Disclaimer: This is a semi-fictionalized version of my all-too-real experiences working as a DJ in New York City. Most of the names of venues, organizations or people mentioned herein have been changed or, in some instances, totally pulled out of my ass so stop even trying to guess, cool? Cool.
This installment of Trapped in the Booth is a sequel to last month’s, “Beyoncé and the Magical Mushroom Ride”
1:39 p.m. on Saturday afternoon came like a wrecking ball. My head was in shambles. In some respects, my life had peaked the night before, meeting Beyoncé during a tumultuous mushroom trip, but I woke up feeling decidedly more like Kelly Rowland on the day “Crazy In Love”► dropped.
Plastered to my bed, I peeled back my bleary eyelids and attempted to focus on something, anything stashed around my dark bedroom. Squinting, I spotted a blurry pita chip resting on the edge of my mattress. I had no idea how it’d gotten there.
Shutting my eyes again, faded memories from the night before flooded in. I couldn’t choose the lowest point: Was it watching my supposed best friend DJ Nolita tongue twerk on my crush, Kevin, while I stood impotent in the DJ booth? Was it doing hard drugs at work and then forgetting to play music entirely? Or — and even though it was only a hallucination — was rock bottom letting my idol, Queen Bey, see me tripping balls? I could feel myself about to hurl. I reached out into the darkness for salvation, but found only the pita chip. I picked it up and shoved it into my mouth.
Wiping crumbs from my lips, I pried my lids open once again and grabbed for my phone. Three reminders stared me down: 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Brunch Set at Kingsman in Williamsburg; 7 p.m.-10 p.m. set at the Calloway Lobby; and 11 p.m.-4 a.m. club set at Hotel Chantelle. There was also a text from the manager of last night’s venue: “Louie: Call me when you can. We need to talk about last night.”
“FML!” I groaned into the darkness. I weighed living out the rest of my life in bed, but concluded that rents in Manhattan were prohibitive to depression.
As I rode the L train to Brooklyn for my first set of the day 30 minutes later, I wondered if someone had opened my skull, scooped out a chunk of my brain, and replaced it with a bursting helium balloon.
Emotionally, I felt like a paparazzi photo of Jennifer Aniston circa 2005: lonely, fashionably frail, staring glumly across the ocean on Malibu Beach.
In the front of my car, a vagabond barbershop quartet sang an a cappella version of Usher’s “U Got It Bad.”► I didn’t appreciate the irony in the slightest.
Thankfully my brunch set — hours one, two and three of DJing — was relatively serene. If being a contemporary New Yorker had taught me anything, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to derail brunch. Between us, however, I played a mix for the first hour and a half, doused my woes in a Bloody Mary and texted my sister Lily to recant the details of the night before.
“OMG that’s the worst thing ever! Are you okay? Do you need me to come keep you company? I always told you No was a back-stabbing bitch,” she responded, complete with cry-face emoji. “Sorry, but it’s true.”
“You were totally right. I feel like I had my guts ripped out, Lil,” I replied. “Hey — do you remember who ultimately lost in ‘The Boy Is Mine,’► Brandy or Monica?”
“Hmmm… I think it was Brandy?” She replied, “But Idk, could have been Monica. Maybe they ended things in some sort of polyamorous arrangement?”
“The point is,” I continued, “I’m either Brandy or Monica in ‘The Boy Is Mine,’ whichever one lost. I feel like such a chump, Lil. I don’t know how I’m gonna make it through this day without breaking down. But if I lose another gig after last night, I’ll hafta join the army or be a barista or something. And I don’t even know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino ☹.”
“Aww, don’t worry Louie. This too shall pass. Brandy went on after “The Boy Is Mine,” and if she can do it, you can too!”
“Thanks, Lil. But I think Brandy’s career tanked and she ran someone over with her car after ‘TBIM,’ so that’s kind of a shitty example. Anyway, I gotta get back to work. C u later. xo.”
Brunch wrapped at 6 p.m. and I quickly packed up my gear. Despite my attempts to drown my feelings in comped spiked tomato juice, I was still feeling fragile. Emotionally, I’d moved from Aniston to Heath Ledger at the end of Brokeback Mountain: living in a desolate trailer of despair despite my adorably worn denim-on-denim ensemble. I decided to take an Uber to my next gig at the Calloway Hotel out of self love.
But the minute I scratched in Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own”► in the cozy DJ booth stashed in the corner of the hotel lobby, my phone buzzed and I glanced down to see the Name That Shall Never Be Spoken Except This Once: Nolita. Eyes still locked on the screen, I mixed in Katy B’s “Crying for No Reason.”► Heartburn flared in my chest. Or was it a heart attack? Or a stroke? I froze. “Jeez, I hope this is just a stroke,” I thought to myself. I tasted metal. Relunctantly, I slid to unlock.
“Louie, can I call you? What happened last night wasn’t my fault.” I stared intently at the screen for about 15 seconds, deciphering whether I wanted to end her life or my own. Then I signaled for the waitress.
Fifteen minutes later, Sauv Blanc in hand, I composed my text back. “Sorry! Working rn, you lecherous, walking, talking, back-stabbing shit sandwich.” I reconsidered and deleted “you lecherous walking, talking back-stabbing shit sandwich.” Then I reconsidered again and deleted the whole thing. I tossed my phone in my backpack, knocked back the rest of my wine in one gulp like Grandmother Rosemary had taught me at 13, and finished my set.
By 10 p.m. my feet were completely numb, I was lightheaded from starvation and heartache, and I was somehow both drunk and hungover. I rode the F train to my final gig at Hotel Chantelle, my status now approaching funeral-era Michael Jackson: stiff, colorless, filled with toxins. A tear rolled down my face. I selected Alicia Keys’ “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”► on my iPhone which, frankly, only made things worse. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through my final set of the night without making this face in public.
“You’re a cool DJ, Louie,” I told myself as I walked up to Delancey Street. “You can do this. Just put on your goddamn Oliver Peoples and give these wasted fools the Drake megamix of their dreams!” Never one to demure from the voices in my head, I shoved my sunglasses over my beet-red eyes and breezed past the velvet rope of the venue.
Quivering knees and sunglasses still shielding my teary eyes, I threw my backpack into the booth. I fastened my needles to the turntables and recalled an old acting coach, Susan Batson, telling me that the best way to deal with pain was to channel it into art. “Does playing LMFAO MP3s qualify as ‘art?’” I wondered aloud, to the bewilderment of various cocktail waitresses.
Then I hatched a little plan: I’d use this final set — hours seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 of DJing — to achieve my own personal catharsis, emerging from the club at 4 a.m. like a glorious phoenix: reborn, rejuvenated, and Rihinvented.
It would be like a Diane Sawyer tell-all interview, only with two turntables and mixer instead of an aging TV journalist. Easy!
Moments later, the bros and hoes came flooding through the club doors. I ordered a stiff vodka soda and proceeded to transpose every song in my set onto my own emotional life. Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”► suddenly took on new meaning, allowing me to reclaim my agency after Kevin’s alleged rejection. The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”► re-swelled my heart with longing. N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”► functioned as a release for all the resentment I felt towards No. I even mimed the choreography, which I remembered perfectly from 7th grade, pumping my fist in her imagined direction.
I dug up a cool remix of “Rolling in the Deep,”► then belted it out along with my back-up singer Adele, complete with these hands. I mixed it with Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You”► and recorded an iPhone video of myself lip-syncing along. I debated sub-Instavideo-ing it at No, but figured Beyoncé would never approve of sub-Instavideo-ing.
This all sounds marginally insane, I know, but my set went surprisingly well. I gave out seven business cards and got four fist-bumps from Jägered-out dudes, the clear measure of a successful DJ set. But it didn’t necessarily heal me as I’d hoped. To the contrary, by the time I was pounding my chest and making Yeezy face to “Heartless” ► at 3:34 a.m., I’d reached a spiritual nadir.
“Lil, are you awake? I’m falling apart here,” I texted my sister as the club wound down. I could feel the waterworks on the come up. I needed to get through the next 25 minutes, get in a cab, and leave the rest between me, Jesus, and whatever poor driver happened to pick me up.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. Sensing that it was a requester, I did what I normally do and assumed my alter-ego, DJ Helen Keller, devoid of all human senses. Then I felt it again, a little more aggressive this time. I turned to my right to see a voluptuous, tipsy female in a Herve Leger bandage dress, teetering on Louboutin stilettos, a Chanel bag slung over her shoulder.
I stared at her blankly. “Um, do you take requests?” she slurred through voluminous lips. I glared through my dark aviators. “Well?” she continued.
“Not by choice,” I half-barked, turning to my computer and pretending to search for the next song in my DJ set of sentimental masturbation. “Well, can I ask for a song or what?” she asked. “Since the night is ending, my girlfriends and I were just really hoping you could play Pitbull and Kesha’s ‘Timber.’ It’s our girl’s bachelorette par…”
“I’m not playing fucking ‘Timber!’”► I pummeled back at her, genuinely surprised at my own vitriol. “It’s 3:40 a.m., we’re all about to get the hell out of here, reinvent ourselves and move on with our lives, okay!? And I fucking hate ‘Timber,’ it’s the worst song of all time. And to answer your first question, no, I don’t take requests! Now, can you please get the hell out of my face?”
I remember the next 10 seconds unfolding in three parts, each segment a cog in an overall mechanism of awe-inspiring chutzpah. 1. My new friend let out an audible gasp. 2. She reeled her (admittedly beautifully manicured) hand back, and 3. she slapped me square across the right cheek. Hard. It reverberated over the formidable club sound-system with a loud “thwack!” I, on the other hand, reacted in just two parts: 1. a return gasp. 2. sobbing.
Indeed, in one fell swoop, a complete stranger had obliterated the dam inside me. It must have been quite a sight: a grown, 25-year-old DJ, clutching his bright red cheek with one hand and weeping into his other while 80 bodies grinded to Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal”► before him.
There was silence for a second. Then, “Oh no, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. Please don’t cry. Ah, fuck! Are you okay?” bandage dress chick muttered into my ear.
“Don’t be sorry, I’m sorry,” I squeaked through my tears. “I deserved it. I’m just having the worst day of my whole life.”
“Really? Aw, what happened?” she responded, stepping into the booth and putting her hand on my shoulder, visibly concerned for my mental health.
“Well, honestly,” I sniffled without looking up, “It’s a long story. But basically, I fell head over heels for this guy and my best friend whom I’d confided in went behind my fucking back and fucking hooked up with him, and then I think I got myself fired because I dealt with my problems by doing drugs at work, and Beyoncé would be so disappointed me and my life is just a fucking hot mess!”
“What? Wow, really? She kissed your man behind your back? That’s fucked up!” bandage dress girl responded in a nurturing tone.
“Actually,” I continued, “it was less behind my back and more directly in front of my face.”
She lightly stroked my hair with her long, snow-white fingernails while I snotted into my jean shirt. “That really is awful. I’m so sorry for hitting you. Violence is never the answer. I just had one too many tonight and you were such a dick.”
“No,” I replied, “I was such a dick, and I’m so sorry for yelling at you. I actually needed that slap.”
“That’s okay,” she answered soothingly, “I totally understand. There’s nothing worse than a betrayal from someone you thought you could trust, especially a trifling ass, man-stealing hooker. Believe me, I been there.”
“Really?” I sniffled.
“Really,” she answered. “Look, I know we barely know each other, but I just want you to know that that girl is a bitch, not a real friend, and you should not let her bring you down even for a second. I mean, look at you! You’re a DJ, and you’re great by the way, which I didn’t have a chance to tell you before you went off on me, but you are. We had the best time! We were just saying, we’ve never seen a DJ so invested in every song they played.”
“Really?” I squawked again, finally removing my sunglasses and looking up and into her deep, caring eyes, “You mean it?”
“Really! And you knew every single move to ‘Bye Bye Bye.’ You should get an award for that! Now, wipe those tears, say ‘fuck you’ to that girl, and just go back to being great, okay? Promise?”
“Promise,” I sniffled. Then without warning, she leaned in, grabbed my head with both of her hands and planted a huge, passionate, smooch right on my lips. It was rather shocking, as I hadn’t made out with a girl since I was 16, but it honestly wasn’t so bad! She had on cherry-flavored lipstick, which was pretty delicious.
I gave her a little tongue back, merely out of respect. “There,” she said with a wink, “Now, you got yours, honey,” patting my lips gently with her index finger.
Ten minutes later as the lights came up, I scratched in “Timber” for the last song of the night. “Thank you,” I mouthed to her from across the room. She blew me one more kiss back in my direction.
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