Every morning when I was 22, I'd wake up late in the afternoon and ask myself one question: What party am I going to tonight? There were many to choose from in New York — film premieres, museum galas, fashion week gatherings, the odd tech party or two — and they all took place in the most exclusive restaurants and clubs. The food was made by Michelin-starred chefs; the liquor was top shelf; and my fellow partygoers were models, celebrities, and media moguls. And me? I was nobody. My purse was from the mall. My heels were made of plastic. And my slinky dress, which I wore each time, was getting more ragged by the day. When the night was over, I traded my heels for sneakers and headed to the subway, back to my parents’ house in Queens. Even in our immigrant neighborhood, though, I was a New York City kid, and every New York City kid grows up wanting to be somebody. Ambition is in the air when you're raised here. I grew up in an Asian immigrant family, and my parents always had high standards for me, though those standards never included being rich and famous. That started as a preteen when I got into one of NYC's top high schools in the most expensive area of Manhattan. I found myself sitting next to kids from accomplished families, families who lived in penthouses and made appearances in the news. These kids did not care who played football or was named homecoming queen. No. They wanted to see who could get a book deal at 15, who would invent the next big social network, and who could make their first million before 20. Next to them, my parents, with their broken English, seemed so uncultured and my working-class neighborhood so trashy. This inferiority complex followed me to college, where being a first-generation immigrant made me an anomaly. I vowed to make something of myself so I could finally feel good enough next to these people.
But when I graduated at the peak of the recession, with no fancy job or prospects on the horizon, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I wasn't employed at a six-figure consulting job. I wasn't in an MD or PhD program. I didn't even drop out of college to work on a hedge fund like the respectable slackers. I was stuck in a rut, and my self-worth chipped away with each rejection email I got. Then one day, out of the blue, I got two passes to a premiere of a movie. I had nothing to do all week, and I invited a similarly unaccomplished friend along. We did some googling beforehand and found out that the premiere after-party was at an exclusive restaurant nearby, so we decided to try to get in. Of course, when we got there, we found we needed to be on the guest list. Determined, we loitered near the entrance, watching the fancy people enter while scrolling through Twitter and Instagram to see the fabulous photos taken from inside. Like characters from a heist movie, we cased the joint. We circled around the block and went into adjoining restaurants and office buildings, pretending we needed to use the bathroom. It was in a restaurant next door that we found a shared stairway leading to the party. We could hear the party's music, but when we got to the top of the stairs, the door was locked. We knocked. We pounded. We even yelled. But nobody opened the door. Dejected, we made plans to get halal food instead and exited into the lobby of an office building, where we met a security guard who had been watching us the whole time. “We’re locked out,” we said. “We left the party to make a phone call, and now we can’t get back in.” He shook his head, but when the maître d' of the hotel stepped outside for a cigarette, the security guard told him our story. He let us in.
Inside, everything seemed so surreal, as if I was in a dream. With flutes of Champagne and macarons in hand, we tried to act cool, like we belonged there. “What do you do?” I said to a well-dressed middle-aged man sitting next to me. “I'm an equities manager.” “Oh okay.” I had nothing else to say. We laughed off these social faux pas and the judgmental looks our cheap dresses got from girls in $1,000 couture. And when the party ended at midnight, we ran to Grand Central Station laughing, high on what we got away with. Soon, it became a thing we did all the time. After all, we had nothing else to do, and it was a challenge. We wanted bigger, better, fancier parties. Sometimes we'd find events ahead of time online, and other times we'd just go and wing it. We pretended to be caterers, publicists, journalists, and other VIPs. There's something so freeing about being an imposter: You get to be anything you want, and people take you at your word. The possibilities are limitless.
Eventually, we learned to talk to the notable guests and celebrities. To them, we weren't deranged fans; we were at their level socially. After all, we were invited to the same party. But it wasn’t all about rubbing elbows with drunk actors and famous models. What we really loved was requesting our favorite songs and dancing obnoxiously together, snagging party favors, and posing for photo-booth pics. And when the night was over, we’d haughtily rate the party against all the others. We didn’t do this to show off (our pics never saw the light of social media) or to take ourselves too seriously. We did it for the rush — to escape our real lives. While I struggled with confidence during my daytime job hunt and post-college life, at night, I was different. Everything was. Watch Good Behavior Tuesday at 9/8c on TNT. See the trailer below.
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