On the train up to the Lower East Side to DJ a New Year’s Eve party thrown by one of the richest men in America, K and I talk about heliskiing and make up names for gourmet-sounding fast food dishes like a 12-Piece Value Oysters or a (Wendy’s) Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy 1/3rd lb. Diamond Encrusted Salmon. On the platform at Jay Street, I panic about my playlists because I’m not sure if I have enough New Year’s Eve-type music for a crowd invited by one of the richest men in America, so I make a supplementary On-The-Go playlist on my iPod while K types an email draft on her phone. I add “Dancing Queen” by ABBA to the playlist, then delete it because I don’t want to be a DJ who plays “Dancing Queen” because it’s New Year’s Eve, but then I add it again because this isn’t all about me, but I also add “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers because, I guess, at least a little of this is sort of about me.
We get off the train in the Lower East Side and walk over to Ludlow Street and find the address, 1xx Ludlow Street, and there are two parts of the building labeled 1xx Ludlow Street: a well-lit hair salon and a residential building, and I pray silently, like, “Please don’t let this party I’m DJing, that I invited some friends to for New Year’s, be in a well-lit hair salon”—nothing against hair salons obviously but recreational dancers don’t dance as much when they can see each other, and I turn to K and I can tell she’s thinking the same thing. I call the girl who hired me to DJ the party and ask her for the address, and she says, “It’s 1xx Ludlow,” and I say, “I’m standing in front of 1xx Ludlow, all I see is this hair salon and there’s nobody in it….” and she says, “No, it’s in the basement.”
We look around for a second and notice a hole in the sidewalk in front of the building, and we walk over and look down into it and climb down a very steep and narrow ladder that we have to crouch on to avoid bumping our heads on the ceiling, and we find ourselves in a huge basement with concrete floors, concrete walls and a low concrete ceiling. It looks like a cave or a bunker, and there are tables of wine and snacks set up, and candles all around, and party planners milling around too.
I figuratively breathe a sigh of relief because this grungy Lower East Side basement-bunker is a much cooler place for one of the richest men in America to throw a New Year’s Eve party than that hair salon, and it makes me think of something my Dad said when I visited my parents for Thanksgiving: “When I was like you [23 years old], a rich man was in good suits, in good shoes, American cars; now on TV I see rich men, multi-multi-millionaires, in sneakers, in sweatshirts, like schlumpers [Sort-of Yiddish for slob]. Is this the fashion?”
Anyway, I look at some of the candles set up around the room, and then at the one tiny entrance/exit, and then back at the candles. I look around for a fire extinguisher, but I can’t see one, and I realize that one of the richest men in America is putting his life on the line to throw this party in this underground trap that maybe 15% of party attendees could climb up out of if the place caught fire near the ladder/only escape. K and I introduce ourselves to the party planners and walk to the middle of the room and I start setting up my equipment, fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to start playing, as close to the exit as I can be. When it’s time to plug into the sound system, I realize I’m missing a tiny audio converter that would connect my laptop to the sound system.
I run over to a pile of audio equipment and I can’t find the converter and so I panic again, and I call the girl who hired me and she says she’ll send the owner of the space downstairs because he knows about the sound system and he could help. Ten minutes later, I’m pacing and drinking a cup of wine, and the owner of the space, a guy in his late 20s with the sides of his heads shaved, comes downstairs and I tell him about my dilemma and he says he has some audio equipment at one of his other spaces, an art collective on Suffolk Street, and I say, “Can we go there now?”
So me and the owner of the subterranean party space I’m supposed to DJ in run down the sidewalk on Stanton Street, dodging revelers, and I tell him, “Dude, this is like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist!” and he goes, “Yeah, this is the neighborhood that movie took place in!” and we keep running.
We reach the art collective’s building and he opens the gate and we rush inside the space and past some art and then downstairs into the basement, where we rummage through some boxes of audio equipment that looks like it’s mostly from the 80s and 90s. We can’t find the converter I need so he suggests that we take a whole new sound system, and so we load about 100 lbs. of audio equipment into two plastic containers and come back upstairs, close the gate to the art collective, and carry like 50 lbs of audio equipment (each) down the street back to 1xx Ludlow, which is about eight blocks away.
By the time I make it back to 1xx Ludlow, the room is packed with people, my back hurts from carrying the audio equipment, and I’m schvitzing like I’m waiting on a subway platform in August. I see some friends and say, “This isn’t my coolest DJ move,” because DJs are supposed to be cool guys, and I take some napkins off a snack table and towel off my face. Then the girl who hired me to DJ comes over to me and hands me the simple audio converter I needed, which someone brought, and I plug that into the old sound system and play “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates, and then “Last Nite” by The Strokes. I’m eager to please.
An hour and a half later it’s about 11:45 and the party is in full swing. I’ve had some cups of wine, one of the richest men in America dances with his girlfriend and greets his guests in the middle of the room, some Gawker writers hang out and drink cups of wine, a kid keeps coming up to me and telling me to play “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” by Busta Rhymes (“It will work! I promise! It’ll work. I’m a DJ too!”), a venture capitalist who doesn’t not look like Raj Rajaratnam dances with some girls, a bottle of champagne in one hand. Some kids I went to school with, whose startup just got funded for a few hundred thousand dollars, dance in the middle of the room, smiling, looking up at the ceiling. There are definitely some people on ecstasy here but it’s hard to put my finger on which ones, and someone tries to pour me some champagne but I decline—too sugary. K comes up to me and I tell her that I was reading about how honey buns are used as currency in prison because they are so high in sugar that they remind the brain of alcohol, and she nods and gives me a kiss and goes back to dancing.
A few minutes later someone else tries to pour me champagne and I accept it because there’s something really bah humbug about turning down champagne on New Year’s Eve, but I put the cup of champagne down behind me.
A few minutes before midnight I’m playing “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and one of the richest men in America comes up to me and politely tells me to play something more high-energy, and then says, “We’re not ringing in the New Year to this.” I put on “Dancing Queen” and he looks appreciative but I know he’d prefer something more contemporary. I’ll work on that. He tells me to play “We Found Love” by Rihanna after the midnight countdown and I nod and thank him for having me DJ his party.
Someone starts the midnight countdown and it takes a while for the whole room to yell in unison, everyone gets matched up around 6, and then midnight passes and I play “We Found Love” and everyone starts dancing again, so I lean up against the wall behind me and finish my wine and follow that song up with “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G.
At around 1:00 I have to go to the bathroom so I play “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” by the Talking Heads, the live version off “Stop Making Sense,” which is my bathroom song because it’s long enough for me to spend a few minutes away from my computer if I have to wait in line. I run over to the bathroom and the line is about 30 people long so I run to the front and as the person in the bathroom opens the door, I yell, “I’m the DJ!” and jump into the bathroom ahead of the next person waiting, and I close the door behind me.
I can hear a debate raging outside the bathroom about a) whether I am really the DJ, b) whether being the DJ entitles me to jump the line, c) if the music is good, and d) if “we should just bust the door down.” Being under siege like this in the bathroom makes it hard to go, it’s like thirty people are watching me, but I persevere, and I wash my hands and run out of the bathroom and back to my computer, where the venture capitalist with the bottle of champagne requests “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G. I say I already played it, make a gesture where I go back and forth pointing at both of our heads to indicate that we’re on the same wavelength, and play “Southern Hospitality” by Ludacris, which he appreciates, I think, just as much as he would have if I’d played “Hypnotize.”
The party starts winding down at around 3:00, and K and I watch some girls dancing languidly to “Teach Me How To Dougie” towards the back of the room. One of the richest men in America is still dancing with his girl, and K and I dance a little bit. Smoke clears out of the room and somewhere above us, the owner of the space lounges in his apartment with his girlfriend. This is a peaceful time.
I put on “Get Money” by Junior M.A.F.I.A. and stand at my computer, trying to form a New Year’s resolution, and then an angry-looking cop walks in and glares at me and yells, “TURN THAT OFF!” I comply and watch as like fifteen cops flood the room. One is yelling, “WHO OWNS THIS PLACE?!” and another yells, “WHOSE PARTY IS THIS?!” I am in the middle of a high-powered sting operation.
After another minute, there are more cops than party guests. This seems like an appropriate time for the party to definitively wrap up anyway, and so I throw my laptop and equipment in my bag, zip it up, grab my jacket, and walk towards the exit ladder with K. We climb the ladder and walk out onto the street, where we stand around for a minute with one of the richest men in America, who doesn’t seem pleased about this development but is taking it in stride.
We walk over to Delancey Street and try to get a cab but three cab drivers speed away when I tell them I’m going to Brooklyn. I swear to myself that when I get another cab we’ll just hop in and say, “Brooklyn, on the double!” and the driver won’t be able to boot us because it’s illegal to turn someone down if they’re asking for a ride anywhere in the five boroughs, but I can’t get another one for ten minutes (maybe they sense my devious plan) and it’s cold so we defeatedly get on the subway.
Three hours later I wake up to a text from the girl who hired me to DJ: “Guy who helped you w the speakers got arrested! B/c he had a party in his store sans licensing. I almost got arrested. I was sobbing. What a way to start 2012.”
I think about texting back this lyric from “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers: “And the message is clear / this could be the year for the real thing!” but I’m not really sure of how to put the lyric in context, or if it’s applicable, and then, anyway, as I’m lying in bed and trying to figure out how this lyric connects to the arrest situation, or a larger global situation, or nothing and it’s just a song I like, I fall back to sleep.
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