We stopped for some slices of pizza, the kind with the papery char from a wood-burning oven, the fresh basil and mozzarella, the proud counterman. Delectable, but wasted on us because we were rushing to a party in Williamsburg that Golden Boy’s friend had invited us to. I was excited; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone to a party. Actually, I do remember, but the guests had spoken only German — the strange Swiss variety.
“The band’s still there, but not for long,” said Golden Boy, after a phone call with Carly.
“That’s okay.” The idea of it sounded loud anyway. “There’s a band?”
It was a loft apartment on a semi-industrial side street. And there was a band. But it was a swing band. And there was a swing band singer. And they all wore old-fashioned attire. And on the enormous floor of the living room that had been turned into a dance floor, the people were swing dancing. And some of them were in costume, too.
“What’s going on here?” I said.
“It’s a swing band.”
Carly introduced us to one of the apartment dwellers, a medium height man with a red beard and wild eyes. Besides a bright, youthful t‑shirt, he was walking around in what looked like pajama bottoms.
“Hi, welcome! Get a drink! Get some food!” I noticed then that most of the men were bearded. But first we wanted to look at the people dancing.
“You know that girl out there,” I said. “The tall Asian one. She looks familiar to me.”
“She’s gone all out,” said Golden Boy.
“She was tall like that.”
“Who is she?”
“I think I went on an online date with her once. Years ago.”
“You should ask her.”
Then we got some wine. And there was food, too, so we got some of that. Then Golden Boy got “cheesed,” meaning somehow he had gotten on his clothes splotches of what looked like warm Brie. This mortified him, because he is an especially neat and well put-together fellow. Getting cheesed — well, it would not do. So he disappeared to clean himself up while I delved into the sausage, cutting it up for a few pairs of excited hands that appeared out of nowhere above the plate, wanting some of it, too.
I wandered. Four bedrooms, it looked like, with one of them functioning as the party’s pot-smoking room. About five people were in there, shrouded. All of them friendly and giving, actively inclusive. In fact, these were the friendliest people I had met in a long time.
“They’re so friendly!” I said to Golden Boy, who reappeared, looking relieved, with Carly. The swing band swung on. The singer was a slight woman who looked as though she had stepped out of a time portal.
“There’s a dirty little secret about this apartment,” said Carly.
“What? They’re like paying no rent?” I was surprised it had taken so long for someone to bring it up. It’s a New York thing, asking about the rent.
“No, not that.” She leaned in, conspiratorially. “This is an orgy apartment.”
“The roommates all have sex with each other.”
“Could you point these roommates out to me?”
Just then a woman approached me and grabbed my waist, pulling me onto the dance floor. I looked back at Golden Boy, my eyes asking him for some kind of guidance.
She wanted to dance in a swing dance kind of way, but what did I know of swing dancing? I’m more of a free styler. But she must like me, I thought. Why would she pick me out of a crowd? How bold! Who does that? We danced, then the song ended and she smiled and walked away.
I reported back to Golden Boy. “That was strange.”
“Did you know her?”
“No. Not at all. I thought she liked me. But after the song she walked away.”
“You really think they have sex with each other?” Golden Boy wondered.
“And I think Carly’s a part of it, to tell you the truth.”
“I agree. I think she’s the orgy mistress.”
“It was her way of telling us without telling us.”
“Wait, does that mean we’ve been invited to an orgy?”
“I hope not. I bet orgies are better in theory than in practice.”
A strange friend of Golden Boy’s arrived. Carly had invited him, too, but he was late because he wanted to go home first and put on his contact lenses. He looked and dressed like Mister Rogers. But Mister Rogers was calm and self-possessed.
“Oh hey, hello. I’m, uh, I’m Jeffrey.”
Jeffrey was awkward and goofy. There was a bit of the child about him. Golden Boy told me that he dated beautiful woman who chased and then left him. The last one was an Israeli.
“She must have eaten him alive, the poor bastard.”
“Don’t tell him about the orgy.”
Another woman, blond, asked me to dance. Wow, I thought, she likes me, too! But then she moved in a way that signaled she also want to swing.
“Oh, you know, I don’t really know how to do this.” I felt like the Jeffrey.
I asked her about the scene and she told me that most of the people here were part of a swing dance group — cult, more like it. They took lessons and got together every week to dance. That was their thing. At the end of the dance, I asked if she wanted to go again.
“Oh, no thanks. I don’t like this song.”
And she walked away.
“It’s a swing dancing thing,” I said to Golden Boy. “Our lines are crossed. We’re working with one set of codes and they’re working with another.”
“Is that why you’re still not talking to her?”
“Shut up, Golden Boy. I’ve been humiliated.”
The social codes. A woman comes up to me, asks me to dance, so I think she likes me. But to her I’m merely an available dance partner. We go into it with entirely different expectations and and then are left trying to untangle the confusion.
“It’s swing dancing and orgies. We might be missing the orgy codes, too.”
“Let’s go back to the room. You know, the room.”
“They’re friendly in there.”
Jeffrey then looked at me, shy but eager about something. Bursting with eagerness, actually.
“Oh, um, David. Would you mind very much if I asked that lady you were dancing with before to dance with me?”
“Hum? What? What lady?”
“Oh, never mind, never mind. It’s an inappropriate question. The blond woman.”
“Oh, her? Yeah, of course.”
“Are you sure?”
“Am I sure? What, you want me to hit you?”
“Ha ha ha. Oh wait, are you serious? I shouldn’t have asked?”
“Jeff. Just go. I don’t even know her name.”
He thanked me heartily, shaking my hand, and then went to find her. Minutes later he was out there, throwing — swinging — her with expert precision. He knew what he was doing, in other words.
The tall Asian woman — had she really been that tall? — had stopped dancing and sat on a chair against the wall. This is it, I thought. Damn it, I’m going to ask her about our past. So I walked up to her.
“Hey, don’t I know you?“ ‘
“Who, me?” She had a deep voice.
“Um, yes. Didn’t we once go out once?”
“I don’t think so. I’m in drag.”
“Oh. You’re kidding.”
“You didn’t know that?”
“You look exactly like her.” My face had already become red from the wine, so I was okay. I decided to shrug this off. Time in the room with the friendly people had helped tremendously.
“You’re saying I look like a girl?” He sounded offended when I thought he should be flattered.
“Yeah, you do. Exactly. You look great. Just great.”
I trotted back to the happy smoky room. “That Asian woman,” I croaked. “She’s a man.”
Golden Boy laughed brutally and who could blame him? “Oh, David,” he said. “This is some great party.”
And it was some great party. A tubby man wearing a fur hat with fur horns walked by. And weren’t the men and women here looking at each other in a funny, knowing way? Wait, and the host — the red bearded man — wasn’t he a tad too friendly toward each arriving female guest? He ran his hands seductively down their backs when he greeted them. And they didn’t seem to mind. And that group of four people who had just met; why did two of them perform a kind of test kiss, leaning forward diffidently and applying the quick peck on the lips while the other two clapped? And why was that Swedish man (bearded) handing Jeffrey a card? Had Jeffrey been invited to the orgy? Was it because he danced so well? He made his way back to us after putting the card into his pocket.
“He didn’t say a word,” exclaimed Golden Boy after Jeffrey blankly walked by.
“He walked right by us.”
“He’s in the orgy. He’s been invited.”
“Golden Boy, I’m going home.”
“It’s 2am. I’m happy as shit. I don’t want to be around for the dregs of the party coming down.”
I always leave parties early, right before they spin out of control or die. I just can’t stay anywhere too long. So I left and found the subway. The platform was crowded with happy, dissipated people. The mood on the train taking me back into Manhattan was absurdly festive.
So this was what things were like so late at night in New York. I had forgotten. I had forgotten that New York sometimes got a little out of bounds after dark.
What else was I missing?