(ix) TAO Downtown
"...the surprisingly conflicted meanings participants constructed about ostentation..."
I’m scooting my way down the sidewalk on Sixteenth again, alongside the line of people snaking out from the club’s entrance, I woke up a few hours ago, and I’m returning to TAO Downtown solo so I can full-circle this thing and move on with my life when ‘Hi, miss! We’re recording a series for TikTok for a school project—what’s the craziest, wildest, most out-there thing you’ve seen at a nightclub?’
Two youngish-looking guys have trapped me at the hotdog stand chokepoint. To take the long way around, I’d have to pass by where the stand exhausts its smelly fumes. Gross. I look at this guy who’s speaking at me, and then to his friend with a camera on his shoulder, he’s it got pointed at me. I didn’t know cameras on shoulders could even talk to TikTok.
But wait, what the fuck, I’m a primary source now. Do you two mooks realize how much of an outlier I am? I’m radioactive, I’m gold-198, I’m mangling the footage you’ve already recorded while I stall so I can finish counting the zeroes on my altimeter to tell you how just deep this rabithole goes. I am kid in fourth grade who picks himself to write his very first ever biography about impartial here. If I so much as open my mouth your distribution gets dragged so hard Dewey defeats Truman:
‘I… …um… …nothing, really, you know… …difficult to convey…’
I’m spinning in a daze of Gell-Mann Amnesia, how many icebergs like me did Mears potentially interview in the course of her fieldwork? Fewer than one probably, but not zero, not entirely, no way. You can’t just declare the buck stops here on this sort of recursion and ensconce your subjects and their world within a little snow globe. It’s a snake-eat-tail world out there; no methodology is that sound, even hers:
Ethnography is well suited to the observation of practices behind coordinated action like a potlatch; here, supplementary interviews were necessary to understand the surprisingly conflicted meanings participants constructed about ostentation…
She accompanied like forty different promoters on more than a hundred nights out, God bless her, I couldn’t stomach beyond single digits. Out of some vague noblesse oblige, I am meek and merciful to these sociology undergrad mooks as I mete out the surprisingly conflicted meanings I’ve constructed about ostentation:
‘…uh… I… You know that one movie… …yeah, ohmygod I always forget he was in that!… like, when she puts on the wig and looks just like Betty, I… yeah, and kept just reappearing, like he’s the Cow—what?… Oh, you’re right, twice now, yeah, guess I didn’t do good…’
Sooner or later they’re satisfied with whatever surprisingly conflicted meanings they’ve gotten out of this participant, and I resume my scooting toward’s TAO’s entrance. Upon arrival, I barrage the poor bouncer opposite me with random R-names, ‘I’m with R, or maybe R, or…’ until he just sighs and unclips the velvet rope between us. A clump of men being metal-detected at the security checkpoint ahead of me turn around, hearing my commotion, maybe I said one or all of their names. One guy does that male chin-raise thing in my direction and mumble-growls to the rest, ‘That’s the kind of girl I need.’ I pretend I’m preoccupied with not tottering over on the steep steps. When it’s my turn to get TSA’d I receive an incredulous ‘You walked here?’ from the bag-search bouncer as he watches me Mary Poppins one flat and then the other out of my teeny purse. I give him a small whatcanyoudo shrug, like Yeah, Escalade’s in the shop. He waves me on, waits for me to finish stuffing my shoes back into my purse, then waves me on again.
Once inside, I contemplate checking my trusty coat and just leaving it here to haunt this place forever, zerosixoneoneseven, zerosixoneoneseeeeeeevennnnnnnn! If I find it’s appeared back in my closet one day, I’ll know for certain the people behind the curtain have me marked for life. A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given unto it, but the sign of the bird po–
Shit. It’s another of R’s promoter associate buddies, I met him on one of my earlier nights out. He looks like someone who will grow up to become a limo driver. A network’s impact is the squa–
‘Do you want to come join our table?’
Why not. Full circle. At least to start the night. I follow him down the stairs and onto the dance floor, we push through the throngs of partiers to get to a booth on the far side of the floor. Men in chains adorn the table next to us. I exchange greetings with people around our table, and pour myself some Prosecco, full circle. I start talking with a guy at our table who’s not a promoter, but also not a client: a rare Male Pretty Wallpaper sighting. Very Important People mentions promoters enlist these guys sometimes, to get us girls to come out:
‘This is my first time, this is crazy!’
‘It’s not even one yet, it’ll get a hundred times wilder than what you see right now!’ His button-down is killing me, the fashion designer part of me, it’s so amazing for some reason, it’s blue-and-white striped, but there's a tuft here and a tuft here of little colorful bits of yarn, like weeds growing out of a wall of concrete, like the little lures old flyfishing men attach to their hats, and it’s just…
‘Are you in college?’ He asks.
‘Yeah, NYU! You?’
‘UChicago! I moved here six months ago after I graduated, to New York!’ He’s gotta be one of us. No UChicagoan would be caught dead at one of these things unironically. He’s gotta. I press for more:
‘I almost went there! But I just loved NYC so much, Chicago’s so cold. What did you study?’
‘Oh, I went for acting!’ He says this like it’s some kind of technicality. ‘I moved here to find work, but so far I’m still kinda like in my starving-artist phase, you know? I go to these things because of the free drinks…’
Just an out-of-work actor. Here for the alcohol, free-as-in. Wow. I need a cover story like that, he really had me for a minute. Or maybe it was just his shirt. A promoter, one whom I don’t know and who’s wildly, obscenely Irish interrupts us, and offer us tiny little plastic shotglasses brimmed up with some orange concoction that came out of a thermos he smuggled in. This is my last night clubbing, probably ever, so statistically I don’t see much of a risk in accepting sketchy alcohol. I drink up. This happens at least two or three times more over the next fifteen minutes, the bootlegging-offer-taking-up-on. Between this and the Prosecco, I’m far drunker than I’ve ever been at these things. Mears claims she was never much one to imbibe:
Copious amounts of alcohol and drugs are supplied to women free of charge in these settings. I usually held a drink during the parties, taking occasional sips to fit in, but rarely consuming enough to cloud my senses.
But drinking your way through a subject can be great fun. Theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian. After a final shot-taking, I decide to go Peter-rabbiting, my original, hip-new club slang for hopping around random clients’ tables and guzzling. I haven’t been up on the balcony yet, so I wander up the stairs and barge in uninvited. A foreign-looking Jared Leto in a black velvet blazer seems to be the ringleader client, he’s surrounded by a few other men and a few girls, a half-dozen more are leaning over the railing to get a view of the mosh down below. I go over and ingratiate myself with him, and he pours me some champagne from a bottle with a little glow-in-the-dark label. At some point a waiterly-looking woman with a bill-looking piece of paper comes up to us to verify something with him, but I can’t see straight enough to read any of the tiny digits printed on it.
I get up from our booth and look out over the railing, taking it all in. It occurs to me I should post a story, because I’m drunk and doing off-brand things sound like tons of fun. I do it, and receive a half-dozen thoroughly confused DMs from people who know me IRL the next morning. The alcohol, it’s really sinking teeth into my sanity, or is it satiety? whatever, one or the other’s outta wack. It doesn’t feel like I’ve quite full circled everything in sight yet, but inebriated me has her head screwed on with enough full-circles to know I ought to make my way home soon, before I full-passout. I thank my host like I owe him something and try to make up some excuse for leaving:
‘I’d love to stay, but I have church in the morning!’ It’s a little past four and I’m at TAO Downtown, on my fourth consecutive night of clubbing. And I say that. He looks me up and down, like he’s screenshotting, then asks:
‘Are you Croatian!?’
Fullcirclefullcirclefullcirclefullcirclefullcir- I’m chanting on the inside, but I put on a show of being exasperated out of principle: ‘“Am I Croatian!?” God no, I’m not Croatian! And! I’m not Germ–’
He grabs my arm to steady me, because I almost stumble over while winding up to gesculate. He leans over and shouts into my ear, ‘No, I said, “Are you Christian!?”’
I wake up, cottonmouthed and feeling like a barge on the East River’s worth of crud needs to be scraped out from inside me. It’s barely light out. I lean up, and look in the mirror at the foot of my bed to see how intact my makeup still is. I’ll make it to church, after all! Easy li–rrrrrahgghh gets late early I roll back over and bury myself in covers ten or fifteen minutes later, when it dawns those snatches of light were dusk.
Once, years ago, I was in my hometown, at a retirement party for my elementary-school art teacher. It was a Baptist school, and the little third-person bio blurb about the dainty old woman in the bulletins they were giving out contained the sentence Her younger years saw her rebelling against the ways of the LORD, until His grace and mercy called to her through a career opportunity in Christian education at [Baptist school].
You don’t know what that rebelling entailed, exactly; either she quit going to church for a few years during college or was a minor accessory to a friend’s abortion, or she was a fixture at orgies at The Factory. No in-between. ‘Oh, I used to go clubbing…’ is what I’ll say, about these few weeks of my life, many years from now, they’ll look at me, with my heightslendernessyouthandfacialbeauty long since gone to sod, and wonder…