Q–– What do you miss about Brooklyn?
Cat Power–– Kokie's!
The coke bar called Kokie's Place was an institution that reflected a time before Williamsburg was completely absorbed by trust funders, yoga moms and the best brunch spots in town. It was chock full o'degenerates, heavies from the neighborhood, Spanish MILFs, struggling artists, musicians and anyone up for a bender Bad Lieutenant style. Where else you could rub elbows with Ryan McGinley, Dash Snow, TV on the Radio, SNL people and dudes who in other circumstances might kill you? But like all good things in life it was shut down by the Brooklyn vice squad in 2001.
It’s like watching an accident. Repulsed while simultaneously feeling the need to look, knowing it’s wrong to watch. I like to watch.
We were drinking Presidente’s and Old Grand Dad early on. We needed something more. Chris had an idea, let’s get us some marching powder. We stumbled outside and sloppily flagged down a black car service to the other side of Williamsburg. Is this it? I wondered, for some reason I was picturing something glitzy like Studio 54 on Kodachrome.
It looked too obvious to be a coke bar, but the anonymous storefront was pulsating. It was on N 3rd & Berry, no windows, just a small sign stated its existence: Kokie’s Place.
As we paid the driver, Chris showed me with glee some sort of gesture that I didn’t understand, like he was running his hand along a curvy woman’s body. I just nodded. He knocked on the front door. Then again. Salsa was seeping through the vaulted entrance. Finally, the door opened with force. The doorman looked us up and down, mainly focused on the female with us. Staring at her large breasts. He flicked his head a little to the left still maintaining eye contact with tits. We entered. The open tables strung along the walls were filled with people engaged in secret plans. The smoked filled room was comforting. Without question I could have joined any circle of tables and conspired with all. I felt right at home and ready to roll.
I ordered five half-size bottles of Budweiser at a buck and a half. Two for me, two for Chris and one for Raina Dae, they went down easy. I had already drunk mine by the time Chris asked me what he wanted to ask since arriving.
Where’s the man here? I looked at Raina, Raina looked at Chris, Chris looked at me and I handed him two crispy twenty dollar bills folded into triangles, but he refused. No, man, get the next one, with Raina in tow they disappeared.
For good measure I devoured a second round, I was alone and soaking in the sights and smells of Kokie’s. It was a mix of people that’d never happen in daylight. Puerto Rican thugs, crooked hipster haircuts, MILF mammies and relics from Williamsburg’s old bad days- but it worked. We were all there partying, like the illustration on one of those little Jehovah Witness pamphlets. Lions and lambs and deers and shit all living together in perfect harmony.
In a flash they were back, beaming, we skipped towards where the “line” was. At the end was the doorman. A harsh naked light poured over his thick silhouette. He was regulating and standing guard in front of makeshift closet stalls, an opaque plastic shower curtain protected those behind it. The familiar crinkly sound of the shower curtain being opened and closed mixed with the jeers of drunks were bouncing off the stained walls. Thanks to him, the line was moving quickly. His smooth voice commenting, OK, c’mon lets hurry up! Lotsa people waiting, lets be professionals about this. A Japanese hipster sporting a cowboy hat ducked out ahead of us from behind the curtain. His lady friend followed, same hat and a tube top. We were next!
The doorman was radiating a mellow and composed power. His rubbery, soft face was nicer now, and the white powder encrusted around his nostrils told us that we were in for a good time. With the curtain now behind us, the three of us could now indulge openly, promptly. Chris pulled out a little tiny zip-lock baggy and his house key with a perfect little mound resting on the tip of his key. He directed it to Raina’s nose. She quickly snorted it up. The guys beside us wouldn’t stop staring at me, as if they wanted to confess or tell me a deep dark secret. It was like being on the A Train at last-call-rush-hour, cramped as hell.
Ah, hi. Ah, wanna bump? Said one of the strangers, he was pushing a brand new little mound to the tip of my nose. The powder went up and hit the back of my nasal passage. Instantly, we were holding up keys for each other. I was a little flushed and giddy, savoring the numb aspirin drip running down the back of my throat. My new friends had a habit of nudging me and hitting my arm whenever they made a funny point. Their staggered conversation was constantly interrupted by Chris, who was either laughing at them, or me, just trying to follow their slurred Spanish-Brooklyn accent.
Yeah, man it’s the new Village! We don’t give a fuck! Kick it with our new neighbors, some white people are cool! Said the no longer stranger, his T-Shirt was so long that it hit his knees. Whatever he was saying sounded good to me. We slapped hands. The doorman barged in and dropped some knowledge on us, all right, let’s be pro-fess-ion-aalllsss! Time to finish up. We put our front door keys back in our pockets exiting the closet. Yo, man I’ll check you later, and my new homies were right back into the woodwork.
All right we got us some pros, congratulated the doorman; this made Raina happy. The room appeared less impressive now– smaller, uglier and the intimate crowd gone. It must have been past four. More and more Williamsburg blowhards, Chelsea mullets and the usual cool-than-thou loft dwellers descended like locusts. All I knew was I needed a drink and I couldn’t get enough of the King of beers. I drank ‘em as fast as I could. The miniature bottles felt awkward, like they were manufactured especially for children.
On the way to the bar a middle-aged Dominican lady simultaneously dancing and walking blocked me. Aye, do you like to dance? She was shuffling her legs, eyes fixed on my bottle. It’s so easy, grabbing me, grinding hard, two, three, four, you know that, right? I smiled trying to get by, wishing she had picked another random passer-by.
With cocaine courage and charm I returned her embrace, squeezed her soft yet hardened hands, eyes locked I mimicked her, two, three, four, huh? And spun like mad. She was having a great time, head thrown back, her glistening collar bone made me thirsty, her friends were laughing at me. But all I could think about was more alcohol and a bump. The music got faster, more distorted, the chorus of faces cackling, her face looking at mine, her black Latin eyes locked as our bodies came closer, tightening. I returned her smile but the fucking music would not stop. Two, three, four. Her soft breasts mothering me. Two, three, four.
All I could think about was my escape. No one was at the bar. But she felt so good.
My dance partner’s body felt as if it were now bonded to mine. I liked how she looked, extra short skirt, a generous cleavage, full lips mouthing something, concentrating.
What’s your name? Her gaze seductively close.
What? Avoiding the question.
Your name? Slightly irritated. I knew hers. It was ‘Esther’ as it was written in cursive on her necklace.
Cutting her loose I replied, need to get a drink, throwing her hands down I made a mad dash to the bar.
I ordered a few beers from the bar maiden. I joked, flirted and smiled- cocksure. The bar was vacant, not a soul to share with. A couple of women dressed like teenage prostitutes interrupted my thoughts with their empty chatter. I could feel myself overflowing, my senses had become highly refined, my acute state of mind was evaluating all of the surrounding situations, complex concepts were now crystal. My psyche began to capture pieces of their fragmented conversations making them my own. I was expanding and perfecting (much needed) on their banal ideas that led to hilarious puns and observations. Dramatic points were made. My profound rebuttals left them speechless. They’ll never get it, their twisted tooth grinding faces have deaf ears, too self-absorbed. I thought to myself.
Hey man how you do’n? What’s so funny? I saw you over here laughing. It was Chris. Funny? People are funny, realizing that I was sitting all alone and laughing by myself. Wanna bump? Was his reply.
We headed straight for the closet. I passed my grimacing dance partner. Two, three, four, yeah? Raina was there, greedy key in hand. But I couldn’t stop laughing. We could not stop belittling all of the patrons. Fake, we thought collectively. Fucking Coke heads, grudgingly. Another bump? Nothing could satiate my roving jaw.
Some people that knew our names approached us. We started a pointless gossip session about how lame everyone is and how no one ever wanted to share their blow. Raina asked if they had any? Yeah, wanna bump? The running joke was that we were all groveling over baby powder. Chris stated he was getting drinks and that I should come along. The other party looked suspicious. We still have that other bag of shit. Lets go back to my place and finish it up, he said looking over his shoulder. What about them?
We returned to the group. The prettiest of the bunch pleaded. That was it, we have nothing, her sweet pleading eyes would break a weaker man. Do you guys have any?
Nope, said Chris looking at me for support. No, shaking my head trying hard to look serious. For about 30 seconds I was trying to work out how to include her. Didn’t matter though because ultimately the taste wins over. In between it’s all distracted small talk and impatient laughs. Everything that was said after that, or alluded to, was about going home and fast, finish that bag up.
On the ride home, I watched people on the street. I would ask them questions in my head and hope to get an answer telepathically. Where are you going? I wished I knew everything about them. Most looked shabby, down and out, like whores and drunks. I wanted to join them! Feel their camaraderie, a pure embrace, take them from misery to join us. And, I would ask them– where did you get those? Did that hurt? Can I come home with you? Do you wanna bump? But they never answered.
At the house I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Two sunken eyes scolded me. My unshaven face was hiding my conniving-dwarfed features that I hadn’t noticed until now. God, I am ugly.
Come on! Already! Chris’s muffled voice was directed towards one of us. I obediently went to the living room. On the coffee table was an oval mirror. Its supple shape made me smile. Nine fat rails were divided perfectly. The symmetry was impressive. What do you wanna listen to? Wondered Raina aimlessly tapping a small striped straw in her tender palm. Whatever, slightly irritated, whatever is in there, Chris was tired of waiting.
This is what we’d all been waiting for. In a moment of solidarity, Chris handed me a chopped straw. That plastic tube and mirror meant something, it was an extension, a symbol of our bonding. These moments cement loose ends, creating situations that will never happen again. Slowly, I leaned back relishing the moment, absorbing everything, here with my two bros and a 12-pack of beer consummating our relationship. I abruptly moved forward to inhale half of the first line. I couldn’t finish. I was too fucked up and they were too long. I could hear La Grange in the background. It was perfect.
My head turned into a spring that kept bobbling yes to Raina. She wouldn’t stop talking. Her mouth was a crazed entity detached from her small head. I soon realized that she was actually asking me questions, the same questions over, and over, and over, and over again.
Is it OK if I keep taking? Or, do you care about what I’m say’n? Chris was smirking. Yeah, doll, yes, of course, yes. Our incoherent, three-way conversation got faster and louder. We were trying to win over the others verbally, with machine gun randomness. Every question went unanswered, was laughed at, each topic was as different as our trio… Cargo Cult… Platter of Shrimp… Nardcore… Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia… Auto-Asphyxiation... teasing each other with a split second of recognition. Answering questions with questions. I decided to play a game. I would answer Chris and Raina as rapidly as possible trying to exhaust their hungry mouths. Occasionally I could do it simultaneously, but my brain was lingering.
My stiff runny face was a blubbering mess. Gestures languid. The oval mirror was now resting on my knees. Leaning forward I decided to finish the rest of my first line. But, I could not coordinate my body or negotiate space, distance became abstract, intangible.
The mirror was within grasp.
I watched it fall from my lap, to the floor, shiny side down. We all watched it fall. Raina continued to blather on, nose running, eyes unblinking disks. In disbelief Chris asked, Dude, that wasn’t the mirror, was it? The music stopped. We blankly stared at the floor paralyzed. I stared at the wall, the backside of the mirror and then I stared at nothing. Suddenly, we were all crowded around the mirror, hunting for salvageable dust, straw in hand. Every cracker and breadcrumb desperately found seemed like our last hope for salvation. We were on our hands and knees deceiving ourselves. We found nothing. Three zealous Ahab’s searching for the unattainable, searching just for the sake of principle.
I picked up the mirror, gently, cradling it like a baby. Its face was smudged with a fuzzy layer of white soot.
The residue defeated us. I looked at Raina, Raina looked at Chris, and I turned to Chris, so, ah what time does Kokie’s open?
It was 9:30 am.