June 10, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 51°F


Night crawlers

Weekday routines can blur into a stale monotony. What mark many of our college experiences are the weekends and how we spend them. This is the first in a series of narrative accounts that capture pieces of the social scene in Ithaca.

Photo illustration by Lauren Decicca

In this snapshot, Senior Writer Erica R.Hendry follows a crowd to 2nd Floor Bar on The Commons.

It’s quiet on the stairway to 2nd Floor — there’s sound, but it’s muted. A steady bass pulses the floorboards and shakes the railing but barely breaks the silence that hangs below the vaulted ceiling like a thick fog.

The door opens with a blast of raunchy air, breaking the bubble with sweat and cigarette smoke, stale beer and whiskey sours.

A blast of racy lyrics screams from the speakers.

“She hit the flooooooooo

Next thing you know

Shorty got low low low low

Low low low


And low they go — the girls in necklines that scoop down to their stomachs. They arch their backs and coyly synch the lyrics with their lips, swinging their hips to hit each beat with dips and circles, pulling lovers — or more often, strangers — closer.

“Oh, God, it’s crowded. I remember why I don’t come here,” Anna says, slightly more clothed and far more sober than her friends. She’s a good head taller, in any case, which gives her a good vantage of the bar.

Moving through these crowds takes a certain kind of strategy. One step and she is in between a guy and his laay-day, trying to make The Move. Another and she catches a stumbling girl about to take a nosedive to the floor. A third and she’s face to face with sheer inebriation, a former fling who staggers toward her, “Annnna,” clutching two glasses and reaching for her shoulder.

She dodges him and the beer that falls behind her, inching closer to the bar until she sees a friend leaning against the counter. She stops abruptly, trying to keep her jaw from falling to the floor.

“Is that a dress … or a shirt?”

Nobody’s sure.

The shots have already started. Rows of tiny glass cylinders line the smooth counter, filled with liquids clear and yellow and different shades of brown.

Some hold them like sippers, barely visible behind manicured nails. The thing to do is to hold them to the right of your lips, smile, sip gracefully, and throw your head back with light, rippling laughter. That almost always seduces whomever bought them.

A group of girls is leaning over the bar, desperately bargaining with the bartender for another round. It’s hard to keep class in a college bar, with bottles on the floor and Keystone cans in the bathroom, hastily tossed by those who can’t afford to roll with the Thursday crowd.

It’s serious, the Thursday crowd. It’s March; the ice is melting from the ground and the thought of heels and Birkenstocks isn’t so crazy. Especially on the Thursday before spring break. They’re going out twice as hard, someone says with two drinks in his hand, since they’ll miss next week; they’re flying to Florida. To the Bahamas. To Puerto Rico. Or, wait — was it to the Dominican?

“You need to practice now! The Mexicans won’t take no for an answer.” He’s in a tug-of-war with a curly blonde, pushing the square shooter back and forth against her index finger with his own. He loses. It falls and drips down the side of counter.

“PARTY FOUL!” someone shouts a few seats down.

The stray 40-year-old men at the end of the bar hoot and holler.

Girls file in wearing dresses, each hemline shorter than the other. The girls still in Uggs at the end of the bar wince with regret before launching into their own conversations about spring clothes.

“Midterms? They’re laaaame,” a short, curvy brunette by the door yells into her cell phone, waving it and her Bud Light along with her words, juggling the three of them with ease — for a while. She can’t keep it together. The words are the first to fall, fading until she ends the call with her chin and slips the phone back into her shirt.

Now they’re desperate. The crowd that packed the dance floor earlier is gone, save clusters of athletes, stressed-out procrastinators, the newly minted adults, the regulars who walk with metallic leggings and leather clutches through the door. There’s not a blanket of sweaty shoulders, frosted mugs, the body-to-body cover they count on to mask the embarrassing claims to fame Facebook will hold over their heads hours later.

She decides to go for it anyway — she pulls her shirt a little lower, pursing her lips as she does a Michael Jackson jam walk across the floor. She spins into his shoulder, shimmies down so her eyes meet his chest, and back up so they’re nose to nose. For a moment — the briefest moment — her friends look. Then they turn back to their cranberry-whatevers.

“Baaaby, let me know if you wanna rooooll with it,” she sings into his lips.

Beyonce is on the big screen against the wall. The 40-timers lose interest in her; the real thing is better. Shoving their shoulders, they point to the couple standing in the middle of a quickly emptying floor.

He reaches down and holds her wrists, pushing her away to make more space in between them. She is still pendulum-swinging her hips.

“I can’t. Really, I can’t, Mel.”

She knocks back her beer and grabs the side of his face.

“Whhhyyyyy?” It’s that desperation. It’s frozen her, from her toes to her knees to her elbows, which form 45-degree angles with his earlobes. They’re all locked.

And then he whispers into her ears. The words eat away the bedroom eyes, which fall almost as low as she had a few minutes earlier to the floor. But her lips curl up. Classic game face, saved for the moment of rejection. She bows out and heads back to the bar.

The DJ is getting ready to shut down now. He throws the lights on, taking the room from darkness to staggering light, revealing disheveled hair and clothes; smeared makeup that makes the girls look more like used-up hookers than the sophisticated vixens they were in the dark.

Pouring onto the cobblestone below, they make The Commons come alive — a blur of 21-year-olds, screaming and stumbling in their slacks and stilettos. A tipsy, teetering energy that thrives on the dark.