June 26, 2024

Meet Me In the Ironbound!
Cultural Capital 
Fiction by Leah Abrams
Serafina started the show for the first time at 27, pretty late. She would watch on her laptop in bed, curled up around it like a Tolkien dragon with its treasure, and feel the malaise of the turning millennium thicken the air. She lived in a basement apartment in East Williamsburg. She sold second-hand designer bags on a direct-to-consumer marketplace app. And more than anything, more than a new lease or a bigger check or a better following, she wanted to fuck Tony Soprano. 

It was the way he lumbered around and slammed his fist, then smiled lopsidedly, with fucked-up teeth. She could practically smell the ribbed wife-beater he wore under his bathrobe—sweat and cologne and tobacco smoke, the musk of an unwashed pillowcase. Taking a page from Carmela, Serafina started getting acrylics with French tips, blowing out her hair, tweezing her eyebrows against the style of the day. All for Tony. Her Tony. 

The trouble was he was a fictional character. The other trouble was, the actor who played him was ten years dead. She  looked up a picture of James Gandolfini’s son and immediately closed the tab in disappointment. He had the polished face of a Hollywood brat atop a child’s body. It looked like he’d been formed out of wax. 

Serafina wanted a man made of dirt. A Tony type, with gunk under his fingernails, who would swing a heavy arm against a door frame if she made him mad. She gazed at the laptop as Tony pounced across a glass coffee table toward Dr. Melfi. Wasn’t love supposed to be dangerous? 

By the time the episode was over, her skincare was sufficiently sunk in, so she resisted a new episode and went to bed. Serafina wasn’t a femcel—she had sex every four to six months with guys from the internet or the fashion scene—but she thought there was something lowly and base about masturbating, and she denied herself the pleasure most nights. Instead, she fantasized chastely about her affair with Tony—where they would meet and how he would kiss her. 

“Hey,” he would say, while she swiveled on a barstool at Crazy Horse, minding her own business, not even knowing what kind of place she’d stumbled into, pulling an olive off the skewer of her glistening gin martini. “I haven’t seen you around here before.” 

“You haven’t?” she’d say back, barely meeting his gaze. 

“No,” he’d put one hand on the small of her back. “Trust me, I’d remember.” 

If a man ever said this to her in real life—and every now and then, one did—she would be repulsed. But Tony could pull it off. Tony knew what he wanted and took it. He did what he meant to do and said what he meant to say. 


In a video, a beautiful girl with long, blonde microbraids said that assimilation had slowly stripped white Americans of their culture, leading to an entrenched lust for appropriation. “Reconnecting with my Swedish roots,” she said, “Has been so healing for my soul. Returning to Norse religion and Pagan tradition, relearning what it means to live off the land, making my own surstromming—all of the things America sanitized from generations of my ancestors.” 

She was walking through a patch of trees and you could see her spritely breath. She wore no makeup to signal her trustworthiness.

“Whiteness is so corrosive; it makes us think we have no culture, when each of us truly does. In fact, I would argue the most anti-racist thing white people could do is to reach back to our ancestral past and embrace our European heritage.” 


Serafina hopped up to the barstool and hooked her Telfar under the table. She was there to meet her friends, who had already secured for her a dirty martini, waiting at her seat, collecting dew. Serafina was late on purpose, for dramatic effect. She swept in breathing heavily, her cheeks tinged with pink, her perfect lipstick the only tell. Her friends were middlingly attractive—nothing special—and like her, they all worked in fashion-adjacent industries like food media and dental hygiene. There was Ashford, the angry one, who held her injected lips in a tight line; Kayla, the entitled one, who smoothed a flowing blowout under chapped hands; and Soraya, the sheltered one, doe-eyed and wearing a bucket hat, so sweet and vulnerable that she’d been roofied at least three times. 

“So,” Serafina  said. “I met someone.” 

Everyone squealed. 

“Tell us everything,” said Kayla, who still drank ciders, like a child. 

“I told you you would,” said Soraya, who still drank Dirty Shirleys, also like a child. Ashford said nothing, she just sort of grimaced. She drank Old Fashioneds. 

“He was at this block party on my street,” Serafina began. She wanted her friends to think of her as the type of person who had known about the block party in advance and planned to go. In truth she had stumbled into it on her way out the door, carrying a tote bag full of shipping supplies and a couple of fake Prada croissant purses. They puckered at the seams, revealing their mediocrity to the experienced eye. But they looked real enough. Any East Village normie would CashApp her hundreds for something they thought was brand name. She’d seen it all, back when she was working retail, before she realized there was no path up and more money to the side. 

There had been a commotion on her block. Kids were running around with chalk and water balloons; a TV soundbar dragged outside blasted merengue. Two Honda Civics haphazardly blocked off traffic on the open end of the one-way street. There were thirty people, maybe more, milling in groups around plastic folding tables.The smell of grilled meat wafted pleasantly in the air. 

Something feral came over her. She ran back inside, threw the tote back under her bed, grabbed a box of morning glory muffins, still dressed in its grocery store wrapper, and headed back out to the party. Just before she reached for the doorknob, she looked down at her wrist and decided to take off her Cult Gaia bangle. She didn’t want to come off showy. 

“So I bring my muffins out and I’m looking for a place to put them,” she summarized for her friends back at the bar. “And my neighbor is like, ‘oh, I know you. You’re in the basement level, right?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah, that’s like, so sweet that you recognize me.’ Her name is Damaris and she’s legit such a cutie—like 60 years-old and giving out cotton candy. And she goes ‘why don’t you put those over on the dessert table so you don’t have to schlep them around.’” 

Serafina paused here—she so rarely got to hold her friends’ attention. She took a sip of her drink. She savored the taste of the floor. 

“Okay, then what?” said Soraya. 

“I’m getting there,” she said. 

The dessert table was being manned by a massive, monstrous man. “Huge Tony vibes,” Serafina explained to her friends. She approached him timidly, floating her muffins out in front of her chest like a hall pass. The man was handing out donuts to some little kids, wearing a huge white apron. He was so tall it could’ve been made of a bed sheet, Serafina remembered thinking. She was five foot ten, so it wasn’t easy to make her feel small. 

“How you doing, sweetheart?” he said. He had one gold tooth in the right side of his mouth. She liked the feeling of him appraising her and liked knowing that she passed. “I’m good, how are you?” 

“Can’t complain. Donut?” he said. “I’m on donut duty.” 

When she shook her head, speechless, he said, “What are you, watching your figure?” “Sure, I try,” she said. She didn’t know how to explain she was a vegan. “I brought these, can I leave them here?” 

“Those? Those aren’t for the dessert table, sweets, they have carrots in them. Why don’t you drop them with the sides?” 

She started to turn around and look for the other table, until he said, “Hey, I’m just busting your balls.” 

She almost came in her pants. All she could do was laugh. Serafina’s friends always said she had no rizz—she was cursed with earnestness due to her Southern Baptist upbringing, which stressed a purity of intention and spirit. Sure, there were inflections—even jokes—but always sung in a different register, a slower register, thick as warm taffy. She felt her voice strain to match his. 

“They’re sweet, I swear! Look at the raisins. Here, try one.” 

“I wouldn’t touch those with a ten foot pole,” he said. And then a pause, and they both thought of what he would touch, with a pole or without it. “Frank,” he said, and they shook. Serafina tried to relay all this to her friends in a convincing way. 

“And he was like, clearly super into me,” she told them. “So I think I’m gonna close.” “How old is he?” said Kayla. “Like… eighty?” 

“Ew, no,” said Serafina. “Probably like forty-something? Or fifty?” 

“Isn’t that a little groomery?” said Soraya. “That’s a massive age gap.” 

“Oh grow up, Soraya,” said Ashford, finally chiming in with her approval. “If anything, Fina’s the one grooming him.” 

“Yeah,” said Serafina. “I’m basically the one grooming him.” 


Alabama University’s rush process became a viral sensation. It was fun to know what was in each potential new member’s bag and what kind of jewelry they wore. “The girls are so nice y’all, you wouldn’t even believe,” said a girl named Karsten. “Just when I was finding myself completely overwhelmed by the choice, one of the Pi Phi angels came up to me and reminded me: ‘Stay the course, God has a plan for all of us.’ And I just really needed that message right now.” 

Some of the more zealous girls lined their notebooks with Bible verses to read and return to throughout the day. They curled their bleach-soaked hair with a barrel wand and didn’t brush the ringlets out. The Pants Store was the provider of the optimal uniform (not just pants); Kendra Scott made the optimal necklaces. 

@mojitotime was the most famous rushee because she popped gum and pronounced “philanthropy” incorrectly. She had long, flat-ironed brown hair with gold streaks and big, round eyes. She was slightly less orange than the other girls. With her makeup done up she could have been a child actress or a mid-tier model. There was a timeless sparkle in her videos that any entertainer would recognize if they looked it in the face. Grace Kelly, Diana Ross, Shirley Temple, Whitney Houston, Tricia Paytas, Jeffree Star—she could shine alongside them all. 

The comments waited to turn on her until halfway through rush. “Why do you use so much self-tanner,” they said. “You’re blackfishing so hard rn.” 

“Y’all, I appreciate your concern,” she said in her response video. “But I’m literally mixed. Duh.” She ended up getting cut from every house. 


He was married, but that wasn’t a problem for Serafina. If anything it was a plus. More like the real thing. She didn’t like anything moralistic, ever since Hillary Clinton lost the election. Respecting marriage especially seemed like a losing fight. Serafina’s mother respected marriage, and where had it gotten her? Fat, with four kids. Serafina’s  friends from college, hundreds of miles from the city, were getting engaged, married, having kids, creating elaborate registries to ask for plastic potted plants, and she wasn’t jealous of anything but the most expensive rings. Their husbands and wives were dull, or possessive, or clingy, or the types to write “serial entrepreneur” in their Twitter bios. They took the most appealing thing about their spouse—buckteeth, clever jokes, prowess in the kitchen, prowess in the bedroom, ability to pull off baldness—and ground it down into a nub of intellectual property that they owned, and retold at dinner parties, and in Instagram captions, and in stand-up sets, and on playdates. 

It was much better to be a mistress, from Serafina’s perspective. “In my stepmother era,” she texted her friends. The next week, after the charcoal on the grill had gone cold and the shriveled skins of water balloons were plastered between sidewalk cracks, she saw him again on the block. His gold tooth glinted in the streetlight. She brought him back to her apartment and served him a scotch on the rocks, just as she’d always imagined she would. For herself she poured a glass of chardonnay in a clear plastic cup. 

“So let me get this straight,” he said. “You don’t eat any meat at all?” 

“None, and no animal products either.” 

“No milk?” he said. “No cheese?” 

“Nothing that comes from something with eyes or a mother.” 

“But you must eat something,” he said, gesturing vaguely toward the middle of her. “You’re not all skin and bones.” 

Serafina drained her cup, reached forward, and slapped his protruding stomach in mock offense. “Neither are you, mister.” 

“Hey, take it easy, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. “I meant it as a compliment.” 

“So did I,” she said, and she kissed him on the mouth. Using her hair as a leash, he pulled her face back from his. 

“You sure you’re interested in an old fat guy like me?” he said. Later, even this she would turn into part of his charm, part of his backhanded confidence—after all, wasn’t it bold to call yourself fat and old with no ounce of pretension or shame? It was a very Tony thing to say, in a way, and very Italian, too. She liked that he asked her that, she would decide later, even if she hadn’t expected it. 

“Forget about it,” she said. Was that the right use? Did it sound natural? It must have, at least enough that he kept kissing her, put her hands down his pants, then picked her up and took her to bed. 


Push notification from Pop Crave. The Kardashians were white but also Armenian; Dua Lipa was white but also Albanian. Sophia Richie wasn’t really white, just half, but sometimes seemed to be more than that. Alabama Barker was only white but talked in a blaccent online and stopped putting her face in her videos. David Sedaris wasn’t Jewish, but Greek; Amy Sedaris was most likely Jewish, at least on a good day. Nobody knew what Paula Abdul was, or Bebe Rhexa, or Latto, or Rita Ora, or Saweetie, or Taylor Lautner, or Arthur, or D.W., but most people thought they were Black. 

Ellen Pompeo was not actually a surgeon, she just played one on TV; Hilaria Baldwin was not actually Spanish, she just played one on TV. Rachel Sennott was maybe bi but usually dated men; Harry Styles was fully straight as far as anyone could tell. The Hadids, Emrata, Barack Obama, Osama, Rosalía, Rauw; there were infinity shades of beige and we all had a responsibility—an obligation, really—to deconstruct them. 


God, the sex was something. He wrapped her feet around the base of his dick, so short and stout it could have worn a derby hat, and pumped until he came across the back of her calves. She’d never thought to want that before. When he had to leave she felt an awful thing in her heart—an early onset bout of missing him.

“I should go,” he said. “The old ball and chain, you know…” 

“Of course,” said Serafina. She reapplied her lip gloss. It was good to leave a little bit of mystery. “Do you work tomorrow?” 

“Oof, let’s not talk about work,” Frank said, smushing the skin of his bald spot with a wandering hand. “We all get enough of that during the day, don’t we?” 

He bumbled out of the door, his shirt untucked from his gigantic khakis. Fuck, Serafina thought. She was an idiot. Why would she ask about work? Wasn’t that the first rule, the sacred omerta, that Tony refused to break even with his own daughter? She cursed herself once the door was shut and locked, shmearing off the lip gloss and turning herself into bed. She watched another episode to calm herself down. “When I was 17…” it began, “It was a very good year…” 

Tony had taken over the family, finally, once and for all. Christopher was selling penny stocks in a strip mall office, bashing in the heads of the suits he employed when they didn’t fudge the numbers for him. Serefina wondered what Frank did, what part of the operation he ran. He seemed too nice for waste management, the dirtiest side. But then again, he was big enough to beat somebody and dispose of them. Calm enough, too. 


It was important to season your food. Salt, chili oil, sriracha, tabasco, tajín, old bay, garam masala, turmeric, lemon pepper, parmesan, gochujang, cayenne, paprika (for show), five spice, bay leaf, tabasco, garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, cardamom, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, saffron, coriander, rosemary, dill. Ethnic whites found a way to make it work for them. Variety, the spice of life; variety, the soul of wit. Variety, the champion of liberty and its only defense. 


Serafina went back to business the next day with a pep in her step. That’s what a good foot fucking could do for you. She pulled the purses she’d meant to ship yesterday out from under the bed and even wrote little notes to each client, signing them with a heart over the “i” in her name. She wasn’t meant to be a first wife, lifeless, sexless, depressing, dull. She was better than that. She could be something to someone without sacrificing a thing. 

“Alexa, play ‘Volare’ by Dean Martin,” she said, as she ground the beans for her coffee and put bread in the oven for toast. 

“Playing ‘Vogue’ by Madonna from Amazon Music.” 

“No, play ‘Volare’ by Dean Martin.” 

“Volare by Dean Martin is not available on demand. With Amazon Music, you can have access to a library of millions of songs by any artist, genre, and album, streamed directly from Prime. Would you like to start your free trial today?” 

“No,” said Serafina. “Alexa, shuffle songs by Dean Martin.” 

“Shuffling songs by Dean Martin from Amazon Music,” said Alexa. 

Com'è bella c'è la luna brille e' strette, she said. Strette com'è tutta bella a passeggiare…

Serafina swayed her hips. Did Frank have a cell phone? He must, but she couldn’t imagine what he would do with it. Maybe look up recipes or take photos of birds. When he left her apartment, he hadn’t added himself in her contacts, so she had no way of reaching him beyond knocking on his front door. 

On each lover's arm a girl I wish I knew, said Alexa. On an evening in Roma… Serafina  threw her wallet and keys in the bag. They could have a future together. Frank would pay her rent, keep her occupied, and furnish her life with a host of beautiful things. She could take his children on shopping trips without introducing them to her parents or sister. They would never have to see South Carolina, to know the backend of a hot summer, the air sitting heavy and unmoving like a soggy green grape whose skin has lost its give. She hated going back there—not because anything particularly bad had happened, but because it was boring. 

“Alexa, pause the music,” she said. But Alexa kept playing. Everybody loves somebody sometime, she said. Everybody falls in love somehow. 

“Alexa, turn off,” said Serafina. When she didn’t listen, she unplugged her, held down the power button, and threw her in the tote bag too. One more item on the to-do list before she passed all obligations off to someone else. 


The Supreme Court made it illegal to consider race as a factor in college admissions. It was okay to consider someone’s race as a function of how it shaped them as a human (i.e., made them strong, thoughtful, considerate, brave, or resilient), but not to consider their race alone. It was also still legal to consider whether an applicant’s parents had attended the institution evaluating them. So white people did not exist, except for in the past, which is how we picked the future. It made a lot of sense. 


He fucks my feet,” she told her friends. “It’s actually insanely hot.” 

Kayla had her cider. Soraya had her Dirty Shirley. Ashford had her Old Fashioned, and she  swished it in her cheeks when she drank.

“So how do you get off?” said Ashford. She was skeptical now. This was going too well. “Well, usually I’ll kind of get myself off while he does it,” said Serafina. “But like, I also finish a bunch during foreplay, so.” 

She’d told them it was a constant, almost nightly thing, when in reality, it had only happened a few times. But that didn’t matter. It was real. She had her own Tony, and with him, an occasion for being. 

“Are you gonna become a mob wife and wear furs?” Kayla said. “Honestly you would slay—I so see it for you.” 

“Or like a Juicy sweatsuit,” said Soraya. “OMG. We should order matching ones for Halloween this year.” 

“No,” said Ashford. “I thought we already decided we’re being Barbies this year?” Soon they would be thirty. 

“Anyway,” said Serafina, ignoring Ashford, “enough about me. What’s up with everyone else?” 

They slurped their drinks for a pregnant minute. 

“Let’s play a game,” said Ashford. She gnawed on her straw. “What’s one thing each of us should change about ourselves physically, and one thing we should change about ourselves psychologically?” 

“We play that game all the time,” said Kayla. “We all know the answers: Soraya needs a nose job and to get better at saying no; you need adult braces and to be more optimistic; Serafina needs to lose fifteen pounds and talk to her family; and I need to get my roots done and make more money.” 

There was a silence. They knew these things, and yet, to hear them again always gave a shock of sick pleasure. How nice to slim down your inadequacies—to isolate the ways you could begin again.

“Jesus, Kay,” said Ashford. “People change. It’s good to be introspective.”


Fifteen Things That Every Italian-American Will Remember. Things in My Italian-American Nonna’s House That Just Make Sense. Nineteen References in The Godfather That Only Italian-Americans Will Understand. 

You could make a living tasting different types of cheese on camera and calling yourself something like “Big Gnocchi.” Plenty of people figured it out. They sold t-shirts that said “Daddy’s Little Meatball” in red, green, and white, and cut them into crop tops for the models to wear ironically out to dinner on Mulberry. Little G-Strings that said “I <3 Italian Sausage.” Guiliani said Italians had bigger dicks than Jews because they used them more. De Blasio changed his name from Warren Wilhelm Jr. 

“Marone,” said a reality star, an important scholar of the subject, “Sicilians are actually African—we have more in common genetically with Sub-Saharan Africa than we do with Northern Italy. Capisce?” 

You could never lack culture so long as you could acquire it, seduce it, perhaps even give birth to it with the right charm and attitude. The important thing was, you had to understand: Italians were oppressed, too—even and especially when they were Czech, Croatian, Greek, or French. 


The day after her fourth time fucking Frank, Serafina rode the train to get Alexa fixed. The train was still an exciting affair. It had been the train that drew her to New York in the first place, the image of the train that made the whole city a real place in her head. In high school, her English class had read a book by James Baldwin, Another Country, and though Serafina never ended up finishing the whole thing, she always remembered a part from the beginning, right before Rufus jumped off the George Washington Bridge, where he rode the train uptown and watched the people change in comportment and complexion with every new stop. “He stood on the platform now,” Baldwin wrote, “alone with all these people, who were each of them alone, and waited, in acquired calmness, for the train.” 

When she was a kid, something about being alone among the other people was so enticing to her. In the South there was no place to be alone, because everyone knew you, and certainly no place to be alone with others, because you had to exchange pleasantries and hold the door open. You couldn’t stare and you probably wouldn’t want to. 

So on the train she felt fundamentally free. She could watch and be watched because they were all implicated in one another’s voyeurism, she and all these other people who chose, each day, to be alone together. It was so quiet as the train gathered speed that she felt the whole car would explode—she almost willed it to. There was a man swiping through hole pics on Grindr just to her right, crossing his legs and tilting his screen ever so slightly when he met her gaze. There was a Hasidic girl in her wig, pushing a two-babied stroller into the corner. There was a musician type in studded boots who wore their hair half-shaved and half-swooped.

They passed Clinton-Washington and pulled into Fulton, where Serafina exited. FedEx gave her boxes for everything and while she addressed them the clerk tried to chat her up and ask what she was doing with all those bags. She responded stiltedly; he was not Frank, and therefore he was of no interest. 


Did white people wash their legs in the shower? There was much debate on the topic. 


The Best Buy in the Atlantic Mall smelled like chalk. It was one of those now-useless stores that sat gathering dust—too big to be worth saving with a “shop local” campaign; too small to feasibly compete with the Amazons of the day. 

“How can I help you?” said a woman in a blue shirt, with matching streaks running through her braids. She was petite. Serafina felt her tallness and drew her shoulders down towards her stomach. 

“I, um,” she said. “I’m having some issues with my Alexa. And I just wondered if you guys would be able to look at it?” 

“Sure, no problem. You have it with you?” 

“Yeah, right here,” said Serafina. She started reaching into her bag. 

“Oh, no, I can’t look while I’m greeting people,” said the woman. “My colleague will look at it in the back.” 

“Oh, my bad.” 

“All good,” she said. “Just follow the signs for ‘Appliances.’” 

She walked back through walls of TVs that surrounded her on all sides. A football game was playing—an orange team and a red team. Serafina remembered it was not football season. It was a fake game, meant to show how clear the picture was, how you could make out each cheek of each player’s ass. All the screens were supposed to make the place seem futuristic, but only made it feel more dated, a time portal to another era. Who would go to an actual store and buy a TV in-person? It made no sense. The only people in the Best Buy were people like her, people with a problem that needed fixing. She gave a small nod to a couple across the aisle. One girl was carrying a laptop and had the red, matted face of someone who had been crying for hours. The other girl kept an arm around her even as they walked. They looked to be in college, attached at the hip in that college lesbian way, and Serafina felt sad for the way she knew this would end: with the crying one cheating to get out of her lover’s tight grip.  

She imagined that Tony was there in the store, picking up a new TV for his family or mistress. Or no, she thought. He wouldn’t go in and buy it at a store, even if he surely could afford to. A place like this was too sterile for him, full of clean lines. He would have Silvio or Christopher jack one for him, and then if Carmela asked any questions, he’d wink and say that they fell off the back of a truck. 

“Oh, hey kid,” someone said. “What are you doing here?” 

It was Frank. His stomach strained against his polyester blue polo. It looked to Serafina like it went on forever. One gigantic, synthetic ocean. What remained of his hair was slicked back past his ears. He smiled and his gold tooth found its light. 

“Frank?” said Serafina. 

“Fancy seeing you two places in twenty-four hours. And they say lightning doesn’t strike twice!” 

“That’s right,” she said. “What a coincidence.” Icky! She felt so icky! She let him fuck her feet! She wanted to shred the skin of her feet off with a cheese grater. “What can I help you with, my dear?” 

“You know what,” she said. “I’m such an idiot. I was gonna ask for help with my Alexa, but I think I must have left her at home.” 

She pulled the straps of her tote bag tighter toward herself. 

“What’s going on with Alexa? I can drop by and check her out on my way back from my shift—I know where you live after all,” he said, with a wink. 

“Oh, that’s okay,” she said. She looked for an exit. Perhaps there was a backdoor. Another way out than to turn on her heel. “I’ll just bring her back some other time.” 

“I don’t mind—” 

“No, I insist,” said Serafina, her breath coming faster now, like a confession; like an alibi. “Not necessary.” 

“Well, good to see you, sweetheart,” he said. Frank leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. He still smelled good. She felt deceived. He’d tricked her, by smelling like that, and saying those things. It was all she could do to keep from turning on her heels and sprinting away, already planning what she would tell her friends on the other side: that he had died, that he had slapped her in the face with a loaded pistol, that he had been put into witness protection for ratting on the family, anything but the godforsaken, mothafuckin’, cocksuckin’ truth. 

Leah Abrams is a Brooklyn-based writer originally from North Carolina. She is the co-host of Limousine, a reading series and podcast.