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Trapped in the Booth: Part 1

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Disclaimer: This is a semi-fictionalized version of my all-too-real experiences working as a DJ in New York City. Most 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.

This afternoon, I found a Poland Spring bottle filled with urine in my DJ bag. As I sifted through my black canvas backpack, cleaning it out for the first time since "Poker Face" was a thing, there it was: A clear plastic bottle, torn forrest green label dangling from its middle section, filled three-quarters up with that unmistakable, acrid yellow liquid.

I stared at it. It stared at me. I searched my soul, futilely combing the recesses of my diminishing memory, but for the life of me I could not figure out when it had taken its place among the standard items of my equipment stash: A sleeve of vinyl records, worn black aiaiai headphones, iris blue needle case, a dusty stack of creased business cards and a big old bottle of piss, date of origin dismayingly dubious.

I lifted it from my bag and held it in my palm. It was warm, but so was the weather. Its upper half had been crushed under the weight of my old MacBook, but the cap had, by the grace of God, been screwed on rather tightly.

For all I know I'd been carrying it around for days, weeks, maybe even months. It may have been to any number of nightclubs and events throughout New York City: the new multi-tiered monstrosity defacing the LES where I recently did a residency or the world-renowned museum on the Upper East where I DJ'd a cocktail party last month. It may have made it to the swanky hotel bar in the meatpacking district where I spun a television network after-party earlier this year. Yes, that's right: Ms. Mariska Hargitay may very well have stood next to it while introducing herself, delightfully enthusing about my Carhartt overalls.

It may have even crossed state lines. Fuck, it could have journeyed as far as Turkey or even New Zealand. At some point as I attempted to focus on the bottle in my hand it dawned on me that I was fairly certain it had travelled to Miami this past weekend to spin my friend Owen's wedding at the swanky Sagamore in South Beach. It also hit me that security at LaGuardia clearly needed an overhaul.

Moments like this, which I'm now dubbing "The Great Whiz Discovery of 2014," are a stark reminder that my job is odd. Call me crazy, but I feel like my friend Alva, a graphic designer, doesn't wander around New York for indeterminate stretches of times with containers of pee in her laptop case. Same goes for my buddy Jane, a luxury writer, or my sister and roommate Lily, who, god bless her, has her own unsavory habits but none that lead her to pee in a plastic receptacle in public, put it in her purse and proceed to gleefully wander the earth in blissful ignorance.

But when you're a DJ, and not an especially important or famous one for that matter, indignities like this are just part of the sport. I believe Sophocles referred to it as "The Plight of the Mid-Level Open Format Disc Jockey." And while I don't know how this particular bottle became part of my mobile DJ setup, I can take a fairly educated guess at the circumstances that lead me here, perplexed, sloshing it about in my bedroom on this late Spring afternoon.

First, some facts about me: I'm not really a "celebrity DJ," whatever that means. I'm not the kind of DJ who demands big crowds or even small ones. The "rockstar lifestyle" that is so often associated with DJing these days? Not my life at all, at least not consistently.

Sure, one night I may be spinning in the fancy new venue du jour, fielding requests from Naomi Campbell while A$AP Ferg performs next to me in the booth. But the next, I'm opening for free for an 8-year-old prodigal DJ at a street fair and straight bombing, all because my promotor friend assured me that it would "def be some tight publicity, bro!" (a fleeting mention on his Instagram account, 694 followers and counting).

Because I'm not Calvin Harris or Zedd, nor even Jesse Marco for that matter, I have no rights in nightlife. No contracts, no manager, no artist rider, and almost certainly no assistance when I arrive at the venue to find broken equipment or, even worse, to learn that I was bumped from tonight's lineup but no one had time to let me know. "Sorry, dude."

It also means that when I do headline at a club, the word "headline" means I'll be spinning the entire night, open 'til close, 11pm-4am. In New York, that's 5 hours in a sweaty, packed nightclub, mixing records at lightening speed, verse, chorus, mix out, repeat. It's like the marathon, only with Beyonce trap remixes instead of measured strides and by the time it's over, I've spun no fewer than 375 tracks before I can even scream "turn down for what!" (Thank god Lil Jon is always there to do it for me in a pinch).

It's also fucking great.

The best is when the lights come up and you're staring--eyes stinging from your LED screen and liquor--at a packed crowd still swaying gently, shoulder-to-shoulder, wall-to-wall. It's really the whole point of DJing, the reason why I'm doing this and not something more stable with health benefits. And when my set is working, it's one of the most exhilarating feelings on earth. I feel important. I feel satisfied. I feel powerful. I feel Michael Jackson and Biggie and DJ AM looking down on me with pride, gleefully toasting with Jesus over my Irv Gotti tribute set (having a fragile ego is embedded in a DJ's DNA). Every part of me is tingling. Every part except my bladder.

This all really breaks down into a basic equation: The unrelenting intensity of my set x a couple comped vodka sodas + some shots with the uppity bottle service client to the right of the booth = relieving yourself in this afternoon's Poland Spring bottle. This is mostly just physics. I've pulled this move more times than I could possibly recount for you here. I used to have stage fright (booth fright?) about peeing in front of anyone, but now it's kind of my signature and I don't flinch. The mere fact that I can't identify this particular bottle of pee should illuminate the frequency in which I find myself in this position. I'm the DJ who pees in bottles. I've let go of even finding this shameful.

After twenty minutes of fixating, I relented and decided to chuck the bottle. Some mysteries, like the Malaysia Airlines disappearance or Lana Del Rey, aren't meant to be solved. I ran into my bathroom, forced the lid of the bottle open and dumped the pee into the toilet. Then I chucked the bottle with the clear and determined goal of cleaning out my DJ bag more often this summer. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," I thought to myself as I tossed my records, needles, headphones and computer haphazardly back into my bag. "Now, where am I peeing tonight again?"

Part 2 next week