Sure, sure. You know about VICE, now. You have been inundated by their viral news stories originating at VICE.com; wooed into a series of clicks on this or that. You’ve watched VICEland online and consider yourself well-versed on Weediquette. You’ve wasted time at work reading their article on how peoples’ faces look on different kinds of drugs. Maybe you’ve even watched the VICEland episode about Unicorn sex parties. You are attracted to the way VICE makes international news stories accessible in a for-us-by-us Millenial friendly format, instead of presenting a stuffy and traditional network broad-cast. You watched Jungletown and learned about a group of entrepreneurs building an eco-friendly, sustainable town in Panama town. You felt cool learning about it. It gave you something to discuss amongst your friends while you sipped IPAs. See? We don’t just talk about the guys we’re fucking. We talk about news and shit. And that’s all good and well. In fact, I’m with you there. But I’m not here today to talk about VICE, now. I want to talk about VICE, then.
I don’t remember how I got my teenage mitts on my first copy of VICE Magazine, but I do remember aggressively pawing through each page, aware that these guys were on to something. There was a story about whether semen was actually good for a girls’ skin (spoiler: it’s not) as well as an ongoing investigation into how quickly a rats’ corpse would decompose if sealed in a jar, and left atop a New York city rooftop. The editors at VICE seemed like real assholes. But they were funny assholes, because to write these articles, they made their interns do the R&D work. This meant a real-live intern had to rub her boyfriends’ semen on her face each day for 10 days, documenting the results for all the indie-magazine-world to see. It meant that each of VICE’s interns had to take a turn at opening the rat-jar, take a good whiff of the heinous smell, and report back on its’ contents. These findings were then published, and the editors and staff writers wrote on, unashamed and unapologetic.
The magazine was gloriously sick, twisted, and run by a bunch of self-proclaimed junkies. VICE’s Staff writers waxed poetic about using heroin, describing it as a bittersweet heaven on earth. The higher-ups at VICE were far from the buttoned-up execs that ran popular print magazines. They were shitty people, but shitty people that were cooler than us. They knew rock-stars. They knew drugs. They skateboarded. I knew immediately that VICE Magazine was the most punk-rock thing I had ever held in my hands. I vowed immediately to one day become another of their tortured interns. I would rub semen on my skin. I would smell the rat-jar. Maybe I would even try heroin. On a skateboard.
My favorite part of the magazine was the VICE Fashion Dos and Don’ts section. Each month, metropolitan 20-somethings photographed out and about were either applauded or sharply denounced by the writers at VICE. Their commentary went beyond the usual alt-weekly snark I was accustomed to, and took on a more biting—and much funnier—tone. The short statements accompanying each snapshot were intellectual, written by someone smart, but again, written by someone cool. Everyone I knew wanted to be associated with that brand of cool, and making it into the magazine—even as a Fashion Don’t—was revered by any in-the-know city-dweller.
Michelle loved VICE even more than I did. She knew, too, that what she was reading was the start of something special, something she wanted desperately to be a part of. When we graduated high-school, I stayed local and fulfilled my lack of potential at a shitty Maryland community college. But Michelle? Michelle chose to attend Hunter College in New York. She was going to be a writer. She was going to get in with VICE and any other fabulous publication in New York City that would have her. I was wildly jealous of my best-friend. Still, despite wanting to murder her for her ambition, loving family, and acceptance into an accredited 4-year school, she was fun to hang out with. She was still my Michelle; Mishy Chica; Michelle, my Belle. We were girls. The only real difference was now she was Michelle in New York. So, I went to visit.
The downtown Baltimore bus station was grimy, at best. Located on Baltimore Street (adjacent to The Block, as we call it) the station was filled with all kinds of people, taking care of all kinds of business. There was the drunk, taking care of his 40 ounces of Steel Reserve. There was the Pimp, taking care of a girl fresh off a red-eye from God-knows-where. (My guess was Pennsylvania. Because who would take a bus to Baltimore? Only someone from Pennsylvania, that’s who.) There was the drug dealer, taking care of, well, dealing drugs. And then there was me. I was going to New York. Party! So much action at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday!
For about 45 bucks, I reserved a lumpy seat on a smelly bus straight to NYC. I thought it was a steal. I passed the 4-hour ride with my headphones on, rocking out to Shakira’s Fijacion Oral Volume 1, which was entirely in Spanish, because I was, like, totally cultural now. And sure, I was sitting right next to the bathroom. And sure the guy next to me had (a LOT) of visible crumbs in his beard. But whatever. This was glamorous. As Shakira cooed lyrics I couldn’t understand, I felt what those dumb bitches on Sex and the City kept talking about. I was about to have a love affair with New York.
Once inside Port Authority I realized just how small-potatoes the Baltimore bus station really was. There were way more hookers and drug dealers here! The drunks weren’t even drinking. Here, they were doing drugs. The entire station reeked of pee and sweat, and--although I didn’t know it yet--sex. As I pulled my overnight bag from the bus’ luggage compartment, I saw Michelle bouncing through the crowd toward me. Her light brown hair was shiny and curly in the sticky station. Her heart shaped face was healthy and glowing, her smile wide and genuine. New York looked good on Michelle.
“What’s up bitch!” She threw her arms around me.
“Hooker! You look fucking great!” I dropped my bag to hug her back.
“Ah thanks, thanks. I took the subway so I’m super sweaty but thanks. I swear, I have no idea how it’s so hot and humid down there when the weather is fine up here, but for whatever reason it is. We can take a cab back to the apartment. I can’t deal with the train right now,” She offered to take my bag, which would have dwarfed her tiny frame. I refused, and we lumbered up the stairs and out onto a New York City street.
The city was as I remembered it from childhood trips past. Crowded, dirty, busy and loud. I loved it. With each passing scent, be it good or bad, each passing conversation, each passing taxi honking, I felt an opportunity for adventure. And adventure was all I had ever really been looking for. Here it was. So close I could smell its stale pee-stink.
“Taxi!” Michelle was surprisingly aggressive at hailing a cab, and so we got one right away. We drove through hundreds of streets and across a bridge. Michelle lived in a barely-gentrified nook in Brooklyn near a liquor store and a place that sold live chickens. Her apartment was bare-bones, and painted a yellowing taupe. Michelle was the roommate awarded the smallest room out of three, and was paying what I paid for an entire historic two-bedroom loft in Baltimore.
Upon viewing Michelle’s tiny apartment, I was reminded of a saying I heard from a Chicago Realtor years prior. My sister was settling into the Windy City to attend a grossly overpriced art school and found a studio apartment walking distance from her classes. The room was small, dingy, and smelled stale. Still, “Location, location, location,” the realtor said, her voice like windchimes, “The first three rules in real estate.”
Michelle’s apartment was cooler than mine, goddammit. Location, location, location.
“Okay, no more cabs because girl I am broke,” she told me as she tossed her keys on a card table and opened the fridge, fanning herself.
“I have some money,” I said, digging into my bag to double check that my money was where I had left it, “Yeah I’ve got like $150 bucks.”
“Girl, that isn’t going to last long here. So, I’m thinking tonight, there’s a party, and then tomorrow maybe we do, like, a chicken and beer night at the apartment? We’ll get you a subway pass and that’ll take care of that, it’s cheap for a 3-day or whatever,” Michelle stopped fanning herself and peered into the fridge, “Are you hungry?”
“What’s the party?” I asked from the bedroom, as I unpacked my overnight bag, emptying its contents onto her Bed, Bath and Beyond duvet. “We could always find an amateur strip night or something, we could make money that way. I’ve seen a wet t-shirt contest it’s really just an ass shaking contest.” I walked into the kitchen, “I could win one. Oh my god, If we did it together we would definitely win.” I thought immediately of the Aerosmith video for Crazy that put an amateur stripping fantasy into the teenage mind of every girl I went to school with. Michelle handed me a yogurt.
“Well I don’t know of any ass shaking contests, but the party should be fun. Plus it’s free beer, so a penny saved is a penny earned, right?” She pointed to the silverware drying on her dishrack, “Spoons.”
“So if we drink $500 worth of beer, we basically get $250 each? Ha ha, I’m game.”
“Ha ha, right, exactly. I’m gonna’ see if this guy is picking us up. Dude, get this: He is Aaliyah’s little brother,” Michelle said in a suddenly serious tone.
“Yeah, he’s Aaliyah’s brother, like, for real,” she said as she spooned a thin layer of yogurt of the top of her snack.
“Like, the singer Aaliyah?” I asked.
“Yeah, but you’re not supposed to bring it up, because, you know. She, like, died.”
“Well yeah I know that, duh,” I said laughing.
“No, but seriously, I guess he is, like, sensitive about it.”
“Oh, yeah. That makes sense, I mean it’s his sister and all,” I plopped down on the torn leather sofa and opened my yogurt, “Maybe he’ll buy our drinks,” I added.
Rashad pulled up in true celebrity-sibling style, in a chauffeured black Lincoln Towncar with a driver wearing a cap. Like, an actual driving cap.
“This guy must be a celebrity,” I thought. Michelle nodded in my direction, acknowledging the drivers professional look, somehow reading my mind.
We hopped in without hesitation, filling the back seat with the smell of Victoria’s Secret body splash and stale cigarette smoke. The sun had set, and Michelle’s Brooklyn nook--safe-ish and family oriented in the daytime—had transformed into a different animal. As we drove I noticed teenagers hanging out on the corner had turned into adults at night, their hoodies now up, their gazes down. The sound of live chickens was replaced by sound systems blaring out of slowly passing cars. People bought drugs. People sold drugs. They were not discreet. It reminded me of Baltimore in that way. We cruised through the neighborhood, and back over the Williamsburg bridge into Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The Delancey was sort of a nice place. I say “sort of,” because the venue is split into different sections, each with its own charm of sorts. There is the rooftop. I have never seen the rooftop, I never made it that far, but it’s reputation is that of VIP record release parties and the like. There is the middle floor, which is upscale, candlelit and romantic. And then there is the basement. The basement is shitty. The basement is where we were headed.
The grimy downstairs space in the Delancey was incongruent with the rest of the building. The air was thick with cigarette smoke--despite the city-wide smoking ban--and dozens of sweaty 20-somethings writhed en masse to a DJ hunched in the corner. It smelled like B.O., basement mold, and cum. Rashad pulled us through the crowd, directly to the bar. He grabbed us 3 free PBRs and winked at Michelle.
“Will you get me a vodka cranberry?” I yelled over the music.
“I got you a beer,” Rashad said, nodding toward the PBR.
“Yeah I don’t like beer, though,” I said.
“Sorry girl, I didn’t bring my wallet or I would,” he said, turning toward Michelle.
I cracked open my shitty, free beer.
“Aaliyah’s brother my ass,” I said to no one in particular.
I looked around, watching people older and cooler than me dance and sweat and grind. People dressed as hipsters or hoes, guys in tight pants and girls in clingy mini dresses and massive hoop earrings. Some boys looked like girls, and some girls looked like boys. No one here gave a fuck about sweating off their caked-on eyeliner. I noted each androgynous boy, slutty-looking girl, or oddly suited hipster. I wished I had worn more eye-makeup. I wished my hoops were bigger. I started to dance.
“Fuck it,” I said, tilting my head back and emptying said shitty beer into my gullet seconds.
“Damn girl,” Michelle said.
“What? We came here to party, didn’t we?” I threw my arms in the air and let out a Woo-Girl battle-cry, “Woooooo!” I crushed my PBR can and dropped it on the sticky floor.
We proceeded to shake our asses, each shitty beer tasting less shitty as the music played. Rashad grinded on Michelle while I danced by myself, making my way through the crowd and back to the bar as often as possible.
As I danced back to Michelle and Rashad, the music stopped abruptly, and the lights on a makeshift stage at the front of the room came up. A paunchy white guy with a patchy beard and glasses held a microphone.
“Hello? Testing, hey, hey guys what THE FUCK IS UP!!?” He gained confidence as he spoke, getting louder and louder, “IS EVERYBODY HAVING A GOOD TIME OUT THERE?”
More woo’s from more Woo-Girls filled the room. Guys held their beers in the air, some of them belching.
“Alright, alright, here’s what we’re gonna’ do. We’re having a little contest, and I’m going to need some volunteers who like beer,” The audience exploded with a cacophony of more woo’s, belches and other unsettling drunken noises.
People waved their hands to volunteer, unaware of what they were getting into. I was one of those people. The emcee pulled me from obscurity and placed me onstage, next to his other volunteers—all chubby guys with beards. I wondered what I had in common with these four fat guys, other than liking beer—which until tonight I really hadn’t. What was I doing up here? I didn’t belong here, obviously. These were full grown men, for Chrissake. Full grown sorta’ gross men, in fact. I started to step away from the emcee, hoping to slink back into the safety of the crowd. I stopped dead when I noticed Michelle. She stood in the front row of the crowd, her face lit up with admiration, woo-ing for me with the best of them. I couldn’t chicken out, now.
The next few moments flashed in front of me like Polaroids. I saw a man with a funnel and a tube. I heard a slam, something heavy and metallic was dropped onto the wooden stage. There was a tinkling sound of bottles being rattled. I watched another man walk away with an unloaded dolly, wearing a backwards cap. Another flash of red, white and brown developed into a vision of 6 cases of Budweiser. I watched as the emcee attached the funnel to the clear plastic hose, holding his microphone under his arm. I quickly did the party-math. We were going to beer bong.
“No problem,” I thought, “I’ve been to frat parties before.”
The announcer had each of us introduce ourselves, three men with names like Chuck, Brett or Ryan, and then one female, me, Auriane. I eyed my competition and their round, swollen beer-bellies. I knew I was the less experienced contestant—noting my age, sex and lack of beer gut-- and needed a gimmick. Being the only woman on stage either had power in it, or was a disadvantage. It was up to me to choose which. My mind raced as the emcee and an assistant, also pulled from the crowd, approached for the first beer-bong of the night.
Maybe it was the lingering thought of an amateur strip show; perhaps that damn Aerosmith video still on my mind. I don’t know, exactly, but before the stage-hand could start to pour the Bud into the funnel raised above me, I yelled.
“WAIT!” The audience hushed. I looked out, wide-eyed.
And then I took off my top.
I nodded to the assistant, and—there in my fanciest Victoria’s Secret push-up bra and jeans—bonged a beer. The audience—particularly the women in the audience—roared with approval. Michelle beamed at me. The contest carried on to the next contestant.
Chuck or Brett or Ryan each bonged their beers. They kept their shirts on. It felt anti-climactic to just stand there in my bra, so I pulled my green sweater back over my head, awkwardly waiting for my turn to remove it and chug another beer. I was sweating under the hot stage lights and two large pools of sweat pitted my top within minutes.
After 5 rounds of playing shirt-on-shirt-off again, and chugging five nasty-ass Budweisers, the crowd was overwhelmingly rooting for me. They hooped and hollered at my semi-nudity and determination to beat the boys. Everything was going great, and we were almost out of beer. I was sure I was going to win this. What could go wrong?
As I looked out to my adoring fans in the audience, to Michelle and to Rashad, I heard another tell-tale slam against the wooden stage. The pools of sweat under my arms tripled. Backwards-cap-guy walked by me, nodding his approval, and when he passed me, I saw it. Six more cases of beer had been unloaded onto the stage. I looked to Michelle in a panic. I tried to yell to her, but instead let out a frothy burp, Budweiser spilling from my mouth as I tried to speak. I was literally full.
I wiped away the beer rapidly foaming from my esophagus and onto my sweater and managed to enunciate enough for Michelle to understand me. “I. NEED. TO. BARF.” I kept mouthing. “I. NEED. TO. BARF.”
Michelle looked frantically for a secret space where I could yack, but the club was packed. Surely if I barfed I would be disqualified, but I simply couldn’t fit another beer inside my teenage body. It wasn’t happening. Something had to be done. I couldn’t puke on stage, not after all my hard work. But the barf was flowing involuntarily, darkening my shirt. I pulled my sweater off again, pointed to the fresh stack of beers and gurgled through my vomit.
“Woooooooooo!” I yelled, pointing at the beer and feigning excitement.
My rally-cry, meant to distract the crowd from the puke foaming out of my mouth also attracted the attention of someone very special. This woman, about 5’4” and oh, 200 lbs, bounded at me with aplomb, letting out her own savage battle cry all the while. She was an angel. A dark fucking angel, but an angel nonetheless. Her rapid steps through the crowd were intentional, wide-set, and could be felt by those surrounding her. She leapt at the stage, hoisting her heavy body toward me, sweat pouring from her brow, her long black hair matted, her bangs soaked. Heavy makeup was melting off her skin in sheets as she reached a chubby arm my way. She batted the beer bong tube from the emcees hand, pulling it away from me, and in one swift move, simultaneously whipped her two, giant breasts from her shirt--nipples and all—shaking beer onto the audience. She let out a shriek as she lasso’d the tube full of beer in circles above her head, pouring the remainder of the beer bong onto her exposed breasts. She screamed the entire time.This sweat-drenched angel, this plump powerhouse, had just saved me. It was time to puke! I jumped down to Michelle, beer still gurgling from my mouth, my sweater left in a pile back on the stage.
“Go, go, go!” I yelled, my bra now covered in beer, my belly hanging over my belt buckle. I felt as if the walls of my stomach were going to rip. We pushed through the crowd, frantically, trying to find a bathroom. I stumbled behind a curtain past the back bar, but there was nothing, just a short Mexican man, holding a mop. I stared at him, and for a second, he just stared back.
“Bano?! BANO?!” I asked him. He explained in perfect English that the bathroom was upstairs. We ran. Well, no. Michelle ran. I stumbled, hitting the narrow walls of the stairwell and muttering curse words while belching, disgusting, foamy burps.
Upon opening the door to the first floor of the Delancey, I was confronted with the soft glow of candlelight, the gentle tinkling of glassware. The air smelled of food, of bread and wine, which only made me want to barf even harder. A maître d’ stood, staring at us, his brow furrowed, his arms crossed.
“Bano?” I asked, laughing a little, my vision blurring, my stomach still stretched well beyond capacity. Beer was foaming from my mouth uncontrollably. I looked like I had rabies. To punctuate how badly I needed the ladies’ room, I belched. More foam dripped from my chops.
Horrified, but kind, he pointed me toward the ladies’ room. Once inside, I promptly threw up 5 beers in succession, taking a short pause in between each Bud-Heavy heave. Michelle, dutiful and loyal, held my hair back. Once I was sure I had bottomed out, I reached into my purse, happy to find that my travel toothbrush and mini-toothpaste were still stuck in the side pocket. I performed a quick hygienic scrub, reapplied lip-gloss and tore back down the stairs, Michelle guiding my every drunken step. I had to get back to the contest.
Back inside the smoke-filled, sweaty room, I saw that my guardian angel was still on stage, yelling obscenities and shaking her bountiful nude breasts. Her meaty pair sat perched like two fat cherubs, just above the neckline of her blue blouse, which she had yanked down just enough to put on a show. Her nipples were gigantic. I couldn’t ask for a better distraction. I decided to play it cool at the bar for a moment. I ordered a vodka cranberry from the heavily pierced bartender, reluctantly pulling a $10 from my wallet.
“Gotta’ spend money to make money,” I told myself, still blindly under the impression that I would be compensated for this basement debauchery.
As I handed the money over to the bartender, I heard the screams and chants of the audience soften. Then, the emcee:
“Where’s our female contestant, did she quit? Where’s our original topless lady, people?”
The spotlight on the stage then began to circle around the room. I cleared my throat.
“I’m here!” I shouted out, my voice hoarse from yacking. Nothing. The crowd had grown quieter now, and I tried again, “I said I’m HERE!” I yelled weakly, as Michelle woo’d hard in assistance. Michelle jumped up and down, waving her arms. I held my vodka cranberry in the air and smiled. The spotlight landed on us.
“Is she…is she ordering a drink?” The emcee laughed as he said it, his eyes wide. I lifted up my vodka cranberry and mouthed “Cheers.” He laughed again.
“Alright get back up here, you fucking alcoholic, it’s time for round two.” The crowd roared, as Mishy Chica pushed me forward toward the stage.
Once on stage, the cycle repeated itself, only this time I grew much more drunk, and much more delirious. Also, I drank that vodka cranberry, which was stupid. I don’t remember how the ordeal ended, exactly, which after 10 beer bongs, I shouldn’t. I do have some photographic evidence that I enjoyed myself, but if I won the contest, or if there was any kind of prize for my performance, I couldn’t tell you. I know I didn’t wake up with amateur-strip-club level cash in my pocket—or any cash in my pocket—the next day. Judging by the photographs, I a.) gave up on putting my sweater back on for the rest of the night, and b.) danced my sweaty, pukey ass off with Michelle.
For the next few days, we slummed around New York, enjoying our cheap chicken and beer nights, and even hitting a few more bars despite our teensy-weensy budget. We slept on rooftops, witnessed public masturbation on the subway, and got fingered by our gross 20-year-old dates. Then, more suddenly than I expected, it was time to go back to Baltimore.
A few weeks later, I received a call from Michelle. This was not unusual, we were pretty good at keeping in touch, although I hadn’t heard much from Mishy since my visit. Her voice was higher than usual, up an octave or two from its usual playful tone. I felt she either had exciting or terrible news to impart. Perhaps both.
“Oh my god, you are never gonna’ believe this. You bitch, I swear to God. I have been living here for a year trying to get into this magazine, and you’re here for one weekend, I swear to God,” she was half playful, and rushing through her sentences.
“What are you talking about?” Could it be? Tell me it was…
“Bitch, you’re in VICE as a fuckin’ fashion don’t!”
“What?” I let the line go quiet.
“Yeah, that night at the Delancey,” Her tone was fully playful now, but she wasn’t kidding, “I mean, don’t feel bad, it’s not you, it’s the Eskimo chick who pulled her actual tits out, but you’re there. Like, in your sweater in the background. Judging so hard, ha ha,” She laughed a little.
“Oh my god that’s awesome, that’s so fucking awesome!” I was actually in VICE magazine, “Shut the fuck up!”
“Yeah I know. I hate you, ha ha, but, like, no, for real,” At that Michelle excused herself, she was about to get on the subway, and anyway I had to get to class. We said our quick goodbyes, cluttered with the usual ‘love yas,’ the word ‘bitch’ and ‘hooker,’ amongst other pleasantries.
I hung up the phone, a distinct air of pride tinting my aura a bright yellow as I walked to class.
“We made it into VICE Fucking Magazine,” I thought to myself, crossing campus effortlessly, floating to the dumpy portable classrooms relegated for lowly English majors.
I sat down in my shitty freshman Lit class, looking around at the less than glamorous community college digs. The faces of my peers, the smell in the air, all of it painfully comfortable, excruciatingly familiar.
“VICE. Fucking. Magazine,” I thought again.
I opened my notebook, scribbling doodles, fantasizing about my next trip, and our next adventure together. Man, it was good to have Michelle as a best friend. Even if she did move all the way to New York.