“Who makes your bag?”
He points to the canvas tote covered in black scrawls, little drawings of fashionable things.
“Oh, I don’t know. I got it at some Mulberry after party,” I say.
He moves to sit next to me. I do not recoil or shut him down right away because he has an affectation and a slightness of stature that I most often associate with homosexuality. As boys go, they’re as safe as it gets.
“So would you say you’re a fashion insider?”
“Um, I guess?”
The truth is, even though I’ve been modeling for over a decade, I’ve always felt very much on the outside, a hazard of feeling as though I never “made it.” No one gives a shit about the working models. I’m not walking runways and shooting campaigns, a fact that has lodged a fairly substantial chip in my shoulder.
And who the hell says things like “fashion insider” anyway?
“Who makes your jacket?” he says. “This is lovely.”
“It’s got a very Jil Sander thing going on,” he says. “The way they’ve tucked the shoulder in like that.” He touches the top of my gray coat. “Though they wouldn’t have done the double lapel…”
This is the part of the conversation where I can fairly assume that this man, who introduces himself soon after as Darren, is most definitely gay.
Darren used to be a fashion stylist – hence his familiarity with less mainstream labels and quality tailoring – but had since moved into directing fashion films. “So-and-so said I was single-handedly changing the way people interacted with fashion,” he tells me. “What I’m doing is very new, very different. No one is doing videos right now.”
Correction: Everyone is doing videos right now. I feel like I’m in an office and not on the subway, getting pitched by some twat to provide funding to their “new and exciting” company.
Darren talks with a precocious intensity that leaves no room for interaction. He drops names in a way that feels forced and unnatural, but the names he drops are obscure enough that I have to assume he’s legitimate in some sort of way. His Darren-ness barrels towards you and all you can do is nod your head and try to laugh and sometimes get a word in edgewise. He is friendly in that lunatic type of way, one that you can mistakenly interpret as well intentioned. If you’re not careful, next thing you know you’re BFFs with the male equivalent of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female.
“Do you smoke weed?”
The comment comes out of nowhere, nestled between Point A and Point B in a fashion conversation about some “famous” makeup artist named Lisa Mason who he’s working with and the meetings he had today about getting funding for the video he’s putting together. The supermodels are on board, the cinematographer, the creatives. They just need the cash.
“I mean, not really.”
“If you have time, I’m going to smoke some weed on my roof if you want to come.”
I tell him I’m in a rush to get on the IKEA ferry to Red Hook for a dinner party. “It leaves at 6:20,” I say, pointing at the digital subway clock above us reading 6:15. “I’m going to have to run to the pier.”
“Oh, you’re going to miss it for sure.”
When the train arrives at Wall Street, Darren says “follow me” and we run in between slow-moving pedestrians until we are out on the street. He keeps running. “Come on,” he says.
Darren is able to keep a decent pace, whereas I am struggling eight steps behind, choking on the unfamiliar exertion of running in real life, not on a treadmill. “I should have kept my gym shoes on,” I joke, my Proenza Schouler cutout booties providing little practical advantage on these city streets. Darren bounds like a 5’6’’ gazelle in black slacks and a black blazer, his black on black Converse making no noise against the pavement.
While we’re running, he tells me to take down his number and call him. “This is the truest way I’ve ever started a friendship,” he says, following the red flagged weirdness with the eight digits of his phone number.
As we wind our way quickly through the Financial District, I can’t help but think I’ve never gone this direction to the pier before. I don’t remember it being so complicated or far away. Darren keeps making quick turns in front of me, disorienting me further. “Do you know your way around here?” he asks cryptically, as though making sure I don’t know what he’s doing. “Not really,” I laugh. Because what I think he’s doing is getting us lost.
At some point, when Darren turns back towards me before he rounds a corner in a way I’ve seen in movies about serial killers, that fleeting moment right before fun and frivolity takes a brutal, bloody turn for the worst, I think, This guy is going to kill me. I imagine rounding the corner just behind him, where he has suddenly turned towards me and stands with a knife. I run right into it, this knife, and bleed to death somewhere on Pearl Street. Darren runs away and I am found by a tourist wearing a fanny pack and holding two shopping bags from J. Crew.
After what feels to me to be ten long minutes and thirteen blocks, I see the East River and the hint of banana-yellow siding of the IKEA ferry pulling away from the dock. “Noooo!” I moan, slowing my pace in defeat. I’m going to be stuck here for another forty minutes waiting for the next one. This also means I will be stuck here with Darren.
As nice as Darren is, he is extremely odd, open in a way that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. People this eager to engage with strangers right off the bat are people who want something from you, undeservedly. People like Darren are the ones you are meant to be leery of.
We walk to the edge of the pier and sit down next to what Darren tells me is a work of Chinese art. It’s a sunken pit at the edge of the pier, a circle of metal in which the sloshing water of the East River churns inside, momentarily trapped.
I don’t remember what we’re talking about anymore. I just want the ferry to come quickly.
“As a straight man in fashion…”
I’m sorry, come again?
Darren continues speaking, having already purposefully dropped the I Fuck Girls hint in an act of The Boy Doth Protest Too Much. This man clearly likes boys. What straight man has to clarify his straightness to a girl? The fact that he even mentions it likely means that his intentions are to fuck me, despite the foot and a half disparity in our respective heights.
“Sometimes I wish I were bi-sexual,” he says soon after. “The men in this industry are so beautiful. There’s this hair stylist so-and-so. He’s forty years old and beautiful. When you look at him, it’s like poetry.”
This man genuinely thinks he’s straight.
I’m beginning to realize Darren took me down an extra two or three streets to ensure that I would be here with him right now on the pier, having this conversation.
He asks me about my writing, what I am doing with it, what I am interested in writing about. I say something about my books and essays and music journalism for fun and I swear to God, I think he says, “Do you write sexually?” and then says something else right after, so that I feel as though I’ve imagined it.
The conversation has been peppered with such oddities for the last ten minutes. I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Darren has taken out his canister of weed and begun playing with it for no reason in particular.
Despite evidence of his creepiness, Darren is fairly interesting. He lived in Ethiopia between the ages of two to three, spent time in London, eventually ending up in Ohio or somewhere bleak. I think his parents must be Egyptian or Middle Eastern in some capacity. He has buttery olive skin, a prominent nose, thick hair shaved close to his scalp.
His real passion is opera. He’s classically trained. “But I can’t start singing until I’m 35,” he tells me. Apparently, whatever happens in the interior of person isn’t substantiated until them. “What defines you on the inside,” he describes it as. Fashion is what he’s doing in the meantime.
“I’m getting a little bit cold,” he says, getting up from his place on a bench. “You sure you don’t want to come back and smoke?”
I tell him I’ve got a dinner party.
Darren starts talking about Le Baron and how he knows the manager or something stupid. He tells me I have to get there early to get in. “Even if you’re tall and beautiful, that doesn’t mean anything.” Then he tells me about how one time he saw this famous model, Annouck, standing outside. “They wouldn’t let her in,” he says. “And I was like, Don’t you know who this is?”
“Is she the one with the little mole?” I ask, not knowing what else to contribute to this stupid conversation.
“She’s got a real pouty mouth,” he says. Three steps later, he follows with, “She’s always taking her clothes off.”
There have been far too many sexual references over the course of the last thirty minutes to make me comfortable in the slightest. I don’t know what his game is or what he wants. I do know that after he leaves this pier, I will not be seeing him again. Had he not “helped” me get to the ferry, I would likely be in Red Hook right now, having conversations with real friends who I already know whether or not they need to be wrapped up and placed in a padded cell.