“People were giving him weird looks,” said Audrey, summing up the night for Sophie and Lana. “I felt awkward. He was just really underdressed. I was considering going out with him, but not the way he was dressed. In the end he paid for dinner and I had a really good meal. I had $50 ravioli.”
“I feel bad using guys,” said Lana. “I feel like there’s always an obligation.”
“Yeah, Audrey,” Sophie chimed in. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know!” cried Audrey. “I’ve never done this with any man. It’s just . . . ” She paused. “At least he’s not a 17-year-old boy, you know?”
“I know,” agreed Lana. “I have nothing to say to those boys.”
“I honestly feel like a 30-year-old trapped in the body of a high-school girl,” said Audrey. “I don’t know if that goes for all girls in New York, or just us, if it’s just the life we’ve been living.”
It’s like when they watch Sex and the City: What they see is not the story of four women twice their age looking for genuine love in superficial surroundings. They see themselves.
“I’m ready, honestly, to be married and pregnant,” said Lana. “Not children, but just pregnant. I know how it sounds. I don’t care. I want to have my belly and my man.”
“Me too,” said Audrey. “People say I should be excited about college, but I’m like, ‘Um, no.’ I want to get on with my life.” She sipped her iced tea and added, “I’ve never been in love.”
“Me neither,” said Lana quietly. “We’re going to be single all our lives.” They considered this.
“What are we doing later?”
“As far as the girls go, here’s how it works,” says Richard Sung, a.k.a. D.J. Crooked, perched in the D.J. booth at a vaguely Japanese-themed club called Hiro, one of the girls’ favorite spots to dance. It’s a typical Thursday night, packed and palpitating; a woman wearing spandex lingerie swings gracefully from the ceiling. A regular at such places, Sung has developed a philosophy about the subtext of New York nightlife: “The more upscale the club, the younger the girls and older the guys. Look around. The girls out there, they’re anywhere between 18 and, maximum, 23. The guys are 23 to, like, 50. It’s why it works, you know? It’s fucked up, but whatever.”
The girls decide that Hiro isn’t happening tonight, and head over to Gypsy Tea, a club on 24th Street that feels a lot like Hiro. They sit at the owner’s table and dance on the dark couches. Around them, like a halo, stands a ring of older men staring, hoping, debating first lines in their minds. “My feeling is that if they’re in here, they’re 21,” says a ruddy-faced man in his forties with a crew cut. “And that’s where I stop asking questions. So you can tell me they’re 18 and I’m basically just like, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ”
“Whenever we do stuff, I feel guilty about it,” said Lana’s much older boyfriend, after dumping her at the prom.
A thirtyish guy with slicked-back hair in a pink polo shirt approaches Lana, sticks out his fleshy hand, and says, “Dance with me.” A moment later she is sandwiched between him and his friend, who’s wearing a blue polo shirt. Eventually, Sophie and Audrey pull Lana away. The polo pals high-five each other.
Pink shirt: “I’m just here to get laid.”
Blue shirt: “But it never happens with little girls like that.”
Overhearing this, a 31-year-old wearing a black suit and baseball cap shakes his head. “It kind of disturbs me to see all my friends hitting on girls twenty years younger than them,” he says. “I guess the girls just don’t care. Maybe they just care about the money, I don’t know. It all comes down to that because, come on, it’s not like they’re going to fall in love in a place like this. They can’t possibly think they will. I’ll tell you, I feel really terrible for women my age, in their thirties and forties. There’s no market for them anymore. Everything is about girls like these.” He takes a sip of his Heineken and suddenly changes his tone. “But, God, they’re the hottest people in here, aren’t they?”
Tonight at Cain, the girls have a “table,” meaning they’ve agreed to spend $600 for the minimum two bottles of liquor, which in turn gives them a sliver of prime real estate on the banquette. “Look, a place like this is all about money first,” explains Adam Alpert, a promoter for Cain who is standing next to the D.J. as the girls stroll inside. “First money, then celebs, then the girls, who are really just here to feel cool and meet older guys with money.”