Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nightlife: All in a Night's Work

OCEANSIDE, N.Y. – From the open bathroom window, the sounds of throttled-down boat engines are barely audible over the sound of running water from Jessica Nelbandian’s sink.

“It’s all canals back here,” said Ms. Nelbandian, 23, readying herself for another Saturday night in New York with her friends. “People ride their boats up and down all night long on the weekends.”

Ms. Nelbandian’s preparatory process takes time - sometimes as long as three hours. For a weekend night spent in one of Manhattan’s exclusive Meatpacking District nightspots, anything less than perfection is unacceptable. “There’s a lot you can do to get the good shit,” she said, “but it all starts with how you look. If you don’t look right, you can’t get anyone’s attention and they’ll never give you anything.”

Perfecting her aesthetic for the club, however, is only the first hurdle in an evening seemingly swimming with potential setbacks. The real difficulties begin when her parents realize where Ms. Nelbandian is going. Emerging from the comforting hair dryer and perfume scents of her steamy bathroom cocoon, she knows she must eventually make her way downstairs and run the maternal gauntlet.

“I’ve always supported her in everything she does,” said Mila Nelbandian, Jessica’s mother. “She works very hard at what she does, but sometimes I wish she wouldn’t stay out all night every weekend.”

“I don’t care what they think about what I do,” said Jessica Nelbandian. “I’m young, and this is the time for me to be out with my friends having fun.”

Mila Nelbandian said she had no real objections to Jessica’s nocturnal weekend habits until last October, when Jessica was involved in a GHB - gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, commonly known as the “date rape drug” – incident at a Long Island nightclub. “Somebody drugged her drink,” said Mila Nelbandian. “She got sick and we ended up in the emergency room until the next morning. After that I told her she should stay out of these places, but she keeps going.”

By day, Ms. Nelbandian works as a nail technician at a storefront salon in East Meadow. She says her job is the reason she invests so much time in the Manhattan nightclub scene. “It’s the only place I can meet guys,” Ms. Nelbandian said. “You don’t meet guys at a nail salon. It’s just a lot of older women who are jealous of me because I’m young and I can still go out and get attention.”

Once in the club, unburdened of familial tensions, Ms. Nelbandian and her friends engage in a series of friendly greetings with acquaintances they’ve made since discovering the Meatpacking District. “We know everyone in here,” said Sophia Gagliardi, 22, a high school friend of Ms. Nelbandian’s. “The bouncers are so nice to us. I love it here.”

The club’s security staff, though cordial to Ms. Nelbandian and her party at the front door, seemed skeptical of their motives. “Yeah, she’s hot and everything,” said Raymond Velarde, a bouncer at the club, “but I’ve seen her do some grimy shit, man. She’s sucked off just about every guy in here.”

Ms. Nelbandian didn’t deny the fact that her weekend club outings occasionally result in compromising end-of-the-night positions, but said the more unsavory aspects of “clubhopping” are necessary to squeeze every possible ounce of enjoyment out of the experience. “Yeah, I have to go back to the bathrooms with guys every once in a while,” she said, “but it’s worth it to me. It’s not like I have to take them home, right?”

Stephen Cardi accompanied Ms. Nelbandian on one such bathroom visit. Mr. Cardi, 34, a self-described “entrepreneur,” said such adventures make the nightclub scene worth his time and money. “I love seeing these little Long Island rats here,” he said. “Especially her. She laps it up like a fucking Hoover.”

The challenge, according to Ms. Gagliardi, is getting Ms. Nelbandian home in one piece. “The time they gave her the roofies was scary,” she said, “because we didn’t know where she was. Then there was a fight because some old guy was trying to drag her out the back door. We’re more careful now and don’t get out of each other’s sight, but Jessica still likes to party.”

“If I wanted to stop, I’d stop,” said Ms. Nelbandian, “but I’m living life to the fullest right now. If people don’t understand that, it’s too bad for them.”