american pie

remembering a hot night

It was one of those sticky nights in late summer. I wore a faded denim mini skirt and a loose t-shirt and painted my nails bright green while standing up in the kitchen maybe 10 minutes before we left. Someone said something about this that made me feel proud of myself: “I’m so impressed you can paint your nails like that!” We’d already been drinking margaritas—it was my roommate’s birthday?—and by the time we walked the dozen blocks downtown to the bar, we were light and impenetrable.

A five-dollar cover at the door weeded some of us out. I think four or five decided to go in. We’d gotten sweaty on the walk over and the air inside downshifted to a thick, stuffy swamp atmosphere, like Houston before a storm but in a four-hundred-square-foot room. Real pulpy. A disco ball hung from the low ceiling over the dance floor, which was wet. Dark corners barely concealed people making out and piles of clothes that had been ditched throughout the night. It was after midnight and everyone was there on purpose.

“It was the worst DJ I’ve ever heard!” is how I’ve described the night before. This is a lie! Really it was the best DJ, because it’s possibly the only DJ I’ve ever remembered. He was tall and wore all black. His head was shaped in a way that reminded me of an eagle or a hawk, a sloping forehead, this jagged, pointy nose, and long, stringy blonde hair. He played 30 seconds of each song, but never the chorus. We got really excited when, at one point, he crashed “More Than a Feeling” into “A Milli” with zero transition. I don’t think we were on any drugs that night but it wouldn’t have mattered either way; we were riding an auditory rollercoaster, dipping and diving and swerving, feeling our eardrums get soft.

It went on like this. We drank more tequila, took a round of shots out of plastic cups you can crunch flat in your hand. The bar was in the basement of a friend’s building and there was no ventilation or any discernible air conditioning. We got sweaty. I tied my t-shirt up in a big knot right underneath my bra. We rolled our hips and pulled at our skirts, soaked through with sweat. It wasn’t a kissing night but a dancing night; none of us could’ve stopped if we wanted to. Three boys we knew showed up high on ketamine and therefore immediately understood the groove we were on. They stood over us and danced with their eyes closed and hands up as if at a church service. Everyone was riding the same wave; a transition more seamless than any coming from the DJ booth.

The staccato hits—verses only, still no choruses—coming out of the speakers gave the whole room this pent-up anxious feeling. It was endless build, no drop, no relief. We rolled with it and felt the tension pooling up and pressing against our insides. We kept dancing, drank more drinks. Someone dropped and broke a glass on the floor and we kicked the shards aside. My roommate danced beautifully; a vision in an old crop top I gave her and a pale pink tennis skirt. She wore these puffy sneakers and carried a plastic toy purse. Everything felt amazing.

I broke away to go stand in the bathroom line, which snaked halfway around the dance floor. That’s when the DJ put on “American Pie.” I peed fast, rinsed my hands, and ran back to my friends, mouth wide open and screaming, before the first chorus. We raised our arms to the disco ball and jumped and swayed along with everyone else: NYU and New School students, Murray Hill boys who’d taken the B/D downtown, couples who emerged sweaty and rustled from their booths along the dance floor. We didn’t have our hands on each other’s shoulders but it felt that way. The motherfucker played all eight-and-a-half minutes of the song, the first and only song he played all the way through. We kept turning to each other with big eyes at each chorus, kept saying, “Is this guy gonna play this whole goddamn song,” kept hoping he would. We shouted along. “BYE, BYE MISS AMERICAN PIE!!! DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVY BUT THE LEVY WAS DRY!!!!!!!” Everyone else shouted along. “SINGIN’ THIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DI-IE!!!!”

The song ended and the night deflated. It was nearly 3. We walked out to the sidewalk, cool compared to the swampland inside, and one of the ketamine boys climbed a little tree with thin branches. “‘American Pie,’ I can’t believe it!” we said over and over. “Worst DJ I’ve ever heard!” The tequila blurred everything into smooth, soft shapes. It was too bright out to see any stars but we felt them up there, blinking down at us. The boys got a train back to Brooklyn and the three of us—me, my roommate, a friend who was crashing with me—walked the dozen blocks back up to our apartment. We woke up the next morning heavy and with heads full of rocks. The humidity of the night before had broken and it was raining. We walked the extra blocks to the bodega with better bagels and ate them on top of my bed like an indoor picnic. They were fluffy and warm and perfect. The friend went home, we took showers, rinsed off the elation and sweat of our good night. The weekend ended, hangovers subsided, and we went back to work on Monday.