Open House

Commentary: In Exile

I’d rather hang out at anyone’s apartment than a bar. There’s a bar called Tribe on the corner of our block that’s filled with the coolest people you’ve ever met. And by cool I mean insufferable. Across the street is a place called Yaffa Café with mostly punk poseur rich kids who drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and yell at yuppies who they perceive to have recently moved into the neighborhood, even though they themselves only moved in sometime last summer. A new place called Hop Devil Grill just opened a few doors down. They serve 77 different microbrews and attract a lot of those ”really into beer” type of recent college graduates.

The more of these bars I go to, the more I want to stay away — the more I want to have people over to my apartment so that I can show them our white Flokati rug and sixties Danish couch. I want to light a Martha Stewart Living candle that smells like fresh cut grass according to the package and explain that you can’t see any fish in my aquarium because they don’t like people.

The perils and pleasures of having people over are something we experience only rarely. It’s a big deal. Let’s have people over, we plan, and then we worry about what our apartment looks like. We water the plants so the leaves will perk up a bit, make sure the cool books are prominently displayed at eye level. I arrange the liquor bottles so the tall ones are in back, short in the front, just like a bar.

Often, mild disappointment follows. People come in and comment briefly and nonchalantly. ”I like your shelves,” they say.

”Thanks,” we reply, quietly thinking, that’s it?

It’s exhilarating and a little scary having people come see your apartment. You feel like a show dog at the AKC national championship. Seeing other people’s apartments is like meeting their parents on a smaller scale. This is where we come from, the odd little box we step into every night in a semi-foul mood after work. This is the sofa we fall asleep on during a six-hour West Wing marathon on Bravo. Here’s where we had that small fire when the cooking oil splashed onto the counter. Here’s our decrepit microwave. Look in our medicine cabinet — we know you’re doing it — here are our maladies. We’ve got stacks of dated Believers and Rolling Stones in the recycle bin, feel free to pull one out and flip through it.

Last weekend we had two friends over. We all sat on the nice, white Flokati rug, which my boyfriend’s parents had given us from their guest bedroom when we went to visit them a few weeks ago. It’s the nicest thing in our apartment, so we decided we wouldn’t walk on it with shoes, when possible. When our two friends walked across it with boots on, Carl and I exchanged a tense glance. To say something would brand us old ladies. But, still.

Because in our apartment, we are anointed — in a way that we are rarely if ever anointed — in charge. Can I have some wine? Sure you can, we say. There’s a bottle of white on the bottom shelf on the door. Help yourself. Where did you guys find this painting? On the corner of St. Marks and Third, this guy there paints them and sells them for very little money, you should check him out. Do you guys have any pot? Sure, we say, feeling cool that we do.

As I write this, sitting on the rug in my small rent-stabilized fourth-floor one-bedroom, I imagine crowds of revelers stumbling around me, holding cocktails in our own matching glassware. Someone is in our bedroom smoking a joint, and others are sitting on the edge of the bathtub talking about a band I’ve never heard of while they wait for the toilet. Someone asks me if he could make some Kraft macaroni and cheese. I tell him we didn’t have any milk, and he offers to run down to the deli and buy some. Someone asks if it’s cool to do some lines. I tell her only in the kitchen.

This type of event never happens. We don’t have matching glassware or dozens of friends. Next week is my birthday, and I’d considered trying to pull off something like that, but I probably won’t. To have people over is fun, but to declare a party is similar to declaring a war. You’ve officially set something into motion and are now expected to emerge victorious. People must show, they must have a good time. The CDs mustn’t skip. Don’t run out of liquor. Much better to keep it informal, an undeclared armed conflict from which you can exit casually and declare victory, no matter what really happened.

No, our apartment is not quite right for a party. Fifteen people would put us at maximum capacity. The toilet flusher is tricky, the kitchen too cramped. We have smaller groups over, a few at a time, or sometimes just an individual, one of whom is sitting across from me even as I type this. Her name is Diana, she’s a journalist friend of ours who lives on our block and, incredibly, has never been over before. She’s reading the New York Times Book Review and occasionally asking me what I’m typing, and I’m periodically glancing up at her, watching her eyes in the hopes that they’re adequately scanning the apartment, trying to gauge whether she’s sufficiently appreciating the perkiness of the just-watered plants and the cool books carefully arranged at eye level on the shelves.

Will Doig writes from his exile in New York, where he’s an editor at Nerve.com. He can be reached at wdoig@metroweekly.com.

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