It Hardly Matters

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bullets Below Houston

I recently saw Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway again. Besides the John Cusack character reminding me of an ex-boyfriend (idealistic, stubborn, sweet), the scenes of the young playwright and a grande dame of Broadway sloshing gin martinis in Theater District speakeasies made me long for my first few years in New York -- the years when I acted out my version of these scenes with my screenwriter and barcrawler friends. The major differences were that drinking was legal and that none of us had written anything yet.

In 2000, my friends and I were what you could call professional bargoers (a direct result of most of us working in bars). We loved to drink, but the point of our almost-nightly outings wasn't to sample the trendiest cocktail in the sleekest new club or put on tube tops and do 11 shots of Jรคeger -- the point was to sip on a cocktail or two (or five), smoke a bunch of cigarettes, and talk. Talk about films, about writing, about love and sex, about how Yeats and Welles and Cobain were geniuses before the age of 27 and about why the fuck weren't we? We weren't seeking a buzz, although we welcomed it when it came (hello sweet friend); we were seeking inspiration. Enamored with ourselves and everything we said, we carried notebooks filled with direct quotes "for our screenplays." On bevnaps we doodled diagrams of the universe, poem fragments, and crude renderings of that pair of boots on 8th Street, slipping them into purses and jacket pockets only to throw them away the next time we had colds. When I think of this time in my life, J, of course, is in every scene.

J isn't a grande dame of Broadway or my ex. She's one of my best friends. J made it OK for me to move to New York -- she was already here, knew the ropes, and let me stay with her. She got me a job and practically got me an apartment. She lent me her clothes, her friends, $20, whatever. I paid her back in nights. On these nights, J and I would try on jeans for an hour, have a pre-cocktail cocktail, then walk half a block to Botanica, where the music was loud, the drinks were cheap, and the ashtrays were gigantic cut glass monstrosities that we would slowly fill to capacity. Boys in ring-necked T-shirts and shaggy hair would trip by us on their way to the back room to see how their belt buckles looked in under red light bulbs. Girls in newsboy caps and dangly earrings sat on couches, whispering to each other (about us? Bring it, bitches), eyes pasted on boys. J and I would order vodka tonics and light up, hunched on thrift-store armchairs, breathlessly telling one another about the book we'd just read the movie we'd just seen the couple that had come into the bar the conversation we'd had the poem we'd started. We'd pick books to adapt, come up with ideas for TV shows and song cycles. This would go on for hours. Bevnaps flew. Eventually, we'd get drunk and either go home or take a cab 6 blocks to Eldridge Street and dance with teenagers from Staten Island.

I'm not talking breathlessly in bars as much as I once was. J lives in LA now, has a baby; I work 9-6 in New York. We talk on the phone, but it's not the same as when we're actually sitting together. I only know two bartenders. People I once barcrawled with have quit smoking, moved away, gotten married, all three. The perfection and possibility of those nights seems far off, at least as far away as the World Trade Center was tall from where I sit, being a bad employee, typing romance and potential on a keyboard that should be used strictly for catalog copy and permissions letters. A lot can change in 6 years, but nothing can erase the time I spent downtown before everything changed. I'm just glad I got to play for a while before it did.


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