Disclaimer: This is a semi-fictionalized version of my all-too-real experiences working as a DJ in New York City. Many of the names of venues, organizations or people mentioned herein have been changed or, in some instances, totally pulled out of my ass so stop even trying to guess, cool? Cool.
Nightlife is fattening.
It certainly was for me, anyway.
To an outsider, life in the booth might actually seem like the ideal diet solution. Instead of solitary nights with take-out dinners, a Forensic Files marathon and microwaved Mallomars in bed, the Pro DJ Diet could be a strict regime of bottle service, Parliament lights, cardio fist pump-a-thons and that signature endorphin rush of leading a packed club in the "Ruff Ryders Anthem" chant. The extra-committed tablist might even add a dash of molly on top, just for the non-caloric energy boost.
A few years on the Nightlife Nutritional Plan and voila! Your body morphs into the pallid, waifish, malnourished-chic look we've come to associate with hard-partying club icons across the decades--your Aligs, your Ronsons, your Mosses and Sevignys.
And hey, I get it. Who wants to go hard, ball out, wiggle wiggle wiggle, etc on a full stomach? Certainly not this DJ. After my first years in nightlife, though, I did not match the physique of my elegantly wan nightlife forbearers. Quite the contrary: The "rockstar DJ" lifestyle, frankly, made me a fatass.
Here's a breakdown of how nightlife temporarily destroyed my body: When I first started out, DJing made me exceedingly anxious every single night (I found the terror of selecting the wrong LMFAO remix for the occasion mercilessly heart-stopping). I could never eat before gigs, since the space in my stomach during those pre-set hours was reserved strictly for cheap white wine, dragon-sized butterflies and mild-to-severe panic attacks.
Therefore, as my sets wound down in the wee hours and I played my favorite 90s hip-hop bangers for the stragglers, bathing heartily in the balmy bliss of pulling off my new Meek Mil megamix, starvation would hit like a brick of cheese to the face.
Now when you say the word "starvation," it tends to have negative connotations--maybe it's leftover cultural anxiety from the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. I dunno, I'm a DJ not a historian! I, on the other hand, cherished that famished feeling because I'd know it would soon be time for a treasured nightly custom. I dubbed it, "The DJ Drunchies."
For the uninitiated, drunchies are essentially like munchies, only far more perilous because, simply put, you're wasted. Drunchies also often culminate with cheap guacamole all over your face and/or marinara on the Ralph Lauren sheets your Grandma Barbara gifted you for Hannukah.
Living in the East Village, I had quite an array of options from which to carry forth this drunchies tradition. Sometimes my drunchies would be pizza from Stromboli's on St Marks and 1st Ave--sausage slices and Sicilian slices piled high with parmesan cheese and vodka-muted shame. Others, after my Saturday residency at the Eldridge in the LES for instance, my drunchies derived from the Halal cart on Houston Street, with its dreaded, delectable arrays of "chicken" and "lamb."
If I was coming home from an uptown gig, maybe I'd hit the taco stand on 2nd and A on the way. "The usual?" Lupe the taco lady would ask keenly. "The usual," I'd reply with delight and despair. Two and three and maybe even four cheesy tacos would glide effortlessly down the hatch before I had the chance to drunkenly stammer, "No Mas! Por el amor de dios, no mas!"
These were the kind of late-night feasts that are totally cute if you rage with your buddies once a month and need a means to soak up whisky and gossip about the hot piece you just tongued hard at OAK.
Doing it 5 nights a week, however, alone on the street corner or face-down in bed, not to mention with the 15 pounds I'd inadvertently picked up from my drunchies bout, was much less cute.
Fortunately enough for my cuteness, however, about three years into my drunchie debacle I had what my close personal friend Oprah calls an 'Aha!' moment. I believe my "Aha!" occurred at a gig when a long-time employer passed me an iPhone displaying an old picture along with the comment, "Louie! You were so skinny here!" Or maybe it was the night I came home from spinning a glossy event, boiled water for pasta, and proceeded to spill the entire pot all over my foot. I had given myself a second-degree burn. I still ate the pasta.
Whatever the reason, enough was enough. I couldn't go down like this. As it had at many other life-defining crossroads in the past, the hook of Destiny Child's "Survivor" rang through my cranium. I wasn't about to let a bunch of tacos take me out. My momma taught me betta than that.
Let me set the scene. It's the week after Pasta Watergate put me on crutches for two and half days and I'm back at the stove (I know this seems unadvisable. Bear with me). Instead of the dank dark dead of night, though, it's 8PM on Saturday night and I'm blissfully chopping cauliflower.
As I'd carefully wrapped my scorched foot in an ace bandage days earlier, I'd decided on a new course of action. When I barreled down the door and went for the fridge 7 hours later after my guest turn at Mister H, my new DJ Drunchies would not end in a casual slice or 3 (or 4) anymore, but a nutritious bowl of roasted vegetables instead. "Worth the ol' DJ try!" as the centuries-old adage goes.
And that was just the beginning. Over the next few weeks, post-show tacos and pizza dinners gave way to homemade skinless chicken breasts and yogurt speckled with fruit. And while I'd lost the Red Bull DJ challenge earlier that year, I was certain I had the title "DJ Most Likely To Pre-Make Portioned-Out Kale, Farro and Beet Salad in His Mother's Antique Steel Bowl Before His Set at Gold Bar" securely in hand.
I even got so good that I began to think if the whole DJ thing went south, I could start an online cooking show where I taught young night workers how to make healthy after-trick snacks. "Take a load off your knees with this healthy, light Pomegranate Frisee Salad!"
Maybe I'd become the Gwenyth Paltrow of DJs, abandoning my award-winning entertainment career and becoming an elitist lifestyle chef. I secretly toyed with rebranding myself as DJ Martha Jewart. My BMI was back on track and I was thrilled.
My friends, however, thought I'd finally dove off the deep end.
"Wanna hit The Bullett Party @ Up & Down? Lots of cute guys and connects!" my friend Jane would text me on a Saturday evening. "Nah," I'd reply reluctantly, "Quinoa on the stove." "Let's grab a drink before your set?" my new DJ friend Andre would ask. "I wish," I'd say, "hot tofu in the wok right now."
One night as we left the Boom Boom Room my sister Lily, who'd spent all night graciously fending off requesters in the booth, begged, "Yo, I'm starving, let's grab some falafel!"
"Can't," I answered sullenly. Then I stopped myself.
It was here that I had my second "Aha!" moment: Turns out you simply can't be the next Barefoot Contessa AND the next Mia Moretti at the same time. I texted Oprah right away.
As Lily and I chowed down on some glorious Falafel on a West Village stoop that night, I adopted my latest DJ diet. It's more than just a diet actually. It's a whole peculiar new lifestyle. The approach is summed in a word I used to dread when I started DJing as I thought it might spoil all the fun.
The word is "balance." It's weird, but it works (scratch in the shock and awe).
In fact, I've realized balance is probably something that DJs need more than people with normal jobs, sunlit ones where you can just eat a Chop't salad at your desk and hit Soul Cycle after your last meeting of the day. A DJ's cubicle is everyone's party, and that's not a workspace where balance is easy to achieve. Seeing a balanced DJ, one who's in great shape and doesn't get sloshed every night, for instance, is like seeing a unicorn. But unicorns are the coolest kind of corn!
So these days, do I practice the breathing exercises my cognitive therapist taught me and sometimes even get a meal down before I hit the club? Yes indeed. Do I occasionally come home from Gold Bar to a pre-made Kale Farro and Beet salad? Why yes, and it's a rather fucking dignified pre-bedtime activity, thanks for asking.
Other times, will I still visit the amiga Lupe for some DJ Drunchies at 4AM? Damn straight, bae.
"The usual?" Lupe asks. "The usual!" I reply. Only now it's with the glee of a DJ in control not just of his setlist, but of his very destiny.
AND his pants-size.