by Zoey Greenwald

Kathy Acker, New York City in 1979:
All the poor people who’re making this club fashionable so the rich want to hang out here, even though the poor never make a buck off the rich pleasure, are sitting on cars, watching rich people walk into the club.

Anyway. Tonight at the club I’m carrying ice buckets up the stairs in my Disaffected Club Girl— the girl on the job, on hour seven of the job, wearing her eyeliner like an ancient wiseman trying to block out the sun or like an Aubrey Plaza character— as opposed to my Woohoo Club Girl, the girl who would’ve been at a lame party in Manhattan right now candy flipping or pretending to be candy flipping while considering the ethics of simultaneously flirting with the Gucci model I’ve got crush on and the older artist who invited me to a sex party. No, walking down the stairs in my tiny tiny skirt two people look up at me as if I have interrupted. I walk past them, go dump the ice.

Later, I watch them make out on the security cameras. In the grainy black-and-white they look the opposite of whatever I suppose they feel: alone; away; mythic. In the dark with the smell of cardboard, I’m sucking on a lime, trying not to get scurvy, like the time Grimes only ate spaghetti for a year. In the hazy corner of the screen his hand is just barely visible on her leg and her thigh is sticking to dried vodka on the bench, pulling slowly. Like watching Tom and Jerry without the sound on. When he goes for her neck, he doesn’t push her hair out of the way. She flips it, shaking her head. A little like she’s miming “no.”

I see worse in daylight. Like in daylight, when Ana and I were supposed to go see Variety by Bette Gordon, but she texted me: CASTING RUNNING LONG. MEET ME HERE? Skipping up the stairs of a building in SoHo, I arrived at a large, heavy studio. Even though it was summer, nobody seemed to be sweating. I was the only one in the room sweating, maybe because I was wearing a leather bodysuit. For a Marc Jacobs casting, I also seemed to be the only one wearing  a type of clothing other than black tank tops. Feeling the sweat in-between my earlobes and my headphones, I was handed a piece of paper and told to write my name, height, and shoe size.  There was no waiting room and I didn’t protest.

The shoes we were made to walk in: these seven-inch platform boots stopping two inches below the knee, rows of small buckles fastening the objects to our bodies. Looking at Ana, we were in some strange erotic game involving prosthetics, exhibition, and humiliation. I felt dizzier than I do when I’m drunk. Ana hates this kind of thing; the whole game; this production of images that is ostensibly a job, and before the summer is out she will email her agent that she wants to quit. But I wanted to be comatose in those shoes, like Winona Ryder in the back of Vogue. Winona Ryder is short, too.I was the shortest person in the room, the shoes making everybody already tall taller towering statuesque icons. The word of the moment: icon.

That summer I had so briefly visited Sky at school. In something that wasn’t quite a dorm room but definitely also wasn’t a real place, I said I don’t even want to be an icon to the nonbinary nineteen-year-old who had called my outfit iconic. I sighed: It seems like so much work. I was drunk, wearing an admittedly great outfit and being annoying on a college campus. The nonbinary nineteen-year-old was playing a synthesizer and seemed practiced; more practiced and sober than the haute intelligentsia who roll through the club with their bright blue Hennesey cocktails and Comme De Garcons. At the very least more dedicated and practiced than me, who rolls my eyes and falls carelessly into the designer clothing that my friends have laying around, too-cool for makeup until someone’s on me with it and I’m too busy loving whoever’s on me with it to complain.  There was still glitter on my eyelids from the club when I took the redeye to visit Sky. I wanted to imagine what it would be like to be a nonbinary nineteen-year-old at a real actual college, with a cafeteria and a library and a rolling green where things are comfortable and have comfortable precedents. Tragically, this was my relief from the world. I mean, New York.

Leaning behind the bar, I have a text from Flynn. NEED YOU. I’ve been running lights when Flynn needs to take bathroom breaks, cracking open a Modelo and trying not to spill it on the lightboard, playing the lightboard like a synthesizer even though I have no idea what any of the buttons do. This is a lot like my life. Oh, blackout. Oh, pinks. Oh, blues. Oh, strobe. I flick a switch and a tall, bright column of orange and red bulbs illuminates. It seems like it was supposed to be saved for a special occasion. Wait, I know this one. It’s an exact replica of the light columns at Studio 54.

I never said I wasn’t interested in history, even if I am too busy sweeping cigarette butts and pocketing half-full dimebags and ripping tights into bra-tops to participate in it. Sometimes, bussing cups around the club, carrying my tray against my tequila-sticky midriff, I imagine myself a cigarette girl at Studio 54— if cigarette girls were even still a thing by then. One time a man attempts to take my tray from me but actually is holding my ass under my skirt. ESCAPE FROM PLANET CREEPO! But after he’s thrown out by security there is still, somewhere, glass breaking. Isaiah asks me are you okay? I say yes unconvincingly. But then the djay plays a track which uses just the rap part of Vogue as a sample. Ladies with an attitude. Fellas that were in the mood.

We do tequila shots. This is the best nightclub in New York City. Diving over the coat check counter I have a plan to consume the entire bag of plantain chips I stashed there hours ago as quickly as possible. I’m very impressed by this plan. But the girl is new and has lost all of the number tags. A dense, confused line of people begins to form and there’s a moment where I can see it in slow-motion, but I can’t describe that moment to you because it’s already over and I’m being swallowed by mink and cheetah print synthetic blend, Northface and anonymous puffer, giant glittering shawls and black trenches. Swallowed. Have you ever seen a video of a snake eating an egg?

Surely I am part of the grand, momentous machine which is this club, pulsating through every late-night in time to itself. Pulsing, really: the beat, my trips up and down the stairs, the carousel of people in the shortening and lengthening line outside on the camera, all the metal cups. I refill the waters and somebody says thank you thank you hydration. Like it was my idea.

Surely this place is a machine. But what does it do. Machines are for making. The ice machine makes ice. The synthesizer makes soundwave-forms. The club makes: culture? The club makes: money? The club makes: party? Is party where culture makes money? Is culture where money makes party? The club makes: culture. Like literature, then. Then, how am I read as a glyph inside the text of this club? Like literature, where who’re can also be whore. Like everybody knows it: pigtails bring in more tips.

On the phone while I’m hacking away at a pineapple my Dad’s gay friend says, at Studio fifty-four we used to bartend shirtless. Me too, only I’m a girl so I’m wearing a pink bikini top. And everybody loves a good-time-girl, a Girl Bartender who wears next to nothing. Beyonce Beyonce Beyonce. Everybody likes it at the club. Everybody likes a good-time-girl-bartender in latex. Zoey’s not fast enough at juicing the limes. That’s not why Zoey got hired here. Zoey got hired here because Beyonce Beyonce Beyonce. Zoey got hired here because culture, where culture is fractions and culture over party makes money. I play fractions. I play good-time. I play in the goo of straining pineapple pulp-gunk with my black latex-gloved hand.

What are you doing playing in it like that.

This is why it takes her so fucking long to juice.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood the entire concept of culture, and actually this is all there is: Juice. Mops. Pasties. PVC. CDJs. Nerve damage from drug-induced panic attacks. Is this what there is? The bathrooms and all the drains on the floor keep flooding and the heat is mounting when about a hundred people pack into the basement. Everybody takes off their shirts and I start wringing a rag of ice-water down the back of my neck. In the supply closet, I see the jug: “swamp juice,” but with the heat and the flooding drains and all the dance-sweat, this thick fog is only partially intentional. One of the cuter bartenders is shirtless and, blind, I stumble right into him. I feel like I’m going to asphyxiate. He says: somebody threw up in the handwashing sink. A vocal sample from a drum-and-bass track demands: JUNGLE IS MASSIVE. 

In my tiny room all my bikini tops are hung up drying with lime and blue cicuraçao. Cash tips are all over the floor and dimebags pile up in a jewelry box. What if this is it. What if I’m going to lose my hearing. What if I’m going to get mouth cancer from cigarettes. What if this club that just opened closes at some point and everybody was too drunk to remember it and everybody forgets. What if everything goes down the drain. What if nothing goes down the drain. Or is this just a flood. Or is this just summer and this is the place where I am, like last summer but with longer hair and better clothes.

I have to have become something, right? Misunderstanding “culture,” all the club kids are actually advertisements for a dreamlike past. This is glamor: you take a past you didn’t know— that didn’t exist— and you go ahead and sell it to the future. There’s no side effects, as far as I know. Maybe my crush on the model is a similar misunderstanding:  some schizophrenic misfire of fashion advertising, where I want to catch a good price; where I want want want. After work it’s five in the morning. I’m at another club, blasted out of my mind in latex I feel his hands and I’m kissing him—I’m actually kissing him!— and he says we can’t have sex right now I’m really high. Ha ha. What?

Later, the sun rises over a brownstone in Bed-Stuy where I am apparently attending a sex party. A queer kink play party, whatever. The older artist takes a break from making out with a topless girl to say, Zoey! You made it! And I feel as though I’ve done something wrong. I’ve arrived too late, and I catch the last of it, which in this situation feels like a late-middle, and I catch it again like a late-night cartoon, watching shapes and colors move—watching, again in some strangely antiseptic voyeuristic streak—three floors of people fucking. I decide I’ll wait here an hour until the diner on the corner opens because, Dear Reader, I have no other place to stay.

Reality is like that inside mythic New York, liquid bordering on cartoon, here in this ornamental Geroge Jetson-ass place. I’m wondering if glamor is for others always, always to be devoured, to be sold alongside another negroni, feeling and believing that this is a type of labor. Like being a girl. I don’t take any of my clothes off. I taste blood on my lips, bitten raw by the model. I smoke a cigarette on the roof.

Like smoking a cigarette behind the bar, my bar, ashing it onto the floor, feeling the room go in circles, letting the fog let up. This is my favorite feeling: the pinks, the blues and greens and reds of the night’s light all gone, the drinks and vomit down the drain all gone, clear water white bar Windex. I clean the bar like concealing a crime. The crime of my life.

One time I have this dream where sitting in the kitchen my father asks me, are you on hard drugs? In 1979, Kathy Acker says, I want more and more horrible disaster in New York cause I desperately want to see that new thing that is going to happen this year. In the kitchen I say, no, I just like to watch. In real life, Ana says, You remember the dialogue from your dreams? I only remember colors, shapes and light.

Zoey Greenwald is a poet living in Brooklyn, NY. She is a graduate of the New School for Social Research and an MFA candidate at the California Institute of the Arts. She volunteers at the Poetry Project and works at a nightclub. Her twitter is @zoey_greenwald.