I'm at Bond on a Thursday night, and it's simmering with testosterone and possibility. Spaghetti-legged cocktail waitresses coo at businessmen. Tables spill forth with bejeweled women speaking too loudly and young couples sipping Champagne. Enormous framed US savings bonds — hence the name! — wink from blood-red walls. Yes, in many sectors, it seems money has been poured down the drain. Yet here, as in many places, people are pouring $14 drinks down their throats like there's no tomorrow.
I've picked Bond as my entry point into this underworld of unflappability for a simple reason. With the country in economic freefall, the cocktail names here take on a thrillingly vulgar undertone — the Euro, the Smackers, the Dough. I want to know: who's drinking Dough when so many people are fretting about not having any?
Nestled in a corner banquette are Senam, 25, and his friend Khushbu, 24. Senam's dressed in cashmere and khakis, not a pore in sight. Khushbu's all in black, fondling a BlackBerry. He's in architecture, she's a lawyer. Both sip white wine and seem happy to confide in a fleece-clad interloper.
"I was laid off last week," says Senam, stretching like a happy feline. He grins and drinks. "Looks like it's time for a vacation to Puerto Rico!" He smiles even more broadly now, revealing a perfect set of exceptionally white teeth. Khushbu giggles, smoothes her long black hair. "I lost my job a month ago," she says calmly. "Here's to the economy!" They clink glasses.
A few tables over, several young women are enjoying happy hour. They won't specify their place of employment, but assure me that they make plenty of money, eventually allowing that they work at a large accounting firm in the Financial District.
"So, you're in finance," I say, sounding, to my horror, very much like Alex Trebek. "Has the economic downturn affected the mood at work at all?"
They look at me pityingly and shake their heads. Finally, the friendliest of the group gives me a smile.
"Well," she offers gamely, "I guess I have changed my spending habits."
"Yes! I get my shoes at TJ Maxx now." They erupt in giggles.
It's a carefree mood that reverberates throughout the city's glitziest watering holes. The economy (and the media) is sending us grim signals — more sacrifices and demands, less expectations and cash. But when night falls upon the young in some corners of Boston, you'd be forgiven for thinking that nothing has ever changed. Across town at the foot of Beacon Hill lies the Liberty Hotel, home to swank bars Alibi and Clink. A valet line snakes onto the street. Outside on the patio, hordes of sequined women circulate with Champagne flutes. A handsome young man sporting scrubs gesticulates wildly to a crowd, pint glass in hand, while a woman with an earpiece shoos a herd of tourists toward an escalator.
Cara, a 25 year old with a background in international relations and journalism — who is also currently unemployed — is equally unfazed. "The economy better pick up soon!" she says, laughing. "But if it doesn't, well, I'll just have to try [looking for work] longer." She shrugs and goes back to her drink. "I think the economy is just making people spend smarter," adds Beth, who works in the restaurant industry. "Maybe I won't go out to eat at a mediocre restaurant or spend a lot of money just going out for a beer. If I spend money, I want it to be amazing."
Much has been written about these so-called Millennials, the spawn of helicopter parents who indulged their offspring's passions and told them they could be anything — anything! — they wanted to be. (I'm not judging — Christ, I'm one of 'em.) But make no mistake: these are not the poor, short-sighted slobs you see charging big-screen TVs at Best Buy with maxed-out credit cards. This is the Teflon generation — a non-reactionary, discriminating group for whom work is not just a paycheck. It is fulfilling. Frightening headlines and economic hardships are something to be studied, managed, and, perhaps on occasion, fretted about, but life continues to go on. A temporarily unpalatable reality is not going to get in the way — be it on a Friday night or a Monday morning.
"I kind of do feel like my life is on pause," admits Doug, my companion for the evening, who is 30 and just finished business school. He's now unemployed — only 10 percent of his graduating class currently have job offers. Right now, he's living at home with his parents. Still, he grins easily, casting an appreciative glance or two at the lissome women who glide past our table. "But I see this as an opportunity. The economy isn't something I can control. So I have to make the most of it. I consider myself extremely employable. Maybe I'll just have to use my skills in an industry I wasn't expecting to go into, that's all. I have time to figure it out."