Tom Lombardi has returned to his stomping grounds of Williamsburg after several years away.
The wife and I ride the elevator thirty-something floors up the spine of a newly constructed condo that stands, along with its glassy companions, on the waterfront on Kent Avenue. My wife’s friends’ crib is magnificent, with floor-to-ceiling windows that expose various sides: South and East Williamsburg, Greenpoint and beyond. Little people – humans below, not midgets – can be seen sipping sunset cocktails on roof decks.
We sip chilled vodka and eat pricey cheese and aged chorizo and talk about their baby. It’s a good moment for all of us. The baby makes us feel young. My wife’s holding it now, kissing its pudgy cheeks. She looks good holding a baby, I think.
Standing in this apartment in the sky, I think about how I used to walk around excoriating the graves being dug for these waterfront monstrosities. There was this crude, tiny “beach” area we used to bring dates to. It was a barren, scarred concrete wall, on which you sat with your babe and bragged about the future, the East River lapping gently below your feet. Being that close to the river made you feel like Walt Whitman (no homo). In touch with nature. Now, these waterfront parks are life-size architectural models that never quite come to life.
Whenever I’m in a nice apartment, I contemplate my sins. I’ve been such a negative creep in my marriage lately, complaining about everything. I’d like to offer something substantial to my wife: kids, a house, a trip to Belize, an afternoon without me bitching. I’m not alone in my angst. Many of my friends in NY are getting priced out, reaching 40 and living on the fringes of the subway map. Artists lofts have been replaced with luxury skyrises. You wanna make art, fuck you — go to Philly. The rebel today is a loser. His film would be called Rebel Without a House.
Meanwhile, I’ve heard others cheerfully boast: “The stock market is SOOO good right now!”
Being around this couple with the baby, however, assuages the angst. They are happy. Genuinely. How much is a down payment for one of these joints, I’m tempted to ask. I wanna rob a bank and move in next door. Our kids can play together.
On the balcony, my friend offers me more wine.
“No, thanks,” I say, “I have to go to a rave later.”
“What?” he laughs.
“It’s for this column I’m writing.”
“A column for what — Ecstasy Weekly?””
“It’s about a 40-year-old hipster.”
“So whatta you do? I mean, in the column?”
“I do, like, Williamsburg things.”
“Like, not shave and go to raves?”
“Something like that.”
There are hundreds of windows in the adjacent building, filled with nouveau ’burg residents. In one of them I spot a gigantic, comfortable-looking bed. Maybe the rave, I think, will end early.
During dinner, we tell rave stories. Or try to. But no one’s got one, probably because most raves end up in the same place. It’s like telling grocery store stories. We talk about Molly, which is so popular even the Times is writing about it. None of us have done it. We talk about our careers, we trade vacation stories, etc.
I used to have a saying: “People in their twenties just wanna be somebody. People in their thirties just wanna be with somebody. And people in their forties just want to be with their kids.” And yet, this couple wants more than that, they’re actually well rounded and engaging — tinged with just enough cynicism to make you feel welcome. Suddenly, fireworks explode over the East River.
I clutch my wife’s hand as the skyrise wind combs over us and a giant sunflower explodes over the water, and I think, this is the way to live.
Later, the only thirty-something I can drag to a rave accompanies me on the walk from Williamsburg to Bushwick. The journey has the feeling of going back in time as the bodegas and multiple family homes yield to hallways of abandoned, industrial buildings.
It occurs to me I once had a one-night stand with a chick I met in Bushwick on the premise that she couldn’t get a ride back to the city. “You can stay at my place,” I offered. She’d looked at me and, apparently, decided that sharing a bed with a stranger was preferable to roaming Bushwick for a subway at 5am.
Meanwhile, the buildings are ominously empty. These factories may have contributed to greenhouse gasses, but they were built with an old-world pride that’s intoxicating. No wonder Bushwick is hip! My friend and I hear the bass in the distance. We pick up our pace. Neither of us have “raved” in years.
I’m expecting the worst, which is to say the best: the Molly-doing hipsters of Bushwick that the likes of those on the wrong side of 35 can only read about: the young, the reckless, the naked. This is where you do not want your daughter going, in other words.
The long line outside being monitored by a bevy of professionally bodyguards, however, has me instantly disappointed. I remember going to underground parties near the Williamsburg Bridge to which bodyguards, or anything reminding us of the real world, like one’s integrity, for instance, was not allowed. Everything at those parties, including the absinthe, was illegal.
We make our way inside through the VIP door around the side of the warehouse, as a younger friend of mine got us on the guest list. Between the guest list on the iPad and the wristbands, and more bodyguard presence inside, this is starting to feel less like a rave than an elaborate magazine shoot for Urban Outfitters.
Inside, the bass is enthralling. My nerve endings start to rattle. This is exciting! A rave, man!
We get a drink in the cramped, outside bar. There’s a penned area featuring a “silent DJ” who plays music to a gaggle of ravers listening to his shit via hand-out headphones. Maybe if I were on molly I wouldn’t find the silent DJ corny. Maybe if I were on molly I’d be enjoying myself. I’ll have to bring this up at my next shrink session: “I can’t even enjoy a fuckin’ rave. What’s wrong with me?”
For reasons unknown to man, there’s a colossal, inflatable rendition of a turned-over Titanic, with ravers sliding down it.
If this were a movie of a rave in Bushwick, there’d be something impossibly illicit and hip, like a giant model – maybe of a church – made entirely of Molly, and the ravers would come by and pluck various parts — little church goers, minivans, a Deacon – and shove them in their mouths. There’s nothing of the sort. No sign of anything illegal. We drink Red Bull and vodka. Eventually, I start getting into it. The bass is so loud my spleen is vibrating.
But later on, in a sea of what feels like children – some of them wearing lights on their heads – I decide I don’t belong. As if to prove my point, I have my friend take pics of me shirtless, doing ironic poses. No one notices. Raves and irony don’t mix. I put my shirt back on, feeling old and starting to envy people getting their eight hours. I tell my friend we should head back. But we don’t. We wait. For something to happen. But it’s a rave. It never does.
When we exit, it’s like we’re biffed by the golden finger of Mother Nature. The sun burns our eyes. Zombie ravers straggle about the empty streets. Ah, this is how it used to be in the ’burg. This is how it should be – the vacant buildings, the dearth of commerce, the rising sun . . .
We stumble into another rave, only this one’s keeping it real. Inside this abandoned cement structure, the sun spilling through the courtyard, everyone dances to the music as if time doesn’t exist. Then I see something strange: a tattooed dude raising a vial to his nose and sniffing its contents. I look at my phone. It’s 6:10am. I watch him stumble into the crowd. Gosh, I think, this poor kid – he needs help.
It occurs to me then that we’re standing on the sacred ground of the indigenous hipsters. Soon the bulldozers will arrive. The condos will rise. The miniature sprinklers will ignite over a bed of glistening produce in the new Whole Foods. Small plates. Doggie parks. Coconut-water-drinking yogis. Expensive shoe stores. Strollers. Digital companies with pretentiously archaic names like “Wheel Barrel.” Charter schools. Neighborhood Associations…
So be it. I just wanna sleep.