xoJane is the new web project from SAY Media and beloved (worshipped?) magazine editor Jane Pratt. I am mixed about the site in general, but I save those feelings (and many others I have locked inside me!) for another day. For now, I’d just like to talk about one article they published recently called “What Were You Doing When You Were 23?”
The contributing staffers range pretty widely in age and flavor, but the one thing their stories all have in common is that they have the sweet and sour aftertaste of gleeful ignorance, vague, sleepy nostalgia, and bad decisions. Talking about being 23 tastes like that day-glo orange sauce Chinese restaurants give you for your egg rolls.
As soon as I read the piece on xoJane, I thought to myself, “What was I doing when I was 23?” I was immediately flooded with a hundred smells and sounds evocative of three hundred sixty five blurry days spent in Greenpoint and East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I smiled as I thought back. Wondered, “Who was that crazy kid?” Felt my heart shuffle quickly shut like a flipbook as I recalled a few of the more shameful moments of my twenty third year.
Then I remembered, Oh wait, I’m only 24. And I’ve only been 24 for three months. So, why does thinking about twenty three feel all faux retro and bittersweet, like watching Almost Famous?
The reason why these stories of being 23 are so evocative is because even if you are 23, no matter what you’re doing already seems like it’s in the past, because that’s how insane and ethereal this age is. Your life basically becomes a great story the instant it’s being lived and, even only twelve months later, it will seem like a million years ago. You will fall in and out of love so quickly that affairs will whiz by with the noise and aggravation of a downtown 5 train that decides not to stop at Union Square that day. You will do a lot of things so awful that you will find it necessary to begin repressing the memories of doing them the second they’re done. You will dream that your roommate asked you to buy cream cheese. When you bring it home and she looks at you quizically, you will swear up and down on your turtle’s backyard shoebox grave that she asked you to buy it. When she says, When?, you will be unable to provide a clear answer. She will make the salient point that you guys don’t have any bagels, so what you put the cream cheese on? You feel it’s worth noting that cream cheese on Wheat Thins is a really good snack, but that is beside the point. Then remember that, in the dream, she was donning a hat with a peacock feather in it. Not only does she not own a hat like that, but wearing one would be uncharacteristic of her personal brand. Your life is dream-like. You will wear a lot of vintage clothes. All the pictures you took that year, you took with Hipstamatic, so they look older than they actually are. There’s also the fact that you’ve figured out how to make $10 last a whole week, which makes you feel like it’s 1938.
When I was 23, I lived in a third floor walk-up where we had to throw the keys out the window to let people in. The man who owned the bodega downstairs always called me “mami” and his sixteen year old son once invited me to a party I actually considered going to, but the thought of all that un-squandered youth and potential in one space, and all those people who didn’t have to pay rent, was too overwhelming and I chickened out. I occupied one of the four bedrooms. I was friends with the girl I shared a wall with. Once, to avoid interacting with anybody else in the apartment, I climbed out my window, across the fireplace, and into her window, just so we could lie on the bed and watch Felicity together.
When I was 23, I made out with a lot of bartenders. They all went to art school and three of them had tattoos that incorporated dinosaurs.
When I was 23, it was the law to drink bloody marys on weekends. The really hot waitress, with the faux Hermes print tap shorts, knew us at Lokal on Manhattan and Driggs. I always ordered a grilled veggie panini. My roommate always got eggs benedict. Two bloody marys, one Diet coke, two waters, s’il-vous-plait. Once when we were sitting on the patio there, we saw the cutest dog walk by. We both squealed, “Doggie!” and reached out to pet it. Only after the dog had passed did we realize that its collar was attached to a leash that was in the hand of Josh Harnett.
When I was 23, I spent a lot of time in the park. Whole days would go by where we would do nothing but laze on the grass and watch hotties roll by on their fixed gear bikes. Turkey’s Nest on the corner that lets you take out margaritas in giant styrofoam cups. You need to drink enough so that you stop feeling like bugs are crawling up your skirt. My friend also once said, very wisely, that Turkey’s Nest is a really great bar to go to if you need to be the prettiest girl in the room. I had a lot of friends that were in softball leagues or kickball leagues, so there was always some kind of game going on. On weekends there’s a farmer’s market where they sell the most amazing strawberry juice you’ve ever tasted. I read all of The Secret History by Donna Tartt sitting on a bench in that park. I would also always see people I recognized from their OKCupid profiles.
When I was 23, I dated a guy who used an old t-shirt as pillowcase.
When I was 23, I worked seventy hours a week and still felt like going out after work.
When I was 23, I thought I wanted to work at a magazine.
When I was 23, I worked at a magazine and realized that’s pretty much the last thing I ever want to do.
When I was 23, it was all about La Roux.
When I was 23, I had what I hope will be my last friend break-up because, seriously, I’m getting too old for that shit.
When I was 23, we had a birthday party that was Alice in Wonderland themed. I bought a purple plastic top hat at Party City in the Flatiron district. I look at the pictures and I don’t know anybody that was there.
When I was 23, I knew all the bars. Daddy’s, Enid’s, Matchless, Sweet-Ups, Royal Oak, Duck Duck, Trash Bar, Beauty Bar, The Levee, Harefield Road, Legion, Union Pool, Macri Park, The Woods, K&M, Savala’s, The Cove. Now I know this: reading and drinking Prosecco on my couch is way cheaper and way more fun.
When I was 23, I went to one play the whole year, and I felt really cultured.
When I was 23, New York was all about rompers, drinks with elderberry in them, and Momofuku Milk Bar crack pies.
When I was 23, no matter how much I cleaned, my room felt dusty.
Here are the things I never had in the apartment at 23: paper towels, tissues, Zip Loc bags, Neosporin, bottled water, fresh fruit… bagels, or cream cheese.
When I was 23, my friends woke me up at 7 AM to tell me we were going to Jones Beach. I slept the whole way there in the back of my friend’s van. We bought Smirnoff Ice and “iced” each other (that was a thing). My roommate got lobster-grade sunburnt. When we got home, she filled the tub with ice and cold water and sat in it. I took pictures of her sitting in the frigid tub, drinking a Coors Lite, her eyes wet with tears.
When I was 23, I applied to grad school.
When I was 23, I went to see Snoop Dogg in concert. The concert started at 8 PM. I waited until 1 AM but, he still hadn’t come on stage and I had to be at work at 6 in the morning, so I left.
When I was 23, I skipped my five year high school reunion.
When I was 23, I liked to go sit on my roof, listen to music, and daydream about an age when I would know anything about anything.