I asked my mom about it once and she said that when she was little, they were poor and the Purge was more of a thing. They would hide in their basement and the only movie they could find one year was that busted up DVD so they watched it with the volume real low and it became a sort of tradition. We’re not poor and we could literally watch any movie we wanted but we sat through it every year, my mom and grandmother mouthing along when Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt he wants to be a better man. My mom said it reminded them that there was good in the world, and also of how far they’d come in their own lives, and that one day I’d be watching As Good As It Gets with my kids and maybe by then there’d be no Purge and we could watch it whenever we wanted. I reminded her that we could also watch it whenever we wanted but she just shrugged.
Bubbe died the year I finished high school. I was going to New York for college that fall. When Purge night came around I told my mom I didn’t want to be home in Jersey; I wanted to visit my friend Trent in Manhattan. Trent knew about this crazy party at an older guy’s penthouse in Midtown with tons of free booze and drugs and hot guys in their underwear. When I told Trent what my Purge nights had been like thus far, he laughed in my face and said, “Purge is literally just about getting so fucked up.”
Mom didn’t like the idea at all. I told her, “I’m gonna be in the city for Purge for the next four years, anyway. Why shouldn’t I start now?” I tried to be calm but I just wanted to yell. It’s not dangerous to be in Manhattan anymore, and now that Bubbe was gone no one would miss me at home. The morning of, I got up early and baked her a batch of apricot hamantash. She cried a little and agreed to let me go but only after talking with Trent’s mom who obviously didn’t give a fuck.
The PATH train was full of people wearing crazy outfits. Leather, glitter, crop-tops. Everyone was showing some skin and looking cute. I felt stupid in my black skinny jeans and blue short-sleeved button-up. Trent told me to wear my cutest underwear but I didn’t really know what he meant, so I had on gray Hanes briefs that were a little too small and kind of made my junk look big. A lady in a fuzzy pink cowboy hat and rhinestone jean shorts winked at me, and I got all red. She must’ve known it was my first Purge in New York.
I got off at 33rd street and walked up 6th avenue. Shops were still open which I thought was crazy. Everyone in my town closed up at noon on the Purge. I bought a cinnamon pretzel and a Pepsi. It cost like $12 and when I complained the vendor guy just laughed. “Purge,” he shrugged in explanation.
Trent met me outside the apartment building, which was brick and had a green awning. The door guy seemed to know why we were there and smiled. “If you need anything just give me a ring. I’ll be here all night.”
“You work all night during the Purge?” I asked. He saw my look of bewilderment and laughed.
“Don’t worry, we lock everything down. Always have. Just think of me as moral support.”
When we got in the elevator, Trent gave me a shove to the chest. “Don’t be a fucking dweeb like that when we get up to the apartment okay? And pace yourself with the drinks. I’m not gonna be holding your hand while you puke all night.”
The bell rung at the penthouse. As the doors opened, Trent reached behind himself and snapped the jock strap that was peeking out from his burgundy gym shorts.
I didn’t really like Trent. His was the first dick I ever sucked and afterward he told me I had a natural talent. That made me feel good, but otherwise he was always harping on me for being naive, or not going to enough parties. I know I said that my family’s Purge tradition was stupid but the way he made fun of it and of my bubbe felt so unnecessary. I don’t think he understood stuff like that. I think he’s a porn star for Helix now. That would make sense.
Two blonde boys in 2xist briefs greeted us in the foyer with trash bags. We were instructed to stuff our clothes into them. Trent rolled his eyes when I stripped down to my Hanes, but one of the blondes patted my butt and squealed, “Cute!”
Trent went ahead of me, his bubble butt held firmly in the black straps of his jock, bobbing occasionally when he trotted over to someone he recognized. “Bitch!” I heard him yell, and he was gone down the corridor. I shuffled awkwardly into the kitchen, where dozens of liquor bottles sat in various states of decay. Clear plastic cups toppled around them, along with a bag of Tostitos and a package of guacamole that had begun to brown around the edges, opened but untouched. I made myself a strong vodka cran because that’s what Trent and I used to drink. The vodka tasted better now.
“Fixing yourself a drink without saying hello first?” a voice called out behind me. I twitched around and saw a tan, muscular older guy in a red minibrief holding a glass of champagne.
“I’m… I’m sorry—” I stammered. He cut me off with a gentle hand to my shoulder.
“Name’s Russ. Fancy a cigarette?” He produced two very thin cigarettes from a case that was tucked into the lining of his underwear.
“I don’t want to know where you’re keeping the lighter,” I said quickly, with an awkward emphasis on you’re instead of where. Russ loved it. His gentle hand, still on my shoulder, produced a firm squeeze and a dry, wheezy laugh.
“Oh, I like this one!” he said to no one, ushering me to the rooftop terrace. We walked to the edge of the roof and he gestured wordlessly at the cityscape. Then he lit both cigarettes, one for his mouth and one for mine.
“I can tell it’s your first time in the city.”
“That’s not true. I was here in the summer—”
“You know what I mean.” Russ smiled and leaned slightly against me, our bare shoulders touching. It was dark now. I guess I had missed the alarms when I was making my drink. It was hard to hear anything going on down below, and when I peered over the edge, I could see the street was empty.
“Not quite what you expected, huh?” Russ continued. “Still, I wouldn’t go down there if you paid me a million dollars but, then again, I don’t really need another million.” His hand was on my ass. I wondered if he was disappointed there wasn’t more there. I quickly dragged my tiny cigarette down to its end. He gently pulled it from my mouth and ran his thumb over my bottom lip.
“If you hear gunshots, don’t worry. It’s just wackos on their own rooftops trying to act like cowboys. Now why don’t you go inside and play with the other boys.” He gave me a quick tap towards the door.
In the apartment there seemed to be twice as many boys as before. I navigated through them, stopping to refill my drink. I thought I should try and find Trent to let him know I was alright. I was being stupid. He definitely didn’t care.
Beyond the kitchen was a room with two long leather couches facing each other and a low glass coffee table between them. Skinny boys covered both couches, clustering in groups of three or four. They were getting fucked splayed out over the arms of the couch while others kneeled by the floor to watch from underneath, or to sneak their way into a group.
One boy was pressed onto the coffee table by two tall guys. I walked closer to get a look. His fat cock bobbed along to whoever was fucking him. He looked like he was in ecstasy but I could only focus on his back and the way that the corner of a Saul Bass coffee table book was digging into it. One of the tall guys noticed me and nodded towards his own dick, which was wobbling over the boy on the table. I cautiously moved towards it. He immediately thrust my face down on it and I gagged which only made him smile. Next he motioned for me to climb on top of the coffee table boy, who greeted my body by limply playing with my cock for a few seconds. Then he shut his eyes and continued on as though I wasn’t pressed against him.
The guy whose dick was now in my mouth was aggressive and I suddenly remembered that I had set my drink down. I felt like I had broken some cardinal rule and panicked a bit. The guy could sense my distraction and pulled my hair to remind me of the task at hand.
I joined a couple moments like this as I wandered from room to room, up and down the spiral staircase in the center of the apartment. Each time I did, the guys were too aggressive and I’d quickly want another drink, or a cigarette from Russ. Everybody kept trying to make me bottom and when I’d shy away from it, they’d sigh and walk away. At one point I was on my back on a bed when I saw Trent and some boy with a shaved head walk in.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” Trent whispered to the other boy.
Russ switched me from vodka crans to straight whiskey. I was staggering around, my Hanes abandoned somewhere along the way. It seemed like everybody had put their underwear back on but me. I knew this couldn’t be true. The same shaved head guy from before walked directly into me, pressed his dick against my chest, and rubbed a finger around my ass. He pulled me in for a kiss and slipped a small round object from his tongue into mine. He kept his mouth against me until I swallowed it, then moved on to someone else. What the fuck was that?
The apartment seemed full of light now. The music that I had been ignoring before was drowning me now, a heavy drum beat and something that sounded like waves. I grabbed someone passing me by.
“What song is this?” I yelled, but they didn’t answer. I thought maybe Russ would know and I walked out onto the terrace to find him. He was smoking a cigarette while a young-looking boy was on his knees in front of him.
“Russ!” I yelled and he looked up at me, only for a second. “Russ!” I called again. Above me it seemed like yellow and green fireworks were going off. I was so cold and my dick looked really small.
I ran back inside and skidded against a corner. I poured myself another whiskey, took one sip and wretched. My hand let go and it fell, spilling onto the kitchen floor. I needed the bathroom or something. Everything was too bright. I thought about where they were keeping all the garbage bags full of clothes.
I climbed the stairs again and stubbed my big toe, screaming louder than I usually would. Things were starting to hurt. Nobody seemed to be upstairs. I wanted Trent to take me home. My stomach was burning and my arms felt super light. I couldn’t remember if it was light arms or heavy arms that meant you were having a heart attack.
I crawled into the next empty bed I could find and remembered that I never texted my mom when I arrived. I didn’t even know where my cell phone was, or if cell phones worked on Purge night. Were people still taking pictures somewhere?
I felt like I would never be able to eat a hamantash again, my mouth was so dry and disgusting. How come Russ didn’t put out any water bottles? That seemed dangerous. My mother was probably freaking out. I didn’t know what time it was. Had they finished watching As Good As It Gets? Did they miss me? I thought about the how Helen Hunt looks when Jack Nicholson tells her she’s the greatest woman alive, that she makes him want to be a better man. Like she’s realizing it’s all going to be okay, but slowly, because she’s astonished that she can make somebody feel that way. I can relate because I don’t know what it’s like to have that kind of power over someone.
I don’t want to remember this other line from the movie but it’s where the title comes from, so it’s hard not to hear it banging in my head. I focus on the expensive quality of the sheets and pull them tight over me. I hear someone open the door, and then shut it. I think I hear ambulance sirens but I know that’s not right. The title scene. He walks into a room full of people and says, “what if this is as good as it gets?”, and then he walks right out again.
— Kevin Champoux