been waiting at the door for nine minutes before your old college roommate finally comes downstairs. “Heyyyyy,” he coos, pulling your stiff shoulders into his arms, “Come up! What took you so long?” You decide not to mention anything about the 15 texts and 3 calls you’ve left on his phone, which you notice is tucked into the front pocket of his immaculately crisp shirt.
It’s been about six years since the two of you last hung out, and about six and a half since you last slept together. In that lapsed time, he’s grown to become a bit of a Thing within the world of political reporting, regularly blogging for a publication that you only access in incognito mode. You occasionally receive his nudes, but it’s not serious anymore. Still, you stare at his ass as he walks you up to his apartment.
Inside you immediately start sweating, but only partly because of the lack of AC. The room is filled with what looks like all of the impossibly beautiful men in the city, and they’re all . . . arguing. Most of the people have their heads bent toward someone else’s, hands carefully balancing beers and plastic cups and vigorously gesturing. Somewhat incongruously, Carol is playing on the TV.
Your old roommate clears his throat and puts his hands around his mouth: “Hey everybody, I want you to meet —— ; he’s an old college buddy.” You chafe at the description, but okay. “Go easy on him, he’s not really into politics.” And then he claps you on the back; “Do you need a drink?” he asks cheerily, and then he’s out, pulled into conversation with a man who looks like he’s in Dracula cosplay, in July.
You do know something about politics (or at least political media, or, okay, at least “political” memes), but given the way everyone else at the party is now looking at you, it’s probably best to just lie low for an hour and then politely book it. You make your way to the drinks section of the kitchen counter and reach into your pocket for your keychain opener when . . . you realize your keys aren’t there. Shit. At least you have your phone, and you text your roommate, “please tell me yr at home,” while you search for an opener.
“Hey.” You turn around, and a wide-smiling, burly, red-haired man is offering you an already-opened beer:
> No, just head home.
> Yes, what the hell.
You mumble a thanks as you accept the bottle. Before you can drink it, he aggressively clinks his beer into yours. “I’m Brian,” he chirps, “and I LOVE your outfit.” (You’re wearing a now sweat-stained button-down and your roommate’s ex’s joggers.) “How do you know our host?”
You start reluctantly sharing some details of your life, and when you start talking about recently volunteering with a local LGBTQ nonprofit (you’ve canvassed for them twice), Brian’s eyes widen. “Oh, that’s so cool that you decided to get involved with local politics.” (That’s not what you said.) “Were you involved before, y’know,” and his voice dips conspiratorially, “the primary?”
You aren’t exactly sure what he means, but you say a little bit about how you did some outreach for Bernie Sanders. (You took a flyer once from a cute guy and later met up through Grindr.) Now Brian’s smile has somehow gotten wider, and he pulls you in for a hug. His mouth right by your ear, he practically screams, “One of us!” From somewhere in one of the vast pockets of his cargo shorts, he hands you a small red pin and starts sharing what seems to be a rehearsed speech: “If you felt frustrated about the way the last election went, I want you to know that there’s a whole bunch of us. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, y’know? Because with the way the Democratic Party is going, but let’s be real, it’s been this way for a while now”—big hand sweep—“it leaves a lot of real progressives feeling like they can’t build any real solidarity with the current two-party system”—his beer tips dangerously toward you—“and then it becomes obvious: Why don’t we form a coalition based not on shortsighted centralism but instead on a politics built on a progressive foundation, specifically aimed at local organizing and collectivism?”
He takes a breath; you take a sip and tuck the pin in your shirt pocket. “If you’re interested in learning more, we’re hosting a general meeting next week in Bushwick, you should come check it out, we’re a really chill and, like, truly diverse crowd. Like, organically diverse.” You open your mouth:
> Yes, Brian’s bear-ish vibe is growing on you, even if that diversity comment was weird.
> No, who’s that cute guy walking your way?
“Hey, I couldn’t help but overhear.” You both turn toward the newcomer, who glows like a masc Glossier model and actually makes that shaved eyebrow stripe cliché look cute. “I’m Craig, by the way,” and then he waves. So cute. “Not to butt in, but . . . what exactly is wrong with the Democratic Party?”
You only know enough to know that this is kind of . . . dumb. Brian closes his eyes and takes a deep breath; you step in and offer some half-assed version of Brian’s speech, which you can tell pleases him. Craig pauses, then tentatively shares, “I think those kinds of organizations are really cool in spirit, but wouldn’t it be better to try and change the system from the inside? And like, rally and meet people where they’re at, instead of trying to force these big ideas and changes all at once.”
Brian’s jaw drops a little, and his gushy demeanor switches. “You’ve clearly never been at any kind of political demonstration,” he drawls, and the heavy sarcasm takes both you and Craig clearly aback. “No, it’s fine,” Brian says, then takes a swig, “I just . . . like, do you really think the Democratic Party is going to engage with rising white nationalism while also sticking to explicitly pro-police rhetoric, and also continuing to shout down conversations about divestment and sex workers’ rights? You know their current anti-racism strategy is basically making MLK pull-quote graphics? And they’re spending their time and energy creating cloistered networks that just spread their own centrist propaganda instead of engaging with any real questions about their goals and strategies?” You think about saying something about how that’s not all really fair, but it’s then that you and Brian both spot the #LOVEISLOVE rainbow silicone bracelet (Is it suddenly 2004?) around Craig’s wrist. Brian sneers, “Or, let’s talk about something we all should really care about: Why won’t the Democrats address queer demographics and issues that don’t just center rich cis white men?”
Time to bounce. As Brian goes in on Craig, you down your beer and then immediately look for another. When you reach for the last craft beer in a six-pack, someone else’s hand gets there first. You look at the scruffy man it belongs to; he has heavy eye bags, and is wearing a leather jacket at a summer party in an apartment that has no AC.
> Yes, he’s hot.
> Not tonight, Satan.
“All yours,” you mutter, and instead grab a cup and fill it from an open wine bottle. Damn, why isn’t your roommate texting back? Except she did, and it’s just a bunch of eggplant and cocktail emojis. Is she talking about you or herself? Either way, unhelpful.
You wander around the party some more and check out a man who apparently decided to dress up in his Sunday best and has his arm around maybe the only (miserable-looking) woman in the room (pass), Dracula (pass, but definitely another time), before finally landing on a man wearing what looks like but can’t be a tweed suit (pass) who’s standing in a conversation circle but is clearly watching Carol (so . . . maybe one chance?). You wait for eye contact, and when he steps to the side, you walk over and clink your wine cup with his. (Ugh, did you really just do that?) Neither of you speaks for a bit, but when you finally open your mouth, he beats you to it: “They’re kind of dicks, right?”
You think he’s talking about the party, and say something like, Yeah, people are really intense. He looks at you funnily, and scoffs, “No, I mean them,” and points at living screen legends Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. “Especially the brunette, she’s really pulling that poor guy around.” Is he . . . is he messing with you? But his brow is furrowed and his lip slightly snarled under his almost comical mustache.
“I’m Hugo,” and he grasps your free hand with his in a one-pump handshake. “I didn’t think that my man had any normal friends, but you look normal compared with some of these . . . other folks,” he murmurs, clearly looking at the Dracula guy. (Who clearly heard that comment, because he just turned around to give both of you a curt, sad smile. Damn.) “So,” Hugo turns unsmilingly toward you, “have you gotten the commie speech yet from any of these weirdos?”
He’s gotta be joking, you tell yourself, and try to make a joke about political humor, am I right? Hugo doesn’t seem to understand you, so you pivot: Actually, you’re just here until your roommate gets home. But if she doesn’t come back tonight—
“You’re not one of those guys who only hangs out with girls, right?” Hugo interjects, then brusquely adds, “Not that that’s a problem, but I don’t really know anything about stuff like that.” What the hell is this guy’s deal. You down the rest of your wine; should’ve gone with the first impression. Then you feel Hugo’s hand on your elbow. “I don’t mean to scare you, I just,” and he sighs, “Everybody here is a fucking idealist, talking about their fantasy political landscapes and parties. Or pretending that ‘capitalist society is a cesspool’ or whatever. I don’t think most of them have real jobs.”
You’re not sure where he’s going, when he further rambles, “Sure, politics are complicated, but that’s because of people trying to change the status quo in ways that aren’t sustainable. Like, more women are graduating college, but why aren’t they actively pursuing these so-called ‘underrepresented’ careers, since there are so many diversity initiatives in place now?” (Wait.) “And with politics! Everybody in politics gets scrutinized over everything, no matter your gender or race or whatever, it’s a mudslinging fest that too often devolves into conversations about identities or polemics like, ‘I’m the only one who can be right, or who can have the floor, because of who I am, and any other opinion is wrong and fucked up,’ instead of logical hypotheses, premises, and reasoned conclusions, meant to achieve actual results.” His speech is a little slurred, but you don’t think he’s joking. Maybe you can spill your drink on yourself and pretend to go to the bathroom.
“Don’t listen to Hugo, he thinks he’s a savant and a rogue when he’s really just bitter that nobody likes him.” Then the pressure on your elbow is gone, because someone else has thoroughly removed Hugo’s hand. You look up at this new stranger, who’s wearing a shirt that’s open to his sternum and smells vaguely like coffee, sweat, and musk.
> Fuck the tweed, but no.
> Fuck the tweed, but yes.
Hugo’s still talking at you, but you tune him out and move closer to this man. He smiles, and somehow manages to whisper, “I’m Mat,” amid the din of the party. Your heart flutters, and the alcohol almost makes you fall into his arms. But given everybody else’s vibe . . .
You strike what you think is a confident pose and ask him, “Is everyone here obsessed with politics or am I just drunk?” He laughs, and you think part of it is because of the way you’re mashing your words together and part of it is because he thinks you’re a little bit of an idiot.
“Oh man, what do you expect from a political reporter’s friend group?” Mat says, and you think, Well uh, the same thing as any other friend group. But to this, Mat shakes his head. “I’ve been a community organizer for a decade now, and I hate to be the one to tell you, but everybody who’s involved in politics can only be friends with other people who are involved in politics, or who at least care to learn more.”
The hottest guy at the party isn’t just curving you, he’s questioning why you’re even here. You defend yourself: Hey, I have a life to live around the news, and it’s not as though you don’t care about the issues of the world. (You do! You have friends of all kinds of marginalized backgrounds, which . . . is something you should definitely not say out loud.) It’s not that you don’t want to get involved but that you don’t know how, or for what causes that will actually impact the largest amount of people, in the most vulnerable positions of society. Or at least that’s what you try to say in between sips, and wow you really shouldn’t have skipped dinner.
Mat’s expression softens a little, but he’s still skeptical, and he’s right to be. What kind of person says they don’t know anything about politics in this place and time? (Though to be clear, it was your ex–roommate/boyfriend/whatever who said that about you.) He takes a long sip of what looks and smells like straight dark liquor, and says, “I don’t mean to be so harsh to you, it’s just . . . I’ve been doing this a long time, and when I see fools and even well-meaning folks act like any part of this is easy or simple, it really . . .” he pauses, “It doesn’t really make me mad so much as it makes me wonder, Does anyone really care about what matters?”
You lean in. You care. You care so much. He continues, “It’s not enough that people would rather watch mindless entertainment than volunteer at a community garden, or at a free clinic, or with non-English-speakers at a legal-help hotline or workshop. But that folks don’t really care about anything as much anymore. They numb themselves with drugs and sexual pursuit and alcohol”—What does he think he’s drinking? you wonder in the cloud of your own drunkenness—“or else they channel their passions into purely material and effervescent joys.” He pauses again, then adds, “I work 60 hours a week and spend so much of my free time trying to organize people in a community that’s slipping further and further away from its history, but its newcomers are increasingly drawn to flashy and bold political declarations, with no intention of actually changing their own problematic behaviors, especially their spending habits, and who blame their unwillingness to explore, engage with, and ultimately defend other people, on their own various indefatigable ailments and woes.”
Two thoughts: Mat is so smart, wow. And, Mat could definitely use a vacation, but that would probably be the worst thing you could say to him. And it’s in this moment that your ex sidles up to you: “So, are you enjoying this sciiiintillating conversation?” he slurs, hand gripping your waist in a way that’s both uncomfortable and thrilling. Then he says, “You know, Mat does this to everyone, talk about his important work and how everybody else fails to meet up to that.” Aaand of course he would say that, but if that’s true, then you feel a little bit of a chump; when you turn to Mat, he’s already moving to talk to someone else, and then you know you’re a chump.
“Isn’t politics sexy?” your ex jokes as he steers you through the crowd. “You know,” he murmurs, “I didn’t know if inviting you here was a good idea, but you’ve really brought the best out of my . . . friends.”
Oh god . . . did you really just spend your evening talking with your ex’s ex-hookups, about their political beliefs? No, this is fine. The night’s still young, and there’s always a chance that one of the guys you spoke to could actually be moved to take you home. But who’s the one least likely to give you grief and most likely to get in bed?