Raves, Erasure and a Supposedly Fun Party

Party lights on a shrub in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Jack Szwergold; Taken December 22, 2015)

Pete was an asshole. I knew he was an asshole before I even knew who he was or even heard of him. Friends of mine who knew him simply referred to him as, “That asshole.” And he was a friend of Todd the asshole who was also known as an asshole to all who knew him.

Pete and Todd were a couple of assholes.

Pete was a jerk in the college town he lived in and then — like all assholes and jerks — he moved off to New York City to work as some toady in the world of banking and financing. He himself wasn’t a wheeler and dealer, but he fancied himself a journalist; a shaper of words.

He worked for some WASPy, slimy guy named Hank or Howard or something. The guy looked like Howdy Doody and acted like a twitchy kid who drank too much coffee or snorted took much cocaine. The guy got busted for insider trading or something, was busted and convicted but it was a slap on the wrist at best. He ended up back on the street doing what he does: Writing finance articles and nonsense but this time for a start-up.

Anyway, that paints the picture of who Pete was to an extent. Another aspect of his persona was he liked going to raves in the 1990s with a friend of all they nicknamed “Big Dumb Dave.”

Dave wasn’t really dumb at all… In fact he was a nice guy. And the most I knew about him at one point was simply that he liked the electro-pop band Erasure. I knew this before I even met Dave because Todd (the asshole) always thought that it was funny that Dave liked Erasure because Todd tagged them as a gay band.

“Does he know Erasure’s a gay band! Maybe he’s gay? Big dumb Dave is gay! He’s gay!!!” Todd shouted once at a bar giggling all the while. Never mind that Todd was a closet case who liked to paint his nails black and randomly attempt — and sometimes succeed — at sexual assault every now and then; men and women, friends and strangers.

But I digress… Pete and Dave liked to go to raves. Dave — the guy who liked Erasure — liked to go to raves and enjoy himself in the music and the scene. Pete tagged along, didn’t really like the music, and wasn’t really into the scene but did like one thing at raves: Grabbing random women dancing around in various states of inebriation and just outright molesting them. We all knew that he did that because Todd — who was obsessed with how people react at “The Bacchanal” — often gossiped about Pete’s conquests as a positive thing. But saying these things were conquests were a bit of a stretch; they were all non-consensual encounters that amounted to assault. And yes, Todd non-ironically referred to parties as “The Bacchanal.”

So that’s Pete in a nutshell: Pete liked to go to raves and assault women, Todd considered him a “hero” and a normal guy, and they both routinely harassed Dave for liking Erasure because that was “gay.” Tada!

Anyway, back in the midwest Pete was a bully. And in New York City Pete was still a bully. The stories of his conquests at raves were more than enough to confirm that fact.

But I had never met him before, until I came back to New York City.

I had my first real direct contact with him as we all gathered for a mutual friend’s birthday at a local bar in Park Slope. Things were low key and fun… Then Todd showed up with Pete not far behind and that changed everything.

While we all sat around enjoying the night; just drinking and shooting the shit. But Todd and Pete really just talked among themselves and side-eyed us all as we sat there together but separately.

After a while, Pete stood up, and walked over to me, dead staring me all the way like some predator.

“Look, this is fun but we have a party in the Lower East Side. You wanna come?” Pete asked in a demanding tone as Todd stood over his shoulder looking to me.

“Yeah… Sure, I guess?” I said as I looked over at the guy whose birthday was celebrating who mutually shrugged and nodded his head as well.

With that we headed outside of the bar on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, hailed two cabs and headed into Manhattan.

“Don’t worry Jack,” Pete said as we drove away in the cab, “I got it.” Which was an odd thing for him to say; why would paying for a cab require this kind of odd casual financial subordination?

So we arrived somewhere in the Lower East Side in that odd area near the East River known by real estate wonks as “Two Bridges.” The party was in a building that — to me — looked like public housing but was actually a co-op building. All of the similar buildings around there were co-ops of some sort; orange bricks, oddly manicured front lawns and general 1960s urban renewal genteelness.

We headed up in the elevator that reminded me of similar elevators in similar buildings in Brooklyn with one big difference: These elevators actually work. And as we get off on whatever floor this party was I notice that everything is clean and well maintained; a stark contrast to other similar buildings I knew of in Brooklyn.

A few short steps we were at the door where this “party” was happening and walked in.

The apartment was dark, there were people and music and such, but the party seemed more to be like a small group of friends disconnecting from reality and being anti-social in a social way.

I saw a guy going around in a twitchy way telling people to not touch this, that and the other. The apartment was his and this party was for him yet he seemed to not be having fun.

“Don’t put your drink there, ” he said. “We don’t have coasters.” He said to a couple of people who had literally just gotten drinks from a nearby bin of drinks. I think he grabbed some napkins or paper towels and handed it to them asking then to clean up the minor dampness on the area they —merely seconds ago — placed their drinks on.

I walked around, grabbed a drink and made sure not to put it down anywhere.

Some people were just sitting around catatonically but cosmopolitanly; they were not disheveled or dirty but they were disconnected. From what, who knows? I guess this was one of those “parties” where nobody was having any fun and everyone was just negatively stimulating themselves. The kind of party where assholes thrived. And Pete was the one who dragged us to this dark, entitled flophouse.

After standing around and soaking in this crap for a while, Todd came over to me and wanted to talk out on the terrace. I walked out with him, he lit up a cigarette, blew it in my face and just blurted, “So I guess it might be hard finding a job out there, Jack.”

Oh, I need to mention at the time this happened — in the spring of 2001 — I was no longer working for the wacky weekly newspaper who I helped grow from a Midwestern beer and pizza coupon rag to something that was praised by The New Yorker. I was kicked out in a cull of staff by the power-hungry business owner who previously pushed out his more editorially-focused creative partner and now had dreams of expanding his wacky weekly newspaper empire into adult classifieds and crap like that. Never mind you film, TV and publishing companies and others wanted to work with us; this guy’s dreams included selling his paper and his staff short at any and every turn.

But despite all of that I managed to land a humble — but somewhat stable — freelance gig a few months later. I was financially living from month to month, but at least I was able to not fall off the face of the Earth thanks to the job.

Anyway, Todd was basically bullying me about me being unemployed — he was happy I was ditched since I never acknowledge his unwanted sexual advances and was threatened by me — and he wanted to bask in the glow of ruining someone’s life.

And my response was simply to say, “Well, I have a job now. So hey,” to which his face turned pale and like a panicked roach when the light comes on, he spazzed a bit, blubbered his head a bit and then ran out of the terrace and back onto the dark joyless party.

I guess he wanted to gloat about the destruction of my career and it wasn’t fun anymore when I told him life moved on I was back on my feet.

I walked back into the the apartment and spotted our mutual friend who — like me — was dragged to this hot mess from what was a casually fun thing in Brooklyn.

“Let’s head back to Brooklyn,” I said. He nodded and agreed, but insisted on saying goodbye to Todd and his girlfriend.

We walked around and found them in the apartment’s crammed kitchen.

We both walked into the kitchen, spotted Todd and his girlfriend and sitting in the corner of the kitchen’s hutch was Pete, violently sucking on a pot pipe as if it were feeding him life itself.

“We’re going to head out,” I said to Todd and his girlfriend as politely as possible given what just happened out on the terrace, “Okay, Jack! Bye!” Todd said.

Pete whispered over to Todd loud enough so I could hear it, “Is this the guy who got fired?” Todd nodded while looking at me and Pete then said, “Good luck to you Jack! Have fun Jack! Got fired Jack? Good luck to you!” he said while packing the pipe again, bringing a lighter up to it and puffing away like a sweaty ape.

I just stared at him, then looked at my friend and we took off. Out the front door of the apartment, down the elevator and right onto Grand Street.

As we walked down Grand Street and headed to the subway, my friend said nothing. In fact he said nothing since Pete gave me that passive-aggressive sussing. Not as we walked out the front door of the apartment, and not as we went down the elevator, and not as we walked down Grand Street to the subway.

We waited and waited. No words spoken. Headed back to my place, and he crashed out on the living room floor and I headed into my bedroom and just passed out for the night.

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An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

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Jack Szwergold

Jack Szwergold

An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

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