Once upon a time, a long time ago, I got dumped. Then I lost my job. The two events conspired to shatter my already fragile self confidence, and I spent the next year and change eating myself up with self-pity while also fretting about how to not starve. And also, drinking. But never too much to deplete my bank account or deprive me of the ability to look for a new job, which actually made me even more depressed. Wah, I can’t even bottom out right!
I was lucky enough to have friends who tried to drag me out of the house and kickstart my confidence, even when I insisted on wallowing in a pit that other people started but I was doing my damnedest to finish. My friend Chris, in particular, did everything in his power to make sure that if I wasn’t going to snap myself out of it, at least I wouldn’t be alone. We’d
During this particular year, he threw a Valentine’s Day party at his place in the East Village. He insisted I come. I was feeling whiny and sorry for myself and not really in the mood to be outside on That Day. He insisted, promised Girls would be present, and basically threatened that if I didn’t show up, he just might come to Brooklyn and forcibly kick my ass outside. Faced with that option, I reluctantly agreed to go.
Gradually, my dread turned into acceptance, even anticipation. Yes, I should get back out there. Yes, going to a friend’s party will be infinitely better than sitting at home alone. Maybe I’ll meet somebody interesting, and if not, I gave it a shot and that’s worth something.
I dressed myself up in as hip clothes I could manage and hit the streets. It wasn’t super cold out, the G train was unreliable as usual, and I hated the bus with a passion (still do). So I walked from my place in Greenpoint down Franklin Avenue, near the waterfront, on my way to the L train. It wasn’t too late, but the sun had set hours ago. Manhattan glinted off in the distance. I had a split second of hopefulness.
Franklin eventually takes a sharp turn and becomes Kent Avenue, right by an oil refinery and a little inlet. This is approximately where Williamsburg begins. It is at this point that I came across a 1970s vintage American boat-car. Actually, it came across me, speeding up Kent (much easier to do back then, before all the traffic restrictions and bike lanes). It was an aggressively Me Decade shade of avocado green, with a low vinyl roof and an engine that sounded either souped up or painfully clogged.
The car screeched to a halt as it reached me. I kept walking, thinking this was a mere coincidence, but then the driver’s side rolled down a window and bellowed HEY BUDDY! I turned and saw the car was crammed with a bunch of guys in aviator jackets, the kind skinheads wear, except they all had the type of mustaches favored by cops or professional dirtbags.
They looked identical to me, at least from a distance in the dark. Each one of them had this smirking, leering look on their faces, like everything they said or heard had the potential to be a dirty joke. If I had to guess their favorite leisure activity, my first guess would be Punching. They were mooks, obviously out to have a good time in the most sociopathic way possible.
I already felt like I was being set up to be a punchline in some joke I was not in on. I had an instinct to just keep walking, but ignoring these guys seemed more dangerous than answering them. I was alone on the Brooklyn waterfront, not another soul around. The possibility that I could soon disappear without a trace seemed very real to me. So I responded, “Yeah?”, the way you would throw a mugger your wallet and hope for the best.
“Hey, where are the hookers around here?” the driver said, very matter of factly, like this is something complete strangers ask each other.
I shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong guy,” I said.
“C’mon, you know you pay for ass,” the driver said. Before I could even react, the boat-car screeched off up Kent-Franklin and into the night.
At that moment, I seriously considered just going home. Nobody else in the world saw this, and yet I felt humiliated. I took this as an omen, that nothing good would happen to me this evening. But I went to the party anyway.
I wish I could say that I had fun despite this encounter, but I did not. I kept hearing that mook yell at me in my head, over and over again, like an asshole’s mantra. Eventually, I stopped talking at the party because I was afraid I might repeat it out loud to someone by accident and oh, what hijinks may have ensued from that?
To compensate, I drank way too much, stumbled home, bought some Ben & Jerry’s, and passed out watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. The next morning, the mook-ringing in my ears had faded a bit, but not gone away completely. I thought, “Maybe one day I won’t think about this.”
But a decade later, even as I’m happily married with a kid, it still flares up in my brain every now and then, and I remember that awful, almost childlike mortification I felt at that moment. So when asked the philosophical question, “If someone humiliates you and no one is around to see it, does it still scar you for life?” I say yes, it does.
Happy Valentine’s Day!