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On Equality and Absinthe

19 February 2013 1,558 views No Comment

Today, I read an amazing article in the New York Times starring Brandon and his boyfriend, Benn. The article details how Brandon and Benn decided to move to London together (Benn is British) after Benn was unable to renew his work visa. The article poignantly shows — through interviews with Brandon and Benn, a photo slideshow, and audio, the painful experience of leaving your country, line of work, family, and closest friends in order to stay with the person they love.

brandon and benn

Photo Credit: New York Times

I was reminded how lucky I am to know my friend Brandon Perlberg.

After graduating from college in 2000, exploring Vietnam and Thailand for a few months, then doing temp work in D.C., I moved to New York City on the eve of 2001. Brandon was one of the first people I met in the city; my dear college friend Jillian introduced us on an unforgettable day that involved one of us (I won’t say whom) lying on an indoor tanning bed with all of our clothes on.

It was Brandon who convinced me to apply for a job in the public relations department of a book publisher, instead of editorial, and who passed my resume along to the director of the department. This resulted in me getting hired with no public relations experience and only a B.A. in History. If it hadn’t been for Brandon, I may have moved back to D.C. and likely would have ended up in a completely different field.

The article reminded me of Brandon’s natural media relations skills, that are sharp as ever even after making a career change in our twenties from PR to law.

Brandon planned the most amazing themed 25th birthday party, and then pitched the story to The New York Times style section, who covered it in detail. That article is still online almost ten years later, and includes cameos by both me and Jillian, as well as other friends we spent time with during those exciting post-college years.

I’m sharing it here since it seems a bit more appropriate for a “food blog,” and also because reading it today made me nostalgic, and I wanted to share it. And since I’m both the writer, editor and publicist for my blog, I’m doing it!

Hopefully this post will soon include an update that Brandon and Benn have moved back to the U.S., and live here legally as a married couple, with all the rights that comes with traditional marriage in this country. And when they do, I think we should throw them a wild and crazy 1920′s themed party to celebrate, and have the New York Times cover that.

NY Times Headline

GOOD COMPANY; Too Bad F. Scott Fitzgerald Couldn’t Make It
By LINDA LEE
Published: May 18, 2003
THE crowd at a 1920′s theme party on a recent Saturday night had achieved a rare level of sophistication — not quite as much as the young men and women would have liked, but far more than most 20-somethings. They knew that there was such a thing as the 1920′s and that with the right accessories, vintage lingerie from Victoria’s Secret could look just like a flapper’s dress. They knew that in the 20′s people drank absinthe. And that 80 or so years ago hipsters used words like ”cheaters” for eyeglasses, ”kisser” for mouth and ”banana oil” for nonsense.

Brandon Perlberg provided the occasion for these revelations at a celebration of his 25th birthday in the East Village. And it was, indeed, ”hotsy-totsy.” (”That means ‘very good,’ ” Mr. Perlberg said.)

He grew up in Beverly Hills, studied at N.Y.U. and lived in Paris. Now a publicist at Crown Publishers, he plans to go to law school in the fall. A hyperorganized sort, Mr. Perlberg convinced 30 friends to show up in costume and to go along with the theme.

There was 20′s jazz on the stereo and a DVD of the 1926 black-and-white classic ”Metropolis” playing. He and his roommate, Jillian Landau, had created a 1920′s gambling den out of black felt and two folding tables. He had printed up his own currency, ”Brandon bucks.” He gave each guest two words or phrases from the era to use during the evening (”cat’s meow,” ”23 skidoo,” ”caper,” ”bathtub gin”). And he set up a bar to offer period libations.

Libations seemed to be a big theme of the evening. The Brandon bucks carried images of Mr. Perlberg on a drunken night in London. ”It was a painful morning but a fun evening,” he said. Of course, at the age of 25 most young men know more about drinking than bartending. Thus Mr. Perlberg brought home a book, ”Craft of the Cocktail,” from Crown, and was prepared to serve ”absinthe” and mint juleps at the party.

But it turned out Mr. Perlberg had his limits. No period food. In fact, no food at all, he said. In doing publicity for a book by a cheesemonger, or as Mr. Perlberg put it, a maître fromagier, he had done party after party with ”cheese, cheese, cheese.” ”But I figured, at this time of night” — the invitation was for 10 p.m. — ”you’re not going to have to feed people,” he said.

He was even reluctant to use his stove to heat up the water and sugar for the simple syrup needed for the mint juleps. And shortly before the party began, no one had yet tasted the Absente, a kind of fake French absinthe made with a wormwood that apparently won’t eat your brain. ”Here we go,” he said, taking a small sip out of a martini glass. ”It’s very similar to pastis, and I like pastis.”

Lawrence Chesler, who works for a book packager, arrived in a porkpie hat. Ms. Landau came out of her bedroom in something bare and long, with a flapper headband and a string of beads. ”I feel like I’m in my nightgown,” she said. ”That’s because I am in my nightgown.”

Jodi Bart, a publicist at The New Yorker, arrived wearing a Betsey Johnson fringed dress, and Mr. Perlberg asked her if her boyfriend, German Villatoro, a pastry chef at La Grenouille, was coming. ”I need him to do some stuff with sugar,” he said.

Jaymes Dec, a shaggy blond who orchestrates scavenger hunts for a living, was wearing seersucker trousers from boarding school. ”Who knew we all had period clothes in our closets,” he said.

Julie Heller, who works in the diamond district, sampled the Absente, which she speculated was made from tree bark. ”Right now, it’s like a really bad martini,” she said.

Mr. Perlberg began chanting, ”Hard 8, hard 8, hard 8” at the craps table, but saw that there was a problem. ”We’re out of 10′s,” he lamented. ”I didn’t photocopy enough.”

”Snake eyes!” Mr. Dec said.

Ms. Heller soon took on the role of the blackjack dealer. ”I’m pretending to know what I’m doing,” she said. Having a couple of ”bad martinis” wasn’t helping. She tried to count someone’s cards: ”12, 14,” she said. ”A lot of numbers. I think 22. Is that right?” She tried again a few minutes later. ”Eight plus five is how much? I went to college, I swear!”

Mr. Villatoro arrived with a birthday present for Mr. Perlberg, a plate of pastries left over from La Grenouille. Women began dipping into the caramelized banana tart, the walnut cream pastry.

By 12:30, the period music was finished, so was the gambling; soul was on the stereo and serious dancing had begun. Mr. Villatoro gave Ms. Bart a spin and yelled out: ”Yeah, baby, you’re the bee’s knees.”

Jolson Appeared (For a Paltry $35)

WHEN you are young and living in the East Village, a party for 30 can be managed for $13 and change a head, and that includes buying two tables ($70 total). Brandon Perlberg, the host, created a period ambience using 100 feet of fairy lights ($40) and three compilation CD’s that started with Al Jolson and ended with northern soul ($35).

Mr. Perlberg calculates the rest of his expenses this way: Three bottles of wine, $45; Absente liqueur, $35; bourbon, $30. He counted on guests to bring alcohol with them but provided tonic and soda ($10), ice ($2) and mint ($4). He saved money by not serving food.

To create the gambling tables, he bought black felt ($40), glue ($10), art supplies ($30) and masking tape ($2). Gambling supplies included dice ($2) and decks of cards ($5). He photocopied ”Brandon bucks” and invitations for $50, and used $3 worth of string to tie the fake money into 30 packets of $100 each.

Total cost, $413. And his parents helped. LINDA LEE

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