Ephraim's Summer of 2009

I’m hoping that this will become an interactive story, i.e., that other TAS contributors will contribute to this and that you guys will suggests plot developments. You would really make my day. Only rule is: no zombies.

It was a little after 3 AM and I was still walking home. I was one of the bitter-enders at a house party, and I decided to walk home instead of taking a cab. And while walking I got to thinking about a lot of things. Just before the semester ended I gave my expensive headphones to a girl who had wrecked me emotionally, mainly out of sheer perversity. I hadn’t realized at the time that surrendering my headphones was the start of my musical fast. It was a little like Lent. I was glad to be rid of the near-constant soundtrack, not least because it tended to deepen my depression. On the rare occasions when I did listen to music that summer, it was on my wheezing, half-dead laptop, and the music had to cheerful and peppy. My favorite at the time was a song by the sizzurp-obsessed rapper Pistachio, who at the time had a really infectious summer jam called “My Nuts.” At first the lack of portable music just gave me room to brood, but on a cool, clear night it gave me room to think. About what? Nothing terribly elevated. Among other things: how skinny Michelle Williams’ legs were in Wendy and Lucy, to the point of really worrying about whether she was eating enough; what is a tuber?; is this really my body or am I borrowing it? Mainly I thought about my blissful childhood, and about how Sebastian from Zebralife was going to “change the game” with an electropop side project called Manatee. The long walk home took me from a shabby genteel stretch near Prospect Park through half-gentrified points south to the broad avenues and gas stations and bodegas of my temporary neighborhood. It reminded me a lot of home home, in Oakland. Just as I passed the threshold from exhausted to bone-tired and on the verge of death, I came upon our street. I staggered indoors and fell asleep on a sofa in the front room.

We were renting a house in Sunset Park that was really large and beautiful, though the natural light was a little problematic for a night owl like me. I knew three of my four housemates from Williams — Aditi, Emily, and Will — but the fourth, David, who went to Yale, quickly became a really good friend. We hit it off in part because we were both kind of gauzy and dreamy and irresponsible, whereas our housemates were all very sober, industrious types. I didn’t quite have a job that summer. A couple of gigs fell through, and I wasn’t alone. This was the summer of 2009, when unpaid internships were hard to get for even the most insufferable go-getters. And I certainly wasn’t one of them, to my lasting detriment. So I worked a variety of odd jobs, most of them short-term. First I was essentially an intern’s intern’s intern at a downtown production company located in the basement of a Korean restaurant, then I stuffed envelopes at a half-dead record label. Mainly I hung around the office — a storefront, basically — of Dial, a little highbrow literary magazine that was sort of a hub for the creative underclass that I then aspired to join, though I kind of came to my senses that summer.

Our house was pleasantly diverse. David and I were both earnest teetotalers. Aditi and Emily, both of whom were way more professionally together than either of us, were actually quite enthusiastic drinkers and drug-dabblers. So was Will, though in his case you got the sense that he was trying to hard. Both girls were from big cities, and they were miles ahead of me socially, though neither one of them ever came across as pretentious or remotely arrogant. My abstemiousness was in no way an ethical choice or a critique. I actually found the idea of using plants to bend and expand the mind very attractive. But I sensed that I couldn’t handle it, so I didn’t try.

David was a little different: he said he wanted to preserve the integrity of his experience, which is the kind of thing he would say very seriously. I admired that about him, and much else. It’s too strong to say that I hero-worshipped David. I had other friends who were like older brothers to me, like Simon Lee. David didn’t lecture me. To the extent he dispensed wisdom, it was through the force of his example.

Some of my best evenings were spent inventing fictional worlds with David. This is not the kind of thing healthy, normal 19-year-old men should do. On slow nights we’d walk around the neighborhood or eat cheap Chinese food while constructing incredibly elaborate counterfactual scenarios involving a world in which the Whites won the Russian Civil War, and then we’d describe New York in the 1930s as a den of Leninist emigres and then we’d talk about a family of psychiatrists in the 1980s living in this weird world, and the various misadventures of a brother and sister our age in our time in this parallel universe. And we’d talk about the bands they’d listen to. It was more fun that it sounds. All our characters had rich inner lives. We’d have our characters age and die. Of course a lot of this was a projection of our own fantasies and expectations. I remember that summer as very hopeful. The collapse of the economy lent itself to gallows humor and an appealing fatalism, particularly for kids who were slightly older. Or maybe I was imagining things. I kind of liked my shambolic days of fake jobs and fake friends. We were playing at adult life, and I felt I had the hang of it.