The Appetite Zone or Penny Dreadful for a Marxist by Pavel Frolov

         You’ve already been here. One year ago, you traveled to a different dimension, a dimension of upper class, privilege and fame. You were among the elite and the stars, where your dreams looked like reality. It felt like a secret place behind a secret door which you opened with a key of your imagination. You were among those who stood for both the outline and the essence of things and ideas of what you wanted to become.

         One year ago you’d seen it all, you thought. All those people were dressed to the nines. Some were hip and dressed down, but still very chic. You saw Molly Ringwald smile and laugh, like you’d seen in the movies you watched growing up. You saw Josh Harnett surrounded by three women who flirted so shamelessly that he left and didn’t come back. You were next to some producers, writers, and directors you didn’t know by face or by name. You got to exchange a few words with Parker Posey, whom you told was your favorite part about Scream 3 and asked where she studied – she told you she went to SUNY Purchase where she spent a year on probation. Later, you overheard her outside on the deck gossiping about Neve Campbell while having cigarettes with two grey haired men. You spoke to Parker when you were on a break. You were amused by Monica Lewinskyʼs frown when you offered her an hors d’oeuvre made of meat. Serving appetizers and drinks at a private Christmas party hosted by a famous writer at his loft a block away from Union Square, just being there and seeing it, was worth more than the check you received in the mail two weeks later.

         You were young enough, fresh out of high school, so you gazed in wonder and admiration. You were impressed. You wanted to be there as a guest, not as a server. You wanted in. You wanted to become.

         You weren’t careful what you wished for.

         The phone call that put you there is forever vivid in your memory. It was the middle of the first week of December, an evening, and you got a call. It was Abby, the acting teacher from your senior year of high school. You two had been in touch the last six months since graduation. Abby called to ask if you wanted some extra cash for the holidays, and you laughed in response, saying that of course you did.

         “Dmitry! I’m doing catering for an event next Thursday. It’s an annual holiday party hosted by a friend I know from Bennington. You probably know who he is. He’s a writer.” Abby said the name of one of his books, and you instantly knew what she was talking about. You’d already seen the movie based on that book more than once.

         “I need handsome men to serve hors d’oeuvres. Are you up for it, my Russian friend?” Abby asked humorously.

         “Yes… But Abby, what are ordervs?”

         You learned that an hors dʼoeuvre is just a fancy word for an appetizer.

         The day of the party Abby pulled you aside for the introduction. You met the famous writer before the party began.

         “It’s a pleasure, mister…” you started but were interrupted as the writer asked you to call him by his first name. He was attentive, and his handshake was firm. The writer was wearing all black: black suit, black shoes, and even a black dress shirt despite the holidays. He was six-foot-tall and husky, like a monument. He looked like the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, but without the flamboyant style Mayakovsky was known for. Mayakovsky was also infamous for rumors about his ménage a trois with the love of his life and her husband.

         You thought you saw the writer glance back at you a couple of times as the party went into full swing. But you weren’t sure, maybe it was your imagination. Throughout the evening the writer was a good host and stayed in the same corner of the room most of the time. He stood next to the stereo; he was deejaying, playing a cool mix of holiday music with some pop and rock that you knew and liked. You even sang along a bit a few times while walking around with your tray. You didn’t know this, but the writer noticed. That’s what he was doing in the corner – watching his Christmas party. He always had at least a few people talking to him, and he often looked past the guests he was conversing with and looked at you. Or maybe he was just looking at what you had on your tray. You didn’t know and it didn’t matter, you had a blast working at the party.

         You looked like you were enjoying yourself, and everyone enjoyed you enjoying yourself, too. And you did a great job squeezing through the mass of people who occupied every possible inch of the loft. You did it thanks to your slim physique, a big smile, and constantly saying, “Pardon me.” The floor couldn’t be seen for at least two hours. You never dropped anything from your tray and managed all night with just one spill towards the end which landed on the floor instead of someone’s high-end clothes.

         At the end of the night you were bussing the deck outside the loft. You saw the writer standing alone by the glass door that led back inside. You approached him as he opened the sliding door and was about to go inside.

         “I have a question: would you read my poetry if I mail it here, to this address?” you said, pointing down to the floor, as you rehearsed in your head for the past hour since you decided you were going to do this. In that moment, you and the writer both stood in the doorway, halfway out and halfway in.

         The writer thought about your question, smiled, slowly looked you up and down and said, “Yes.” Then you both went inside, and the door was left open.

         And today you are a guest at the private Christmas party hosted by the famous writer at his loft a block away from Union Square.

         You arrive with your friend Brenda as your date. Brenda is thrilled, you told her all about the writer, how you mailed him your poetry, and how four months later – this past April – he emailed you and invited you to dinner. Now you are nervous and excited as you enter the building on East 13th Street, even though it’s become familiar to you. The doorman directs you toward the coat-check where you and Brenda take off your winter coats. The two of you have coordinated your outfits. Brenda is wearing a dark red skinny dress with short sleeves, which is stunning and she looks like a model. You don’t have a full suit, so you wear your best blazer, which is dark blue and looks good next to Brenda’s dress. You wear a white button down shirt to be classy and to light up you dark facial features.

         You two get into the elevator and ascend one flight up. The elevator isn’t as familiar as the narrow stairs you’ve taken up some late nights that you’ve been here. The hum of the party is audible inside the elevator as it slows to a stop on the second floor. You two step out of the elevator and the warmth of the party air brushes your faces through the open door of the loft. Inside, you find the same energy that you were so fascinated by one year before, and now, you are about to be a part of it. But it isn’t the way you imagined –

         Inside it’s packed with people. Just like one year ago. You and Brenda slowly walk through a short hallway that leads into the loft with the kitchen and the bar island on the right. There are Christmas decorations on the lily-white walls reaching up to the high ceiling. You get drinks at the bar where you see Abby who is running the catering crew which you are no longer a part of. You say hello and she steps out from behind the bar to give you a big motherly hug.

“Dmitry! I think it’s so wonderful you are a guest here today. Enjoy!” she says.

         You say thanks and introduce Brenda.

         Then it’s time to greet the host and introduce your date. The writer welcomes you and Brenda and introduces you to a few people right next to him. You and Brenda fit in, you are both dressed right, and you act right, like you belong. There are a couple of people you recognize, and both of you are cautious with your stargazing.

         On the second drink you begin to wonder if you really belong here, or if this is an accident. You don’t really know anyone here, except for the famous writer and a few of his friends you met at this very loft during late-night get-togethers, when you sat on the couch, and the stools around the bar, which are now stored in the basement for the party. Stored down below is also the bed on which you woke up in one morning between the writer and his lover, who isn’t here tonight. “I hate the parties, I never go,” the writer’s lover has told you.

         Brenda doesn’t know anyone but you, so you and her talk to each other. You talk about benign, everyday things. And you do fit in because everyone else is also talking about the benign and every day. But there’s a difference between the two of you and the others. Your benign everyday isn’t the same as theirs. Yours has less zeros after fewer figures. You and Brenda know each other from a real estate management firm in Dumbo where you work as a receptionist. Brenda is a little older than you, she’s a property manager. So, you gossip about work and buildings the firm manages, you laugh and enjoy yourselves.

         A little later you are happy to see Jeanine, Jay McInerneyʼs girlfriend. She’s always been friendly with you during the late-nights here at the loft, she’s always chatted you up when the writer was chatting with his good friend Jay who is also a writer. Jay gives you a friendly nod and Jeanine hugs and kisses you hello, you introduce Brenda. Then Jeanine and Jay proceed to greet the host.

         You briefly wait in line for the bathroom. Standing by the closet in the hallway you know that inside it on the hangers are black blazers and black dress pants, and on the shelf above are rows of carefully folded black t-shirts. It’s the writer’s closet. Inside the bathroom, after you flush the toilet, you appraise yourself in the mirror.

         You don’t know what you want from this, and you don’t know what this gives you.

         When Brenda gets in line to the bathroom a little later, you want to have a cigarette outside on the deck but realize you left your pack in your coat. You go downstairs to the coat-check to retrieve it and there is a small line, just a couple of people. You cut the line just to tell the coat-check girl that you left your cigarettes in your coat and that you’ll get them yourself.

         A person waiting in line to your left turns and snaps at you.

         “You know, there’s a line here!”

         And it’s Monica Lewinsky.

         “Pardon me, Monica, I’m just getting my cigarettes,” you respond politely.

         She makes a frown, and you love it. Monica Lewinsky frowned at you now just like she did one year ago. And you realize that the difference between you and Monica is smaller than the difference between you and the rest of the guests.

         You take the elevator and ascend back upstairs. You make your way through the entire crowd to get to the deck where you light your cigarette. A man approaches you.

         “Hey, you are Bret’s friend, right?”

         You recognize the man, you met him a couple of times, one night here at the loft, and another when the writer took you to dinner with a few of his friends. He looks like David Spade but isn’t David Spade. He’s a little tipsy.

         “Yes. And I remember you.”

         “You know he likes you, right?”

         You laugh, and say, “I hope so.”

         “Oh yeah, he talks about you. Do you know what he calls you? The Russian.”

         He’s the writer, and you’re the Russian. The objectification is mutual. You served yourself as an appetizer, and he let you preview the prestige.

         Your appetite is healthy, but your timeline is confused.

         You wanted to be a guest at this party, and this is as far as it goes. You are not a part of the elite and you are not a star. You are a guest here.

         This is what you wished for.

         You and Brenda leave when the party is halfway through. You walk two blocks up to Broadway and go into Cosi. You pick a table by the window, and order two hot Chai Tea Lattes. You begin to laugh about the party. You are amused about a few people who spoke to you because they thought you were important, an elite couple of stars.

         Your Chai Lattes arrive and you both sip the hot teas, smiling, looking out the window and back at one another.

         “So Dmitry, do you think he’s going to help you with your acting?”

         Prestige awaits you, but it has to be earned.

         “Maybe… I don’t know…,” you say honestly, and think about Monica’s frown.

         A few minutes later you walk Brenda to Union Square, the N train will take her to Astoria. You two say goodbyes, Brenda thanks you and says she had a lot of fun. Then you walk a couple of very long blocks west on 14th Street looking up at the city lights. On sixth avenue you descend downstairs and wait for the F train to take you to Queens.

       And you think about how one night the famous writer said that he’d never taken the subway in his whole life because the subway is for the lower class, the poor, and the homeless.

Originally from Moscow, Russia, Pavel is a queer-identified New York City-based performer and writer. He recently completed his BA in Communication at CUNY Brooklyn College. Pavel’s two recent poems The Fall and Quiet Cars have appeared in Beyond Queer Words and Ariel’s Dream literary journals. This short story features an LGBTQ+ narrative, with themes on class and privilege set in the early 2000’s New York City.

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