In case you missed it: Part 1, Part 2 The morning I was supposed to be dressing for the brunch that like everybody would be at—except me—I got a call from my boy, the first one I mentioned. He was frantic. He wanted me to cross state lines and come visit him.
A few months prior, he’d moved to Jersey into a "luxury" building, what he described as a two-bedroom with a doorman, a high floor and a view of the Manhattan skyline from his bedroom. It sounded like heaven to me, who was living in a long-ago renovated one-bedroom on the top floor of seen-better-days townhouse in Park Slope. My place was big—for a NYC apartment— and I had an office and plenty of closet space. It was five minutes walking distance from a row filled with resties and boutiques for clothes I couldn't afford. For a first apartment, it was “cute”. The floors sloped, which my mother found appalling, and if I stuck out both arms in the bathroom, I could touch both walls. It wasn't much, but it was home and in Brooklyn.
Anyway, it was important. He needed to talk and didn’t want to do it over the phone. I only agreed to leave Brooklyn on a weekend because 1) he was never frantic; 2) I’d already let one friend down that week; and 3) traveling to Jersey beat sulking in my apartment alone because I was missing The Best Brunch Ever.
The directions to Jersey involved a 45-minute train ride to the city, a 20 minute trip on the Path, then a long ride on a shuttle bus to my boy’s building. It took forever to get there and I couldn’t imagine how my boy made this trip after the parties without a car.
I get off the bus and look out at the view of Manhattan on the other side of the water. Geezus. He didn’t lie about the view. It’s gorgeous. I look at the address I scribbled down, then up at the building in front of me. It’s a high rise, but not a luxury building. Inside, there’s no doorman. Is this the right building?
I call him to double-check. He assures me the address is correct.
I look for the elevator, but there isn’t one. His apartment is 5C, a fifth floor walk-up. Huh?
He greets me, panting, at the door. He smells like Newports when he hugs me “hello.” There’s a pile of butts in the ashtray. He looks as frantic as he sounded on the phone.
I look around at the apartment. Decent, like mine, but nothing to write home about, like mine. He shows me around the place. From his room, you actually can see Manhattan… if you stick your head awkwardly all the way in the corner , almost like you’re looking around something. I can’t see the view from the other bedroom because that’s his roommate’s room. He didn’t mention he had one prior.
“D, I fucked up,” he says, when we settle on the futon.
The short version: he’s $20,000 in debt. The Life he was living? On credit. He, too, thought he was doing something wrong, grinding all those hours, and still making no real money. And he hung out with the brand marketers who while only 5-6 years older than us, were living the life he—and I—wanted. And he wanted to be part of the team, not like the “little brother” and so he made a decision to look and live the part, like he was one of them and somehow it was all supposed to square up on the back end. Eventually. he'd make what they made, or he'd get some sort of windfall from doing a big party and then he'd be even. But until that "somehow" or windfall happened, he wasn't willing to suffer through mediocrity like a civilian* or appear like someone who wanted to be put on. He wanted to be on.
And he was. When they traveled, he traveled. When they spent, he spent. When they got fly, so did he. The difference was he was spending his own money; their lifestyle was being sponsored by corporate brands.
He’d only figured this out the day before, after he’d maxed out his second card buying a last-minute plane ticket to MIA for the VMAs and booking a suite at the Lowes. But it was “worth it” because his boy, one of the promoters, or, er, branders, had scored an extra ticket for him to attend the show too. The group was hosting an unofficial after-party.
So my boy hit up his own boy to find out what flight he was on, and dude informed him that the party they were throwing fell through and he wasn’t going to Miami.
My boy: huh? I already bought my ticket.
His boy: You got it big baller. I’mma be like you when I grow up.
My boy: What do you mean you’re not going?!
His boy: [XX brand] ain’t paying, so I ain’t playing. I’mma sit this one out.
My boy: *_^_^ ___________*
He was a newbie. In the industry for less than a year, he hadn’t figured out how to play the real game, the one no one really talks about, but most of the people you look at and think, “LIVING!” are playing,especially if they work in entertainment or finance or Corporate America, or are celebs whose Life you might envy.
My boy was devastated. “D, what am I gonna do? I might have to file for bankruptcy.” *
Twenty thousand was a number I couldn’t even fathom. It was more than half my salary at my 9 to 5. More than triple what was in my savings account (before Miami).
I reach for a cigarette, he lights it and we both slump back on the futon.
“Dude”, I finally say after a long exhale. “Fu-uuuck.”
My boy didn’t file for bankruptcy. He moved home—out of NYC—and in with his folks. He got a job, and paid off the debt in a year. He is now a VERY successful business owner, largely due to his ability to implement the NYC model of lifestyle branding in another city. And yes, he lives The Life... when someone else is paying.
*civilian: (n) 1. someone who doesn't work in the fashion, entertainment industry. 2. people who pay for parties. 3. person who works a government job. 4. anyone who could be described as "wack"