Tree Fort Blues
(an excerpt from the novel Midnight & I’m Not Famous Yet)
I am thirty-five years old & I live in a tree fort.
The fort sits perched inside an enormous loft space in Williamsburg, which is still considered for the time being a section of Brooklyn, one subway stop in from Manhattan & 14th Street. Hipsters & weirdos abound. If you’ve ever caught film students comparing Smurf tattoos over PBR’s, you’ve been to Williamsburg. If you’ve ever seen a naked man roll around in fish guts and French-fries for a gallery opening— If you’ve ever bore witness to a tranny marrying a vibrator onstage, before proceeding to consummate the union before your very eyes—
Sheets of drywall balance precariously to form the fort’s outer two walls, hidden by a ragtag overlay of colorful quilts & curtains. There is no door to my bedroom & consequently little privacy. It is, as one lady friend remarked, nose a-wrinkle, an upstairs dungeon. She actually used the word oubliette, but that’s only because I let slip where I went to grad school. In short, it’s a shit hole, with pipes overhead to brain those who insist upon walking upright & thus encouraging visitors to adopt my own humpbacked flat-footed lope. The back two corner walls are red brick, with a ruined Japanese lantern being my single light source, unless I move a wall, which I will do on occasion, to watch the sunlight fill our apartment & power the hardwood-floor with a waxy amber glow.
I sleep on a futon with a down comforter that somehow continues to secrete the zesty melon scent of my former-girlfriend’s body lotion. My plywood floor is covered by a rug of hard, biting rope that reeks of smoke & spilled beer & condoms, chronicling in pungent smells my rapid decent into squalor. In this neighborhood, if anything, my lack of care seems the norm, is expected & possibly even desired. Hostel chic for urban cave sloths. A few well-placed items hinting at arrested development or a passing obsession with ironic nostalgia—an Atari hooked to flatscreen, a Gremlins lunchbox filled with Garbage Pail Kids—would certainly round out a certain Pratt student vibe I could try to pass off, but truthfully I find that approach a bit irksome, if not altogether tiring. It speaks to a certain relationship with the world I could never pull off convincingly. I already spend enough time & energy trying to convince people of what I’m not, without having to worry about convincing them of who I am. I’m not, for instance, creepy. I am, for instance, when under-the-influence, bold. That is, I’m often so terrified at social gatherings that I inevitably push myself into the spotlight, willing to wager everything for a smile. As for the tree fort, I’d rather people think of it as something akin to a broom closet, a peculiar conversation piece outfitted in an otherwise normal space.
A makeshift set of stairs drops a hole in the floor & into the living room, where a giant fern traverses the northern ceiling, framing the enormous wall of windows of the 3200 sq feet that my two roommates & I occupy illegally in a former textiles warehouse, still zoned commercial. We pay eight hundred bucks (each) a month to a shady landlady from NJ, but this is the first place in NY I’ve lived that doesn’t have mice. It does have an industrial heater, though, & when you flip that boxy motherfucker on, two blades whip into action & blue flames shoot out the back. At night it looks like a jetpack, or at least that’s what one woman thought. I told her to hop up & I’d fly us someplace tropical. Anywhere you want, baby. Anywhere but Florida.
We’ve got five hand-me-down black leather couches & a mixing table for visiting DJs. Sometimes we let photographers shoot here, so long as they pay in advance. By all assessments, it’s a bachelor pad, which means as a member of they newly broken hearted I’ve had to adjust certain aspects my life. For instance, there’s a music venue located directly below us, with a secret back door along the staircase we share, so I never have to pay for tickets, but this also means that everything from swoony indie bubblegum pop to hardcore thrashing death metal screams up through the floorboards 9PM-4AM, rattling wine glasses & displacing stacked bowls. The size of our loft also means traveling voices & echoes. So when my roommates are fucking I get it all in stereo, & vice versa. Sometimes we’re lucky to all be having sex at the same time, & among the spanking & groaning & begging, you sometimes catch a giggle of self-consciousness, usually from guests. These are one of many potentially souring elements of loft-living you fight to overcome, especially if you’re the last roommate to move in, & by law of seniority find yourself relegated upstairs to the 8x10x5.5” tree fort.
Whenever someone leaves the loft, they leave massive amounts of shit behind, like these calligraphic paintings by a Pakastani artist who’d rented the room before me—lines so desperately produced, it seems, & strangely vulnerable that I finally had to hide them in the makeshift dark room downstairs, which is itself stockpiled with heavy photography equipment that will remain here until Betelgeuse implodes since some asshole hauled it upstairs & built three walls around it. Otherwise we’d sell the stuff. As a group we’re always desperately low on cash. Ogre has finally given up on working altogether. He was fired from the electric company & a thai restaurant the same day, & since then hasn’t held a steady job or paid rent for six months. The landlady refuses to kick him out—for reasons unknown; hence, shady—& calls to scold him several times a week, speaking of karma & personal responsibility, which Ogre finds belittling but puts up with. Each week finds him sinking further into a sphere of obsessive internet use & chemical states of feel-goodery, paid for by the State via unemployment checks. Ogre wakes up early each morning & positions himself on the couch & smokes pot & waits to terrorize us with the viral videos he finds online, a laundry list of human pain & atrophied empathy, often sad or hilarious or a mixture of the two. He eats spaghetti from the pot. He waters the fern & checks his email. He has no self-pity but acre upon acre of self-regard.
Beyond the huge windows lay the remnants of a former golden age of Brooklyn & the in-medias-res progress of potential developments. These graveyards of warehouses & packinghouses & the reticulated ironworks of the old mayonnaise factory up the block will soon be gutted & revamped for a new era of glittering, overpriced condos in this to-be-rebranded area we jokingly hazard names for: NoBro or West Billy, Cockhole or Hip’stacheberg. But since the advent of the Great Recession the cranes have disappeared & the work lights put out, & our overpopulated ghost town has returned to its previous focus on night life & street art & gourmet eats & the Hasidim & Poles & Italians & transplanted urban barbarians, if only for a brief delightful period.
If you gaze through the windows & left, you’ll find North Sixth Street stumbling towards to the East River. The Empire State Building towers in the distance, lit green, pink & yellow this week, amid a Chiho Aoshima skyline in silhouette, changing it seems to suit a viewer’s mood, buildings that go from boxy & bookish to cartoonish & awkward & alive. Sometimes the distance between BK & NYC feels like the gulf between heaven & hell. Sometimes in the darkness of the loft the old city really grips you, & an intimacy creeps into your consciousness as you try imagining everyone who’s ever stood on these banks overlooking arguably the greatest city in the world, with its gloss of a million advertisements coupled with the reality of a million dreamers fleeing Ohio, Kyoto, Zanzibar to stake their claim in the theory of this place. I know how corny that sounds, but try it sometime, & if you don’t experience the tiniest inkling of an urge to run outside & take part in it, to glut yourself on the city’s profound capacity for fun & interconnectiveness, then you’ve been here too long, are possibly emotionally bankrupt, & may I recommend a fresh start in the suburbs of Orlando.
& I would understand why you would choose to do so. “Being a human battery has its plusses & minuses,” puns the health magazine on my toilet. But it’s true, we all store up energy & expend it according to our desires. The choice being, would you prefer to expend your energy in small, easily rechargeable doses, by say attending a community theater production of Heaven Can Wait & overeating Oreos on Netflix night & daydreaming in traffic & watching your kids grow up & studying the human experience with a lovely sense of calm & purpose? Or do you prefer to burn yourself out in one fell swoop snorting lines in a cab en route to a jazz bar followed by a brief stint at an art opening followed by the after-party in SoHo, the after-after party in the East Village, & a breakfast experience in the altogether dingy & neglected wee hours only to arrive home & immediately shower & rush to hop on the subway & ride to work where you’ll pretend you’re fighting off yet another untimely bout with the flu in mid-July? This is not every example ever, or an either-or, or possibly even fair, but you get the gist. You get one battery; you make a choice.
But sometimes our batteries get stolen by other people & are forced to work indefinitely powering someone else’s ridiculous machines. People can suck & they can drain you, which is why I might prefer scenes to people now. I’ve grown fond of objects, too—their relative quietude, their bold stance on being one thing. There’s a quiet powerfulness in stasis, & certainly a lovely sort of calm in how objects do nothing but what they do. /rant.
This happens more often now, this breathy internal chatter, this back & forth. My former love & occasional soundboard is gone & here I am in bed, the new day trickling into my consciousness, & waking up now is like a slow walk down a country road & up through the corn sparks a tornado & I can see it & I know what it carries within itself because it is what I carry too but I keep my pace anyhow, because I’ve grown to love the tornado & cherish its torrential winds & because the radio clock is blinking red again & I feel if I had that kind of face I’d wear the same dumb lost expression too & I will never set it to any permanent time because that would be a lie & I am not in the business of changing people’s bad habits.
Only a few months ago I was living in Park Slope, in a cushy little brownstone in a cushy little neighborhood by Prospect Park. I had two cats, a balcony, two fireplaces, built-in bookshelves & a built-in girlfriend of eleven years.
I have none of that now.
I have no reason to believe that the living room has changed since I last saw it, so I imagine that there’s an egg-shaped swing bolted to the roof & a dartboard bolted to the wall & a sixteen-foot metal table bolted to the floor in the kitchen area. Sometimes my other roommate Nate plays strip poker at the table with girls & couples he brings home from clubs. Sometimes they just coke up & fuck on it. & if I happen to want a glass of apple juice from the fridge, please, don’t let me interrupt.
I have no reason to believe that Ogre is not, at present, sunk into the couch reviewing porn sites to add or delete from his browser bookmarks.
Ogre’s real name is Abe, & he must have caught some psychic waves, because he’s suddenly yelling for me to come down & watch a short clip on his laptop of a man accidentally shooting himself in the head with a nail gun. & Oh! Oh!, I’ve gotta see this one where the donkey mounts a farm hand. Mornings here are a veritable buffet of gore & porn. When I acknowledge I’m awake, he reminds me about the party we’re hosting next month. Each day he adds some ridiculous new oddity, like how we should hire security guards & busboys & triple the number of DJs & speakers for the roof & downstairs. We need hor dourves & kegs of Brooklyn Lager & red wine & vodka. Still, I’d rather discuss this than fall back into our regular conversations: UFOs, politics, the wars, sex, 9/11 conspiracy theories, or worse, his ex-girlfriend, a breakup that haunts him a year after the fact. It occurs to me we’re broken men, but we’re not, we’re just the floating headaches of our own imaginations. If you wander too far into our lives we’ll try to bend you to our yearnings, our fears—tack our mothers’ faces onto your body, dissolve you with our frenetic psychies, etc.
When I don’t respond this time, he amps the stereo. Walk into our place anytime day or night & it’s either electronic music powered by Ogre’s iPod, noise from the club downstairs, or MSNBC talking heads blaring disorienting info @ a pitch that would murder bees.
“Abe! I can’t hear myself fucking think, man! Music—DOWN!”
Not many people address Abe as Abe. He’s known in broader circles as Marquis de Loft, or Marc, or MC MDL, or among those not of his ilk, the Israeli Ogre, or just plain Ogre. Abe considers his current inability to hold a job a derision of his genius, for knowing how to do his bosses’ jobs better than them. This doesn’t matter, though, because when the call from the FDNY finally comes, no matter if he has a job or not, he will drop everything & join the Fire Department. He applied ten years ago. Apparently after the Towers fell the FDNY received resumes from all across the country. It was a cry to arms, & Abe responded. But he will never be a fireman, for reasons I will explain later. In the meantime, Abe smokes pot, updates his Facebook page, chats with women on instant messenger, & waits. He’s on the phone twice a week sweet-talking the landlady. Luckily, we don’t have to cover his share of rent. Our parties, for which we charge five bucks a head, is Abe’s only source of income, so we end up throwing a party every two months. & since Nick & I both have jobs, we don’t mention it when our split of the profits seem suspiciously lacking.
“Sorry,” Abe says, tremoloing the music to a distant heartbeat. “Oh shit, man, come down! You gotta see this. I got this howler monkey jerking off on a panda bear.”
Today’s menu: Darwinian smackdowns, or interspecies sex & the wanton desires of beasts.
I tug up a pair of jeans & descend.
“Jesus you sleep. You still depressed over la chienne? Two months already!”
It’s the Marquis de Loft’s responsibility to know bitch in 24 languages, including Yiddish and Portuguese. He actually speaks five languages fluently, skills culled for the sole purpose of bedding chicks, one imagines.
It’s actually been three months since my breakup with X. Sometimes it seems longer & sometimes shorter. I’m still finding her tanktops in the laundry, inexplicably tangled up in my longjohns. The fact that he calls her a bitch is nothing to shrug at. Everyone’s a bitch in Ogre’s eyes.
“You have work today?”
“Noon,” I say, heading straight for the smell of coffee. A few sips & I wander over to watch the monkey masturbate. The panda in the adjacent cage, it seems, is not simply an unlucky chance recipient—this was planned. The monkey is aiming. This is a belittling act of vengeance against a life foe.
“You up late writing?” he asks, stretching a robe over his large belly. “Saw your light on.”
I haven’t written anything for three months. The book I’d been working on is now surfing the channels of the publishing industry, hook line & sinker. My agent says it’s got a shot, but since Friday there’s only two more publishing houses standing between the novel & oblivion. Or self-publication, which would ensure at least 65 “friends” dropping me on Facebook. Editors agree, the craft is there, the story is there, but something is just not quite right. One guy had the nerve to say that my account of underprivileged teenagers growing up along the Space Coast seemed too over-the-top, was too seedy & perverse in its exploration of sexual entanglements, & so attempted to persuade me to shift the book from fiction to memoir. He said it was for the sake of believability, but it’s really all about units shipped, & memoirs ship more units, as a rule. My worry was that if I let out the fact that the bikers & the drugs & the sex & the murders are based at least partly on real events, I’d end up facedown in a Florida swamp, sucking tadpoles. Not really, but the possibility is there to some extent. I was more nervous about hurting my family by exposing them to my former drug abuse than anything else. Or embarrassing the friends I still visit whenever I go back home. If it’s labeled fiction, I’d still have the artificial reef of authorial intent to hide behind. Sure, it sounds like you, but that character was only modeled on you. Which is of course partly true. But it’s also partly bullshit. But I made up a whole lot of the book, & memoir is just as fiction-y as fiction, & even autobiographies for that matter, so I chose to keep it fiction.
Ogre lights up a joint & passes it over. What time is it even? I take a hit and head back upstairs to get my clothes. I need to shower.
“We need to decide on a theme for the party,” he calls after me.
“Hoes & CEOs,” he says, stubbing the roach.
I retrace my steps to the porch edge of the upstairs. “No. No hoes, no CEOs.”
“Because people won’t come. Because its sexist. Or sounds sexist.”
“Ah, but it’s only sexist if you think of CEOs as being only men & hoes as being only women. That’s your own issue. This is not universal.”
“Do you know the ratio of men to women CEOs?”
“No. Do you know the ratio for hoes?”
“Can’t we just have a masquerade ball, or just a dance party, why not just get people dancing? We’ll get DJ PartyLiquor up in here, switch him up with MaxFX. Get it hoppin’, & just let people have a good time.”
Abe globes his hands, fingertips to fingertips, & puffs his cheeks. I don’t know where he learned this, but it started after a judge forced him to attend an anger by after being fired from La Cirque, where he cold-cocking a patron who’d called his own date a whore & then called Abe, his waiter, an Israeli ogre for interfering. (Ta da, nickname). The gesture is a time-out, meaning he’s preparing to explain something he’s already explained, or thinks he’s already explained.
“Lucien, I told you, if I’m gonna make this thing work, every single party has to be the greatest party ever. You don’t know who’s in the audience! There could be club promoters, actresses, producers, hotel concierges, doormen, & let me tell you, these people expect perfection. They expect Cristal & Dom & Armand & VIP treatment. I can’t give them that, I’m broke! But what I can give them is a scene, an event, a happening. A party they’ll never forget. And if I’m gonna get my company rolling, be a bigshot coordinator, I gotta make shit work, bro. I gotta be the Murakami to their Louis Vuitton. So c’mon, give me some lovin’. You’re the wordsmith. If you don’t like Hoes & CEOs, then come up with something better.”
I drop my clothes from the perch to the floor & climb down & walk over to Ogre & get him in a headlock he easily breaks. He’s built like a tank with a magnificent gut & a shaved head & these big sunken puppy dog. He’s a good man, better than most, & lost in the way a lot of folks are lost. He smiles & I light a cigarette on the way to the bathroom & he tells me again, “smoking’ll kill you, bro,” & I yah-yah him & he chuckles like someone who at your funeral would say “I told him this would happen” & then eat all the pasta salad while hitting on your sister. That thousand-yard stare, like in ‘Nam, but in upbeat chuckle form.
Three of my uncles were in ‘Nam. One was a Navy Seal. When we were kids my brother & cousin & I used to burrow tunnels through the saw palmettos & underbrush & play Vietnam all day until dusk. Then one night my cousin wandered into his dad’s room to ask for a glass of water & my uncle put a knife to his eyeball & told him he ate gook cunts like him all day long, & after that we started playing baseball.
When you’re flailing, your best bet is to hang on to people who are flailing themselves, because slippery morals keep things interesting, & because any argument from either party can be ignored as coming from an unreliable source. This is why Ogre was in some ways the perfect roommate: you could trust him all day long to say things you could ignore, & the world kept on spinning.
When X broke up with me, my initial reaction was to remain subdued. Eleven years is a long time for anything. But I’d stumbled into some emotional vacuum, & so saying nothing struck me as a perfectly legitimate response. I’d just returned from a canoe trip along the Pecos River in southeast Texas with some writer buddies—one week of rowing solemnly beneath the canyon walls, fishing & cooking up freshwater bass with angel hair pasta & skillet scrambles & hiking backwoods trails in search of red & black pictographs of fiery, snakelike shamans & deer-headed gods. I rode the train home instead of flying because I wanted to see the countryside. Three days later, I’m back in Brooklyn, drop my bags in the hallway, & I hear X blubbering on the couch. I’d spoken to her on the phone not half an hour earlier from Grand Central & she seemed fine, even asking me what I wanted to order from the Peruvian café down the block. When I walked in & heard her crying, I knew someone had died. & I was sure that someone was my brother Jason.
But no. What died was our relationship. A few seconds in & I understood exactly where the conversation was headed. I didn’t once interject. Not even to tell her that my laptop with every bit of writing I’d done since college died on the train ride home through the Midwest. Nor that I’d just learned, attempting to withdraw money from an ATM, that someone had apparently stolen my checkcard number while I was away & blew six hundred dollars on gas charges & Mets tickets. These things were not the makings of high drama, but served as mere aperitifs, choral leitmotifs, to what I now refer to as the Big Fuck. The conversation with my ex lasted fifteen minutes. Suddenly we were laughing together, freed from familial pretentions & worrying over each other’s feelings, the call & response of ‘Don’t you think’ & ‘Wouldn’t you agree.’ We made moving arrangements & promised to be best friends 4-ever. Afterwards I went out on the wood balcony & watched the stars slip in & out of being. I smoked & thought that this was a good thing, plump with the pride one feels after doing something that feels vaguely adult. I imagined having sex with other women. I imagined rising from newly laundered sheets damp with sweat & carefully closing random doors & walking out onto the rain-slicked streets under the low hanging fruit of streetlamps & into the breech of eternal night like some noir angel of noncommittal sex. I was going to be the Kokopelli of the Lower East Side.
Replaying the conversation now, I still feel very little. We sit on opposite ends of the couch. When I go to touch her, she dips her head. She feels she isn’t living her own life. She feel’s like she’s never struggled, not really, which is not true but okay, you can’t argue someone out of insecurity. She says she feels like my sidekick. I monopolize conversations. She argues that my gregariousness allows her to fit snugly into the position of Listener, which she enjoys, but which has effectively stripped her of a voice. More than that, she feels that I’ve lived a fuller life than her, never mind the fact that we’d spent a third of our lives together. We hooked up after high school, after the perceived ‘lived’ part, when I was a juvenile delinquent with friends dying left & right from drug overdoses & gunshot wounds, & she was a solid A- student making her way through community college. She had this plan to get out of town, & we were in love so I jumped ship & ran away with her to North Carolina, where we rented a pay-by-the-week room in a seriously no-joke rat infested motel. We both got jobs at separate music stores selling CDs & saved our money for school. After waiting a year for in-state tuition, we both applied and were accepted into separate schools, her at NCSA for modern dance, a revered arts conservatory, & me in the continuing adult education program at the state university in Greensboro. We traveled Europe and Mexico. We used our credit cards as bank accounts & suffered together the death of kittens riddled with feline leukemia. So how can I, after all that, still feel zero? Would an MRI out me as a psychopath? Is it because of my mother’s strict no-veggie diet when she was carrying me? Did the doctor cut the umbilical cord too quick? Did I ingest too much Play-Do as a kid?
Online I catch a marathon of shit from chatroomers chiming in to say I should be grieving, that I should allow myself to feel the loss of her, that I should hurl things through windows & bawl for all that was lost & burrow myself into the armpits of strangers (into any recess of strangers, really), & attempt to work through the obvious contradictory emotions I must be experiencing in agonizing, structured detail. But I don’t have any contradictory emotions, I typed repeatedly into the message box. It ended, simple as that. It was a clean & amicable break. The faucet cut off, & there was no more water, not even a drip. Just nothing. They said that my seeking out a chatroom a priori means I was instinctively searching out help from my peers. Not necessarily, I typed. I was just interested to see if anyone else had experienced something similar & came away feeling the same way I did. & fuck you, you enabling jerkwad armchair shrinks. Ayn Rand is God! You fuckers should have been aborted & Fruit-Roll-Upped & fed back to your retarded parents! (As all users are anonymous, this sort of gratuitously vulgar sign-off is an anxiously awaited protocol. First off, I do not believe Ms. Rand was messianic or ever fully approached a coherent understanding of Darwin’s revelations. Secondly, I later anonymously posted on the same site that THAT SCUMBAG who used the word retarded probably has never met a person with a disability & should be forced to care for such a person for one month, after which he or she should then be taken out back & shot, a comment for which I received 32 ‘Likes,’ earning a blue ribbon next to my post).
In the bathroom of the loft I decide to shave, but when I get the lather on my face I just stand there. There will be no crying. It’s just not in me. When I search for those filed-away emotions actors rely upon for crucial Oscar-baiting scenes, I can summon nothing beyond my present awareness of the hot steam gathering in my lungs, the faucet bleating. The process itself makes me self-conscious. Maybe the cybermoonlighters were right. Maybe what I’m experiencing is prolonged shock. The truth, more likely, is that I have nothing to purge. I have a very clear memory of my time with X, our ups & downs & the points of contention we sought to rehash in successive arguments, points that sent subtle fissures crazing up though our happy little iceberg. If locked in a basement & forced to decode & reengineer our relationship, I could probably detail the incremental ways in which our once ardent love had morphed into a friendship—how our exchanges had turned bland & inauspicious, compartmentalized by habit & passive listening. & when all that ended, it felt good. I felt good. She felt good. We had loved each other fully & deeply & then nostalgically & then in a different sense. & then she set me free. & like a good friend, I returned the favor.
I shave and dress & think fondly of X. It wasn’t a waste of time. Knowing the outcome, I’d do it all again, I would. & here comes shuffling behind like a shunned lapdog the memory of my father leaving my mother, & him & I sitting together in a hammock strung between pines in our backyard in Florida as he tries to explain why he’s just moved in with another woman. How do you describe to a child the inches lost to time’s formidable sinkhole, or how each hushed sentence of a tense dispute enacts the sturm & drang of quiet resentment that slowly eviscerates the spirit of a person you always imagined partnering with in shuffleboard, two old blue birds popping pills & serving aces on the court? My dad couldn’t explain it then—& I couldn’t forgive him for not trying. But I understand it now. I love you dad! Wahhhh, wahhhh! Here comes my Reichean catharsis! Wahhhh!
Fuck it. One relationship is not like another. My life is not the suffering repercussions of my father’s infidelity. & if it was, how fucking lame would that be?
I shower, towel myself off & head upstairs. I find a filterless cigarette poised on a bottle cap I use as an ashtray & light it up. I snap on some boxers & lie back on my bed & stare over at the brick wall, where a Jake & Dinos Chapman print depicting a boy & girl fused together at the abdomen & ass, respectively, hangs slightly askew. The boy has a dick for a nose & the girl, bent forward, a vaginal mouth. They are looking in opposite directions. It is not mine but I have not taken it down yet. The picture disturbs me beyond words.
“Hey!” yells Abe. “Check out my Facebook page if you’ve got your computer on! Hot I mean hot pussy RSVPing! If we’re gonna change the title, I’ll need it ASAP!”
Exhibit A at Ogre’s stalker trial will his personal Facebook page, which consists of women sought out for their proclivity for taking photos of themselves half nude in bathroom mirrors, often with sandwiched breasts offered up buffet-style. I wish I could say I am not impressed by his ability to bed a good number of these women, that his methods are coarse & his standards subterranean, but the truth is I am in awe. Ogre is a big-game hunter, & I am a get-to-know-you type guy with a mediocre track record for closing deals, so I rely on him & the three-hundred-plus-attendee binge marathons we host (for which Ogre’s invitation list draws three quarters of the females who show up) for the possibility of my cornering a girl who’ll find my collections of historical sugar cubes & film documentaries illegally downloaded or my wall of poetry books impossibly cute or drunkingly pathetic, perhaps enough to make out with me or possibly even stay the night. I find no shame in attaching my remora suckerfish lusts to Ogre’s great white shark body, catching the scraps thrown off as he tears through a party. I find no shame in how gay that sentence sounds in my head. If I could be a big gay great white I would savage Chelsea with the second coming of Rock Hudson alongside my friends Forrest & Gary, who are also sharks but resemble more the tiger & nurse than a great white (slender & aggressive, pouchy & laissez-faire), respectively. But it’s all about confidence & right now mine is trapped in a suckling remora mutated for eyelids whose every blink signals my desire to be killed or mercy fucked, or mercy cared-for, mercy walked down to the river where we could share stories about bad dates gone hilariously wrong & growing up in different cultures & being at present the ages of our parents when they divorced & what dishes to serve to house guests who are both lactose intolerant & suffering from celiac disease. Because if I don’t force myself out into the world & into contention, I will be settle into my default state of masturbating panda, the one with the bulging belly & creepy, curiously intelligent eyes. Other people help clarify one’s sense of self, & I need that kind of scrutiny, which through conversation helps map out my insecurities & doubts but also brings to the fore my own sense of humor, my likes & dislikes, my eccentricities & knowledge—in short, my humanity. I do not want to be one of those people whose bodies & minds are merely shapes they inhabit, relegated by others to descriptive elements signifying certain aspects of a personality that I, living in my squishy self, adopt in order to appease. I want interaction that leads to self-creation, which paradoxically depends on interaction & other people.
With this in mind I decide I will not call in sick, a thought I was bouncing around there for a while, so I pocket my phone, keys, wallet, & snap on my golf hat. Heading down the back stairs I can hear people tuning guitars in the adjacent practice rooms rented out & a vocalist reaching for a falsetto that hopes to marry morose with misunderstood. Outside, young musicians in black logoed tshirts unload equipment from a van before the open doors of NorthSix, which is the club directly beneath our apartment. Down the block I begin thinking that North Six, the street, could be any main street in the Midwest, with all these red bricked buildings & curtains fluttering out of windows, but then I pass a environmentally conscious designer clothing store & the record shop & every other non-sustainable enterprise that’ll be replaced in six months with another non-sustainable business & even though it remains in part a Polish working-class neighborhood, despite the Us, with a butcher shop & a bread factory, I know I’m living in a place undergoing transition, in an era of transition, during which I’ll gather memories to later share at bars with others like me, the here-before-you-were crowd of aging hanger-ons, our eyes glossed with pretense as we update our current status on whatever new social network is out there. “Wish you were here. (You can never be here.)”
I’m keeping a beat with my cigarette in the air, a breezy May cold snap the last vestige of winter attacking my eyes. I’ll grab some coffee & hop on the L-train. There’ll be hipsters & I-Bankers & seahorse veterinarians, I’m sure & comic stage actors & hedge funyuns & Chloë Sevigny & loud buskers & profane spiritualists & welfare grandmothers & we’ll all be in it together. I will take note that Post readers spread the newspapers across their thighs while the Times gets folded before the face. We’ll shuttle underwater together & into the dark boxy rattling earth & change trains underground & emerge in a bungled line pacing the stairs up into the great, gray phantom halls of Grand Central & into American light cut from the bullet-shaped concourse windows & striking the floor in patterns like stills from a film. On the street I’ll break from the pack & head towards the Chrysler Building en route to the News Building, aka the Superman building, where an enormous globe spins uninterrupted in the foyer, the building itself conscripted for use as the Daily Planet newspaper headquarters in the movie. But before I arrive at my job & swipe my badge, I’ll get a phone call on the corner of East 42nd & 3rd. It’ll be my literary agent, Lev McIntosh, & he’ll have news.
He will proceed to tell me that all those early morning caffeine-infused work sessions, all the Saturdays & Sundays, the skipped social functions, the family gatherings when I brought along my laptop, the skipped performances of friends, the bouts of frustrated & drunken monologues, the missed liaisons, the manic pacing & method acting mono-dialogues, the furious scribblings on bus & car & train & plane, the books purchased for the sole reason of writerly self-instruction, the years of dragging characters through undetermined paths with a tired conscious effort, the edits & re-edits, were good for a roundabout cleansing of the mind but were not, unfortunately, necessary for anything but inspiration for the next novel, which I should begin to ponder immediately, if not sooner, since the final publishing houses I’ve been waiting to hear back from have, with glorious praise & genteel thank-yous, passed on publishing my novel.
Lev is a good man, my age, with short dark hair & sweet, serious eyes. He’s affable, meticulous & honest. I will thank him for helping bring the book along as far as it could go. He has done it justice, & I mean that. We make plans to grab a beer later & discuss what’s next.
I have to go. Yes, we’ll talk more about it later, but right now I have to get to work.
As if reliquaries for vanishing thoughts, the grill of each passing car—