I wasn’t invited to this party. It was an intimate gathering — just three couples, plus me and my friend Heather. She didn’t like anyone at this party, but she was being supportive. Also, I told her there would be pot brownies.
I guess you could say I crashed the party, having shown up without an invitation. I knew that the host had intentionally tried to exclude me and that he just hoped no one would tell me about it. But it was inevitable that I would find out simply for the fact that the party was happening in my apartment.
1. I paid the rent in this apartment.
2. The host of the party lived here too, but he did not pay rent.
3. The host and I shared a bed.
It was a very lame party. Even if I had been invited to this party in my home, I would think it was lame. There was some sort of German stew, a limp salad and a tray full of pot brownies.
None of the guys were attractive; they all had horrible posture — hunchbacked from carrying their instruments and massive “I’m a jazz musician and no one understands jazz” chips on their shoulders. Their skin was green from their vampiric lifestyles. They were awkward and impoverished, which was why this lame party was in a dumpy apartment with stark overhead lighting, artless, grey walls and paper-thin, cracked windows in Washington Heights.
And because I was entangled in a complicated relationship-of-sorts with a jazz musician, I, too, was living in a crappy apartment in Washington Heights. But I wasn’t invited to this party.
Vinny and I were only kind of dating because he wasn’t available for a relationship. Kind of dating meant we spent every free moment together making each other laugh, sharing meals and developing a secret inside-joke language only we understood. I went to all his gigs. We took weekend road trips together. We did all the things that couples do together.
Some confusing things about our friendship:
1. We went upstate so his mom could meet me. A few times.
2. He wrote a song for me.
3. We moved in together.
Just like Vinny and I weren’t dating, we weren’t really living together. Vinny was moving upstate to be with his mom for the summer, and he needed a sub-letter. I needed a short-term apartment, so I moved in, he moved out. Then after a month, he moved back in because he had a lot of gigs lined up in the city.
He came and went, staying with me (in my bed, because the couch was too uncomfortable) then going back to his mom’s every other week for a few days. While I paid the rent.
Vinny played the vibraphone, which is a giant xylophone. The vibraphone is to the world of instruments what Booger was to Lamda Lamda Lamda in Revenge of the Nerds; a weird mascot that kind of makes people uncomfortable. Vinny was also exceedingly unattractive.
My friend Josh (a handsome 1930s-movie-star type who played the piano rather than a large children’s toy) said of Vinny: “He has no chin! How does he fold sheets?”
I have a history of quasi-dating unavailable men. In fact, my mid-twenties were defined by complicated dating. If an attractive young man who was single expressed an interest in dating me, I didn’t notice.
Here are the types of guys I did notice:
1. The actor with a new fiancée on every regional tour, who wanted to be with me in between shows and fiancées.
2. The booze sales-rep who introduced me to his parents but wouldn’t let me stay the night. Also I think he had a family somewhere.
3. The flirty co-workers who became suddenly single when their girlfriends were out of town.
Vinny was perfect for me, because Vinny was complicated. He was still in love with his ex. He had declared himself celibate for a year. He was constantly and obviously checking out other women in my presence, looking them up then down, then swiveling his neck to get a glimpse of them from behind.
One time he honked his horn to get the attention of a pretty pedestrian, and when I gasped in horror, he said “You know I would never do that!”
Also, he told me all the time that he loved me. At this time in my life, all I really wanted from a man was to be loved. And Vinny loved me so much that he didn’t want to ruin our friendship by dating. Vinny’s idea of friendship was equally complicated.
Some of our complications:
1. We shared a bed platonically.
2. When he saw me express interest in other guys, he told me his mom wanted us to get married.
3. He got jealous when other guys talked to me, asking them “Are you moving in on my woman?”
Then things got really complicated. One day, a German woman moved in with us — a sub-letter for the other jazz musician living there who went on tour. A month later, she moved out and Vinny stayed with me. I continued to pay rent — and he began dating her. It was a jazzy game of musical chairs where I never got a seat.
I found out about the party through one of the other jazz dudes, who probably felt sorry for me. The plan for the party was Dark Side of The Rainbow. (For the un-indoctrinated, this is a thing you do in your 20s where you get really high, watch The Wizard of Oz and listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon simultaneously. They somehow mystically align into a synchronistic masterpiece—because you’re high.)
So there we were; Heather and me in the living room, and the three couples in the kitchen. Any time I tried to engage anyone in conversation, Heather would give me a look like “Why are you bothering?”
The party was awkward for one reason:
1. No one wanted us there.
We all ate our brownies, and pressed “play” simultaneously on the video and the CD.
Twenty minutes later, the miracle happened.
The brownies were a jaws of life on my brain.
The moment Dorothy opened the black-and-white door of her crooked farmhouse to reveal Oz in brilliant color, a dazzling light of clarity pierced the miserable darkness of my low-self-esteem.
My brain surfed wave after wave of enlightenment.
Dark Side of The Rainbow gave me a glimpse into the essence of my existence, showing me the Technicolor Truth; Vinny, like so many other guys before him, was treating me like crap. He was manipulative, unkind and maybe a sociopath.
But the biggest reveal of all was when the drugs pulled back the curtains of my consciousness revealing a mirror, and staring back at me was a beautiful young woman who thought she deserved to be treated this way. She threw her pearls before swine and stayed long after the music died because she didn’t know she deserved better.
Men treated me like crap for one reason; because I let them.
Vinny’s behavior was manipulative at best and emotionally abusive at worst. I couldn’t blame Vinny for being Vinny. But I was suddenly, dramatically and thoroughly done being a victim of complicated romantic entanglements.
I was simultaneously embarrassed and empowered by my enlightenment. I frantically pulled Heather into the kitchen, my brain in a baked haze of clarity.
“I just had the most amazing epiphany.” I whispered, my eyes wild.
Her mouth hung open, waiting for me to reveal the truth of the Universe.
“I just realized that Vinny is a huge asshole!”
Silence. Eye roll.
“You’re just now realizing that?” she asked. I sensed I was playing catch-up.
We grabbed our jackets and purses (and I found out later that Heather also grabbed all of the pot brownies,) and walked the sketchy three blocks to the train at 191st street.
As we progressed down the long, terrifying pedestrian tunnel to the platform, Heather bore witness as I unraveled all the poor choices I had made in recent years when it came to men.
When I was done, she applauded, the clapping echoing off the concrete walls sounding like a standing ovation. I had bad taste in men, but terrific taste in friends.
Two days later, my friend Josh helped me move out. He lounged on Vinny’s ratty couch with his chiseled chin challenging Vinny to a sheet fold-off.
I quickly found a great new apartment where the new me got busy building confidence. I got messages from Vinny for a while, inviting me to his gigs, telling me that he and his mom really missed me.
I don’t promise that a combination of pot brownies, Dorothy and Pink Floyd will reveal your subconscious truths to you. But in my high on the dark side of the rainbow, I discovered:
1. Jazz is just music.
2. Pot brownies were my ruby slippers.
3. I had a brain all along.