by Louise O’Brien

They make the rounds every week, beginning on Wednesday, directly after work and meet for a drink – for the girls something in a long-stemmed glass, a Martini, a Cosmopolitan; for the guys, imported beer, maybe a gin and tonic. They talk about the same people, who’s dating who, who got promoted.

Then they go home to the East Side walk-ups they all live in, the brick buildings lining the upper 90’s, the apartments that were considered tenements in the 1930’s and 40’s. Now they are occupied by the upper echelon of Manhattan youth, PR executives just out of college, financial analysts who look like they just moved out of the frat house. Some of them got lucky and can afford a more “respectable” address – their parents kicked in for them to live closer to Park or Madison.

Or they managed to get a big enough group of roommates together to be able to afford those kind of digs. But generally it’s railroad rooms or a pyramid layout on the third or fourth floor with chilled wine glasses in the kitchen but no pots and pans. They don’t know too much about the people in their offices who can only afford a small place in Brooklyn or who have to live with their families until they can see their way clear to something more private. They take two hour lunches, they watch “Sex and the City” for tips on what to talk about at brunch. They’re living the life.

Always On
Corrine has been to I Bar before. It’s a small lounge, with long low couches and a DJ booth in the back corner. She’s always on the Guestlist. There is an area more suited to dancing on the second floor. But she’s come downstairs for the preliminary event – picking apart what the other girls are wearing, specifically the girls that don’t normally come here. Every week one of the guys in her crowd brings the girl he’s dating. Chances are, she didn’t go to Penn or Yale or GW like they did. Chances are she went to a state school. Chances are you can tell that as soon as she opens her mouth – no, as soon as she descends the staircase.

It’s not that Corrine’s a snob. On the contrary – she talks to the girl at work who shares her office, the one from Bay Ridge with the too long hair. She’s a very nice girl, albeit a little too ethnic. Corrine has never invited her out for a drink after work, but that’s usually because someone has already invited Corrine out, someone her officemate doesn’t know and it would be rude to bring a tag along.

There’s a corner of the couch in the front that is unofficially reserved for Corrine and her friends. Tonight there is a drifter from another group crowding their area. A withering look in her immediate direction should do the trick.

Buffer Money
Yes, Marcus went to Georgetown. Yes, his father is the CEO of a semi-large corporation. Yes, when he lived near his parents, he had a sweet ride, a 1999 Land Rover as a matter of fact. But he’s not some snotty rich kid. He’s alternative, he’s hip. He likes dive bars just as much as the trendy lounges his friends frequent. He listens to electronic music – not just to dance to when he’s out, but at home. He mostly likes the stuff from England. It’s a little edgier than that tame domestic crap.

Marcus rarely has a regular job. He’s not cut out to be an office slave like his roommate. He can’t hang with the nine to five. He makes his money selling the occasional vial of blow, a couple of tabs of X here and there between friends and promoting at small clubs around the city. Well, that’s how he makes some of his money. His parents send him a “stipend” as his father calls it. Basically it’s buffer money. They can’t have their son living like a bum. They know people in New York. They can’t have it being said that Marcus isn’t doing as well as their children.

His roommate Tom is another story. Tom was already living in the apartment on 89th Street before Marcus even moved to the city. Tom went to Georgetown on a scholarship. That’s how he met Marcus. But Tom works for JP Morgan, every day, up at seven, home at eight. Tom isn’t any less interesting or any less a good guy because he works so much. Marcus just feels sorry for him. All that working while they’re still so young.

Clutching Her Life
Audra’s purse cost more than her whole outfit: A cashmere clutch from Barney’s. She had to have it, though. As it stood, she always managed to look decent but not spectacular, a bit out of the league of the girls she worked with. Her parents were not wealthy patrons of the arts. Her mother was not a lady who lunched.

She came from a “good” family by most people’s standards, but for the most part she had to fake a better understanding of society than she had. All her friends thought they were low-key. But walking into Centro Fly with them tonight, you could tell that wasn’t the case.

Decked out in Prada and Jimmy Choo’s, lips glossy wet, they bore no pretense of casual. But to them this was just a night out with the girls. Even if this was what they lived for, even if this is what they planned for all week.

She had the routine down by now. Approach the bar with a swagger in your hips. Look around condescendingly. Smile vaguely at whatever specimen of the male species catches your eye. Stare blankly with a raised eyebrow at those deemed unworthy. Don’t encourage their approach, whatever you do. Order a Cosmo. Light a cigarette. Clutch your purse and wait to be noticed. Being noticed – that was inevitable.

Real conversation is kept to a minimum. If you happen to manage to gain access to the VIP lounge, where it tends to be quieter, then you might engage in some kind of chit chat, but not with each other. Laugh with each other so that men will notice what a great time you’re having without them. Let them buy you drinks. Audra had it down to a few easy steps. She held on to her life like she did her bag. Everything would be just fine as long she leaned casually on the bar, wet her lips and held on.

Monday begins the week again, the part of the week that rarely comes up in conversation at the Jet Lounge. The PR executive with the perfectly applied face sits in a cubicle counting the days until payday. She has an AMEX bill that her dad is only willing to pay part of. He said he’s not rescuing her the next time unless she learns to balance her finances. The financial advisor had his expense account taken away the last time he treated fraternity brothers to drinks at the Oak Bar. Three notes were left on his door instructing him to see his supervisor when he returned from a two-hour lunch.