Sunday, October 3, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Sasha found Martin’s apartment on a Craigslist classified ad. The ad said: Lots of space, easy roommate. It was listed in Bushwick where rent was ideal for Sasha, who liked to talk about how she needed a cheap apartment but would never rent one in any worse a neighborhood than Bushwick, for example.
I am also easy, she wrote back in an email, and she was often told Martin replied that he would like to have an interview first. His email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. They arranged to meet at The Blue Stove in Williamsburg, which had Sasha’s, and also Mary Louise Parker’s favorite pie. Sasha said in her email reply that to miss the apricot-nectarine would “be a sin.” She had never tried any other flavor so she couldn’t speak for them.
Martin looked too young to be holding interviews. He had a big head, a baby’s head, and a pink, hairless face, one that probably never needed to be shaved. His pupils were very big and black but she didn’t know what it was, what drug.
Over pie, although the apricot-nectarine was out and so they had strawberry rhubarb instead which was still good, Martin discussed logistics.
“Are you OK with late night things, drinking smoking, people, cats,” he said, throwing his hands around a lot. Sasha said that she was OK with all these things, and what cigarette brand did he smoke? They should buy in bulk. Martin said that he smoked American Spirits because other cigarettes kill.
“Me too,” Sasha lied. “I love the yellow packs,” even though she didn’t smoke enough to qualify as “a smoker,” and when she did she cadged them without discretion for brand, drunk and highly aware of her exhales. In fact maybe she did have a problem with living with a smoker but she didn’t give herself enough time to decide.
“No because then I will probably end up owing you money,” Martin said. “You don’t want to do that.”
Often Sasha did things that caused her to be owed the kind of money that is never really paid back: funding a case of beer for a party, stopping at the store for limes or chasers, over-tipping the cab driver on nights when her friends bounced drunk in the backseat with their thighs touching. The totals were never so big alone. Sometimes she put them on her parents’ credit card, waiving contributions with a flip of her hand, forgetting about the expense soon after. Her parents had a joint account.
Martin was wearing a t-shirt that said TWINS and had a girl stick figure on it.
“Are you a twin?” Sasha asked.
“This?” Martin said, pulling on his shirt to get a better look. “No this is a band. You’ll come to realize I basically am obsessed with this band.”
Sasha tried to think of things she was obsessed with to match Martin’s obsession. She couldn’t which made her feel a little inadequate, and instead replied that she would like to hear Twins, even though she was relatively sure, based on Martin’s rosacea and badly-parted hair (middle), and other things like how he had to print out a Google map to find Graham Avenue, that she wouldn’t like his music. He ate his pie exactly the way she reserved for eating a pie, or anything else, in solitude: savagely.
“Don’t worry, you will,” he said, his words blocked by perpetual mouthfuls. Sasha took this to mean that the interview was over, and he finished his pie (She couldn’t finish hers even though she always could. What was it with appetites and strangers?), while she thought about whether she would offer to pay for his or not, and then they paid separately and Sasha thought about what a big mistake she was probably making moving in with someone like Martin. She also wished she was a little high like him.
“That was delicious pie,” Martin said as they left and the door jangled behind them and the sun crashed down on them.
“Isn’t it?” Sasha said. “It’s the best pie.”
“It’s really good,” Martin said.
“Right?” Sasha said. “It is seriously the greatest. Everyone should always eat there.”
“I’ll have to remember it,” Martin said.
“I can write it down for you,” said Sasha, searching for a pen she knew didn’t exist.
“Yeah it’s so good.” She always made things less good by talking about how good they were and she knew this but she also knew that colloquial space often needed crowding. Like big tips, relief from silence was one of Sasha’s major contributions to the world.
“I need to get my things,” Sasha said, as they descended into the subway station, which was full of hot hair. Then she asked if he had a job.
“Yes and no,” Martin said. “I manage Twins, but I’m not paid, not yet.”
“That sucks,” said Sasha.
“It’s okay. We’re going to get big. And I watch cats and I get paid to do that.”
They walked from the subway (more warm wind as the train sped off) to Sasha’s now ex-apartment in Harlem and looked up at it from the hot black street. Her sublet was up, and mean neighbors anyway.
“Do you want help?” Martin asked.
“That’s OK,” Sasha lied.
Martin waited outside in the bright heat for about a half hour while she jammed her things into suitcases and trash-bags. She made four trips and panted sweat-soaked on the curb while Martin sat on her front steps wearing headphones. Once outside for good, Sasha shaded her eyes with her hand and tried to look as annoyed as a polite person could, but it just looked like squinting, which was required anyway given their position relative to the sun. She hailed a cab and threw the bags into the trunk, and Martin stooped in the backseat after her, music blaring into his ears only — what sounded from the outside suspiciously like stadium rock — and she watched her apartment and her Harlem diminish in the sunlight at a rate of 35 miles per hour.
The new building, Martin’s building, was big and grey, with intricate tiling on the floor and otherwise no decoration. Sasha paid the cab driver extra to split the load up the stairs.
“Sorry about the walkup,” Martin said, jogging ahead without any bags.
Sasha kept asking the cab driver if he was OK even though he was much stronger, and then she paid him almost double what she promised.
“Thank you and have a great day,” he said.
“OK,” said Sasha.
A cat stood expecting them at the door, number 20, black and white and the whole apartment filled with its hairy smell, which went nowhere in the blanketing heat. Some cat food sweated on a plate by the refrigerator. The kitchen was entirely white and cluttered with caked-over dishes (Cat food?). Martin didn’t apologize for the mess, but pointed at the cat. “He’ll be here for the next three weeks,” he said.
“It’s not yours?” Sasha asked, stooping down to pet the cat, though she liked cats about as much as she liked rugs or tables. (You ruled dogs, cats ruled you, she thought, etcetera.) The cat scraped its skinny head against her knee. Martin explained that to make his job and/or life easier, he brought any pets he was looking after to his apartment instead of keeping them at their own.
“Are people OK with that?”
“They have no idea,” he said, blasting on the air conditioner and taking an ice cube to his pink forehead, and she felt annoyed enough by all these things that she said she was going to take a nap and she shut herself in her new room. She didn’t like unfairness unless it was directly in her favor and then she didn’t mind. Like everyone else. Nothing furnished the room and she sat for a while on the sheetless twin bed and looked at her blank walls and wondered what she was going to do about things, in general.
A week into the arrangement, on a Friday after work, Sasha called her friend Ani on the phone.
“He is so disgusting,” she said to Ani, her ear sweating against the hot phone.
“What does he do?”
“I get up and he’s sleeping! I go to bed and he’s out!”
“He gets paid to do nothing! I feed the cats sometimes! And I think he gets paid more than I do!”
Ani was in Los Angeles visiting her boyfriend and had to go, so Sasha hung up the phone, unsatisfied. She sat on the couch with Martin and he offered her methadone in tablet form. Twins was blasting in all its usual arena-rock glory. It was the kind of music Sasha despised because of its grave inoffensiveness, and predictability, and general fan following.
“OK,” she said, feeling weird in her work clothes.
“Where do you work?” Martin asked, watching her untuck her shirt. His scalp sweated at the roots.
“You don’t know where I work?” Sasha said.
“I work in the Meatpacking District,” she said.
“That’s not what I meant,” Martin said. “But I also didn’t know that.”
“You don’t know what I do?” Sasha said.
“I work for Diane von Furstenburg.”
“Is that just your boss?”
“Oh. Just a firm or something?” Martin said casually. He offered her a bite of his sandwich.
“I’m a vegetarian,” Sasha said, though she often ate meat when alone.
“Me too,” Martin said, handing her the sandwich. He ate a lot for a vegetarian, and he was fat for one too.
“No thanks,” Sasha said, but it looked good. She guessed he ate meat secretly too.
Weekends Sasha resigned to sitting with Martin in their clammy living room, watching cartoons with the sound off. They’d watch on Sasha’s Macbook. Martin would blare Twins in the background of the cartoon, which worked especially well over Scooby Doo, the slapstick and ghost chases strangely synchronized with the cheap hooks, easy choruses, etcetera. It was arena rock. Sometimes Francesca who played guitar for Twins would come over, and the three of them would hold onto a high through the whole weekend, watching the cartoons, the same four or five over and over, with different songs playing in the background, losing their appetites together. At first Sasha felt weirdly star-struck around Francesca but then she looked at their Myspace page and there were 540 listens total. Francesca liked to put on Li’l Wayne as the soundtrack to all those cartoons. They seemed to move faster that way. She was one of those white girls who liked Li’l Wayne.
“He’s hilarious,” Francesca would say. She made up one third of Twins. The other two, a boy named Berkley who drummed and another boy named Carl who did something else, would come over less often, and usually so late that Sasha had already fallen asleep. They stayed up late drinking beers but never Sasha’s so she felt she had no good reason to be all edgy about things.
“You should come to a show sometime,” Francesca would say.
“Yeah,” Sasha would say, having no intention of going to a show sometime.
“Do it before we get huge and you get left in the dust,” Martin said seriously. He always included himself in the band; he talked about Twins like both parts of married couple talk about themselves: “We are free this afternoon,” “We will bring beer,” “We are doing well.” Sasha would watch him air-drum in the living room from her bedroom to all these Twins songs like he was waiting for Carl to age fast and die and then he’d be the hero to take over percussion.
Martin was always waiting around for Twins. He was waiting to be a big part of a band that was trying to be a big part of music that was trying to be a big part of the people’s worlds and feelings. Arena rock was the biggest way to be. And they weren’t showing any signs of waiting for him back.
Once, Francesca crept out of Martin’s room around the time Sasha was coming out of the shower with steam falling off her, before work. Sasha made a mental note to ask Martin later if Francesca was his girlfriend, because it seemed like something she should have known ahead of time. She emailed Ani from work, before asking him that evening, to make sure it was reasonable to ask and feel annoyed about, which Ani agreed it was.
“Not really,” Martin replied. “Neither of us is really in the place for a relationship right now.” Besides never having understood what it means to not be in a place for something like a relationship, Sasha felt fiercely angry that there was nothing to be fiercely angry about.
“Do you want to go to Body Worlds with me?” Martin asked.
“I don’t know,” Sasha said, and she went into her room, and ordered Thai food, and after she was done she let Martin and Francesca eat the leftovers. From behind her bedroom door, she heard Francesca talk about how she was “interested in people,” not just men or just women.
It was a Thursday when Martin convinced Sasha to skip work and come to Body Worlds on methadone and Francesca couldn’t come. Sasha put both tickets on her parents’ card because she hadn’t yet paid for any of the drugs and had a nagging feeling about it. Martin agreed this was fair. After a short, glazed-over woman ripped his ticket in half, he let the other half float into a nearby garbage can. Sasha eyed him severely.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing,” she said, remembering that she only recycled when it was convenient. Bodies, whole and not, jutted from glass cases and corners of walls. A lot of them were playing sports with their brains out. These were the opposite of mannequins, an insides-only exhibit that made her feel both very embarrassed about her body and very happy for her skin. She pictured the basketball-playing corpse in a mohair suit.
“Isn’t it insane?” Martin said. He pointed to a body — a woman’s body with circles of white fat for breasts — and said: “That’s all we are.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“That’s what’s inside.” He stood outstretched like the Vitruvian Man. The thought of any sameness between them caused Sasha to fold into herself, slightly, to scan the exhibit confines for some stray sweater she might put on. She comforted herself by thinking of the differences in their bodies. There were a lot. “There are also neurons, DNA, etcetera etcetera,” she said and then looked at Martin for confirmation of the fact. He beamed. “What is your favorite part,” he said.
“What? I don’t know.”
“Come on.” He pointed at a tangle of muscles hula-hooping, ass out, and said, “I like the large intestine and also the penis.”
“Gross,” said Sasha, who also liked the penis.
These bodies were sexless though, literally stripped of any former sensual appeal, glabrous pink muscles and eyeballs without lids. She thought of how disgusting the human body was, after all.
A Hasid, the only other person in the room at that exact time, stood looking at the red-dyed insides of a piglet for a long time.
“You think we’re the same?” Sasha said to him.
“We are all staring at God,” the Hasid said.
Because someone was needlessly cleaning the women’s bathroom, Sasha followed Martin into the men’s where there were floor-to-ceiling ceramic urinals and a dozen stalls. They were the only people and she couldn’t piss with him there.
“You’re not peeing,” he said, peeing loudly into the bowl.
“Yes I am,” she said, outraged and not peeing.
They left the bathroom and she felt too angry and mortified to speak.
When they got home, all three Twins were there sitting on their gross couch with their hands sweating on their thighs.
“You tell him,” Carl said to the air conditioner. Carl was a shrimpy boy-man with little shoulders and an already-graying, overgrown beard. He was always shrugging and looking victimized, his clothes too big, everything else also too big.
“No I don’t want to,” Berkley said. “Someone else.”
That left it up to Francesca to tell Martin that Twins was breaking up for good. The reasons were: “We are too big,” (Physically? Sasha thought, standing in the threshold) but also “Things are tense between all of us” (“undeniably,” agreed Carl), and also Francesca was moving to “somewhere” in “The South” because “there are good opportunities for musicians there.” The cat cried in accord and then swatted at its empty dish.
First Martin tried to convince the three of them that he could take Francesca’s spot and then he said he’d go to The South with her (Was he in love with her? Sasha mused) and then she thought he was ready to throw himself out the window. Francesca lit a cigarette.
“Not in front of the cat!” Martin cried, snatching it from between her fingers, which made everyone feel very weird. He kicked the refrigerator and they all sulked home and were not invited back, not ever again, unless they changed their minds.
“Gutted,” he said to Sasha later. He was drinking cold medicine right from the bottle, but Sasha couldn’t go that far. For one, she had work the next morning. “I feel like a gutted human.” She wondered about his insides, what they looked like.
At work the next day Sasha ate lunch just like every other day with the other intern, Molly. She liked talking to Molly because it was the easiest thing in the whole world. She could be talking to Molly and thinking about something else. Molly had painted-on eyebrows and three stock responses to any given piece of information: “That’s so random,” “That’s hilarious,” and “That’s so funny.” Mostly there was no real discretion in terms of which one Molly picked, or any distinction between what provoked the latter two.
“My roommate’s band broke up,” Sasha said, thinking of how happy Martin would be to know that she referred to Twins as his band. There was some loyalty, however begrudgingly she admitted it. In fact there was a lot. Once when she tumbled home drunk and high and wet from a spewing fire hydrant, Martin had wrapped her in his beach towel and set her on the couch and turned on Invasion of the Body Snatchers which was exactly how she fell asleep and woke up with the DVD menu spinning over and over again and Martin gone to watch Twins rehearse. He never brought it up later. “Isn’t that weird?” she had said to Ani, who agreed it was weird, but really Sasha thought it was very nice.
“That’s hilarious,” Molly said, cutting into a Caesar salad with chicken on top of it.
“Yeah,” Sasha said, thinking about how unhilarious it was. It was maybe the least hilarious thing that happened to Martin. “The main girl,” Sasha said, “the lead guitar, is moving to The South.” She wondered why she was talking. Sometimes she would start a conversation with Molly and then get bored and abandon it midway through.
“What?” Molly said. “That’s so random.”
“She’s just moving to The South? Just like, moving there?”
“So she’s going to just pack up and move there. That’s so funny.” Molly tied the laces on a mannequin’s boat shoes and tucked a handkerchief into his pocket. He looked fantastic. He looked ridiculous. He had no orifices, nose, mouth, penis and here was this handkerchief covering his heart. Molly didn’t know Francesca, so how could she know what was so funny?
They, Martin and Sasha, were spinning on methadone when Martin crept into Sasha’s bedroom. The light outside was summer light meaning it never got as dark as it should and though it was eight o’clock the blue outside was like a chlorinated pool, the most shocking color that existed in that moment in Brooklyn. He was wearing plaid boxers and no shirt. “Look,” he said, and she did. He was just another body. He wasn’t even fat enough to be the fat example of a human at Body Worlds. He didn’t even have that. He seemed to be waiting for her to say he should take his boxers off next, but then what in the world would he have?
He didn’t. He stood there just needing something and he didn’t know what. Sasha reached over to her computer and they sat on her bed and watched Scooby Doo with Li’l Wayne playing in the background. It wasn’t as good as Twins.
“What have you been up to?” she said, thinking about what she had been up to, which is what she did when she felt uncomfortable. Martin turned to her. “You shouldn’t ask that.”
“Are we all just all supposed to have something stored up for every time someone asks?”
“Is that so bad?”
“It’s individualistic. It’s just daily accomplishments pitted against each other. Doesn’t that make you nervous?”
“I’m nervous,” Sasha said, though she couldn’t say why.
In the morning she took the train to Langone Medical Center on First Avenue and donated her body to science. There were a lot of forms.
“For when I die,” she clarified.
“It’s free,” a man said who was in charge of the forms. He handed her a thick plastic card with her name on it. His voice was so soft she had to lean in and he used a lot of eye contact and Sasha got the feeling he thought she was about to jump in front of a train. This procedure was for old people, people who were ready to die or already pretty much dead. Behind all that glass, with her ligaments and organs tucked into shapes, she didn’t know how else she could be.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Everyone here is either edging the grave or digging them for everyone else in the room. Of the latter, there are numerous attractive, hip lesbian couples. At the door, one particularly olive-skinned brunette in a dreadlock tam and a smoke-washed vest kisses her girlfriend on the cheek; their joy is a poison I envy.
They settle on the floor, in the circle of young people that has grown like a branch from the semicircle of chairs where the elderly wait. One of the librarians wears her bald spot like a badge of honor; again, pride comes to my mind without any resonance.
The young ones look the way I’d expect them to. Cocky in brown pleather jackets from Goodwill, men so ordered in their scruffiness that it must be planned. Boys playing dress-up in white Oxford shirts, girls with too much Amazon green eyeshadow, busting because they can from polyester dresses that no one would have the gall to sell. A pale girl with big red hair and painted-on eyebrows looks like an anime character, and indeed, she will read a poem about it.
The host of the panel is a young man who doesn’t realize he should be trying to hide his California accent. It betrays him, causes people like me realize his life would probably make much more sense if he was a surfer or a computer tech like the rest of them. Instead he has straight, shoulder-length hair; the long part in front is bobby-pinned back. He wears a plaid bowtie and high-waisted khakis from 1974. It is clear that he has been fooled into believing that the getup makes him cooler. It is clear that he knows he is not cool at all. I feel bad for him, even though I admire him for having the guts not to shave his head and expose the not-half-bad guy underneath. It would be so easy, and that’s what gets me, every time.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Patsy Amen scratched the back of her head, cow-licking her hair. “So,” she said, “the last train comes in ten minutes.”
“OK,” Jack said. “Do you want to go now?”
“Well,” she said. She examined her knees.
“I can drive you back,” he said, though that was the last thing he wanted to do.
“I can’t decide,” she said. Jack thought he was hardly the person to make the decision. He wanted her to sleep over but also didn’t really want to drive her back, especially not to campus, where he might see people who knew him, or worse, who knew Hannah, who might talk to Hannah.
“Who’s that?” Patsy asked with her chin pointing to a three-by-five photo of a German Shepard scotch-taped to his wall.
“My dog, Athos.”
“Athos, that’s like a type of rhetoric.”
“I guess I’ll take the ride.”
“If you’re still offering.”
Jack grabbed his rain jacket from the floor, brushed it off, and they sulked out the door.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Two men sat on a bench at the end of the world, staring out at the endless black void that lay in front of them.
After several moments in silence, the first man spoke up.
“You know what I always hated?”
“I hated the way blueberry seeds could get stuck in your teeth, you know? I never liked eating them; the wife always bought them, so I felt the need to. Just awful.”
“She never listened to me when I told her about this. Never really listened at all. She always had trouble hearing me. Bit of a bitch.”
“I hear you.”
“At least someone does. Thank God. I spend my whole life trying to find someone to just sit and listen to me. That’s doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right? Feel like that’s just something everyone expects to find at some point. Someone who listens… and doesn’t expect you to eat crap that you don’t want to. Like blueberries.”
“Used to like blueberries.”
“Well, that makes one of us, doesn’t it? I’d rather drink my own sweat than have to suffer through those.”
A large chunk of the ground near the two men broke off. They heard it hit the limitless cliff once. Twice. Three times before it stops making a sound. They both knew it was still falling.
The first man got up, a look of controlled panic spread across his face.
“I think we should finish this somewhere else. Time to head towards safer waters, you know?”
“Going to stay here a little bit longer. Want some quiet.”
The first man looked at him for a second, unsure what could be said. His hand lingered on the bench. It waited for him to reach out, to follow. It did not happen. He left the second man sitting by himself.
He decided not to say goodbye. Too final for his liking. Best to leave it open for future development.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Ruby was always telling me that I “needed to carpe diem more often.” She got her driver's license earlier than me, not because she was older but because I'd had to wait for my permit until my dad decided my parallel parking skills were satisfactory. Anyway, he came rushing out after me as I was getting into Ruby's station-wagon. “Dude,” she said, “go back to work.” As if he'd heard her, he turned, defeated, and walked back into blockbuster. “Loser, she said, scraping the car's low engine on a speedbump. She turned to me. “Good job anyway. I told you that you should wear that purple eye shadow more often.” I didn't even bother to protest with my normal argument, that my mother only approved of makeup with “neutral tones.”
I was pretty surprised when he popped up in Wendy's half an hour later. But I don't really know why I was so surprised, because we went to the Wendy's right across the street from blockbuster. The guy who served us stared at Ruby the whole time, which made everything feel normal again. I was stirring my frosty so it would melt faster when the guy walked in. “You,” shouted Ruby in his direction before I could say a word. “Come sit with us!” So he did, without ordering anything, but he kept looking at our food like maybe he was really hungry.
“I'm not gonna finish my fries, if you want them,” I said. Well, he clearly thought that I was offering him something else, because immediately I felt his sweaty hand come to rest on my knee under the table. I had jeans on, so I guess I can't really say that it was sweaty. But I had a feeling that it was.
The next part could only have been more painful if his fifteen-year-old voice had actually cracked while saying it. “Can I talk to you for a sec?” he asked me. Ruby kicked me under the table before I could craft my refusal. Miserably, I followed him out the door of the wendy's. When I glanced back at Ruby, she mouthed “Do It!” to me. I rolled my eyes. When we got outside, he avoided the chewing gum on the sidewalk so carefully that his walking looked like hopping around. I sat down on the curb, unwilling to leave the immediate vicinity.
“I just wanted to know if maybe I could get your phone number or something,” he said, a little more bravely.
“You couldn't have asked that in front of her?” I asked, before I could stop myself. He looked embarrassed.
“Is that a no?”
“Yes,” I said, not meeting his eyes.
There was a long pause. Then, “yes, like yes I can have it, or yes like, yes that was a no?”
“Um,” I said, “the second one.”
“Well, do you at least wanna talk or somethin'?” he asked me. I didn't, but the idea of saying so felt so cruel. I couldn't quite get it out, despite the fierceness with which I wanted to escape this clear-skinned but nevertheless dorky blockbuster employee.
“Do you think my eyeshadow looks good?” I blurted out. It was the only thing that had been on my mind in the moments before he'd come in. He didn't say anything. “It's just that my mom thinks I only look good in neutral tones – that means like brown and white and stuff – but Ruby – that's my friend in there – she likes purple because she says it looks pretty...”
“I think it looks beautiful,” he said sincerely. “You are just very beautiful.” Between cringes, I realized that he must mean it. Unable to help myself, I grinned, glancing at my reflection in a nearby puddle once, and then again.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Walking home down Church, she glanced to her left and expected to see her reflection. Owlish eyes, pale skin, lank hair. Instead, there was no window—only a crosshatch of iron bars fronting a damp, closed yard and a stunted palm tree.
Missing her face gave her pause. The palm tree waved its withered fronds her way. Whoever had planted it must have known it would die before it ever hit the ceiling. It would not break free. It would thirst. It would die, and no amount of looking on with pity would save it.
She swallowed, tasted vinegar, and tongued a sour shred of lettuce from her teeth. The limpness of it brought a scowl to her face, and when a man opened the exit door behind the palm tree to leave for work, he thought she was looking at him. Blushing—for what, he didn’t know— he self-consciously combed his fingers through his hair. She turned abruptly to leave. A lost, dried-up frond wobbled in the wind at the base of the gate, like an amputated arm waving goodbye to home.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
“How in the fuck is DvF,” she says, reaching across the table, gripping me by my forearms. She’s talking about Diane von Furstenburg, where I’ve spent my summer as an intern.
“Nuts,” I say. This is sort of true. There are moments. Mostly though, it’s just a nine-to-five job. Like hers, probably. I tell her my best stories: Diane von Furstenburg passing by my desk, cocking an eyebrow at my canvass shoes; Diane von Furstenburg screaming at an ad-man about green dax shorts in her glassy office; Diane von Furstenburg announcing the Fall line in a room I wasn’t in, but heard about, the next day. Deco prints were involved.
I’m making money and living here and that’s what matters. I don’t know about Deco prints, but I’m learning. A guy sitting next to Nelly in fat-rimmed glasses and a red beard says, “Are you in school?”
“She gets to talk to Vera Wang,” Ani calls to him across the table. “Not to mention Marc Jacobs, and — who was it again?”
“I don’t know,” I say, even though I know she’s talking about Christan LaCroix.
“Was it Armani?” she says too loudly.
“No,” I say.
“Who was it?”
“Christian LaCroix,” she cries. “This motherfucker gets to talk to Christian LaCroix.” Nelly’s eyes widen. She’s beautiful. “About what?” she says in a way that is more cross-examining than questioning, more starving than curious.
“Clothes,” I say. I accept the beer she pours from a pale pitcher and she tells me that my job is impressive. My job has made an impression.
Some thunder cracks and we all cover our heads with ineffectual hands while the storm clouds piss down on us. Once frantically inside, we blink away the rain and Ani spots about twenty more people she knows. One of them is Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, who I recognize immediately. She’s still pretty in an older sort of way. “That’s Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth,” Ani says to me, pointing.
Beyond Kim Gordon is Ani’s cousin, Sadie, who I have never met but have heard a lot about from Ani. The two of them share a brownstone in the Lower East Side and Ani was expecting to hate living with her because they “run in different circles,” but actually they get along great, she keeps telling me.
One drink in, I start to feel good about what I’m doing. I realize I have a good job that people want to hear about. It is an impressive job. Ani throws me at Sadie and says, “I always thought you two would like each other.” Then she threads her way through damp and dry bodies to the bar, brings me a vodka tonic, and pulls the three of us into a group hug before teetering off again.
In what feels like backwards order, Sadie and I say hi to each other and I ask if she lives here even though I know she lives here. She tells me she shares a brownstone on the Lower East Side with Ani and that it is great, that they’re getting along so well. I ask her what she does and she says she works for the Department of Defense. Now I remember that I knew this already. I ask her how she managed to stay in Manhattan and work for the Defense. She gives me a long answer that I can’t remember, but it leads to a ticking off of her credentials: Princeton, then a year off, then LSATs and Yale Law in the fall. I can’t think of how I’ll bring up Diane von Furstenberg but it’s becoming more urgent. Sadie’s wearing Chelsea Boots.
“Are those Chelsea boots?” I ask. She says they are, and kicks her toe into the checkered floor. I finish my drink.
“Yeah,” I say. “I’ve really been noticing boots lately.”
“Are you looking for a pair?” she says, scanning the crowd behind me.
“Well I guess you could say that.”
“I work for Diane von Furstenburg,” I say, looking off, “so I’m weirdly always on the lookout.”
“Oh, cool, I know her.”
“You know her?” How could she know her? I hate when they know her.
“I mean, I know of her.”
In fact a lot of people know of Diane von Furstenburg (or “Diane,” as I refer to her tonight, even though I have never, do never, and would never), and as I move through more drinks and more minutes, all are impressed with my assistant-to-the-designer status. Some are asking me what she’s like, and they’re pushing up their big glasses, adjusting their high skirts and re-cuffing their cigarette pants while they listen and people-watch behind my shoulder. They ask where Bates College is in relation to Princeton. As is the case for the rest of the little trying schools, we know Princeton but Princeton doesn’t know us.
I get a few peoples’ cards. I complain about parts of my job that aren’t actually bad. I don’t want to boast, but I want to boast. I wish I had my own cards to give out, but at the same time, it might be cooler to them that I don’t.
At the bar I order two more pissy beers and talk to two more people, both recent graduates from Princeton’s engineering program. They stumble through gritty job descriptions and I fall into a euphoric sense of pride. I didn’t go to Princeton. I don’t know of their bosses, and they know of mine. I like being from a school they’ve never heard about.
One is telling me about how he does engineering work for the Marines, about how they’re actually engineering real invisibility cloaks out of some skin ointment that deflects some range in the color spectrum, and how the Marines are about to become invisible, when Ani falls from an unknown direction into our conversation. She looks at the engineers, whose names are Joseph and Erica, or else Eric and Josie, and says too loudly, “I don’t know these people.”
“Oh,” I say. They look blindly on to the bar.
“Blow-blow in five,” she says at normal speaking volume into my ear, indicating with a scrunching little finger a table of people in the corner. One of them is the bartender. They’ve got their credit cards and dollar bills out. Some of them have their shirts off and they all have the same hairy, concave chests. I say I can’t but I do a line to humor her and catch a better glimpse of Kim Gordon – she looks the same close up as she does far away – and ebb my way to the door.Exactly halfway between the East River Bar and my Grand Street apartment, there’s a fire hydrant cracked open, flooding cars in a few impressive inches of water. Behind the hydrant, there’s a guy directing the flow at anyone who dares to cross the street. Some people are really angry and try to come up to him and give him a piece of their minds, but he just hoses them down and laughs. He keeps saying “It’s motherfucking August!” I think it’s kind of funny too, but I also know I’m about to be one of them. One of the Drenched People. I don’t know whose side to take, but either way, bee-lining down the cross-walk, I don’t go unnoticed, and for the second half of my walk, my clothes are stuck to my skin with icy water. I feel like I need a shower but it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.
“I just moved,” I say. “To the seventh floor.” I tell him I can get him shrooms even though I don’t know anyone with shrooms. He tells me he doesn’t want me to fake on him, that he really wants to try shrooms, and I promise him. I don’t know why.
“Where’d you move from.”
“Philly,” I lie.
“Philly?” he says. “My friend grew up in Philly. His dad works there now.”
We nod at each other, or to ourselves, for a little while. I say, “What about you.”
“Apartment 16,” he says, pointing next door.
“No shit,” I say.
“Are you serious?”
“Why, how old did you think I was?” he says, beaming still. His teeth are tiny. In fact Markus looks exactly twenty-three. He doesn’t know my surprise isn’t about his age. Something makes me think I should keep it that way. “Twenty-two,” I say.
Natalie’s handing me the joint. She hasn’t said anything for a while. I say, “You too?”
“By yourself?” I say.
“With my grandma. But my who family is always over here.”
“It’s a nice building, I say. “I like the roof.” From the roof you can see as far as mid-town and all the way to Bergen Beach.
“I can’t complain,” she says, not in a complaining sort of way.
She’s stuck on the blunt approximately three times longer than I am each time we pass. She holds it in longer, too. I get the impression she has no interest in talking. She’s trying to burn through the joint as slow and as fast as possible.
“Know what I’m saying,” Markus says, even though he hasn’t said anything. “I’m gonna be a marine.”
“Yeah, a marine.”
“I hear being a Marine is the most intense. Like worse than the army.”
“First ones called for duty.”
“Yeah,” I say. I didn’t know that. I don’t know anything about the marines besides that my friend Brianna’s boyfriend had smoked too many cigarettes to make it through boot camp.
“I’m just saving up because I’m gonna move to L.A,” Markus says.
“Yeah, Los Angeles. I’m the kind of guy who likes to move around a lot,” he says with his back against the door to his apartment, grinning. “Know what I’m saying? I can’t stay in one place too long.” He looks at the burning roach the way a freshly-recruited vegetarian looks at a piece of bacon.
The first white guy I’ve seen in the building is pulling his bike up the stairway, panting through the stale haze. Natalie’s peering down at him from her perch on the stairs, hiding the blunt behind her back, and the smoke’s spilling over her shoulder. The white guy’s actually getting fuzzier as he gets closer. I stick my new weed in my back pocket just in case, like he’s going to mistake the sour smoke for fog.
“My man,” Markus says, nodding at the biker.
“Sup, Mark,” he says. He goes inside his apartment. Natalie’s eyes, two red slits, linger on his door.
“I deal to everyone in this building,” Markus says, beaming. I know this isn’t true because my roommate is an Austrian woman, forty years old, who hates the smell. But that’s just one person. Sometimes you exaggerate.
“I think I need to shower,” I say. “But it doesn’t really make sense when I think about it.” I think I catch Natalie smiling but it fades so fast I don't even know for sure. All I’m thinking is, I hope to God they don’t ask me why I’m here for the summer, flitting in and out of their permanent home like some brazen hummingbird.
“How long you staying,” Natalie asks.
“Through the fall,” I say, even though it’s only through the summer. It makes it sound less like a summer vacation.
“How come,” Natalie says. She hasn’t looked at me once.
“I’m working,” I say.
“Where at,” she says.
I tell her I can’t help her out any more with the blunt, that I think we might be inhabiting two different universes right now. She takes in the rest of the joint in one inhale and says, “Damn right.”
“Creatures of Habit”
Laura rides the L train to Taraval every weekday. I know her name because her keychain says “Laura.” The “a” curls tenuously around the “u” in a wistful, evasive way.
There are three keys on her keychain; one silver, two gold, one tarnished. Today I am sitting next to her, in a red two-seater braced against the windows. Her thumb and forefinger knead her purse strap.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see into her bag. She carries it high on her shoulder, like a boxcar runaway— the barefoot ones with all their possessions trapped in a handkerchief at the end of a stick.
On a second key ring hang a bottle opener for a rape crisis center and a miniature pen with a broken nub. The pen still works. I have seen her use it to write in a leather notepad. But sometimes the pen bleeds. Whenever she sees the blue mottling the lining of her bag, she curses as if she’d forgotten it was wounded.
To my memory, the pen has only bled four times in the three months since I started seeing her. Seeing her, as in, viewing her. Like the way shoppers see cubed steak through a butcher’s glass. Not seeing her with bouquets of gerbera daisies or horse carriage rides in Golden Gate Park.
Many times I close my eyes and play pretend. The MUNI breaks down, the electricity expires, and in the dark tunnel, just for a moment, I rest my palm on her thigh. No sensations of skin-on-skin, none needed.
She would never know that the tentative weight on her thigh was not her bag. And I would finally feel guiltless, justified in being so close to anyone since Marion’s death. Since I left Marion before she died eight years ago, more like.
Memory draws my mouth into a grimace. Everyone sits stoically or stands with knees bent to catch the waves of the subway car. Some clickety-clack their fingers on their laptops. Others bounce their heads to music that only they can hear.
A few chairs behind us, a homeless man rants to no one in particular. “Fucking police wake a man up at four o’clock in the fucking morning. Four o’clock, can you fucking believe that? Motherfuckers got the balls to drag a man out of his motherfucking sleep. Ain’t no decency anymore.”
I can feel Laura’s ears turning red, and I want to shield her. Once, a greasy young Chicano stood in front of her seat, shook his crotch in her face and licked his lips. She turned away, pretended he wasn’t there. She does that often.
A suited man with a mole on his nose sidles close to his female partner. “Listen, I’m telling you, there’s no way Mitch will go ahead with that merger. It’s just bad business sense—no sense at all, really…” Even the blonde hairs on his partner’s neck tense.
Laura has only spoken to me once: to say, “Please excuse me, miss,” when she stepped on my toe on her way out. I have never spoken to her; not to correct her for calling me “miss” when I am middle-aged, pockmarked, and unlovable, not even to tell her she was excused. I am not a person people see.
The train stops and a fat old woman with her leg in a cast and a stain on her breast boards. “Would you get up?” she demands of a teenager. “I need to put my leg on the seat.” The girl pulls her earphones out of her head and gets up, but the woman repeats herself twice. “Don’t you get it?” she asks.
“Free entertainment,” quips a thin, tattooed boy with a lonely grin to his girlfriend. “Most days, I couldn’t ask for more.”
The crippled woman crashes into the chair in front of Laura. Laura remains unfazed, sipping her coffee and staring out the black window. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, she reads a novel. Every other day, she bites her lip and stares. Coffee is a daily mercy; today, I think I smell vanilla.
Laura does not look kind. She has harsh cheekbones that arch like sickles. Her skin is pale, her cheeks almost consumptive. She has eager eyes that scan her purse for chapstick when the stale underground air has sheared her lips pink.
And she always sits in the conductor’s car, towards the back left corner, even though this route is busy. I know it is cruel to crawl so shamelessly after the young. The gold on Laura’s eyelids makes her green irises glow. It contradicts everything she wears in a way that moves my blood to the tips of my toes.
“Your attention, please,” announces the conductor over the intercom. “This L train is about to become a J train to Church. It is in need of repair and will be stopping at the nearest garage momentarily. Please exit at the next stop if you must continue to Taraval; a two-car L train will follow. Thank you.”
“No fucking place to sleep.” The homeless man has begun to growl. “No fucking place in this whole fucking city, as if the ground I was on was fucking good enough for somebody else.” He scuffs the heel of his hand repetitively against his right temple, an itch that won’t give.
The announcement has shaken Laura. Her lips thin and her long fingers lock around her coffee cup. Normally I prefer sitting behind her so that I can see her better. I have to work hard to get this close without touching.
My eyes are closed, carefully counting the seconds of my fantasy, when the train actually does begin to throttle. Our car shrieks on the rails. The last thing I see before the power blows is the tattooed boy arching his eyebrows at the fragile light above.
“Nobody ever dies when the train derails, but…” He trails off to his girlfriend.
Laura inhales as the train halts in the dark. The inertia bounces us from our seats, and her hand thumps on my knuckles. But instead of yanking it back, she clenches them so tightly I wince. It takes a few seconds for me to realize what the pressure is, to be surprised that her hands are very cold.
“Are you there? You?” There is panic in her gravelly voice. “I recognize you, I think. You seem safe. I’m sorry, but I’m terrified of closed spaces, especially in the dark. Caves, tunnels, that sort of thing. I might have an attack if I can’t hold onto something. My mother used to hold my hand. Would you mind it if I hold yours?”
She is saying strange things, and I don’t know what to say. Off in the corner, I can hear the homeless man pounding his fist three times against the retractable door. “NO FUCKING SLEEP.” The rest of the room is only a buzz to me.
Embarrassed, Laura jerks her hand, but I hold it still. “No, dear, it’s fine. It won’t be long.”
She squeezes my palm. “What is your name?” She asks, and I tell her.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010