THE MASQUE OF WHITE DEATH.
New York's Flatiron district used to be the crossroads for new media. Nearly every made-up company with a hastily written business plan and an impending IPO - the kind of businesses our city specialized in - was located somewhere within this ten-block area. You'd walk down the street, your head held high, on your way to deposit a check for thirty skadzillion dollars, and you might run into ten or fifteen people you knew from other jobs. And, just as easily, on that short walk, you could run into an old co-worker or new friend, get a job offer and then, on the next block, receive a better offer (with stock options, pizza lunches, sega dreamcast, and free haircuts). Before you'd made it back to your office - which you were planning on clearing out anyway - you might have three or four job offers and counter-offers. You could start your lunch break as an art director and, by the time you arrived back at your desk, you were the Worldwide Creative Director of Freeride.com or something. It was exciting. Everyone ran around in comfortable Prada sneakers. We filled up bars, buying the whole floor a round of drinks with "Beenz" currency.
Those days are obviously long gone. That area still hums, but it doesn't really sing. And it's been a long time since I've been in a bar with a pack of devil-may-care Flatiron workers, laughing off the possibility of all of this ever coming to a screeching, hair-losing end. That's what made it especially weird to enter Dewey's Flatiron last night.
Dewey's was always an awful bar; there is no contesting this fact. However, it was one of the few large drinkeries right in the neighborhood and therefore a hub for new media employees of all shapes and sizes. (although the dominant size was this: guys with carb-face and asses shaped full and wide by the seats of their three-dot $800 aeron chairs, and women with unfortunate slacks, highlights and fragile, petite upper bodies sculpted by excessive and possibly desperate gym time.) I had been dragged there many times during the new media heyday, due to various corporate-social obligations, and I always felt like the bar itself - a low-personality duplex decorated with bulk-purchased vintage Guinness ads screened on tin, and filled with the white noise of 80s rock that reflected days better spent - was an unfortunate embodiment of all of my misgivings about being a part of this crowd.
My visit last night was unplanned. I was just trying to get out of the rain with a friend, and hopefully spend a few more minutes above-ground before proceeding to our separate trains - hers up, mine down. I figured Dewey's would be deserted. It was already 10pm, which is long after happy hour and besides, the neighborhood probably wasn't experiencing many happy hours these days.
That's what made it so surprising to walk through the doors and find that NOTHING about this place had changed. We were immediately blasted with Bryan Adam's hot, stupid voice, as he reflected back on the good old times he had (when he was four years old) in the summer of '69. There were PR women gyrating in a style learned from a Sheryl Crow video or Ashley Judd comedy, along with great, white lummoxes in oversized suits swaying suggestively behind them, their pelvises targeting their prey. Pool balls cracked, co-workers pressed each other into nooks for their first inappropriately timed kiss. A middle-aged sales manager who looked like he was about to miss his last train back to Connecticut kept finding his drink orders refused, or demoted by the bartender:
"howsa shot a tequila?"
"you know what? you look like you don't need a tequila right now."
(drumming the bar aggressively, along with a bangles song) "TEQUILA! OWW!!!"
And all around us, office ladies danced their slacks and tiaras off, while a DJ played tracks from various generic Big Hits From the 80s CDs. Best of all, that DJ was wearing those very expensive Pro Studio Sony Headphones, and kept one of the earpieces glued, TV commercial-style, between his cocked head and shoulder. I wonder if he knew that cues or monitors aren't really very essential when you're just going from one CD track to the next, with no regard for cross-fading, beat matching or flow. Capital F-r-e-s-h.
Seeing all of those Caucasian people dancing, drinking, high-fiving, tossing money around gave me a strange chill. It reminded me of Voltaire's Candide or Poe's The Masque of Red Death. The remaining, prosperous few in a bacchanalian stronghold, forgetting the rest of the world is crumbling around them. There's a great passage in Poe's story that perfectly describes the scene at Dewey's:
"Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within."
And, just as in the Poe story, the revelers lost perspective of the very doom hanging over them. As an outsider it was incredible to witness the following scene: all of these characters stagger-dancing and fist-pumping, taking a break from their regular activities to come together as one and sing along with these lyrics to a John Cougar song: "Oh yeah, they say life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." High-five.