Miami's mysterious Meta Masquerade
(Commissioned by the Phantom of the Masquerade)
Happy Holidays! I just got back from Miami, where a mysterious benefactor invited me to join a soiree for cryptocurrency community leaders. All 250 guests at this Meta Masquerade wore real masks so that anonymous attendees could join without doxxing themselves. If you also attended the masquerade, fill out this form to be included in an upcoming NFT drop.
As for the rest, it will be up to you, dear readers, to decide which aspects of the evening’s tale are real and which are fantasies exaggerated by the intoxicating thrill of my first masquerade. 😈 🎭
It was a perfect December evening in Miami, warm and clear with the perfume of sea salt drifting all the way downtown to the elegant Gabriel Hotel. The evening involved a mysterious tournament of wits, where more than 10 people secretly had passwords that could unlock access to a VIP room. The only way to get those keys? To tell a juicy secret so valuable it compelled a keyholder to surrender one of his or her two guest keys. But with everyone wearing masks, and the keyholders’ identities unknown, the only way to try my hand at getting one of those keys was to chat with everyone and be scathingly vulnerable.
I joined the party early, as masked revelers were just starting to trickle in. The black-or-white dress code was pretty strictly enforced early on. The first woman I talked to wore white linen slacks with a fitted crop top and a long, sleek ponytail. She told me uses several online personas to express herself artistically while also protecting her professional reputation in the conservative fields of enterprise software and traditional finance. She told me over the past few years there’s been an influx of artists into cryptocurrency ecosystems, especially the local scene in Miami.
“There’s a reason this party is happening in Miami and not San Francisco,” she said.
This was a common sentiment. Post-pandemic, the tropical city’s cultural importance has only increased while Silicon Valley’s appeal wanes. The room pulsed with blue and purple lights as I walked away from her to meet another stranger. He was dressed in all black, nondescript clothes, simple and plain, plus a Guy Fawkes mask. The tall man told me he’s also been anonymous online since he joined the crypto space in 2017.
“Everything has moved to Miami or New York, away from SF,” he said.
It felt disorienting, even frightening, to speak with this tall stranger and have a conversation stripped of facial expressions and accountability. It was hard to hear each other over the music, which pulsed against my exposed décolletage, so he leaned in closer. For some reason my brain automatically replaced his real face with the leering plastic smirk and interpreted it as dangerous. Unease crept across my skin like a winter frost. But his voice was warm and his eyes were gentle. So I forced my shoulders to relax, my posture to unwind. After a few minutes, having no idea who he was no longer felt scary at all.
(Photos by Chris Bonilla)
By 7:30 pm the line of people waiting to get in snaked around the building. It was full of people wearing Bored Ape Yacht Club sweatshirts and t-shirts with slogans like “Looks Rare.” I asked one guy in a “Looks Rare” shirt when he first learned about NFTs. It was roughly two months ago. Since then he has launched several NFT projects using different online accounts and sold nearly $1 million worth of digital art. It was a pretty dramatic shift, considering he was broke and living in a monastery before that.
“My grandma is sick and now I can afford to help take care of her,” he said with a Castilian Spanish accent. “Now I work all the time and often go to bed at 9 am.”
We exchanged a few sentences in Spanish, clarifying how awful my Spanish is and how good his English is. (He learned English while being homeless in London as a teenager, then became a Buddhist when traveling in Korea.) Soon he split off to chat with friends wearing Squid Games masks. Nearby, a woman with a golden fox mask started dancing and a small crowd joined her in front of the DJ. I didn’t feel like dancing in my painful heels so I wandered over to the bar. After ordering a ginger ale from the bar, I went outside for some air.
Most people on the balcony had removed their masks for smoking cigarettes or to cool off. Out there I ran into a blue-haired woman with deep dimples who struck up a conversation with me about technology and poetry. We immediately connected and jumped to discussing dreams and fears rather than dwelling on generic small talk.
We eventually parted after my phone vibrated with a text. There was an NFT OG, let’s call her Sasha, which I’d only known online before who said she wanted to meet up tonight. When I went back in to look for her (quite the challenge with all these masks!), Optimism co-founder Ben Jones, aka Weird ETH Yankovic, roused the crowd with a cheeky rendition of his piano tunes. The lyrics went something like:
“Contract call reverted
You were sure the price won’t slip
Stay up late the market cap
keeps falling thought you bought the dip
Send transactions, pay for gas AND
go to sleep and miss the action.
Read about account abstraction
Don’t forget miner value extraction!
This is not trading advice but
Mortgage both your homes
crypto doesn’t have under-
Should you provide liquidity?
Take this quirky quiz
Vitalik premined all the ETH
to feed carbs to your kids”
Away from the dance floor, over by the bar closest to the entrance, a fire dancer clad in black feathers twirled flaming wands and dipped them down her throat. Meanwhile the NFT artist Alex Alpert (according to the signature on his canvas) drew abstract swirls on a horizontal canvas hanging across a wall in the center of the room, between the dual bar areas and the open floor.
Although I had no idea what Sasha looked like tonight, I didn’t see anyone waiting around by herself at the bar. So I joined a crowd of people entering the secret room in the back, which was finally open to all after the game of wits (described in the email image above) concluded and the password-protected meetings evolved into more dancing. (I never found out that secret password!) The back room had a chocolate fountain with berries and marshmallows. Groups of black-masked degenerates danced in front of the backroom’s DJ booth. (It wouldn’t be an Ethereum festival without exuberant dancing!) Then my phone buzzed again.
I texted Sasha to meet me at the chocolate fountain. She emerged from the crowd dressed like a vampire at a tea party, in a tiny fascinator hat and a black dress that had puffy cap sleeves. My internet friend was surprisingly beautiful, with silky hair and round red lips.
“Art Basel has been wild. I’m so glad to meet you here and to have a break from all this ‘NFTs will change the world’ talk,” she said. “And it’s like, calm down, bro, we’ve been here before.”
“Totally,” I agreed with her, rolling our eyes at the latest bull market’s hopium discourse.
“That’s what’s been so great about this party,” she added. “It’s been about connecting with other builders. We can skip all the hype and go straight to detailed discussions with people who are equally passionate and knowledgeable.”
I was impressed that Sasha was so articulate this late at night, when I was starting to curl into myself a little. We talked more until eventually, around 11 pm, the party ended and most people split into their distinct afterparty caravans. All things considered, for me this event showcased why some people are so optimistic about Ethereum. There are countless challenges ahead of that movement, but there’s also good vibes all the way down.
Well, that’s it for this December adventure! Next I’ll be co-hosting a Des Femmes Magazine launch chat via Twitter Spaces on December 15th to share all the juicy details about our print magazine launch and community offerings. Be sure to tune in there if you want to learn more! And let me know in the comments (or via email) what you’d like this newsletter to cover in 2022. The possibilities are endless.
Until next time, take care everybody!