We're hiding in the Powder room at the St. Regis Hotel.
This is what working in what amounts to a rat's nest for the past decade has done to us, I think, looking at our reflections in the mirror. Ten years in a piece-of-crap studio in the armpit of Bushwick with full view-and-sound of the JMZ train, giving ourselves humpbacks craning over our drafting tables, Camels drooping from our mouths, passing expired packages of Peeps back and forth in the dark. The work has made me forget how to act like a person. We're not fit to go out and socialize with the fancy people, all Cheetos-stained hands and dilated pupils. "Here." Mel hands me her pipe, the one shaped like a squirrel she picked up from a troubled-looking Village store that sold cheap dildos and off-brand candy. "Chug it," she demands. "Pull on that motherfucker like you mean it."
We, the recipients of the American Coalition of Cartoonists and Animation Professionals' Hollingsworth Grant for our first full-length feature, Nashville Combat, are due onstage in less than an hour. And while we're happy—nay, grateful—this is not exactly our crowd. Hence, something to take the edge off.
I straighten, check the mirror again. We look better than usual. Damn near swank, even. I've managed to squeeze myself into a cocktail getup, wires and clips strapping boobs up and in, stylized girdle crackling my ribs like potato chips, all with my sort of maybe boyfriend, Beardsley, in mind, despite the fact that I haven't heard from him in over a week. We are known entities for what we do, which, specifically, is make "small, thoughtful cartoons and out-of- mainstream animation shorts intended for a thinking woman's audience" as mentioned in The New York Times, BUST, Bitch, Dying Broke and Lonely Quarterly, Shitburger Review, et al.
Mel's in a tux, hair all butched up, specs folded away in her pocket. She's the dashing one. She's crafting a joint for later, running her tongue along the adhesive side of the rolling paper. Pulls the joint away and begins to twist with her fingers. Looks at me in the mirror. "What."
"You look like a dykey George Burns."
"Words hurt." She slips the joint into her breast pocket. "You look pretty, Sharon. How's that make you feel?"
She throws herself on the love seat, legs splayed, fiddling with her bow tie. "ACCAP is a poor acronym, don't you think? Sounds like hocking up a wad of snot."
"I'm sure they have enough cash not to care." I adjust a bra strap, shift the girdle, try to breathe. Mel gestures for the squirrel. I hand it to her.
She takes a hit, straightens to hold the toke. "Sit down and relax," she says on the intake.
" You relax." I snip at the air with a bottle of Febreze I find under the sink. The St. Regis is too classy for its own good. I feel like we're hemorrhaging money just standing here.
There's a knock at the door. Mel bellows, "In use!"
"Guys, open up. I need a minute with you two."
It's our agent, Donnie. Short for Donatella. She took us on as clients after she saw our first cartoon, Custodial Knifefight, online when we were in college. A crossbow is posted beside the Wellesley diploma above her desk. She says the word cock a lot, but in the pejorative, when something goes wrong: "This isn't worth cock. " She chews nicotine gum and drinks a steady stream of Diet Cokes. A can of it is sweating in her hand as she steps in, wearing a slate-colored pantsuit and a pair of heels that cost more than our studio rent. Her hair, the same length as Mel's, is glossy and feline, combed back. She crinkles her nose. "Are you two smoking up in here?"