THE PARTY II
Venturing out on the town in Los Angeles is an expedition of sorts. Sold on myths and legends, you trudge your way through the Eastside marshland and its various distributaries, chasing addresses and miracles, in search of glittering, golden parties, alive with abundant rivers of alcohol, beautiful people, and advantageous introductions.
The scene is always set in much the same way: After parking in the red and wandering down the wrong cul-de-sac, the din of thundering bass and shrill voices announce the location of your prize. You approach the concrete driveway of some Lautner-esque architectural marvel alongside your comrades for the evening and experience a moment of excitement as the door to Inferno looms larger and you take one last look at the purgatory from whence you came.
Inside, the heat of it all rises up to greet you immediately as you pass the long-legged creatures flanking the entryway like a many-headed hellhound, teetering on precarious high heels, and attempting to master themselves despite the dizzying combination of vodka and starvation. You have entered to find that the room is full of those rich in pull and prestige. You try to hold your own, despite the fact that as you take in the scene, you’re met with a sea of unfriendly faces—all performing the charade of looking without seeing—hungry, and fed only by the clandestine hope that someone, somewhere is watching and admiring. If you catch an eye and smile, you’re met with nothing in return—a deadened gaze as if you’re made from not but air.
Having lost your companions eons ago, you find an acquaintance to glom onto—someone familiar, though not so much as to give you any real feeling of belonging. They greet you vaguely—somehow you’re both aware that they’re doing you a favor in acknowledging your existence. You notice a stunning gazelle beside your human life raft—her faultless, marble face is downturned, illuminated by the light of her phone as she scrolls through an endless social media Rolodex with freshly manicured nails. You recognize her, she’s a model—but she also works as a hostess at a tapas restaurant you’ve been to a few times. There’s a brief introduction, she glances at you for only a moment, uttering a perfunctory, “Hi” before returning to her pressing task, leaving the warmth of your “How’s it going?” to shiver in the cold air between you, unanswered.
You take your leave of the present company, and drift room to room, circle to circle, like a ghost, repeating the same ritual of humiliation over and over again. You meet everyone, but no one meets you. Some are inattentive at best, but others are downright unkind—devotees of the in-vogue, intentionally cultivated persona in which intrigue and importance are generated by an icy, impenetrable facade.
After some time, you may happen upon someone you know more sincerely (or sometimes even biblically). You approach with confidence, but it soon melts away as you tap their shoulder in a sheepish greeting—calling them to turn from their huddled mass of strangers, all clad in black like roosting bats. While they may pay you some decent kindness, or even share a drink or smoke, crouched in the trenches of your overcrowded local haunt, here, in Lotusland, they afford you no more than a few moments before returning to their dark colony, draping wings about themselves in an indication that you have no place among them.
You feel bitterness towards everyone and wish a blight on all their area codes, you take it personally—after all, it’s always the same. In accordance with your somewhat self-effacing nature, you decide it makes sense that everyone in almost any room you ever enter hates you and most likely believes you should be executed by public stoning. However, as you continue to surveil the room, you realize that this may be a solipsistic delusion—more likely, those who seem as if they have no vested interest in your company are behaving this way because, well, they have no vested interest in your company. The room is lively and bright, full of shoulder claps and salutations, beaming smiles, and squealing greetings, but these are luxuries exchanged between those deemed Brahmins of the clout caste. Social Sudras are not worthy of acknowledgment—names tossed to the wind like an unwanted business card, accepting dismissal as castigation for the crime of being unknown. No, they don’t hate you. Instead, you’re invisible—unworthy even of hatred, undeserving of thought.
From your vantage point, standing with your back against the balcony, forced chain-smoking as your buttress against the appearance of discomfort, the pieces fall into place: Coldness is in fashion—it’s “chic”, and those who participate are oft rewarded for it. Casual cruelty is a brand, a burned insignia that acts as a symbol for mutual recognition in the wild. Your warm, open nature is an overripe fruit, they can smell the cloying sweetness of your soft center—it’s your tell that you don’t belong.
Your friends emerge suddenly from the throng. They greet you with relief and excitement as if you’re a lost dog, and you wag your tail in kind—grateful to be visibly bound in flesh once more. They join you in keeping busy—lifting cigarettes to lips, breathing in, and exhaling in unison like a choreographed dance routine. No one wants to make the first move to leave—after all, a life-changing encounter could still be just around the bend. You all hold yourselves hostage for a little while longer, taking in the visual feast of flesh and frivolity. You admit that from afar it has all the appearance of a good time—like a bowl of plastic fruit or an impressionist painting. Finally, someone has the courage to cut your bonds with the reminder that “nothing good happens after 2 AM”. The words rise and darken the moon—hope dies at long last and you all agree to go home.
In the car, everyone compares notes. One of your cronies recounts how he spent some time unsuccessfully circling a young, well-known actress like a shark, hoping to separate her from her pod and make his move. Having lost track of time over mutual interests with strangers in the hidden master bathroom, another friend beside you in the backseat blinks rapidly like she means to tell you a secret in Morse code—her teeth clenching and unclenching almost imperceptibly. Pensively watching colossal homes swim past the windows by the soft light of street lamps, you detail your observations from the evening—the trending unkindness that seems to have taken hold. You ask everyone if they’ve noticed this—a subtle uptick in scornful superiority, but they all disagree, citing that it’s always been this way, for as long as anyone can remember.
As the car rumbles to a halt in front of your apartment building, your designated driver announces that there’s another party next weekend—a gathering of mythic proportions, with whispers of attendees from the highest orders of the food chain. Your fellow compatriots all chuckle ruefully and sigh with exhaustion, echoing one after another that they’re down to attend—like sailors having all drawn short straws. You scoff at the lot of them in incredulity, reminding them that the story is always the same—that each time, your imaginations run barefoot all over the Hollywood hills, casting enchantments and urging you to try, try again, but it’s never what was promised in dreams.
You gather yourself and step out of the car, taking care to lift the pit in your stomach that you’ve carried around all evening and will continue to bear for the next few days. As you turn on your heels, someone calls out, asking wryly if you’ll tag along again next weekend too. You observe the evening’s damage—your slothful, nodding chauffeur, your front and backseat companions, lust and gluttony, jonesing for high-quality ass and higher-quality party favors. And then, of course, there’s you—a mixture of envy and pride, contemptuous of the whole city, rotting from the inside with longing for some hallucinatory, bygone era of eye contact, and authentic courtesy. Starving for recognition of your inherent worth reflected in the faces of strangers, thirsting for anything at all that brings a pulse to the frigid tundra of this social climate and reminds you why you haven’t up and left yet.
You roll your eyes theatrically as you listen to your friends’ closing arguments. In the margins of their persuasive words, you see it all so clearly—same street, same house, same people, same city, same feeling. Ever on, and on, and on. You say, “We’ll see” receiving a cacophony of mock groans in response as you head inside, knowing full well that in a few days, when the pit has become lighter and your memory faded, when the humdrum of everyday seeds longing for the fantasy, and your unshod imagination takes off running again, you’ll text them all asking whose party it is and if they think you’ll be able to get in.
The Map of Hell - Botticelli (1480-1490)