For some, Miami is a brochure vision of vacation—sand and sun by day, miniskirts and margaritas by night. But as someone who grew up there, this was never my version of Miami. When my friends started going clubbing, I preferred to sit back and laugh at their stories than to subject myself to the hassle of going clubbing when you’re underage.

But my younger brother doesn’t mind the hassle. He is seventeen and spindly, with baby fat that he tucks in between his teeth for pictures to bring out his cheekbones, voice cracks, and an ego that deflected college rejections as if they were flies that flew into his eyes. He just swatted them away.

Geronimo sees this hassle as a means to an end. Hassling gets him what he wants. He doesn’t mind doing a friend’s math homework if it’ll get him into a party that weekend, or licking the cafeteria floor if his friend says he’ll buy him something from the vending machine. One time, he thought it would impress the girl he liked if he swallowed a bottle cap and regurgitated it for her. He ended up having to get an emergency endoscopy when it got lodged in his esophagus. If you don’t believe me, I’ll send you the TikTok he later made… or the X-rays. And, when anyone questions him or brings up the humiliation, Geronimo just shushes us and nonchalantly says, “I am Him,” before walking away. He gets what he wants.

This was his mentality when he decided that, at sixteen, he was finally old enough to go clubbing.

Miami clubs are not easy to get into. I learned that this spring break when my friends and I had to try five different clubs before we were able to get into one (and only because a family member knew someone—who knew someone who knew someone—who worked at a club and helped us get in). Growing up surrounded by the Miami nightlife, we had all heard the horror stories of friends of friends who now had criminal records for trying to get into clubs with a fake ID. The best way to gain access was through a connection, someone who could get you in—for the right price, of course. In Geronimo’s case, this was Carlos, and the right price was eight hundred dollars—a super sweet deal. Eight hundred dollars for a table meant Geronimo and his friends could get in without being carded. So they all put their money together (and, by “all,” I mean everyone except Geronimo, who did not have any money), and the boys took the highway into downtown, Bad Bunny blasting with the windows rolled down. Warmth and humidity clung to their short-sleeved shirts that were not buttoned high enough.

One of Geronimo’s friends had previously found a group of four girls who agreed to pay forty bucks each to join their table, and they met up outside the club before Carlos ushered them past the bouncers and into the strobing peak of the night’s ephemeral high. With the table came the whole show, the beautiful girls in miniskirts holding signs that read “Dale Perrero” and sweating bottles of vodka on a golden tray. The boys skipped onto the dance floor, ready for some action. But only fifteen minutes had passed before Geronimo saw that there was a group of strangers at their table and—after confronting them—found that, for reasons that could not be explained by a now-disappeared Carlos, they had lost their table.

Table-less and not drunk enough, they realized that the group of girls they had come with, forty bucks apiece still owed, were nowhere to be seen. They walked through the dance floor and the tables till they saw them—there, behind a slightly opened curtain in the VIP section with some men.

And, by “men,” I mean balding.

Think thick chains and thicker dad bods. Think of the guy in your Instagram DM request saying he doesn’t want anything sexual, just a pretty, young thing to talk to twice a week for five hundred dollars straight to your Zelle. Think tight V-necks and hairy arms and fake teeth and sugar daddy wallets.

My brother called out to the girls from behind the stanchions. They glanced at him and his friends—who looked infinitesimally small in their abyss of youth and teen stubble—and exchanged a form of code-like blinks through their heavy fake lashes before turning away and pretending not to know them.

A week later he was texting Carlos again, telling him he had a group of eleven kids willing to overpay for entry, convinced by Geronimo’s story of an amazing night. And now, Geronimo was charging his friends an extra fee for “hooking them up.” He is Him after all, and unafraid to make a fart noise in the middle of chapel prayer to make the freshmen girls laugh. He is Him, meaning he always gets his way somehow.

Growing up, Geronimo’s efforts were amusing. I would have never swallowed a bottle cap for a crush or twerked in front of my principal to make my friends laugh—who would? I saw the desperation, the hassle of going out of my way to impress someone or get something, as needless.

As the first to get accepted here from my high school, I didn’t know anybody before coming. I had scoffed at how happy Geronimo was when he got Carlos’s contact, and it makes me laugh to think about how now, on the verge of turning twenty, I understand sixteen-year-old Geronimo more than ever before. As someone with no connections on a campus of well-connected people, I felt the need to hassle for the first time ever.

The college world of connections, in my experience, warrants a different type of hassle. You don’t lick cafeteria floors or have to humiliate yourself to get what you want. It’s more of making the effort of putting yourself out there, of making friends, meeting people, joining clubs. But for some reason, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of how transactional it all is—it is what a friend of mine described as understood transactionality, and it looms over our future careers as the alumni network and the connections we are making today may dictate the professional opportunities we get in the future. But one doesn’t even have to look that far—our current social sphere reflects this. The eating club culture simulates a small-scale version of the larger world of connections, where relationships become transactional when you carefully prepare and edit a text (and send it to your friends first to see how it sounds) when asking someone if they could, if possible, no worries if not, totally no pressure, put you on a list somewhere *heart emoji*.

When I told my parents about the importance of connections, they were skeptical. Not because they don’t understand how connections work—on the contrary, we come from a country where corruption is endemic and connections get you into public offices and out of reach from the law. My family immigrated chasing the American Dream, but being at this school has created a rift in my family’s understanding of that dream. From their outside perspective, my acceptance here appears to have solidified my parents’ belief that the United States is a level playing field. It cemented their trust in the Dream that tells us that hard work is enough. But having witnessed the importance of constantly making connections in my everyday life, from the pressure to join as many clubs as I can to the need to know someone in a specific eating club if I wish to go out one weekend, my own belief in the Dream that I now realize can only take you so far has slowly fragmented.

Geronimo loves to tell his clubbing story, but it’s never about losing the table or the girls or a few hundred dollars. It’s about having an in. Being at an institution reflective of the reality of elitism, I understand what my brother had been selling his soul for, what he had always seemed to understand in his own warped way. The Dream is all about who you know.

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