jason christoper hartley

October 27, 2009

City Swing Sets

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 2:45 am

After a long, cold, miserably rainy Army weekend spent mostly at a rifle range in New Jersey, I go to bed late Sunday night and sleep well into Monday afternoon. When I wake I feel renewed and well rested. Everything is wonderful and anything is possible and what the fuck am I doing with my life. Wearing body armor all day is murder on your back. It felt good to have spent several hours supine. I hop on the computer and get an IM from Paul Hoffman asking me if maybe I’d like to see a movie and grab some food. I haven’t seen Paul in the longest and I don’t have shit going on, so I agree to meet him at his office near Union Square. Paul is the editorial chairman of the website bigthink.com. He’s also the former editor of Encyclopedia Britannica and author one of my favorite books, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. He’s this unassuming brainiac. He’s about six-foot-four and wears faded t-shirts and jeans like it’s his uniform. I walk to his office, he shows me where all the magic happens, and we leave. He hasn’t seen Inglourious Basterds yet, so the plan is to hit the 6:35 screening at the Union Square theater. I drag him over to Park Bar because it’s early and it’s not yet packed with the afterwork suitdrones and other midtown chum. We sit at an absurdly unstable high table and my stool is more like a rocking horse than a seat. Three rounds of Amstels and Malbecs later with no fucking buybacks which is bullshit, it’s well after the start time of the film, so we say Oh well and makes plans to eat. We agree on Chat ‘n’ Chew, which is close and both of us haven’t been there in a while. I get a text from my friend Theresa Ortolani. She’s a photographer. She did my headshot. Her text reads, “KGB MF!” Fuck. I tell Paul, “I have to leave right now. I have this friend who has a PhD in English from Oxford named Ernie Hilbert who recently published a collection of poetry. He’s doing a reading tonight at KGB Bar and I completely forgot that it was tonight. Anyway, you should come!” He agrees. We split, grab a cab, get to KGB, and head upstairs. Ernie is already reading. The bar is packed and quiet as a church. Theresa has two open seats and two bottles of Stella waiting for us. Nice. We sit and listen to him read a dozen or so poems. One is called “In-School Suspension.” In it a kid staples a piece of paper to his own head. Another is called “Panthera,” but it is not about Pantera. Ernie jokes about the Panthera-Pantera thing because he’s a huge metal fan. My favorite line is of the night is, “In suburban sandboxes and city swing sets.” Ernie finishes and is signing copies of his book. I sidle into an open chair at the table where he is sitting and I shake his hand. We exchange platitudes about how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other. He introduces me to the man next to him telling him I’m a marine and a machine gunner. I correct him by saying that I’m a soldier, but whatever. The man introduces himself to me as Dave King. I tell him, “I know who you are, Dave King. I acknowledged you in my book.” He’s the author of the book The Ha-Ha and read my blog while I was in Iraq and he was instrumental in helping me find a literary agent. This is my first time meeting him in real life. We chat briefly. A woman at the lectern is clearing her throat, about to read some of her work. Paul, Theresa, and I exit before she begins. The three of us cab it to a Ukranian place called Veselka where Theresa had agreed to meet a photographer friend for dinner. Paul tells me that when his mother immigrated, this was the first place she went because it had food familiar to her. Theresa’s friend shows up. He has long, braided pigtails and is sporting a mustache-soulpatch facial hair combo. There should be a name for this configuration. He has an accent. His name is Stephan and he’s Swiss. During dinner I mention how excellent of a website Look At This Fucking Hipster is not realizing until I’m already talking about it that I’m sort of an asshole. Theresa and Stephan are going to a party and invite me to come along. Paul peaces out because he’s a grown up. We take a cab to the party which is at a club way over on the west side. There’s a velvet rope and dudes in black suits at the front door, which is something I normally stay far from, but Theresa and Stephan were invited and Theresa knows the girl with the clipboard, so we get in without effort even though apparently 3000 people RSVP’d and the capacity is 300. Inside is swank and there’s not much of a crowd yet. There’s a hostess girl who is easily six foot two. She dances playfully and it’s utterly graceless. The party is to celebrate the opening of the Tokion Magazine website and is sponsored by a gin maker. We beeline to the bar and order some gin drinks. I joke with Theresa that I most certainly will not know anyone at the party, then I see a guy I know who also happens to be a photographer. I try to avoid eye contact. He sees me, we greet, he starts taking to Theresa, I escape. Once Theresa regroups with me I inform her that the guy is a fucking toolbag who used to be what both of us once were: the studio manager at George Brown Studio, my current residence. I tell her that on more than one occasion, people walked in on him masturbating. Yeah, gross. We take a seat on a bench and commence with people watching. Now that I’m sitting and looking around I realize what a scene the place is. There’s a guy with a camera running around snapping photos of all the beautiful people. The guy who owns the magazine is here and I’m introduced to him by either Theresa or Stephan. I think his name is Don. Theresa tells me he also owns the magazines Surface and Inked. He has a Buddha belly and is wearing a sweater and does not look the way I’d imagine an owner of hip magazines to look. Which I like. Because the asshole I’m sitting next to has eyeliner on and is wearing a single fingerless glove on his left hand. It dawns on me that this is probably an event that people in the fashion industry, or whatever industry this is, would kill people to be at, judging from the amount of peacocking and huckstering I’m witnessing. Tokion was the second magazine to ever publish anything I wrote, so I have in my heart a warm place for them, but who or what exactly I’m not sure where to find in this room. Theresa isn’t really feeling it either and Stephan has been in search and destroy mode since we got here, so we finish our drinks and prepare our exodus. Theresa tries to find Stephan to tell him goodbye, but fails. Outside there is a massive throng of well-dressed, well-scrubbed young and fanciful Manhattanites crowding around the velvet rope. They look like the sheer face of a glacier, pieces occasionally breaking off and slipping into the ocean of open sidewalk before disappearing behind the doors. The palace guard in the black suit warns me, “All exits are final.”