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In Providence: Design for Life

“He was in a cop movie I think. I don’t know. I don’t watch cop movies. But it was a cop movie I think. He was a cool guy.”

They want to crash a nearby gala. It might be something to do with charity. They don’t have any idea. They’ve been entertaining all day — showing a friend from Boston around town. In this case, that meant taking them to a nearby coffee shop to talk about national politics and chain-smoking in their apartment.

“He was always crashing s___. That was his favorite thing to do. Just find some big event and walk right in like he owned the place and because he was — he was famous — he was in a cop movie — and so he could do it. He could just do it. The president’s a piece of s___, but he’s right, when you’re famous, they let you walk right in.”

They find a gala and are disappointed to learn that it really isn’t that hard to get in. There are so many people waiting to get in that as soon as they start to argue about why their name isn’t on the list, they’re immediately waved forward and told they can come back and check in later when it’s not as busy. This seems to take all the fun out of it for them.

“See all these people? What’s this theme? It’s about — It’s about being wild and sexy. But these people aren’t wild and sexy. This is pretend for them. Why would you want to pretend to be wild and sexy? Just be wild and sexy. You have to put on a costume to act like you don’t give a ____? Why do that? Just learn. I had to learn. I had to learn from him that you either give a ___ or you don’t give a ____, but you can’t put on a costume and go out for a night and give a bunch of money to the _______ Fund and pretend you don’t care, because you do, and how’s that fun for you? He would have hated this. He wouldn’t have even bothered crashing this party, because this isn’t even a party. You want to go to a party? Let’s go to a party.”

So we went to a party.

It was on the East Side and if I had to make a sweeping generalization about it, I’d say it was mainly RISD students with a smattering of Brown University and one guy who was cutting up tarot cards, which I’m pretty sure will result in immediate death or possession. I don’t know. Cutting up tarot cards just doesn’t seem like something anyone should do.

To get to the party, we had to go through a small gate, along a stone path, in a side door, up two flights of stairs, and into an apartment that looked like it was decorated by either Moby or Basquiat. The kitchen was the cleanest I’d ever seen, and the bathroom was so dirty I decided I would wet myself before I would use it. There was no music, but there was a girl reading dates from a notebook. April 8th, 2007. October 23rd, 2011. I lost track after that.

“Who said he was a movie star? I never said that. I said he was in a movie — one movie. But he was good in the movie. That’s why they kept putting him in things. He wanted to move here, though. He loved Rhode Island. Providence. F___ing loved it. Couldn’t believe this place. Told me it was like a — like it reminded him of Savannah. That’s what he said. He wanted me to come visit him in Savannah, because that’s where his house was. I’m going to go there next year. I have some things to finish up here first.”

Somebody asks them how the party was — the gala — and they dismiss the question by taking out the last cigarette in the pack they keep in their back pocket, and holding it out for a light.

“I don’t like to pretend. I don’t want to be in a room full of people pretending to be fun. I’d rather just be fun. Stupid people pretending to be fun for a night and that’s — how do they do that and not get depressed? It was so depressing. Kevin liked it though. He knows all about pretending, don’t you, Kev?”

They tell me I should go home, but I tell them that, on principle, I never leave a party until the person I’m writing an article about calls it quits first. That leads them to scowl and then groan and then get up and walk out without a goodbye to the guy cutting up tarot cards or the girl reading dates.  I catch a date in June — or maybe it’s July.

Out on the street, it’s colder than it’s been in a while, and I’m not properly dressed for it, but they don’t seem phased by it. They walk the eight or nine blocks back to their apartment, only turning to look at me when they’re at their door.

“If you want to come to Savannah with me next year, you’d better decide who you’re pretending to be and — and if that’s what you want. If you want to keep pretending. Because he doesn’t like pretenders. I can’t bring some fakeass — like, you. Like you need to do better, Kevin. You need to do better or nobody’s even going to pretend around you, right? Right? These people were pretending for me tonight, but that was for me. That wasn’t for you. If it was just you tonight, they wouldn’t have even — they wouldn’t have even put in the effort. It’s not going to be like that in Savannah, Kevin. When we get there, I need you to know what you’re looking for, okay? You do that and we can crash any party you want, okay? You just need to do better.”

They go inside, and I’m left standing out on the right side of midnight wondering how I can do better. Be better. Pretend to be better.

What does better look like early on a Sunday morning in Providence when it’s pretending to be another time somewhere far, far away?