After September 11, 2001, the only way in which I knew how to process my grief was to stay drunk, do as many drugs as possible, and throw myself into whatever degeneracy flowed out of New York’s perpetually degenerate spigot. Sometimes the degeneracy was gritty and old school—cheap drugs in dive bars and sex in tetanus-y bathrooms. And sometimes the degeneracy was gilded—helicopters to Staten Island and parties with billionaires.
The degeneracy in this story was in the baffling/gilded category, with the aforementioned helicopter to Staten Island and a generic product launch party wherein I was dared to brush my drunken, flaccid penis up against Donald Trump’s suit jacket. Although, in the spirit of alcoholic disclosure, my caveat is this: as I was very drunk and high at the time I’m still not 100% sure it actually happened. But even though this happened almost 20 years ago, I’m still perpetually stunned by the fact that Americans elected as president a dimwitted con man whose only claim to fame is that he once hosted a mediocre reality-TV show.
That Time I Knob-Touched Donald Trump
New York City, 2001
“What are you guys doing now?” he asked. “Want to go to a party?”
I was supposed to meet my friends Lee and Dale, so I asked if they could join us.
“Sure!” he said. He gave me the address of a restaurant on Park Avenue and 20th Street, which I texted to them. Larry, Clarice and I took a taxi across town to the restaurant. Lee and Dale were waiting outside—it was a party for a wealthy real-estate developer and security was strict, so they weren’t allowed in without us.
On Staten Island I’d had three glasses of champagne, three glasses of red wine with dinner, a shot of vodka before dessert, and an Armagnac digestif, so I was well on my way to getting drunk. Lee and Dale had been drinking since the middle of the day, so they were even more liquored up than I was.
“Hey!” I said, once we were inside the party. “This is where I met David Bowie!”
Clarice’s eyes widened. “You met David Bowie?”
“Actually, now he’s my neighbor. We wave at each other from our balconies.”
“Come over later and I’ll show you,” I told her.
She smiled inscrutably.
“Dale,” I said, once we had ordered drinks, “tell Clarice about ‘knob touch.’”
“First off, you’re beautiful,” he told her.
“She’s a Miss USA runner-up,” I said, proud of my new friend.
“Okay,” Dale continued, “‘knob touch’ is when you take your penis out of your pants at a party and brush it up against someone.”
“Eww,” Clarice said, grimacing. “And that’s sexy?”
“No, no,” he said seriously, “it’s not sexual, it’s just stupid and funny. You only knob-touch their clothes, and the person you knob-touch can’t know they’ve been knob-touched.”
Clarice turned to me. “Have you done this?”
“No,” I admitted.
The party wasn’t that exciting. It was mainly full of businessmen and real-estate developers, most notably Donald Trump, who was standing a few yards away from us at the bottom of a staircase, talking loudly to some other guests.
“Moby, go knob-touch Donald Trump,” Lee said.
“Really?” I asked. “Should I?”
Donald Trump was a mid-level real-estate developer and tabloid-newspaper staple whose career had recently been resuscitated by a reality-TV show.
“Yeah,” Dale said.
“Yeah,” Clarice said, mischievously.
“Shit,” I said, realizing I now had to knob-touch Donald Trump.
I drank a shot of vodka to brace myself, pulled my flaccid penis out of my pants, and casually walked past Trump, trying to brush the edge of his jacket with my penis. Luckily he didn’t seem to notice or even twitch.
I walked back to my friends and ordered another drink. “Did you do it?” Clarice asked.
“I think so. I think I knob-touched Donald Trump.”
After a few more drinks I asked Clarice, “Do you want to come to my house and see David Bowie’s balcony?”
“That’s a pretty good pickup line. Okay.”
We got in a cab and headed down Broadway, stopping at my local deli to buy beer. The afternoon of September 11 it had been filled with people silently stocking up on water and food. Nobody knew the extent of what had happened or how bad it might get. The man standing in line in front of me was covered in gray dust from the towers. His head was bowed and he was crying quietly.
A month later the deli was brightly lit at 1 a.m. and felt almost normal. Clarice and I brought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada up to my roof and I pointed out David Bowie’s balcony across the street. A mile away and to the left of Bowie’s apartment was the gaping hole where the Twin Towers had been.
Clarice took my hand and pointed. “That’s where we were.” I realized she was right—you could see Staten Island through the space where the World Trade Center had been.
“Do you think you’ll stay in New York?” I asked.
She wrinkled her nose. “I think so. And you?”
This was the city of my birth, the city where you could meet a beautiful woman and take her to your roof to look at David Bowie’s apartment, and also the city where strangers took you on helicopter rides to Staten Island and then watched as you surreptitiously knob-touched Donald Trump.
“I don’t know what would ever make me leave,” I said.
Excerpted from THEN IT FELL APART by Moby. Published with permission by Faber & Faber. Copyright © 2019 by Moby.