmony’s character. She wants another woman’s opinion. Sarah and the other editors, it turns out, are here on recon missions. The playwright’s book is out on submission. I pause for a minute and tell Sarah I’d like to let the play sit for a day and marinate in my brain before I tell her what I think of it. She grabs my hand and takes me to the bar, orders two vodka sodas and hands the bartender her credit card.
“I mean, what did you think of the misogyny in the play?” she asks.
“The misogyny?” I repeat, my eyes widening.
“The misogyny.” We’re both nodding.
“We’re going to the trampoline,” one of the boys interrupts us while sucking vodka out of my straw. “Harmony wants us to try bouncing.”
The trampoline is on a roof with a view of all of New York City. We admire the high-rise apartments across the street and agree, even though everyone can watch you sleep, the view would be amazing. None of us has a fetish for privacy. It’s 3am. One of the guys says he’s supposed to be writing. Is God real? Someone wants to know now. I started believing in God on vacation and, since then, everything has gotten better. I pray to avoid minor inconvenience and incite exciting encounter. I throw in my ex-boyfriend for good measure. Sometimes his mother.
None of the boys answer the question. Sarah takes a stab at it, saying she doesn’t believe in God — she says she has seen heaven and hell inside of herself. “I think it’s all on this Earth.” Harmony tells me to do a somersault. For a moment, the God subject is dropped.
And then. “So are we in heaven or hell?!” One of the boys asks, landing down. “Or purgatory?” I notice another girl has come up to the roof. She has sparkly fingernails and is clutching her vape so tight it looks like she’s praying. We’re all happy she’s here. She’s really pretty.
I’m sitting on the trampoline in a circle with the crowd. Someone says, “I need a bump of something right now.” Another Camel is placed in my hand. A white light goes off. Harmony is taking a picture of us. Sarah says this is heaven.
I feel that it’s time to get off the roof now.
The boys are all talking. It's 3am. It turns out they’re all supposed to be writing. Sarah has pulled the new girl to the side. The after party is still going. I look over at the playwright and Harmony, who are lying on the trampoline with their eyes closed so that their foreheads and the sky are touching. Shhhh, I want to say. Can’t you see they’re communing?
I climb down to street level. Well, I don’t climb exactly, but sort of drift with my hands on the metal. I look out at everything. I remember that Sarah said I can have whatever I want. I close my eyes, cross my fingers, and pray for there to be a working Citi Bike at the dock. The machine makes a celestial chirp to tell me it’s all under lock.