I decided to get drunk. I had just finished babysitting the two worst kids. The older one kept telling me I was fat. When I told him I would tell his mom if he continued to say mean things, he burst into tears. All I could do then was take him into my arms and hold him until he fell asleep. There I was rocking back and forth and whispering lullabies to a kid who only moments before had said, “You have a stomach bigger than my mom’s and she’s had two babies.” After the third rendition of his special goodnight song I made a promise to myself to up my rates.
It had been a difficult week in my twenty-eighth year. My best friend had died five years before, and her family was in court suing the hospital. I had spent days with them sitting in the stands, looking around and taking note of how much older and uglier we had all become. A couple years prior, my other childhood best friend and I had a huge falling out. I thought that in the past year we’d slowly started to build a bridge, sending each other nostalgic texts and emails full of private jokes. But, that night I found out from a double agent friend that she was in town and hanging out with our old gang. I hadn’t been invited. Fuck her, Fuck me, Fuck everything, I thought: I wanna go out and get into trouble. I texted everyone I knew who wasn’t at that damn party, and I came up with a friend in the same despondent mind set.
We checked out a bar in Red Hook, a bar that on more than one occasion had been known to produce magic. It normally had a blue grass jam session where everyone could bring their instruments and play along. Folks would swig whiskey, pound on their banjos and fiddles, and by the end of the night it was a safe bet that someone would be under the table with the stand up bassist. That evening though, the bar was dead. We knew the bartender so we got all our drinks for free, which was good, but not really enough to stay and listen continuously to Fleetwood Mac albums. I thought — I gotta get out of New York. My friend wanted to go home. I wouldn’t hear of it. I was longing for the kind of wild nights I’d had when I first moved to New York six years earlier. Like the time I was twenty-three and went out for a drink at 10pm and at dawn found myself on a house boat with a couple of gypsies and the man who would later break my heart. I begged her to stay and check out one more bar.
When we walked in everyone looked up from their beers and gave us the “what are you doing here” look. This was a typical Red Hook dive bar: Drunken old dudes with leather faces and bud light on tap. We were probably the only people under forty, and the clientele took full advantage. There were eyes everywhere, and I was undressed before I made it to the bar.
We ordered a drink. We smoked a cigarette. I asked for a light. That’s when I met him. He was older, around fifty, a hot hipster dad with long hair and tattoos. You know the type. The ones who can afford to live in New York with a family and still go on looking and partying like they just graduated from the Kings of Leon University. He was the sort of grown up I wanted to be. He had all the benefits of being an adult: a cool job as a documentary photographer snapping shots of prostitutes in Harlem, a long marriage with a woman he met in college, a family, and plenty of money. But he still acted and looked like a twenty-something. There are some people in New York who get old and stay young all at the same time, and in all the right ways. It’s like they sleep and eat and work in tupperware containers. Little did I know.
We got to talking and I told him I was a babysitter. He told me he had three little girls and one who just turned fourteen. I asked if it was weird for him to know that somewhere his own babysitter was out getting drunk and chatting someone up just like I was. He chuckled uncomfortably. Hook line and sinker, baby.
He also grew up moving around the world, and went to the same obscure, alternative college I’d gone to. This school only takes about six hundred kids so it was really weird that we were both alums. He asked if he could drive me home, and it was though a tiny light went off inside me. I thought, here it is: The story I’m chasing.
I buckled up into the passenger seat of his minivan and went eastward home. As he pulled up to my stoop he gave me fifty bucks and told me to go to the bodega to buy us some beers and a pack of cigarettes. I had no idea if I should pocket the change. Is it exotic to stuff fifteen dollars into your back pocket or demeaning?
We sat on the stoop and drank and smoked. He bought two loaves of lard bread from the late night entrance at Mazola’s bakery, and we scarfed them down. I was so drunk that every tug on my cigarette made my glands wince, and I gagged in response. I kept smoking though because I believed it focused me, and I needed clarity then, when everything seemed to be moving.
We moved past small talk and now were on to the real flirting. The secret-telling flirting. The trauma-sharing flirting. The vulnerability act. I told him how I felt lost, my career as an actor wasn’t going anywhere and I was fast outgrowing babysitting. He slumped forward and took a drag of his smoke. He said he didn’t love his wife anymore and slept in a separate bedroom from her. He told me he hadn’t loved her for years but couldn’t face the thought of divorce for his kids, so instead he stayed out till five in the morning trying to get drunk. He put his head on my shoulder, his long hair tickled my collar bone. He tried to jam his hand down my shirt and the second to last button popped open. I took a deep breath and shrugged him off.
Any ounce of attraction I had for him drained from me. I wanted him because I thought his life was the perfect combination of professionalism and parties. I thought he loved his wife. If I could get close to him physically I could get close to the grown up life I’d fantasized about. Maybe he could save me. But, the last thing I wanted was to become an emotionally lost, age-ing hipster desperately pursuing any fun time I could get my hands on. The more he confessed about his own unhappiness the more he transformed from Red Hook rock star to a sad old man. Trying to steady him away from me, I suddenly woke up from whatever delusion I had been selling to myself. What was I doing on my stoop, with my denim unbuttoned far too low to be an accident, pretending we were just “hanging out.” He pushed his tongue into my mouth and I pulled away. He begged to come upstairs and I said the bravest thing I’ve ever said to a man: No.
The next morning I came out onto my stoop in broad day light. There were cigarette butts and empty beer bottles everywhere. I was hungover and the sun was starting to give me a headache. I swept up and put the trash on the sidewalk to be collected. I turned around to face the now clean and tidy steps and realized that eternal youth in New York comes with a price. Even though this guy wore the uniform of cool: man-bun, Canadian tuxedo and skull and cross bones necklaces, his loveless marriage and deep depression weren’t part of the glamorous lifestyle I thought he had and that I wanted for my own future.
New York can be the perfect Never Never Land because there are so many sanctioned distractions from responsibility. It doesn’t seem hip or liberated or progressive to say out loud that what you’re looking for is commitment. It makes me feel typical and didn’t we all come here to be someone special? Didn’t we all come here thinking we were too independent to need someone else, too ambitious to be serious about any guys? At least, I thought I was a bohemian temptress in a crop top, short shorts and Keds, seducing everyone in my path but falling for no one. Clearly, I got a lot of face to save. Having a real relationship with somebody, or even myself for that matter, was put off for a rainy day somewhere down the line in my thirties. Well I’m twenty-eight now and I see that horizon fast approaching. I realized I wanted to get serious.