Did I forget to mention the graphic designers? And how they bobbed their heads up and down up and down up and down in unison on the subway trains rattling underneath the city? This is what they listened to. These are the sounds they heard.
Gonjasufi. Mädchen Mit Hase. Girl with rabbit and flower. Little and Friday. Luomo. At each stop on the subway, a gust of hot air rushes in with a cluster of teenage girls wrapped up in Ecko and Tommy Hilfiger.
The teenage girls head towards Union Square. They head towards Battery Park before getting lost in the DVD section in Tower Records and disappearing forever.
The graphic designers look wistfully at the girls disembarking. There is music coursing through their headphones. The music comes from Germany and Belgium. It comes from Algeria and Bristol. The discs were pressed in Canada, not too far from the blue-bottled beer distillery. They notice the scent of residual yeast when they puncture the transparent plastic wrapping. For the LP versions, a sticker on the packaging gives the weight of the vinyl in grams. Cover artwork is sparse, with repeating formalized patterns. Sometimes the artwork looks like one thing while intimating something else altogether. One of the designers, Dawn, wears a tee-shirt that says I’m Not Dead Yet.
Another one, Matt, the one with flat, slate-gray hair, listens to the clatter of the tracks beneath the train and wonders Which is more interesting, the sound or the source of the sound?
When nobody is looking he takes out his black permanent-ink pen and writes I don’t want to die in this city of lights on the back of the seat in front of him.
Dawn presses her Freitag bag against the glass.
The army of designers take the train to the party. When they get bored with that, they take the train from the party to the party after the party. They gather like locusts in the corner of a Chinatown loft looking out over the city.
Locusts, is that the word for it?
Down below, the smell of pizza and taxi exhaust. Up above them, satellites march triumphantly across the sky.
Water towers dangle in the breeze, if you can be bothered to see them.
The graphic designers are into gaming culture. They enjoy blasting away at each other in a closed but shared environment. They are into protocols and utility applications.
If you ask them, they might tell you that they are dwelling rather than living.
They have miniature maps of distant Japanese towns stenciled on the insides of their wallets.
Osaka. Kyoto. Sapporo. Tokyo. Yokohama.
Like the rest of us, they believe in the power of wheatgrass and organic produce.
As for the rest of the people in the room, who are they? One thing is certain: they’ve come here to dance. But not the designers. They’ve come here to learn more about the impulses that the city redirects back at them.
For instance, the trashcan quietly smoldering away in dull orange flames on the street below.
The flickering yellow light in the corner of the room.
Did I forget to mention that the graphic designers speak in code?
Dawn leans in towards Matt and says, “Are you still the angry young artist I knew in college?”
Matt: “Let’s not be ridiculous. I’ve gotten fat, bald, and happy.”
Within their speech, the cryptic directions to the next underground party. Matt slides his headphones down and lets them rest there, suggestively, around his curved neck.
Dawn looks around the room. “Aren’t you thirsty?”
They speak over the rims of shot glasses. The party twirls and keens around them.
“I could drink forever and ever.”
Dawn taps her fingers on the windowsill and looks outside, over the skyline. “So this is what it’s like to be alone.”
Hundreds of other gatherings, just like this one, must be happening without them.
The loft undulates with a wave of new arrivals.
A designer in the corner stubs his cigarette out in the heavy glass object on top of the water cooler. A couple of others hover near the window. The host, wearing a shirt with the words Sin-Eater, floats near the entrance to the bathroom.
Back at the window, Dawn dangles her bare ankles precariously over the ledge. “Don’t I seem incredibly intriguing to you?”
Matt slips the headphones back over his head. “You seem kind of out of it, if that is what you mean.”
He slips his fingers underneath her belt loop and pulls her closer.
And what about what they meant? When they speak of thirst, they mean hunger. By hunger, they mean sexual appetite. By sexual appetite, they mean a desire to consume the other. By the other they mean the thing that has been signified.
And what about what’s been signified? According to some, that’s been lost in translation.
In the corner, the DJ working over a laptop with gloved fingers. A series of looping beats and formalized sound layers. Now that I think of it the words garage door don’t have anything to do with anything.
Dawn sighs. “It’s a little sad that we have to grow old.”
Matt nods and bobs his head to a slightly different tune.
The graphic designers sniff at the air before walking into a room. They check the temperature of the water before diving into the pool. Their heads go first and then their feet follow.
Dawn speaks to no one in particular, but she speaks for everyone. “Why are we always talking about the present moment as if it’s something we’ve already experienced?”
In her bag, anthologies on obscure architecture movements.
Matt is never sure. “Who said anything about the present moment?”
He traces the bubbles circling Dawn’s elbows.
It was true. The present moment had finally arrived.
Dawn points at the sun coming up over the tops of buildings. “See, there it is. What did I tell you?”
The light pours into the corner of the loft where the remaining designers huddle. As the sun comes up, they hold one last ringtone competition, but nobody wins. The drumbeats dart in between their sentences. A few of them congregate in the kitchen. The Sin-Eater shirt has become separated from the body of the woman who bought it. De-coupled. Un-hinged. Refrigerator magnets spill across the floor. A picture of a baby with blond hair. Last year’s Christmas cards. An image of Lake Tahoe. Three salt- and pepper-shaker sets.
Someone reaches over and turns the laptop off. The water cooler is nearly empty. Matt and Dawn slip out the door of the apartment and into the hall. They rub their hands along the walls of the corridor. They rub their hands along the curved handrails in the stairwell. Quietly noting all the impenetrable, pleasing surfaces along the way.