When I was 26 I moved into a loft in Brooklyn. It was a renovated old factory located in Williamsburg, a neighborhood I heard seventh hand was cultural epicenter of New York. Someone described the vibe of the building as being “like a college dorm for adults” but after I moved in, it felt like more of a retirement community for millennials. Like many transplants, I was driven by a pretentious thirst to escape what I loftily considered Southern Drudgery. I was tired of boring retards, drunken shit heads, faygo-drenched juggalos, and the general mundanity of anything not New York. I was an asshole yearning to breathe free. I naively thought I’d find controversial thinkers and experimental musicians working on the next step in artistic discourse, but I came to realize that the last time something productive happened in that building was when it used to be a factory that manufactured textiles. My high expectations were quelled immediately, as I’ve been inoculated against bullshit early in my youth, to some extent. My parents, a Carolinian Irishman and a New York City Jew, met in a cult in back in the seventies and raised my sisters and I nomadically, living in shit holes and communes on both coasts, so I’ve become an expert at spotting the glassy-eyed naiveté of a true believer (though sometimes missing it in myself). In terms of fitting in, I always felt a semitone off key, as the typically enfranchised have a way of sensing my weirdo-from-the-working-class miscegenation. Fortunately, I had the dumb luck of never going to college, so I’ve almost exclusively worked around illegal immigrants, shit talking niggers and brash alpha rednecks who didn’t care about anything other than me shutting my mouth and doing my job. At the time I was driving a truck for a furniture manufacturer in Greenpoint, delivering walnut headboards and solid slab tables to walk-up apartments up and down Manhattan. I was, as far as the carpenters were concerned, the faggiest dude they’d ever seen for seemingly no other reason than I understood the concept of sarcasm. I thought I hated every minute of it, but I’ve come to realize they did me a favor, teaching me the subtly warm-hearted vernacular of working class assholes. Basically, they refused to stop calling me gay until I also realized it was funny. I’d walk through the factory floor, and the carpenters would say
“That’s Stephen, he’s a weird faggot but he works hard”
And, like a baby bird leaving the nest, I’d reply with a hesitant
“Go fuck yourself?”
And they would smile. Therapy through hazing, acceptance through toil. And so I came to learn where true equality lies: at the bottom of a fucking hole. Everything else is bullshit.
After a day of being called a fag in several languages, I’d ride my bike back to the loft where one of my roommates, a heroin-addicted club promoter named Tony, would be nodding off on the couch, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips with a long stem of ash about to fall on his leather pants. A cadre of perpetually offended trust fund kids would be sprawled around the apartment, vampirically waiting for the night to come, and I’d wordlessly shuffle in, step over them, and go to my room. I’d be woken up in the middle of the night to the sounds of Tony getting pounded in the ass by some coked out twink next door and I’d stare at the ceiling, trying to sound out the bessottedly scrawled graffiti while thinking about how gay sex sounds just like someone just saying “Ow!” over and over again. I guess I started to hate them because I saw myself in them.
I lived there for a few months, until there was an apartment-destroying hipster cat-fight in the middle of the loft, the drama of which I’ve never cared to figure out, and we all got evicted. Years later I heard that Tony died of what his mom called on Facebook a “heart seizure,” though I’m pretty sure it was heroin. I realized that at some point the building’s main factory export had gone from textiles to cachet, a commodity that I’ve undervalued ever since my hips started making popping sounds when I fuck. And just like that, I got tired of trying to be another vapidly liberal hipster pussy. I’m a truck driver from Virginia, and I don’t really know shit about any of that.
I look at my peers, and I see us as the decrepit children of liars, willfully mistaking innocence for stupidity, creating from straw fantastically nefarious yet uninformed effigies that wait pre-set and spring-loaded to be walloped with carnival-barker bombast and whack-a-mole accuracy. And we languish, content in the authority derived from being well-versed in the rules of someone else, expecting to be rewarded dutifully with trinkets and tchotchkes that sit just out of reach, locked behind glass and tinged with seductive fluorescence. I hope for some of us there’s at least a niggling doubt in the back of the mind from having glimpsed this wretched simulacrum, forever wondering if we have what it takes to cross the uncanny valley that lies between what’s normal and whatever waits on the other side of fuck you. I know this because I was this. I’m trying to tell you something vital that most of us have been neglected for our entire lives: Quit being a faggot and get back to work.