Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Night Chris Caught Fire

One of the best things about New York City is the parties. It starts off innocently enough: you find an event that sounds interesting, meet some people, get on some mailing lists, and one day you turn on your computer and you've got four hundred emails for everything from a sunrise party in Phuket to a drug-fueled rave on the slanted roof of a Subway sandwich shop. That's how I heard about the Lady Gaga afterparty at Plum, a nightclub I'd never heard of that was just a couple blocks from the Flatiron building.

I have more than a few annoying neuroses, but fighting for most obnoxious is my need to get to places early. It's rooted in insecurity: I know I'm a total geek and can't compete with successful, attractive people, so I make sure I don't have to. I get to clubs right after the janitor has left with mop in hand, around the same time the DJ walks in. Sure, it's dull for a few hours, but instead of the doorman saying, "I'm sorry, but we're really full right now," he's all, "Yeah, c'mon in. A bartender should turn up in an hour or two."

Chris and I settled into the best banquette and played with our phones until other people started showing up. We'd never been to the club before, so we watched for a few minutes to get a handle on the crowd. After the first few couples entered, we noticed a pattern. Young, beautiful, well-dressed woman ... with old, unattractive, out-of-shape man. They came in by the dozens, varying only in ethnicity and with some ladies towering two feet over their partners instead of the average one-foot-eight. The men unbuttoned the waistbands of their Armani trousers before sitting down, spreading their arms across the banquettes and surveying the landscape. "There sure are some hot chicks here tonight," they exclaimed, to which their partners replied, "There sure are! Be back in a minute!" before kissing the air around them and fleeing to party with their doppelgängers next to the dance floor.

After the women burned off their initial energy, one of them noticed us in the way you'd spot a diamond earring on the ground. First it catches your eye in passing, then you give it a longer "What is that?" look. Finally it registers in the brain and you decide to investigate. She strode over confidently, like this wasn't her first trek down the catwalk, before plopping down on the sofa next to Chris.

"Hi, my name's Watson," she said. "Why aren't you dudes partying with us ladies?"

"We're gay," Chris blurted out. He might have been a little tipsy. Do the math and you'll notice another drawback to getting to clubs early: one drink every half hour and arriving at opening means that when the first female checks her Balmain wrap Chris and I are on the dance floor with our shirts off grinding against potted plants.

"You're GAY?" Watson yelled. "WOOHOO! Let's just check this out for sure!" She jumped onto Chris' crotch and started riding him like an Appaloosa, hanging onto his lapel with one hand and flailing the other around her head for counterbalance. We were, of course, reasonably startled, but from the lack of attention the act was attracting we realized that nobody cared if a beautiful young woman mistook a tony club for a Hogs n' Heifers or a tiny Englishman for a mechanical bull. In this case, however, there was less a chance of the rider being thrown than of the bull sliding out of his pants and running screaming into the night.

This is when it all slipped into slow-motion: Watson was riding Chris like a bronco, and he was staring at her in horror and trying to back away. Even if his crotch couldn't disengage contact, it's like the top half of his body thought it could regain some decorum if it were at a reasonable distance. Unfortunately, on top of the banquette was a harmless-looking candle, flickering quietly in its clear glass jar and giving off a vanilla scent. Chris, on the other hand, was wearing a Harrington jacket, which is a retro style from the 1970s that allegedly says rock and roll in England but because it's 100% polyester says to Americans, "Come see the softer side of Sears." As he slid back, his collar stretched across the candle, and slowly it started to brown and shrivel until it crinkled like a potato chip. Rather than being one of those "WHOMF!" fires fed by dried Christmas trees or gasoline it was like the fire wasn't sure it was wanted to move on, but did, you know, just because it was already there and might as well explore.

I'd been watching the whole scenario so I caught on pretty quick. Chris, apparently, had gotten clued in by the warmth. Our hands flew to his neck pretty much simultaneously, patting out the red sparks while trying to keep the molten fabric from touching and perhaps permanently adhering to his neck. Watson remained oblivious, caught up in her midnight ride, like there were still a few British settlers who hadn't woken up. As an odd scent circled the club every expression turned quizzical. Watson slowed. Her eyes glanced anxiously around the room before they settled on us. "Do you guys smell smoke?" she asked, finally climbing off her mount.

"It's all you, baby," Chris purred. "You could set cement on fire."

Watson laughed and I rolled my eyes. Chris and I looked at each other and knew that was it for the night. We'd found an adventure. That's what you look for when you go out in New York. Sure, maybe with other people it was dangerous music, or dangerous drugs, or dangerous strangers, but Chris and I were timid types who derived enough excitement from things like inertia and gravity. Chris rolled up his coat, burying the burnt collar inside, and we stood up to go.

Watson's face fell but she leapt up to hug us. "Let's do this again!" she cried, pulling out a business card that had her name and number on it and absolutely nothing else. Looking back, I almost wish we'd called her. She was fearless and exciting and maybe a little tweaked, but we were young and dumb and only had so many clothes.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The First Line Of My New Novel

Dennis Murgly's wife died after four years of marriage, which is why his three daughters are named Faith, Hope and Brandi Lynn.

Friday, April 1, 2016

There's a hidden secret in New York that eventually everybody hears about. It's an abandoned subway station directly below City Hall. It made sense to put it there many years ago, since it provided an easy path to work for the city's politicians. Somewhere along the line, however, those politicians decided that it probably wasn't smart to ferry an endless line of possible suicide bombers directly underneath them.

City Hall station is at the very bottom of the subway line, on a loop the train uses to switch from traveling south to north, so it was easy to close off. Now you could travel south on the train, or you could travel north on the train, but you couldn't travel on that little section of track where it passes beneath City Hall and switches from south to north.

At least not officially.

Eventually some feckless traveller decided they'd ignore these instructions, and they discovered that nobody tried to stop them. The conductor says it's the end of the line and everybody has to get off, but nobody double-checks. They stayed in their seats and were ferried right through the gorgeous, abandoned station, and then they ran home to tell their friends.

Chris had been here almost ten years before he heard about it, but when he did he literally dragged me to the subway to give it a try. We sat in the front car so we'd get the best view, and stayed in our seats when everybody left. Before the train started up again, though, the conductor approached and repeated that it was the last stop.

Chris never told the truth when a lie would suffice, so he launched into an off-the-cuff fraud. "VEE er FOR-in TOO-rists," he announced. "VEE haf HURD of dee abandoned sub-VAY STAY-shun DEEP under-GRUND. VEE vud LAKE to see dees STAY-shun."

The conductor shot Chris a quizzical glance but eventually he shrugged. "Okay," he said, and he put out a call on his radio, presumably alerting someone that there would be two people aboard when the train turned around. In a gesture of international friendship, he waved us into the cab with him, then started up the train and we were off. "Where are you guys from?" he asked.

"VEE er from SVEE-den," Chris said. "But vee really LOF dees city." He was about to offer further details when we pulled into the station and our mouths dropped open in awe.

Everywhere we looked, intricate patterns of gold leaf sparkled with the light. Gold arches curved above the track, inset with panels of stained glass that glowed with intense jewel colors. A skylight of wrought iron had tendrils of hammered metal that recalled 1920s France. Guastavino arches buttressed the ceiling in gently-interlocking planes of orange and yellow tile.

The driver inched forward so we could get a detailed look. "So how long have you guys been in New York?" the conductor asked.

With his face inches from the window, Chris was lost in the face of pure beauty. "Almost ten years now," he announced.