In this preview from the November issue of The Blue and White (on campus now!), senior editor Torsten Odland, CC ’15, continues the fictional saga of Columbia freshman Wilson. In this novella attempt, the pair navigate the L-train and discuss innocence lost. You can read the first installment of the series, in which Wilson and Andrew first meet, here.
Never in his life had Andrew been so parsimonious with his time. He was so fully convinced he was above average that he signed up for five classes, resenting his advisor’s warning that “five is more work than you think,” and after a month he couldn’t eat a forty-five minute meal without feeling guilty. So, at lunch on Saturday, when Wilson asked if he was interested in taking a trip to Williamsburg, he mulled it over for an awkwardly long time.
“I’m sorry, that was rude. I’m profiling you as a young, hip asshole,” Wilson put his hand to his chest.
“I may not have time. How long does it take to get there?”
“I’m afraid if I tell you you’ll have a stroke.”
“40 minutes maybe? Longer coming back.”
“I’ll think about it. Why Williamsburg? Won’t you feel like a fashion slave?”
“Fashion slave” was the term Wilson used to describe a particular Columbia milieu that took their own coolness very seriously. Fashion slavery separated good hipsters from bad hipsters.
“Not if I don’t enjoy myself. And if you come, that’s as good as guaranteed.”
Andrew had learned that if he wanted a real answer he had to wait. He rested his head in his palm and stared at Wilson dumbly.
“Fine: I’m a fashion slave. I’m a hypocrite.”
“What would we do there?”
“You’re unbelievable. I know of a record store I’d like to check out; we could go to a bar; we could pick up some boutique swag. Anything, I don’t know.”
Andrew knew Wilson’s cynicism was real and not a stylistic pretense, but it was getting old—particularly because Andrew usually agreed with him and felt guilty about it.
“Is that worth saying even if it’s true?”
“Yes, because if you listen to me, maybe we’ll have an exciting night on the town. Don’t pretend to be naïve; it’s tasteless. You’re a jaded piece of shit like me, and that’s why I think this could be fun.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t think too hard.”
Andrew pushed a grape around on his plate, and decided finally to burry it in some mashed potatoes by slapping it with the head of his spoon.
“What’s that even supposed to mean?”
“It was real advice.”
Andrew finished his work by five; he had plenty of time. But, of course, now that he’d forced his head above the water and his free time was really free, he had to guard it vigilantly. Climbing into bed, where he did his serious thinking, he asked the question he was least comfortable with: what do I want what do I want what do I want?
He was curious about Williamsburg. People loved to mock it, Wilson especially—one of his running jokes was to invite new friends over to a fictitious “loft space”—and the cool aura the neighborhood had was beyond annoying; but it also seemed to be the only place people went when they wanted to explore the city.
He squirmed and looked out his window. Andrew wasn’t sure if he wanted to hang with Wilson for four hours straight. The night before they’d gone to a party and he spent the whole time frustrating Andrew’s attempts to flirt. “Be careful, god damn it,” he butted into a exchange between Andrew and a girl named Bridget, “Andrew is recovering from masturbation addiction. Don’t enable him. Andrew, whatever you do tonight, don’t whack it. I’ll know.”
He could be a real asshole, but Andrew was too kind to admit it without wincing. He got up and thumbed his windowsill. I made a mistake he crawled hand-over-hand to forgive Wilson my only substantial friend the hook sunk in, the biggest waste of time my only substantial friend what the fuck. He found the right memory and laughed with exhaustion. Last night Wilson single-handedly revived the party by challenging Eric, who was shy in a giggly, social way, to a rap battle. The highlight line was, “I’m a rude boxer…you a poop doctor.” If I go I should ask him to take me to his loft space.
They were able to sit down on the L train. Andrew scooched across the blue seat into the corner and stuck his arm through the bars. Wilson lingered for a second, as if dazed, and then sat.
“Have you told me what your parents do?” he squinted.
“I don’t think so. But they’re both lawyers.”
“Suck me,” Andrew retorted. “What do your parents do?”
“They both teach where I went to high school, which was kind of weird.”
“What was so weird about it?”
Wilson’s eyes widened and he pulled his whole mouth to the left.
“It was a private school, so it wasn’t big. Like, whenever I fucked up academically—I never, you know, got B’s, but I was clearly, uh, lazy—they’d hear about it from one of their friends, and that’s what we would talk about at dinner. But,” he laughed and rubbed his head, “really it was like they knew everything. One time, I went to the bathroom and this friend offered me a drag of a cigarette. And, I—I don’t know, I was tired—I said what the hell. Swear to God, my mom pulled me aside during lunch, two hours later, to yell at me.
“They had an intimate knowledge of almost all my friends; they knew who the stoners were, the sluts,” he started pointing at nothing. “They saw me lose my innocence. When I got drunk the first time, my mom had already heard about the party and who was going, and that I’d never gotten drunk before. She knew before I did that I would get wasted that night.”
“She let you go?”
“Was she excited about it? What did she say?”
“Nothing. Well, no; the last thing she said as I walked out the door was, ‘Kegger tonight!’ But before that it was all—Carson was the name of the guy who threw the party; and it seriously was a rager—‘Carson’s a funny guy isn’t he?’ And ‘Oh, I’ll bet it’s going to be a pretty big thing. Because you guys don’t even hang out really, right? Well that will be fun.’ ”
“And when I got back, at like 12:30, she was waiting for me in the kitchen. She wasn’t angry or anything, but she insisted that we chat even though I was obviously drunk. We never mentioned alcohol, and she pretend to be curious, asking me who was there, if I had fun, ‘What do high school kids do at a party these days?’ But every minute or so, she’d sort of squint at me and ask, ‘Are you ok?’ ”
Andrew waited for the rest of the story, but when Wilson turned to him and cocked his head, he realized with a shiver that he was expected to comment.
“Wow,” he had no idea how to say what he felt without insulting Wilson’s mother. Strange and mean thing to do; she sounded spiteful what’s he trying to make me say? I didn’t exactly solicit this conversation, did he just want to bring her up? Spiteful in a protective way, but Andrew was humble enough to focus on the benefit of the doubt.
“I don’t know what kind of concern that is.” Wilson stared out the window at the shapes rushing past in the dark.
“Yes,” he nodded with closure, “Yep. That’s exactly the question.”
They walked from Bedford to Academy Records—the one destination Wilson knew in all of Brooklyn, as it turned out. The cool air and yellow lights filled Andrew with a self-satisfying kind of anticipation. The street was narrow; the buildings were short, which accentuated all the trees lining the sidewalk, orange already; the neighborhood seemed orderly and cute to him in a European way, though he’d never been to Europe.
There were young people everywhere; maybe the energy he felt was simply the sense of a communal hunt for fun. He scanned the sidewalk. They weren’t all hipsters, but the groups in the bars, the clusters of women crossing the street all seemed distinctly style conscious, Andrew noted, as a built black dude with a neat beard walked by wearing a cape.
“Do you think Williamsburg is cool because they got rid of all the guys wearing sweatpants and white t-shirts?”
“I think I want to be a fashion slave.”
They stepped through the doors of the Academy to the tune of some Australian psych song, and Wilson greeted the cashier who only tightened his face and nodded. The store was expansive and bright, and Wilson was positively giddy at the sight of so many glistening, alphabetized LPs.
Wilson quickly made his way down the aisle. Andrew never understood the record fetish thing but had a weak respect for LPs as artifacts, and he walked over a box labeled David Bowie. He took out a copy of Station to Station and stared at Bowie’s cautious face. Which came first, he wondered, the record stores or the “cool neighborhood” status, it seemed like a paradox I suppose it’s all just gentrification but he was more interested in coolness than gentrification, hands down, and it made him wince.
By the time Andrew thought to check on him, Wilson was already walking back to the front, his face colored with disappointment. He put his hand on his hips and sighed.
“The selection is impeccable. But because I’m broke, I’m only in the market for one record: Creedence’s Bayou Country, which they don’t have.”
“That’s sucks,” Andrew shrugged, “you can probably find it online. For cheap.”
“That’s not the Williamsburg spirit. Do you want to drink? Come on.”
They waved to the guy at the counter, who shrugged.
They figured they might as well take a walk. If Williamsburg was so hip they should be able to get into a bar, they reasoned. Their reasoning was proven wrong three times. Making their way down Kent, they proposed different theories of “coolness,” fought over them, and finally agreed that you could characterize it as a sanctioned measure of individuality within a value-based community.
“So you wanted to participate in the Williamsburg value system? Is that why we came here tonight?”
“My mom gave me the idea to come actually. She called me today and asked how the nightlife was. She went to NYU in the ’80s and she, I don’t know, did stuff for Act Up, saw a lot of art, went to the right parties—she makes it sound like she was Miss Downtown. But she asked, you know, ‘Isn’t New York exciting I can’t imagine what you’re doing up there.’ And I told her that I’d mostly hung on campus, doing my best to be friendly and establish myself, and she laughed at me. ‘That’s important too, but baby, you don’t even know what’s out there in the world until you see New York for yourself.’ ”
Wilson paused, avoiding something, and then turned to him.
“In my freshman year of high school, I confided in my mom that I had crush on a girl named Amanda. She was hot and really funny, but also ditzy and a bad student. My mom was her English teacher,” he ran his tongue over his left canine, and his voice broke as he tried to continue, “My mom didn’t like her, so she pulled her aside after class, and told her like, ‘Hey, watch out, my son has a crush on you. He’s nervous, so be nice to him.’ And after that Amanda avoided me because she thought I was a creep. And she told everyone of course.”
Andrew was shocked, and Wilson’s confession how fucking evil drew out in him a warm sense of duty cruel and backhanded does he want me to confirm that? of pity and power and friendship.
“I’m so sorry. That’s an awful thing to do.”
Wilson shrugged, not sure what he’d wanted from Andrew either.