Josh Heller contemplates cultural misconceptions while partying / doing keg stands in Brooklyn.
I FOLLOWED EVERY HIPSTER in North America to Brooklyn in early 2008. The plan was simple: move into a sick warehouse, start an indie band, find a tattooed girlfriend, become a famous alt-rocker, tour the globe, and make millions.
I pretty much only got through step one.
My roommates were the first white guys to move into this neighborhood, ten years prior, when tough metal dudes moved to Bushwick because it was cheap, and there was a lot of space. Metal bros’ gentrifying presence paved the way for artists, then hipsters, then yuppies. In the six months I lived in the neighborhood, three condos sprung up within a block-and-a-half of our residence.
I didn’t like interacting with my roommates so I was out of the house all the time. I already knew people in New York, but nobody lived in my neighborhood. I’d visit friends in Williamsburg and the East Village. We’d drink $6-whiskey-shot-and-PBR-tall-boys at cleverly named bars and talk about getting yelled at by New Yorkers, bloggers who gave our bands bad reviews (when they were right), and meeting girls on Match.com.
We were all single, and always trying to figure out the best ways to meet girls. We lacked the bravado to holler at girls, which is probably why we moved to Brooklyn in the first place. A nation of awkward women who are kind of into the vague advances of nervous guys.
At the time I worked for an online newsroom. It meant that I could do my job from anywhere. I never worked from home because I hated being there. So I’d work from bars, co-working spaces, rooftops, and sometimes from the cafe around the corner.
The Archive was on the gentrification line — the frontier for young white settlers. Living in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn was like watching the occupation of the Wild West. Whites encroaching on the land of the indigenous people who lived there. This was the edge of the new urban Manifest Destiny. The Morgan train station was the last stop in hipster territory. It had a general store, a saloon, and a civic center: The Archive. It was a video store, cafe, and hangout. They had free wi-fi and cheap refills.
My job had its advantages, namely never having to go into an office, but the downside was that I sold every weekend to the company I worked for. I’d hang out at The Archive to feel like I wasn’t totally missing out on weekends. I was normally scheduled on the 5pm-2am shift — so I could rarely party, the main reason I came to New York in the first place.
On a Saturday in mid-May I was only scheduled to work until 10pm. This night was going to be different — I’d finally have the opportunity to go dumb, to go stupid, go hyphy. (I can say that because this was during the height of the Hyphy Movement, when it was still vibrant and relevant.) I counted down the hours until I could clock out and head to the huge theme party around the corner.
Work that night was pretty chill. I watched YouTube videos like it was my job, because it was my job. I drank coffee and talked to whoever was around.
Two dudes I’d never seen before were sitting at my table. They were speaking Spanish to each other; talking shit about the 14-minute noise composition that the pretentious barista insisted on playing at full volume. I joined in the conversation. I love speaking Spanish — and any excuse to talk trash on avant-garde experimental art.
Jorge was a grad student from Guadalajara and Rafa was an architect from Medellín. I was excited to talk to them because I’d spent the previous year teaching Geography and Hip Hop Studies in Mexico, and I’d been planning to work remotely from the beaches of Colombia when it got cold in New York.
Jorge and I traded Mexican vulgaridades and Rafa told me about the best places to eat in Antioquia. They had also just arrived in Williamsburg and were trying to suss out the scene: Why were people here so obsessed with being perceived as artistic? Was everyone faking it? Were there any authentically interesting people here? Were we all idiots because we couldn’t see the true aesthetic merit of a 14-minute cacophony?
We talked for a few hours about getting yelled at by New Yorkers, and the best places to meet girls. (They did not think Match.com was a very good location.) Jorge said that I looked like and acted like his friend Dionisio in DF.
I became overly excited about being now more vaguely connected to my favorite member of the Greek pantheon, Dionysus, God of Party. And his glory shined down upon me, because it was now 10pm: quitting hour.
Jorge and Rafa were awesome, so I invited them to the blow-out. They didn’t really get what the theme party was about. I read them the Facebook invite.
The ladies of Flushing Manor cordially invite you to the ‘Almost Heroes’ party. Commemorating the tenth anniversary of Chris Farley’s final film, and the finest representation on the subject of Manifest Destiny.
Come get hyphy-as-fuck, while dressed as your favorite character from the American frontier. There will be drinks, babes of all ages, and a VJ remixing the movie (maybe?).
L to Morgan or J to Myrtle. We’re the warehouse next to the construction site. Text for the address.
Rafa asked why they needed to make such a big excuse to have a party? I didn’t know. Jorge said that he loved that movie, they always used to play it on bus rides across central Mexico.
We stopped at a bodega and each filled a black plastic bag with $1 cans of Coors. We walked a few more blocks to the party. Before we got there Jorge wanted to know more about the girls: How did I know them? What were they like? Were they single?
I said that I’d met a few of these girls the month prior at a kickball tournament in McCarren Park. I wasn’t playing but a liquor company was handing out free drinks. They also weren’t playing because they didn’t want sprained ankles before their league games. They were fun and we kept in touch. I ended up running into them everywhere: the subway, the bar, the cheese aisle at the Whole Foods on Houston. I wasn’t really that into them, but I told Jorge and Rafa that the girls were pretty cute. I was banking on meeting some of their friends at the party.
We walked past an impound lot, a line of factories, and the $600K condo developments. Very little noise was coming from the party. We entered, and it turned out not to be the wild bonanza that the flyer had led us to expect. Just a dozen people wearing cowboy hats (and a few insensitive Native appropriated headdresses).
I found the host, Jess. She was busy making phone calls, seeming frustrated that nobody had shown up, but she introduced her friends to Jorge, Rafa, and me.
Her friend Becca was a pop culture blogger by day and indie celebutante DJ Alligator Mango Puss by night. Allison was getting a PhD in Environmental Ecology and was also the proprietor of an enterprising burrito delivery service.
Rafa asked where everyone was. Becca said she thought that people were coming later. Rafa said it didn’t seem like anybody else would come to this strange party. And why would people even dress up for it? Becca immediately sensed snark in his tone and reverted to her own sarcastic disposition. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
Meanwhile Jorge talked to Allison. He told her that he’d never met a girl more beautiful than she. She blushed. He said they could take a trip far away to his family’s ranch and watch the sun set behind the shimmering hills, leaving only the shadows of the magueys and the echoes of the jackrabbits. He would then embrace her and hold her in the same manner that papa jackrabbit holds mama jackrabbit. Allison looked disgusted.
Rafa followed Becca to the makeshift bar, and asked her to make him a drink. She laughed indignantly and poured herself one. Moving to stand beside her, he made himself a rum and cola.
“In Colombia we call these Cuba Libres.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that — every bar in Brooklyn calls them that too,” she said, squeezing limes into her drink.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No..Wait, what?” She was genuinely confused but somehow transfixed on his smile.
“Well I’m new here, you can show me around.”
Becca clearly liked Rafa in spite of herself.
Jorge continued his very forward attempts at romancing Allison. She was definitely not into it. It was my first priority to make sure everyone else felt comfortable. I mean I did bring these dudes that I’d just met to a party with people I barely knew. I intervened and asked Allison if she was involved in Williamsburg’s vibrant kickball scene. Jorge eventually got the hint and walked away to hit on every other girl at the party.
Each girl that he spoke to was turned off by his bravado. This party was populated by educated white people who might presume that the overt sexual advances of a suave Latin American were sexist. What might make a Latin woman swoon could make a Brooklyn Hipster Chick cringe. But “Rico Suavé-ness” is a cultural phenomenon, and since intelligent hipsters have a propensity towards relativism I was able to diffuse the situation.
“Your friend is kind of being a sleazeball!”
“Oh, Jorge isn’t trying to be a creep. Overt sexuality is a part of his culture… Wait — you aren’t racist are you?”
Was I providing a heavily gendered interpretation of feminist womanhood? Was I continuing to apply an imperialist worldview to my Latin friends?
Nobody wanted to be thought of as a racist so they stopped being put off by Rafa and Jorge’s antics. I thought about it more — I didn’t want to be thought of as racist or sexist. What was my role in witnessing this whole scenario from the privileged viewpoint of the white male gaze? Was I providing a heavily gendered interpretation of feminist womanhood? Was I continuing to apply an imperialist worldview to my Latin friends? There was a lot to think about…. Suddenly my train of thought was interrupted by Jess. She stopped me to ask if I wanted to do a keg stand. Upside down and full of beer, I thought about how in this case the “race card” was able to trump the “gender inequality card” but some other system of oppression might trump both of these cards another time.
Drunk, I talked to Allison more. A little bit about the areas of her academic focus, a little about how ridiculous Jorge was, and about how we had the same glasses.
Rafa, Becca, Jorge, and another girl walked over. They were saying their goodbye because Jorge demanded that he take them to this little Mexican diner on Grand Ave. to prove how delicious authentic tinga de pollo really was. Rafa was skeptical.
As their crew was leaving, I asked Becca if she was going home with Rafa because he fulfilled the myth of the Latin Lover and if she was just buying into Hegemonic Tropicalization. She said “Um — I just like that he’s passionate, argumentative, and intense — and he’s also pretty hot.”
I said goodbye to Jorge and Rafa. We exchanged numbers. My new friends thanked me for bringing them to this party and invited me to their Argentine roommate’s asado the next week.
As they left I continued my conversation with Allison. We had a few more drinks, and at the end of the night I got her telephone number. She said she was impressed that I’d used the term Hegemonic Tropicalization. I had no idea what it meant.