See also my LessWrong preface to this series, and past installments: (i) TAO Downtown,  (ii) LAVO, (iii) Etiquette, and (iv) Silencio.


(v) The Fleur Room

"But you’ll find it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as you thought..."

I hop out of a cab in NoMad a few weeks later, early in December. I’ve ignored R’s and M’s invitations for weeks due to Thanksgiving travels, a major work deadline, and a major thesis deadline, but no longer. It’s Wednesday, and it’s three parties tonight: I’ll join R at The Fleur Room at ten, followed by a trek over to another sibling TAO joint, The Marquee, sometime after midnight, lasting until presumably whenever. And I’ve failed miserably in splitting the difference wardrobe-wise between these two engagements and my first of the evening, my company’s holiday party.

I walk into the restaurant and weave my way back to the private room to join my cowokers. Six-pm, to six-am, the starting pistol goes off in my head as I step across the threshold. The forty-something of them are all already here. I wrap the long, floral, ruggish-looking jacquard-knit coat I wear tighter over my short, short, shortgreen-sequined holiday dress. It’s warm, more so than in the restaurant, and much warmer than outside. I sit down where I can find an empty seat. A waiter asks me what I’ll drink. A tapestry walks into a bar...

Nobody’s heard that one. Party girl walks into a club... everyone. They know the punchline, at least. Me. Shriveling up at twenty-five or twenty-eight or thirty. Gaining weight after a harrowing breakup. Running into a propeller. Live by the sword, die by the sword; they’ll only shed crocodile tears when you bemoan your lost charm. Personally, I drive it like I stole it, especially given I had more than enough of an ugly duckling phase. But not in the joyriding-and-stunts sense, in the paranoia and cautious monotony so you don’t get pulled over and asked for papers which is when they notice something is amiss sense.

So I brandish my cover story indiscriminately throughout the evening: I have another party after this... Yes! That’s why I’m dressed up, like this... I know... Right after, the timing worked out perfectly, fortunately... What? Oh, no it’s not too far, it’s nearby... A friend’s Christmas party... A lounge nearby I think... No, I’m actually a little cold, still... Zara! Oh the dress you mean, Michael Costello... You’re not boring, it’s Wednesday! If it weren’t for that I’d be too... I know... His company’s party, I’m his plus-one... Oh, you know, finance, long hours, otherwise... Yeah, it’ll be pretty swanky I think... Long story…

Dinner is family-style, not unlike that at Baby Brasa. I nibble at the salmon. Someone remarks on how little I’ve eaten. Attention drawn to what you don’t eat when you do. My boss gets up to deliver a short speech, rally the troops and all that. He’s wealthy, from previous ventures, he tells us; he pauses, he switches his gaze from one side of the room to the other, he continues: ‘But you’ll find it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as you thought,’ he pauses again at this, he lets it settle, he continues: ‘It’s impact, it’s…’ he rattles off several other things besides money.

I imagine myself giving the same speech almost verbatim behind the velvet ropes of a club entrance, standing on a soapbox I brought with me for this purpose. ‘I’m model hot,’ I say to a crowd of good civilians gathered ‘round the outer perimeter of the velvet ropes, waiting to be let in. ‘Which is why they…’ I gesture to the bouncers on either side of me, and then behind me to the club itself ‘…indulge me when I give impromptu speeches like this.’ I pause, I switch my gaze from one side of the crowd to the other, I continue: ‘But you’ll find it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as you thought,’ I pause again at this, let it settle, because unlike my boss I don’t know which puzzle I’m trying to solve in the first place, if there is one. 

I tell him none of this as he, I, and a few others slurp down coffee together after dinner. ‘Partygirl just has the coolest stuff’ he says, holding up my arm by the black ourborousish bracelet I’m wearing. We’re some of the last to leave, me to my next party, the others to return home, to a one-year-old who’s already asleep, to a boyfriend of three years, to a nighttime tea ritual they’re militant about performing.

I stop by the restroom on the way out to let the coffee do its diuretic thing. Wash up in one of the co-ed sinks, reapply lipstick, take stock in front of the floor mirror behind the door. Temperature hasn’t turned me into a party girl melt. I slip out of my cocoon and strike a pose to double-check my outfit for the night, my real outfit…pushed her way out and…she was a beautiful bu- The door opens, a coworker I hadn’t seen yet tonight replacing my reflection, struck briefly when he sees me. ‘Anotherpartyafterthis!’ I blurt out my spell as I squeeze past him and vacate the restroom, furling my coat behind me as if I were a fairy who’d just visited him.

 

“Tapestry walks into a bar, bartender says, ‘Look like ya got th’ rug pul–’

 

‘Just a vieux carré,’ the tapestry cuts him off, sits. Vexed expression. Clarifies, ‘For me.’”


I hoof it a few blocks north to join R’s group, arriving just as they’re rummaging around bags and swiping through camera rolls to display proof of vaccinations. Unnervingly, to the bouncer who had cameoed in my dream. Of course. If someone’s really behind the curtain, they’re brilliantly subtle about it when they want to be. I walk-straddle over the velvet rope and take my place as caboose.

When it’s my turn, I hand my vax card and ID over. He takes both in one hand and positions his flashlight over them. Turns it on. Looks. Turns off. Repeats this sequence with a stateless monotony, as if he refreshed a webpage that had just finished loading. Whatever he needs, he gets on try number two: ‘Okay, the young lady goes up.’ Up the stairs and past the lighted sign I go before I start believing that was narration.

Five girls and a promoter all crowd a narrow hallway. The elevator’s in the middle, and opposite that branches off a short passageway leading to coatcheck. We're waiting, it’s not clear what for. I wander over to the opposite end of the hallway and gaze into the darkened, empty barroom there. R is on his phone. The others are still clumped by where we came in. There’s an elevator attendant, and a woman stationed in the coatcheck booth, both exude inaction.

V joins us from outside. More minutes pass. If Tuesday takes Fridays, and Friday, Tuesdays, does that make tonight’s manager Saturday, or Sunday? Finally one girl from our group takes initiative and engages the coat check woman, but this backfires when neither she or any of the others have cash on them. Rookie mistake. Still, it has the effect of rebooting the evening somehow, and I hear the elevator ding twice over the din of the haggling. 

V stays behind, ever the fixer, and R and I enter the elevator alone. We shoot shit about our workdays, how we’d answered emails and attended meetings, as if these were our talismans of maturity; we wave them about, like they’ll reframe our participation in the evening’s frivolities. We have other things going on, mostly. Balls in the air. Irons in the fire. We work hard, so we play hard: the near-universal paean of club clientele.

He grouses some about the other girls: ‘They just...they don’t have their shit together.’ ‘Like, you mean they’re difficult to coordinate with?’ ‘Yeah, that, but... I don’t know... They’re just...’ ‘…Like herding cats, huh?’ I say, a line I realize I lifted from a promoter the book quotes. The rest: Because you have to do two things: make them purr and hit them with a spray bottle. R looks past me blankly for a beat, nods.

Doors slide open, effortlessly he re-dons his facade of effortlessness, and we wander down the hall together and into The Fleur Room, a lovely little lounge thirty-five floors up from a one-block radius of Manhattan known sometimes as The Flower District, with a pedigreed disco ball that looks like an n-sphere. From what I understand, it’s something like the designated TAO pregaming joint; only a matter of time and scope creep before they get into the hangover triage unit business. No booth-back cubbies, so I fold my handbag into my fuzzy coat and stuff it in the corner and hope people mistake it for a throw or something. Like I said, effortlessness.

R pours me my usual and hands it to me. This and other Wednesdays here are branded Whisper Wednesdays, the duration of which the women are made to wear these little headbands with deep violet light-up devil horns, and feel even more like part of the decor than usual. Kudos to marketing, generates user-generated content like a charm. One or another of R’s goons is approaching with close to a dozen bangling up his left arm to pass out. I say ‘No, thanks, I don’t wear purple since Prince died,’ with the maximum solemnity one can impart in a club setting, which works.

Now angelic by comparison, I mill about alone as I drain the night’s first finger of tequila, cherubic in countenance and gazing ethereally out over the lights of the city, unwilling to chance sullying myself by association. Do not give the devil a foothold. Until I feel an insistent finger jab my left tricep a couple of times, V, I notice as I turn to face him, who stuffs a pair into my drink-free hand and continues on before I can register anything other than the or else expression on his face. 

When in Rome. Does it hurt, I ask, donning my dæmonic headpiece, As I fall from heaven? I make my way back over to our table. Tables, now, more girls and promoters have joined us. R has a little go-to move, we all do, something to tread water in clubs with, a bit like a boppin’ Hitler salute. An arm extended and swaying briskly to the beat, some of us mimic it for a bit along with him. Every so often, a budget George Clooney scampers between a few of the other tables, he’s sometimes speaking into a mic too, he holds it perfectly perpendicular to the floor like his fist is a gimbal. His emceeish tone is all I can make out over the music, it’s unclear if he’s with TAO performing some or other function, or just a rambunctious client. I catch him staring at me once.

‘I hope we get to keep these!’ Snapped out of my own little world, I notice the speaker is several inches taller than me. Rare. This not including her ‘fro. Same-enough heel-heights. She must be six-three or thereabouts. A brief flashback to a friend who tried to launch a line of pants for tall women. Turns out, looking like regular folk in tall-people clothes is even more jarring than looking like a tall person in regular-folk clothes. ‘Surely!’ I concur. Some women get free trips to St. Barts out of their time in clubs, and some get headbands with little plastic nubs.

She tells me her name: C. ‘Partygirl!’ I offer my name in return, and we strike up the typical kind of lossy conversation over the music: ‘Do you go out with R often?’ ‘No it’s my first time! I’ve only been in the city for a few months. What about you? Are you going to Marquee after this with everyone?’Yeah probably…maybe, I have work tomorrow.’ ‘What do you do?’ she asks, and I say, a little slowly in a cat-out-of-bag tone, ‘I’m a fashion designer,’ which wasn’t true then, but is now. ‘Ah ha, knew it from your dress, I love it so much!’ ‘Thanks, yeah, I know, me too, the cut is just so good! I wore it for my company’s Christmas party before this, it was perfect!’ ‘Oh, wow. What’s your insta?’

‘Here,’ I hold out my phone to her, you can’t hope to parse Underscore! No with an ‘E’! Dot! Another underscore! over the thumping bass. I make a start at pouring myself more alcohol, but she holds up her drink hand’s index finger and thumbs through various submenus, until she flashes a screen displaying a QR code associated with her account in my direction. ‘Oh. Right. The future!’ I scan it, follow her, and like her most recent post, then lean down again to concoct a little tequila and a little more orange juice together. 

Going to two parties, and at each blaming the other for being overdressed. I wasn’t born in this city, but I got here as fast as I could. I gaze around, sartorially smug. Not a single devil in the building wearing Prada, pity. Perhaps not surprising—at the outset of all this, I was gung-ho to wear my prized pair of Louboutins out, you know, dress for the sugar daddy you want, not the sugar daddy you have. Like, Very Important People’s author takes pains to describe her mildly tattered and so last season to the nth Chanel hand-me-down-from-a-cousin clutch, as if the nightly ritual of baring your handbag’s interior to bouncers for evaluation concerned sharp looks rather than sharp objects. 

No such high bar. Wherever Mears saw the haphazard bouquet of empty Dom Pérignon bottles and pairs of the red-soled shoes she describes at one point, I’ve yet to behold anything so poetically on-the-nose. Not that I have any particular thesis I’m in search of metonymic support for. Maybe Instagram, only nascent during Mears’s period of fieldwork, has proved a better venue for these lavish displays—the reach and relative indelibility of a post, versus the ephemerality of nights spent clubbing. Add to it the snap-and-return dynamic, and it’s an arms race you enter IRL at your own peril. 

Or perhaps Zara’s simulacrum of high-fashion is so advanced the Venn diagram of clients, of men, who both care that the dames are decked out in designer duds, and who can actually discern whether the designer duds the dames are decked out in are indubitable, is totally disjoint? Sorry, word salad, in other words: if you took a bridge or tunnel to get here, you’re not too picky if the girl around your arm’s wardrobe did, too. 

Mass consumption nipping at the heels of conspicuous consumption. Potlatch meets premium mediocre. The hunk of plastic adorning my scalp, which floated across the Pacific in a shipping container and will return to floating across the Pacific in a garbage patch, is the only choice of clothing I’ve felt coerced into making so far. I hold up my phone and try to take a selfie, but the soft purple glow is absolutely blinding, compared to how dark the room is, and ruins every attempt. 

Something something halo effect. I do hope we get to keep these, though, it’s all about souvenirs with me. I spot C across the room at a client’s table, a duo of bald guys, the taller one sporting a double-breasted glen plaid blazer over a black turtleneck, he looks vaguely like the villain from Goldfinger, more so given the six or eight additional girls semi-circling around their booth. I peg the pair as Germans—takes one to know one. 

How do normal people pass the time at these things? Prior experience shows I can get away with being a dead fish indefinitely. Part of my appeal, I’ve come to understand, is that I don’t look particularly happy to be here, such that I don’t look as if I’d be particularly happy to be anywhere, but by designating here the site upon which I shall mete out my disdain, I’ve added value. A ‘girl’ is a social category of woman recognized as so highly valuable that she has the potential to designate a space as ‘very important.’ That’s in the book somewhere, and someplace else it elaborates that this act of designation of mine is not only valuable, it’s commodifiable. Only, not by me. Any attempt would cause the entire charade to fall apart. It devolves into borderline prostitution, that way. 

Genuine revelry is always an option, not that I have that gear. Could’ve brought a friend, found some way to commoditize each other, not that I have friends to which club settings aren’t an anathema. But brooding in the corner is fun: They don’t know I’m here because Tyler Cowen recommended a sociology book on his blog. They don’t know I’m writing a thesis on the geometry of computation. They don’t know alcohol would classify as a Schedule-I drug, were it introduced today. They don’t know all is vanity and vexation of spirit. They don’t know what it’s like to be a bat. They don’t know that in 19-

A couple of younger guys arrive at our table, probably my age. ‘Would you get in trouble if you poured us a drink?’ one says to me. I realize I’m the only one within arm’s length of potentially fulfilling this request. Not clients then, I guess, ‘Go for it, you can yourself!,’ but definitely not promoters. ‘We can’t, but you can.’ The room is small enough I’m surprised they let any chum here, a term for table-less patrons I read about but have yet to hear aloud. ‘Oh,’ I say.

Why not. What is TAO going to do about me giving away their bottom-shelf tequila, scold me? I arrange a few glasses so I can try my hand at filling them all in one tip of the bottle. Just at the club, pouring drinks for my friends. Classic me. Models ‘n bottles, I’m both. Too busy being gregarious, I fail to notice Goldfinger is closing in, fast. Cover blown. I don’t have any exploding tacks on me to throw in his path. When they came for my neighbor, I was silent. When they came for m-

‘You are very, very beautiful. You are a model, yes?’ he asks. 

Why I haven’t come up with a canned response to this one yet. ‘…I am…’ Exact same cat-out-of-bag tone from earlier. 

‘You must let me know if you are ever in Europe! Friends of mine, zhey would love to work with you. I know many models…’

‘Oh maybe, I should… It’s embarrassing, I’ve never left the US before, I really need to! Where in Europe are you?’ C’mon...

‘I’m from Germany-’ yessssssssss ‘-but now, I live in Paris.’

Everyone tells me I look like I’m German, they guess that all the time.’

‘You look very German, it must be in your blood! You live here, in New York?’

‘I do! But I came from Texas, originally!’

‘Tex-as…’ he echoes. Every foreigner says Texas in their cute, unique little way, varying the clip of the T, ranging from half an s to two full ones at the end, differing weights on either side of the barbell with the x at its center. ‘And your name is..?’

‘Partygirl.’

I don’t remember his, if I asked, or if he told it to me. He goes to shake my hand, but does this weird thing where he sort of raises up my right forearm vertically, slowly, and then encircles my arm just below the wrist with his hand and caresses his way up, until he’s cleared my fingers. Does it again with my left arm. 

‘Partygirl, from Tex-as…’ he says, as he performs this…move...okay...

I ask, ‘So…you work in fashion?’

‘Watches. My friend,’ he gestures towards to his bald counterpart across the room‘and myself, we came here on business, to New York.’ As if to clarify, Not to this club‘We have clients in the city, we visit zhem tomorrow and zhe next day. And after zhat, we return to Paris…’

He pulls out his phone and insists I enter my contact info. I aquicese and take it and enter my digits. Passing it back, he pecks the little green Call circle before it can fully leave my grasp. Several seconds tick by. My gaze is still locked on his phone; I don’t look to see if his is on my phone in my hand, or my face. Several more seconds. It lights up, my phone, that is, and I think about picking up and saying something cute. Or holding it close to his to generate a few screeches of feedback. He hangs up and pockets his phone too quickly for me to try either. ‘Come join me at our table?’

He extends his hand, I take it, we wade around couches until we arrive at his table. Their table. There’s sort of an odd-couple energy to the pair of men I pick up on, it reminds me of former neighbors of mine, Jason and Jeffrey, and I silently christen my new German acquaintances with these names. Jason introduces me to Jeffrey. Our hands only shake, he doesn’t go for whatever weird sensual caressing thing Jason did. I’m taller than Jeffrey, with heels on at least, and a bit shorter than Jason. Besides them, I’m the only one standing.

Framed in the window above our booth is the Empire State Building. It changes the color of its lights, and I wonder if someone’s ever used the app from this vantage. In all the marketing material for The Fleur Room, it’s bathed in the same hue as my horns, the purple is probably for NYU, but you capitalize on positive externalities when you can. Jason and Jeffrey have a pricey bottle of vodka at their table, and no tequila. I put my drink down earlier at R’s to play bartender. Jason offers, and I agree to a mixture of cranberry juice and the potato liquor.

Meanwhile, emcee Clooney from earlier has parked himself at our table. I’m introduced, he’s TAO after all. He’s much less a blur of motion than earlier, as if someone adjusted a slider somewhere on him. I lean back away after shaking his hand, and he regards me with the same look as before, eyes trained on me generally, but gaze resting on no one part or point, as if that resolution’s his highest setting, even though we’re much closer now.

Jason ruffles the sequins up and down the small of my back a few times, he finds their chainmailish texture amusing. Other girls around the table look on, still about six or seven, but C isn’t among them now. I haven’t paid enough attention to their table over the last few hours to notice if I’m only the latest in the night’s long line of current fancies, or if the pair’s interest in me is novel. Now the music’s largely stopped, and I’m not sure if last-one-standing or sit-to-stand-another-day is preferable.

‘The manager is taking us to another club soon, you will come?’

‘At the Marquee, you mean?’

‘Yes.’

Jason appears to marvel at me. It’s hard to communicate what being marveled at feels like. Marveled at for how one’s atoms are arranged rather than how one has arranged atoms. You distrust it because you played no part in it. No cue-do-reward, no feedback loop. Spooky action, sans résistance. Yes, technically, you reflect photons in a manner that finagles some other’s evolutionary circuits into firing in some way that choreographs the marveling. So does fire, so does food. So does money, in most. You refuse to believe you played dice with the universe and rolled perfection. Because to fully grasp the magnitude of your winnings is to understand just as viscerally the variance in what life doles out is that high. And from your extreme vantage, it’s all a trough, all the way down. You simply refuse to read the altimeter in order to live.

I realize I should answer him. ‘I’m not sure, I have work tomorrow, it’s late already,’ I go on appending lame clauses. A disappointed expression, much convincing ensues. His persuasions penetrate me like x-rays, and I’m sure he sees enough to see through all of my excuses, but they pass through me harmlessly, so long as I don’t stick around to accumulate too many more microsieverts. I break off from the table’s orbit and snake back through couches to collect my faux throw. R’s group is long gone. I scoot out of the room without even a wave.

Waiting for the elevator, I think better of it, realizing the Germans weren’t far behind with their coats, and Mr. TAO, whose livelihood depends on convincing people to go to nightclubs. Not optimistic I’d last thirty-five floors against his onslaught given how much tequila’s in me, I hightail it to the bathroom. Poking around inside my purse, I’m pleased to discover no one stole all the $5 bills I don’t carry in it to not pay for coatcheck. I look at myself in the mirror, take it all in. Purple horns, blonde hair, hazel eyes, green sequins. I yawn, then contort my face into a Satanic sneer. This is what makes the whole twenty-eight billion-dollarworld go ‘round?

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