Friday Night at Rocketship

20 10 2007

Continuing the series of places-I’m-already-back-from-but-forgot-to-mention-I-was-going begun with last weekend’s SPX, let me tell you about this party I went to Friday…

The launch party for the AWESOME anthology from ISR and Evil Twin was last night. I got a ride over from Jersey with Mark Smylie. We got a late start, even skipping dinner—I was late to Archaia from the PATH and Mark was wrapping up work—then idled predictably away where citybound Friday night traffic had plugged up the approach to the Holland Tunnel. When we got to Brooklyn, rain was still dripping from awnings where people huddled with their upturned collars, blinking in irritation, wet hair clinging to their skin.

I hadn’t been to this store for a year and a half, during which time the landlord had walled in what I remembered as a back patio, caged in chain link like a city schoolyard, where, in one corner of pitted concrete, a table of beer in plastic cups stood crookedly. The going explanation among disgruntled cartoonists was that neighbors had complained of the noise, which bare sheetrock walls, daubed here and there with white paint, now contained and amplified, so that the room echoed like a cheap venue from the early days of punk. High on the right, a few dusty cinderblocks peered from a ragged gap; above the only sofa, someone had hung the string of jalapeno-shaped lights that once adorned the chain link, tangled like a festive vine, but here did little either to spice up the new atmosphere or to bring back the old. There was still a drinks table in one corner: no longer aslant, but on a cement floor smooth as a garage’s. From behind the girl seated there, the kind of Frosty the Snowman you find on Christmas lawns lent its glow to the bottle of Pinot Grigio, though the reds filed beside remained opaque. I stuffed a dollar in the glass pitcher of tips, and she handed me a clear, hard tumbler of wine. Mr. Phil walked up to me with a Sharpie, proffering a name tag. In white, across a light blue strip on top, it proclaimed: I’m AWESOME.

I’d been at the party for half an hour when Mark asked if I wanted to grab some eats. Where? Stalled before a hardcover of Revere already marked down on a discount spinner rack, he gave a glum shrug. We settled on a Mexican place across the street, and were shown to the last of three tables in the glass alcove by the entrance. The waiter, portly and mustachioed, served Mark a glass of white from a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi he’d fetched not from the bar but from the kitchen. We’d catch snatches of the conversation across from us when, from time to time, the blonde with shaved head and fraying olive cargo pants raised her voice: “cruelty to animals”, “my parents wouldn’t accept him”, “graphic novel”. The wall behind her was a phony fieldstone stucco: large jagged slabs of ersatz rock, lacquered to a spectacularly sham gleam, and slotted horizontally so points and edges jutted a good six inches from the mortar seams. You pictured it behind an artificial waterfall in the foyer of some sprawling 70s ranch mansion, colored spotlights anchored in the chlorine reek where coins from a few drunk guests might wink, jungle suggested by a sharp nearby agave and a few listing, unlit tikis. Colored spots were here, too, in evidence, recessed in alcoves knocked into the fake slate, where they bathed the contents a lurid red: a painted Mary on the glass side of a pillar candle holder, Christ suffering in a spiky gold radiance, a potted cactus backed by a gathered Mexican flag that let peek, in one corner, the fuse box door it was meant to hide. Under and past the treasures of these grottoes snaked tiny lights in plastic tubing, while above, like a climber’s rope caught on an outcrop, dangled a string of silver snowflakes.

It was the kind of place, I realized—just dumpy enough—on whose denizens’ behalf I would have assumed, shortly after moving to New York, and as much from self-pity as from a contempt inextricable from the yearning for companionship, some error of judgment, some rejection or spurning at higher hands, or at best a blighted obliviousness to the city’s energies, its centers and coursings. Why else, on a Friday night, would you be in this place, tasteless and neglected—whose kitschiness afforded, between sitting down and opening the menu, but a minute’s joyful snark or flabbergasted exclamation—instead of somewhere loud and festive where, as you shed your coat, a laughing friend was coming down a narrow hallway toward you with open arms and a margarita in each hand? Tonight, however, felt more clement, like the temperate rain—or the company of a friend gave me confidence. The city, its streets and entrances, tunnels and crossings, seemed more a giant multiplayer pinball game: the silver balls of a million individual lives hurtling off or surrendering to gravity along their parallel or zigzagging paths all over the lighted metropolis, to exclusive destinies.

I was mopping up the last of my mole verde when Mark looked up, surprised, at the sound of voices from across the street. The rain had stopped. I turned to look. People who, a minute earlier, had still been milling now scattered from the darkened storefront toward parked cars.

“Looks like the party’s over,” Mark said.

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