Pause from a sip of Belhaven on this hot September night in Brooklyn while the ghost party rages next door…
For three days they’ve been at it; Latino pop, an unfortunate backside selection of lesser known Motown hits, shoddy R&B and cheap reggae covers of even worse songs and now — for some entirely unholy reason — they’ve jammed the dial on “dance music of the late 90s” and abandoned responsibility for the jukebox entirely. A giant treble clef in white rope lights adorns the chain link fence at the back of a yard filled with tables, a tent and a hit squad of ubiquitous white plastic chairs, probably hot stamped into existence by some vapor damaged 12-year-old in a far away factory where clean water is a fairy tale and Zouzou always needs more medicine. But until tonight, there were no guests!
Suddenly this end of the block has become a swirling stew of double-parked cars and unusual food smells. People are eating potato chips and laughing at jokes. Here and there, a sibilant “s” slips out from behind a hand, denoting a polite aside or perhaps some private concern. Crackling murders of teenage crows hop and cock on the steps, arguing listlessly about nothing essential, puncturing the dead night with shrill howls of o-shaped disbelief and “No, you didn’t!” Staccato bursts of “um-hm” and “I was like…” dominate the front stoop. Whiffs of this harmless patter force their way through the dusty grid of my windscreen and stain the floorboards below; layer upon layer of audio memories forever trapped in the varnish like insects in the amber, to be later extracted by an avuncular but well-meaning scientist figure and turned first into a theme park, then into a movie and perhaps, Hollywood willing, a sequel.
My previous apartment, the Fortress of Solitude, was surgically clean and hermetically sealed against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It was a great granite haven, a solid silent place to make a stand, a posh pillbox in which to bivouac myself away during my initial year in New York City. It was the ultimate shelter, designed to keep zombies out and my paranoia in. It could even sustain a direct hit should the pigs ever lose their grip on the wheel of the nation.
The air conditioning always worked, the counters were pristine and easy to clean. My landlord held all my packages. My grocery store was just around the corner. My local bar was one block over and five blocks down. My favorite coffee hole was two blocks over and four blocks down. The L, two blocks over and five blocks down, would take me anywhere I wanted to go and there was always eye candy on the train.
I was the first person to live in that apartment since the building was remodeled and I found it reassuring; no matter what happened, no matter where I roamed, I could count on coming home to immaculate granite surfaces, freshly laundered towels and thick walls designed to keep out the peals of wicked laughter and unexplained shrieks of the city until I eventually learned what was what and allowed them to drown in the background of the sea. I don’t do so good with crowds.
Entering my incense-laden sanctuary at the end of any long day, I could drop my bags to the floor and breathe deeply of my governed space. The clothes in my closet were always pressed, hanging on identical IKEA hangars and spaced exactly one finger apart. The towels were folded boot camp style on a gleaming metal rack in a spotless bathroom complete with heated floors. The kitchen sink was devoid of both dirty dishes and water spots. The desk was exactly black. The books were arranged first according to subject and then by alphabetical order.
I could hide here from the filth and noise. I could do my laundry in peace. I could do chin-ups while my dinner bubbled away in various pots and pans on a five-burner range. I had room to pace. The middle of the living floor was completely bare; I could swing a cat without hitting a wall and stretch my long-limbed frame in all cardinal directions. My altar, a stack of military ordinance crates layered in incense ash and dried flowers, was adorned with candle stubs, sentimental rocks, statues of obscure deities, dog tags, spent rounds of ammunition and assorted skulls. It held a place of honor at the center of the room beneath the main window.
Clearly, I had the freedom to express myself. And I should’ve been churning out volumes of new material, but oddly there was nothing forthcoming.
I was too safe.
A ship isn’t designed to stay in the harbor and the Fortress wasn’t meant to last. The rent was costing me an entire check each month. I was hemorrhaging money and plugging the holes with sticky rice and red beans. Poor is only sexy when you’re young.
I knew couldn’t stay there forever.
So I decided to move. Moreover, I decided to get a roommate, someone with whom I could split the bills and the groceries and spend some time being human. I genuinely love being alone but to tell the truth I was maybe getting kinda weird…
I weighed the pros against the cons and I tried hard to find a fault with my plan but it was just too good of an idea to fail.
First came the apartment hunt, then the logistical scramble followed by twelve hours of slave labor which took place on one of the hottest days of the year. My new roommate and I first emptied her tiny fourth-floor Flatbush apartment before tackling the Fortress. (Thankfully we were assisted part of the way by my boss and his always-smiling girlfriend.) We finished the move, returned the piece of shit, graffiti-covered meat wagon at around eleven that night and ached like zombies for the next three days.
My new apartment is on one end of a shady street just three long, loping blocks from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The interior of this 1901 railroad-style Huxtable hideaway has been painted over so many times it’s probably lost an inch of actual real estate from the doors and walls. The outlets, when and where they exist, are all two prong. There are no outlets in the bathroom. The honey-colored floors warp and creak like a fat man’s belt when you walk on them. I need a road flare to navigate my tiny all-black closet. There’s a three-foot patched-and-painted depression on one wall of the back room, as though something large from another dimension stopped by for tea one Sunday and left a crater-shaped ripple in its wake. I drop my laundry off at an establishment on the corner; it comes back folded. I’d need to clone myself and stand on my own shoulders in order to change the light bulbs in the living room, the double doors of which stick and drag against the friction caused by decades of paint and varnish. There are bars on all the windows (though I’m not sure whom they’re meant to protect.) The books are on the shelf with no particular care to their order…
But I like it. There is life here. This apartment requires me to relax. I cannot control it.
Reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on this hot September night in Brooklyn while the ghost party rages next door… New York is practically built for writers and artists too (and I suppose even that poor, miserable, disgusting wretched subspecies of worm human, the fashion photographer). All you have to do is close your eyes and listen.
Capture. Import. Decipher. Interpret. Express. Repeat.
What one might first dismiss as the mindless chatter of ignorant gossip or uneducated bleating is actually the complex interpretation of the new battlefield translated by the secret medium that cannot and will not go away. At every second, we stand on the gentle arc of the present tense and we talk about what Is. As much as I hate gossip, it’s a fucking necessity.
In order to write about people, you have to put yourself out there in the biomass. Find the words, capture the No Thing. Get involved. Stick your dick in the mashed potatoes.
William S. Burroughs referred to something called the restless word, a silent power that ebbed and ached and yearned to be described. “Close your eyes for ten seconds and try to think of nothing,” he said. “The word will still be there.”
Scott Adams wrote, [SIC] “We are the slowly reforming nervous system of a suicidal god.” When we speak we convey information in rough tree shapes that, properly diagrammed, resemble a map of the human nervous system. This is an offshoot of this, which relates to this, which is part of this larger branch… We build roads and rail systems that branch like the human nervous system. We should know better than to build mega weapons and super gases and ultra guns, but we do it anyway. We give in to fear. We cannot leave well enough alone. It’s as though we were programmed to do these things. As if we were not only marching determinedly toward the destruction of our species, but through it. Beyond it, even.
We want to believe we were designed for something. We’d like to think we happened for a purpose. We can spend our lives guessing at why we’re really here, but I don’t think those answers will come for a long, long time and when they do we may not even recognize them for what they are. We come, we do, we go.
We are only stories telling stories,