The weekend after his final, Sean was going out to DC to visit. He had some down time between finals and graduation back at Stanford, and he had already accepted a consulting position in the Washington office of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest consulting firms in the area. The visit was planned ostensibly for the purpose of visiting his sister on her birthday and checking out apartments, but he really just wanted to get away. He was deeply afraid of leaving such a close-knit place, where he had friends and fun just an instant message away: an insta-community. He wanted to come out to Washington just to make sure that he could thrive outside of the womb, so to speak, cut off from the umbilical cord of his alma mater.
Sure, Jannon had done it: three years ago, she had just packed up all of her stuff and shipped it out east. She left before she even had a job, but soon she was settled in town and working on Capitol Hill like it was the most natural thing in the world. But girls were different. They were communicators. They kept in touch with their old friends and made new ones, without even trying, it seemed. Jannon had met Graham completely by accident. She’d found her house on Craigslist, and they were housemates for a year before they figured out that they were soulmates. Sean, single and scared, couldn’t help but want something like that. Or at least, he wanted to be sure that the possibility of something like that actually existed for him in Washington. So it was with this goal in mind that he boarded a flight from SFO the following Friday, carrying nothing but a backpack and a water bottle. He spent most of the plane ride flipping through an apartment catalogue that Jannon had sent him in the mail.
It was all so confusing: Tenleytown, Adams Morgan, Logan Circle, Van Ness…all these neighborhoods and no way to tell them apart without seeing them! His office was at Metro Center, and Jannon had advised him to try to live on the red line, somewhere. “Your commute will be full of old, boring, stuffed shirts,” she said. “Real Washington-types. But the trains are less crowded on the red than on the orange and blue lines.” Jannon and Graham lived in Tenleytown, near American University. Sean fell asleep on the catalogue and had strange dreams about apartment hunting.
Jannon and Graham met Sean at BWI, with Graham in the drivers’ seat of his beat-up old Rav4 and Jannon manning the iPod. The car resonated with Jannon’s odd taste in music as Sean loaded his backpack into the empty trunk of the small SUV. “Who is that, Imogen Heap?” he asked.
“Very good,” she laughed. Sean liked to listen to mass-produced bands that Jannon didn’t like when he was out running, and she teased him about it almost constantly. “It’s Frou Frou…Imogen Heap singing with a sweet, sweet titanium Powerbook and computer jockey.”
“You’re such a nerd,” Sean grinned. “Happy birthday, sis.”
“Well, it’s not until tomorrow. But thanks, Shaw-shaw.” Her use of the childhood pet name showed that she had not let the ‘nerd’ comment pass unnoticed. Sean smirked.
“And how goes it, my man?” Sean asked Graham as they pulled out of the parking lot and onto route 195.
“It goes,” Graham said. “Are you getting excited for your job?”
“I’m not, yet,” Sean admitted. Jannon liked the fact that Sean and Graham got along so well. “I’m hoping that I’ll feel better about it after I have some idea of where I’m going to live. And…you know…when I have some idea about the girls I might get to live with.” Graham smiled conspiratorially into the rearview mirror.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” Graham said. “Tonight in Adams Morgan will be just like any other Friday night in Adams Morgan.” Jannon scrunched up her eyebrow, making a face that clearly communicated her skepticism.
“I don’t think the girls at Adams Morgan are in any way representative of the local population,” she said slowly. She wanted to say that they weren’t suitable for her brother.
“Well, we’ll just go have a look, won’t we?” Graham purred. “That reminds me. I still haven’t seen that neighbor you mentioned last weekend. Mary?”
“Maddie,” Jannon said. “I haven’t seen her around either. But that’s the kind of girl I’d like to see with my Shaw-shaw.”
“Hey, quit it already,” Sean laughed.
“Not until you denounce Limp Bizkit,” she said, mock serious.
“Ok, fine, Limp Bizkit blows. I like Nickelback better anyway,” he retorted.
“Ugh!” Jannon turned up the volume on her iPod, blasting an old song by The Dismemberment Plan out the windows and into suburban Maryland.
Graham was right: that night in Adams Morgan was no different from any other Friday night in Adams Morgan. 18th Street was packed with people, turning a section of one of the city’s major arteries into a pedestrian mall. The girls were decked out in their end-of-the-school-year finest: halter shirts with no backs, long chandelier-style earrings and shiny bangles to complement coifs and manicures. Long straight jeans ended in strappy stilettos with perfect pedicures to match. Most of the girls were parading from club to club in little herds of pink and denim. A few of them, already drunk at 10:30, pretended to be interested in the Jumbo Slices that their male companions had bought for them until the guys offered to scarf down the girls’ leftovers so they could keep hitting the bars.
“Let’s start at Tryst,” Jannon suggested. She had dressed for the occasion in a sparkly tank top and her most comfortable (but still cute) pair of wedge heels.
“Tryst is more of an end-of-night destination,” Graham shouted. “I want Anzu.”
“Ok, ok, Anzu it is. But you guys have to walk behind me,” Jannon warned. “Last time I was out here, I got my luscious ass grabbed by five strangers who were sitting on a wall.”
“For real?” Sean asked, shouting to be heard above the crowd.
This place was a zoo. Sean wasn’t sure how he’d ever meet someone here. Anzu was a club that marketed itself as a lounge, so while there was dancing (on the bars, on the tables, and pretty much anywhere there was a flat surface), there was also a small collection of decent couches and chairs. The walls were deep red, and warmly lit with tres moderne sconces that made it look as though the light appeared out of nowhere. But the crowd was the really amazing part of the entire ordeal. If Sean had thought that it was crowded out on the sidewalks, he was in for it in the club. It was like a frat party in a phonebooth in there. Graham somehow managed to push his way to the bar, where he ordered three tequila shooters (Sean and Jannon’s favorite). They came in little salt-rimmed glasses. “It’s a classy place!” Graham said.
European house music made the walls thump through invisible speakers, and the German lady bouncer seemed to be enjoying it, when she wasn’t eyeing people suspiciously, making sure they didn’t violate the “hip casual” dress code or wouldn’t spoil the fun in any other way for the rest of the patrons.
“To Jannon’s 25th!” Graham said. He licked the salt and swallowed the drink, sucking on the lime wedge afterward. Jannon and Sean quickly followed suit.
A girl with a tray full of unidentified shots magically seemed to part the crowd in front of her. She was clearly tipsy and her shirt and Wonderbra were providing cleavage that wouldn’t look out of place in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.
“You look sober!” she yelled up to Sean, who had at least a foot of height on her.
“Just got here!” he answered, noticeably noticing her pulchritude.
“It’s my birthday! Kiss me and I’ll give you one of my birthday shots!” she yelled back, smiling and opening her smoky-shadowed eyes a little wider. Jannon looked on with interest. She hadn’t actually been out drinking with her brother since he’d reached the age of majority.
“Ok!” Sean leaned down and planted a really soft, gentle kiss on her lips.
“Wow, that was nice!” she said. “Best of the night! Take shots for your friends, too…I’m about to call it a night anyway!”
“Thanks!” Sean said. Graham grabbed a shot for Jannon and one for himself while Sean took his from the tray.
“Thanks! Happy birthday!” Graham said.
“Thank you!” she smiled. She groped Graham a bit on her way through the crowd. Jannon eyed her suspiciously.
“Oh, well!” she laughed. “Free shot!” Sean was already visibly reacting to his.
“It’s Jaeger!” he sputtered. Jannon and Graham both made faces but tossed the shots back all the same. If they were going to enjoy Adams Morgan to the fullest, they were going to have to get a little blurry first.
“You start to recognize people if you’re too sober!” Jannon said. “People you see on the Hill! For instance, the chick who you just swapped spit with, my dear brother, works in the same office building as me! I almost didn’t recognize her without her glasses…and with boobs!” she pantomimed a bustier. Graham managed to guffaw and choke on his shot at the same time, spitting tiny flecks of Jaegermeister onto a dancing chubby blonde who didn’t seem to notice or care. Sean looked vaguely embarrassed, but he realized that he hadn’t said no to kissing the strange girl, and thus couldn’t complain.
“Do you mind if we go dance!?” Graham asked.
“Yeah, have fun! I’ll be over here by the bar!” Sean answered. It looked like they had all kinds of weird European beer on tap. “Do you have any Belgian white ales!?” he yelled to the bartender.
“Ya! You vant!?” the bartender was a short man with spiky blond hair. Sean couldn’t tell if the accent was real or affected.
“Ya! I mean, ‘yeah!’” Sean yelled. It came in a tall glass, with a slice of orange in it. At least they do their drinks right in Washington. When Sean was about halfway through the tall beer, he no longer noticed the incessant pounding of the music, and he suddenly started seeing faces in the crowd a bit more clearly. There was one girl who looked absolutely exhausted, but she kept dancing because she was keeping the company of her enthusiastic friend (the chubby blonde that Graham spit his drink on half an hour ago), who was trying to back that ass up into a completely uninterested (and utterly wasted) blue-eyed blond with chiseled features and a pink polo shirt.
The girl’s makeup was sliding off her face, and mascara dribbled down from one eye. Her brown hair had been pulled back from her face in a high ponytail, with little wisps curling around her forehead and ears. She looked hastily made up, like her friend had forcibly dragged her away from a night of sleeping or studying. She didn’t seem to care that she looked foolish, dancing so mechanically, though Sean did detect a hint of exasperation every time she looked at her friend and the object of her friend’s desire. He pushed his way through the crowd.
“Hey!” he said. She didn’t even glance up in his direction. “Hey!” This time, she looked up at him, her face contorted in an expression of annoyance.
“Am I in your way or something!?” she asked.
“No! I just wanted to talk to you!” he shouted down at her. When he had gotten closer, he realized that she was about 5’2” in heels. Her face contorted again, like she hadn’t considered that someone would talk to her, and she was trying to figure out how it happened.
“Huh!” she said.
“Nice to meet you!” Sean grinned. Wendy finally cracked a smile. Her lipstick was on crooked, but it was impossible to notice until she smiled. “What brings you here on a night like this!?”
Wendy laughed and cocked her head toward her blonde friend, who was still energetically offering her posterior to the disinterested sandy-haired statue in the pink shirt. Sean noticed that Wendy was wearing an outfit like Jannon’s: comfortable. She wasn’t trying too hard, but Sean thought immediately that a girl like Wendy wouldn’t have to try very hard. From what he could tell, she had a great body to go with her pretty face. “Do you mind if I dance with you!?” She got the most evil look on her face.
“It’d drive Alexis crazy! I don’t mind at all!” Sean bent his knees a little so that he could put his hand on her hip. As he stared at her up close, he noticed that she was wearing two different earrings. He didn’t bring it up.
“Is that Belgian!?” Wendy asked, nodding to his beer.
“Can I have a sip!? Alexis didn’t want me to drink because she wanted me to make sure she didn’t do anything stupid!”
“Could you stop her anyway!?” Sean laughed. She laughed too. He handed her the beer, and she proceeded to gulp down about half of what was left before giving it back to him with a crooked lipstick smear on the rim.
“You’re like, deus ex machina or something!” she smiled. “This was the worst night until you got here!” Sean liked the fact that random girls in clubs spouted Latin phrases with no qualms about looking uncool. Washington DC had its reputation for being boring, but it was because most of the people here were brilliant. Everyone here worked for think tanks, law firms, and consulting firms.
Jannon and Graham pushed by Sean and Wendy on their way to the bar. Graham patted him on the back and Jannon studied Wendy.
“You know them!?” Wendy asked.
“Yeah! That’s my sister, and her boyfriend!” he shouted back. “I’m visiting them while I’m apartment hunting!”
“Where’re you from!?”
“Oh man! We can’t be friends!”
“I went to Cal!” Wendy grinned again and seemed to snuggle closer into Sean’s embrace. They danced for a little while longer.
“I think we’re going to Tryst after this!” Sean said. He hoped they weren’t going anywhere else. After the long flight, he was already tired.
“Alexis might not want to go!” Wendy frowned. “And I have to stay with her! You know how it is! I’m gonna go ask her!” She danced over to Alexis and they conferred for a few minutes. Jannon and Graham came back to Sean with plastic cups full of water.
“I see you made friends!” Jannon said, gesturing to Wendy and Alexis. “Easier than you thought, right!?” She handed Sean a cup.
“I guess so!” Sean said. He knocked the water back in one go. Wendy came back with her cell phone in her hand.
“What’s your cell!?”
“Six-five-oh, five-five-five, one-four-six-nine!” he said into the ear with the hoop earring. She dialed as he spoke. Five seconds later, he felt a vibration in his pocket.
“There!” she shouted up to him. “Call me when you move here!” She reached up and hugged Sean around the neck, pressing the ear with the chandelier earring on it into his chest. “It’s time to take Alexis home!” Sean hadn’t noticed, but Alexis had been drinking straight vodka on the rocks for the past hour and a half, and everything about her was beginning to droop. She stumbled over and leaned on Wendy.
“Are we mmmppppphhhmmmen dee?” Alexis said into Wendy’s shoulder.
“Yes, we’re going home!” Wendy said, rolling her eyes. “Got to go,” she mouthed.
Sean smiled and waved.
“We’re gonna go too!” Graham shouted to Sean. “Tryst!” They pushed their way through the crowd. When they got down the stairs and out the door, the first thing that Sean felt was the distinct absence of a euro-techno beat.
“Well, that was a trip,” Sean said.
“Tryst is a little more laid back,” Jannon said. “You’ll like it.”
It was more like a coffeehouse, this Tryst. Even after 11:30pm, people were sitting on the couches, staring down their laptops and sucking on cups of coffee. Jannon, Sean, and Graham found an open patch of couch, sat down, and ordered a bottle of wine and a cheese plate from the waitress.
People were talking, but it was quieter, and it wasn’t quite warm enough for them to have justified opening the entire front of the place, so the windows were able to keep some of the street sounds out. The cheese came, and it was a pretty decent platter, with some different types of cheese and some small fruits, strawberries, grapes. The wine was passable.
“They don’t have any local wines here,” Jannon said. “But the Virginia wineries are a mixed bag. Some great, some not-so-great.” She knew that Sean had been on a couple of winery tours in Sonoma, much closer to home.
“So the reason I wanted to bring you to Tryst is because it’s meant to be a meeting place,” Graham said. It didn’t look like that, with all the people here glued to their computers. “They have this website, trystdc.com? If you go on the website after you come here, you can see if anyone posted about you on their ‘I saw you at Tryst’ section.”
“Ha!” Sean said. “The next thing you’ll tell me is that people here actually take the Missed Connections on Craigslist seriously.”
“It’s almost cultish, really,” Jannon said dryly. She was not a fan of the social ineptitude that made this kind of communication necessary, but because she technically met Graham through Craigslist, she couldn’t really disparage it directly.
“Actually, I think you can see the magic at work,” Graham laughed. “Check out the guy in the tie and the girl in the suit.” Sean looked where Graham was pointing. “They’re totally talking to each other, I bet. They both worked late. They came here to blow off some steam, but they couldn’t leave the work at the office. So they commiserate. Bam! Instant connection.”
Maybe the whole “workaholic” thing wasn’t quite his scene, but he could see the merits of meeting people that way. And, if nothing else, he’d gotten a nice girl’s number out of the evening, so it wasn’t a total loss. They finished the wine and cheese.
“It’s officially your birthday now, Jannon!” Graham said, glancing down at the clock on his cell phone. “I hope you made a wish.”
“Oh, I did,” she said. “I did. Anyway, we should probably head back. We have a long day of apartment hunting ahead of us. Then later, we’re having a poker party for my birthday.”
They went back to Graham and Jannon’s house tipsy and tired. Sean collapsed on the couch without bothering to make it up with the sheets that Jannon had left out for him. It had been a very long day.