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