II: RIVINGTON WAS OURS: LADY GAGA, THE LOWER EAST SIDE, AND THE PRIME OF OUR LIVES, BRENDAN JAY SULLIVAN. hats off to the new york public library for hooking me up with books i don't want to purchase and install at my apartment and am unlikely to find at my office! it served me well with jon ronson's psychopath test and served me even better with rivington was ours, a DJ/bartender's casual memoir of life among the beautiful people, lady gaga in particular, on the lower east side (i.e. our 'hood) circa 2006. my only real beef with library books thus far, standard used-book potential for bed bug infestation aside,* is that i have to read them straight through right away to avoid late fines, which is sort of annoying when, say, one wishes to skitter between an old copy of gilead from one's mother-in-law, the big ol' vampire novel one lugs back and forth on the subway to decompress over the course of the week one is shipping the december issue at the office, the new yorker, and the isadora duncan autobiography that makes one wonder if one speaks english as well as one thought one did.** that said, i'm not sure one is meant to linger over sullivan's prose.
On our first date I was so nervous that I blurted out, "So, Nikki, tell me, what are your hopes and dreams?" I had hoped to disqualify her, to hear she was boring or stupid or in graduate school. I had hoped to find just one reason that I could quit staring at her, to stop imagining how much of my life I'd change just to make room for more of her in my world.***sadly, though the beautiful nikki is a lingerie entrepreneur and not a grad student, she isn't nearly compelling enough for sullivan (per gary shteyngart [who in turn must have lost a terribly high-stakes poker game to have had to deliver such a blurb],"a writer's writer. yes, he's that good."), who prefers to spend his hours out from behind the bar or the turntables with gaga, a young "musician" with extremely compelling eyes ("Her eyes sparkled like disco balls." "Her eyes were glowing like bright factory windows, her mind inside chugging along, excited by the noise of production." "She had an emptiness in her eyes and if you looked you wouldn't find her." "Her humorless eyes were pools that hovered just below thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit."). despite the sweet nothings they exchange at sullivan's obligatory twenty-fifth birthday party at the hotel chelsea (sigh), nikki leaves him to his karl lagerfeld-esque imagery ("I remembered the crisp air and the expressionless leather on all of our friends' jackets") and his lovelorn nights of blistering art theory with gaga ("If you thought she was a bit dumb, it was probably because she thought you were not that bright and didn't try to say anything over your head.")
She told me she was waiting tables ever since she quit designing lingerie for a bigger company. Now she wanted to start her own lingerie company with a partner who'd worked for Victoria's Secret. They would launch in February.
When she turned the question on me, I answered truthfully about my secret writings.**** Afterward we looked into each other's eyes like two lost sailors who first sighted land.
and what of the lower east side? as we all know, memoirs of this sort are all secretly or not-so-secretly love letters to the city itself, right? sullivan spills a bit of ink describing his fragrant commute through "big trouble in little chinatown" on the way to the B/D station at grand and chrystie (like a lot of people who spend the evening on the lower east side, he doesn't actually live there), a bit more on an afterparty for the killers at motor city (good night sweet bar: and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!), and quite a lot on an awkwardly-telescoped vespa ride through central park to gaga's parents' place on the upper west side (of course he has a vespa). that last passage in particular feels like filler, and it is; brendan jay sullivan wants you to know how well he knew lady gaga and how highly other people think of him, and that's about it. there's nothing wrong with wanting those things, but if one is to be a writer's writer, one would want the former to be someone else, yes? this is my theory.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 if you are a book-borrower, what sort of books do you borrow? do you find you need to rush through them?
02 who is shakespeare's finest character?
03 have you ever referred to a chinatown as "big trouble in little chinatown"?
04 if a pop star told you she'd heard you're well-endowed, would you mention that in your memoir?
05 is it ever OK to give chapters song-lyric titles?
*bed bugs love used books, people. if you bring one home, do yourself the favor of throwing it in the oven at 115 for an hour (they also die at temperatures below 26 degrees, but most freezers don't get that cold).
**holy shit, isadora duncan.
***spoiler: not much.
****"[M]y third-time's-a-charm full-length manuscript The Confessions of Mercutio—a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. To tackle the great work, I took Shakespeare's finest character and Romeo's best friend, a longwinded drunk with a knack for getting into situations, and gave him free reign of Verona."