A starving artist may be hungry and hard up, but not hopeless. Magic doesn’t cost any money!
Cheap eats and meets.
THE CONCEPT OF A starving artist is, in fact, literal. No matter your craft: acting, music, writing, painting; there is always going to be a period of your life (all of it) where you will work your goddamned ass off and still lack the necessary funds to buy food and drinks. New York City is one of the only cities where working a 60+ hour work week leaves you standing in a Walgreens deciding whether to splurge on dinner supplies or think practically and purchase that roll of toilet paper so you can finally stop wiping your butt with the industrial grade napkins you craftily swiped from the last eatery you visited.
“It’s possible to live well,” mused Matheson as we sat in his shoebox apartment in Greenwich Village. “Living the life that you’ve dreamed of just means you have to be cunning in your approach.” Like learning German or seeing women get along rather than paying each other backhanded compliments; initially it’s foreign, but with practice and immersion, fellow Common Mortals can teach you where to find the illustrious cheap eats and cheap meets.
In order to maintain any form of friendship in this city, you must be available to meet and eat with friends whenever they call you to join them. After moving from her position at the Vegan café into HR at a notorious fashion house in Manhattan, Klara texted while I was at work to share the news and demanded that we celebrate over dinner and a bottle of wine. Like the idea of voluntarily logging on to check your online banking balance, the sheer concept of her text message made me panic. I wanted to help her revel in all of her professional achievements, but I had $22.30 to last me the following two days. “I’d love to my beauty, but I’m dirt poor” I wrote to her, guilty as a mother leaving her child in day care to return to work. Almost instantly she replied, stating to meet her at the DeKalb Ave L-line stop and that dinner wouldn’t at all be a problem.
I greeted her with a European double kiss and we began walking the deserted streets towards a liquor store where the attendant was serving patrons from behind bulletproof glass thicker than those afforded to the windows on a 747. She greeted the clerk with a wink and they bantered as if they had grown up together. “Just a 5-litre please, mama” to which the clerk, with two hands and much effort, placed a 5-litre bottle (drum?) of red wine on the counter and said it would be $10. Bewildered, I handed Klara a crumpled five-dollar note. As I did the chivalrous thing and carried it down the street I couldn’t help but state my mixture of concerns: ingesting this volume of RED WINE as the label so delicately stated and my excitement that something so potent, so endless, only cost us five dollars a piece.
As we walked, Klara told me a story. “When I went to Le Bain the other week I met an investment banker who was half my size but a great fuck. He took me to this restaurant we’re going to now and on the way stopped off at the liquor store and bought this behemoth bottle of wine. I was a little pissed off because I was expecting a more lavish evening, but secretly I loved every minute because I kept telling myself that this was something that you and I needed to do. Without fucking each other at the end of course.”
“We’ll see how we go,” I bantered as we stepped inside what looked to be an abandoned building. “What exactly are we doing here?” I asked, looking around the dilapidated establishment with discarded furniture scattered about. In the main dining hall, what appeared to be an overworked family was feverishly sorting soft tortillas into two nondescript piles. “Just shut the fuck up and write your order on this scrap of paper. The lime chicken soft shells are incredible.”
It takes a strong man to look around at an eating establishment decorated with what seemed to be a huge haul on hard rubbish collection day and think: Hmm, let’s eat here! DIY Taco (no assembly necessary) had vast patronage with a lax BYO alcohol policy and no corkage fee. We sat down next to a group of people who had evolved past the point of hipster and opened our 5L. We both lit a cigarette and settled into the decaying furniture, making ourselves comfortable as we planned to occupy our little derelict hovel for the next few hours.
The tacos came and went, the lime chicken juice stinging my mouth’s interior and after working on our bottle of RED WINE (Arial font, no further information provided) we decided on a second helping. After battling through three-quarters of the bottle, two servings of tacos and a pack of Lucky Strikes, we were full and merry. The bill came to a total of $11.50, which I covered because we were celebrating her achievements (and I was inebriated), and we stumbled back to the station. “My place or yours?” I enquired with a smile. “You wish,” she said with a playful push on the subway platform.
On a Wednesday night drinking with a few Aussie soulmates and Common Mortal compadres at my Bushwick apartment, our legs refused to remain stationary. The music was a siren song demanding that we go out and dance. I decided to text a DJ who had come into my work and only offered me his stage name to promote his mysterious air, despite the shock of blue hair artfully plaited into cornrows. Half an hour later I received a text message reply that simply stated, “14 Enders St”.
I drunkenly texted back to note the place needed to be cheap and didn’t receive a response for the remainder of the night. With no other suggestions in the mix, I offered that we catch a cab to the address, evaluate the location and if the party looked like fun (and existed), we’d stay. Seconds later, we were hailing two cabs on Bushwick Ave.
As we pulled into Enders Street, a notable warehouse district, there wasn’t a single soul around. I had been sent on a wild goose chase by the blue-haired devil. We arrived at number 14 and I told everybody to remain in the cabs and I would enquire to see whether there was, in fact, a party happening in the middle of nowhere. As I closed the cab door, I could hear the faint allure of incredible Baltimore Dance Hall music seemingly muffled by the constraints of warehouse walls. I approached the mini entrance, a door half my size. A bouncer opened the micro passageway and I explained that Mazurbate had told me there was a party here that my friends and I were invited to attend. I motioned to the gang and, one by one, we ducked under the door, out of obscurity and into nightclub nirvana.
It was almost too much to bear. It was everything that you could ever want in a NYC underground, unspoken warehouse party. The people at the door insisted there was no entry cost to the Steel Drums party and only that we must buy a few rounds of drinks. So that’s where they get you, I thought to myself as I approached the hole in the wall bar. To my surprise, the sign noted only two types of beer being sold, tall boys for $1.50 a piece.
I spotted Mazurbate and he told me that the Steel Drums parties are elusive. They’re always travelling to different locals to avoid an inf lux of “the wrong kind of people” and messages sent out are always minimal without explanation to avoid the abovementioned. We all danced, drank and tried to contain our excitement and awe of every impeccably dressed individual. NY celebrities like Le1f and Cunt Mafia were circulating, gracing people with their presence. At 6am, we left the confines of the warehouse and a plethora of party kids populated the streets. Having only spent $25 each, we decided to gift ourselves a shitty breakfast and then walk home to sleep off the night’s shenanigans and ready ourselves for the potential to do it all over again.
In this boiling pot of culture, to be a starving artist isn’t a curse but a blessing because this is the commonality among us all. The overworked, underpaid, nil appreciated complex. If one sticks their head down and puts in hundreds of thankless hours into their jobs with no reward, they will go insane. So it is up to us Common Mortals to find places where we can score cheap eats, cheap meets and, if we’re lucky, a text message key to the warehouse underground of incredible nights.