Occasionally, I do like this place.
It’s raining, and steam pours out of manhole covers onto the nightblack streets as if choreographed. Brake lights flash on/off in an code that quickly blurs uninterpretable on wet asphalt, cabs leave plumes of dirty water in their wakes. Creighton, stalking down narrow sidewalks in the furthest southnesses of Manhattan, plays chicken with the slick traffic, narrowing eyes and just daring them to splash her suede wedges. Her phone vibrates against her hip, and she ducks into shadow under scaffolding. Text: unknown number:
Quest Ce que 2 fais?
i know this is you herve, Creighton thumbs out, the rain iridescing miniature prisms on her touchscreen, irritation trumping typography. why are you texting me., Gertrude Stein-ing the question into a full stop.
ugh just call me. Creighton withdraws further into the doorway of a shop to preclude the transmission of traffic noises.
“Allo!” she sings blithely into the phone.
“What are you going up to?”
“Getting up to? I am currently working on a new translation of the Iliad where all of the sexes are reversed. I’m playing with the idea of actually making Paris La Hilton, is that too dated?”
“Cherie, I hope you are telling me the truth. I explained to you already why you should not interfere with Fiona.” Creighton worried her thumbnail between her teeth, heedless of the Klimptian glitter manicure.
20 hours earlier:
“What are you doing here?” she’d hissed at Louis as she watched the lovely vampire and her presumed prey Irish reel off into the night.
“I might ask you the same. This is not your usual haunt, n’est-ce pas?”
“You’re the haunt. Feeling stalky tonight?” Louis looked down at his admittedly trim silhouette, smoothing palm against an invisible paunch.
“French men don’t get fat,” he purred.
“Not stocky, STALLLK-Y. Stalk: you know, following, unwanted and obsessive attention. You’ll notice the near homophone to ‘stake’.” His smile let her know she’d been had, and in her native language. She caressed her thigh-sheath and averted her eyes from the way his shirt tucked into his pants.
“You need to leave Fiona alone.”
“Feee-ohhh-na,” she drawled. Her single martini was getting to her head, unless it was his presence, which is a data point she refused to contemplate. “Don’t tell me, you’re friends with her also. Created you, too, menage à trois style? I’ll bet you, Fiona, and Minerva really got up to some fucking antics,” looking around for another drink. “Daahling,” she shrills in a strident mimicry of Minerva, “can you bring me another viiirgin, this one’s getting absatively peaky.” Swaying. “Blood? It’s a mixer, Patsy, we drink it with whiskey.”
“She does not work alone.” Louis frowns. ”She has a harem of vampires who like nothing better than to victimize arrogant men. It is almost a religious calling. When they’ve got a man…”
“What’s your man got to do with me?” Creighton dissolves into giggles. Her logical mind is like a little hamstrung homunculus who admits there’s a problem but can’t do anything about it. Louis begins to look concerned.
“Are you all right?”
“D’a-fucking-ccord, Lou. Can I call you that? Lou? Howabout Skip-to-my-Lou-my-darling?”
“Something is not right.”
“I’m not tryin’a hear that,” and the room gets spinny, and her homunculus thinks roofies and she wakes up for the second time in Louis Hervé’s guest bedroom, bandage dress ruched to just under her tits.
“Remind me,” Creighton admits. “I might be a bit fuzzy.”
“Fiona established a Sapphic cult of female vampires who wished to… remove… the worst examples of the male sex.”
“There’s a part of me that can’t help but sympathize,” she admits, remembering her beastly headache that even a Bloody Mary with home-made chipotle and serrano-infused potato vodka couldn’t cure.
“Creighton, promettez-moi. If you choose to move against her please wait until I can help you, behind the scenery.”
“Scenes.” Her resolve is melting, and she starts to sloshfoot back to the train.
“They wish to make a name as a righteous army, to be remembered by the men who fear them, and they care not who stands against them, no matter how … délicieux.”
“You may forget but let me tell you this: someone in some future time will think of us,” Creighton murmured.
“Derrida?” Louis asked slyly.
“Sappho,” Creighton replied. “And for the record, I don’t feel comfortable following that with the b-word.”
The NYT Style Section has been less ridiculous, er, inspiring of late, one has to do something in moments of premature desperation. I could’ve had a “interview with a bodega cat.” Interviewer: What is the best part about it? Cat: Meow meow meow meow meow.
At least you didn’t say you liked the tarts.
An Interview with Ursito Bimbo:
Spokesmodel Chronicle: Hello, and welcome, Little Bimbo Bear. What is your real name? I am not going to make that mistake again.
Bimbo Bear: I am Ignacio. The pleasure is all mine.
SMC: Pardon me, but I have to get this out of the way: the name. Bimbo.
BB: May we discuss that in subsequent questions? I prefer to establish an historical and lexical context before entering into a dialogue regarding the name.
SMC: Uh, of course. Backtraccckkk… How did you get into the gig?
BB: It’s a family tradition. Mi abuelo Ursulino was the first spokesperson for the brand, shortly after it was founded. He possessed a gentle temperament that was perhaps refractory to the masculine ideals in place in 1940’s Mexico.
SMC: So bread-modeling was a good fit for him?
BB: I think the subtextuality of bread as hearth, nourishment - the province of Hestia, in short - appealed to him, and he could cloak his gravitation towards these traditionally feminine pursuits by aligning himself with a company he believed was poised to go multinational.
SMC: So, that’s a yes?
SMC: And then your father was also an, ahem, a Bimbo model?
BB: Correct. Papá took over when my grandfather became too jowly for continuity. We have a striking family resemblance, if you’ve noticed, likely dating back to consanguineous unions between albino bears due to social ostracism.
SMC: Interesting theory. And when did you take over?
BB: I decided to take up the mantle during grad school. Funding was iffy and I could use the extra money.
SMC: Grad school?
BB: I was writing my dissertation on how the assassination of Spanish poets like Lorca in Franco’s Spain would both prefigure and inform South American literature during and after the culture of “disappearances”.
BB: “Que soy la sombra inmensa de mis lágrimas: Franco España y literatura sudamericana.” That I am the immense shadow of my tears. Lorca’s Gacela of the Dark Death.
SMC: That’s a bit - heavy - for what our viewers might be… So you have a Ph.D.?
SMC: Congratulations. So can we get back to Bimbo?
BB: Unfortunately though I am fluent in five languages I generally concentrate on the academic lexicon. So, no, when I signed the papers to authorize the appearance of my image in Anglophone countries, I was not aware of the slang meaning.
SMC: Wait a minute, you became the Bimbo bear in order to fund three Ph.D.’s? That is… ironic.
BB: Actually it is not ironic at all because I was never expecting my association with the brand to further my intellectual reputation in America. It’s merely darkly amusing.
SMC: I… You’re very cute to have three doctorates.
BB: I object to cultural constructs that place appealing physiognomies and academic merit at opposing ends of a qualitative scale.
SMC: I just, I mean, you look like a teddy bear.
BB: I have never understood the tendency to make cuddly children’s toys based upon the pared-down ur-images of prodigious predators. It smacks of a modern arrogance towards the inexorable brutality of nature, which can only serve us poorly in an era when…
SMC: OKAY so what is your favorite Bimbo snack?
BB: I have not eaten processed grains or sugars in twelve years.
SMC: But if you had to pick.
BB: I guess I have fond memories of the Bimbuñuelos. The wheels of progress trundling us along without heed to the dangers of headlong velocity. Except, pastry.
SMC: Forgive me, but do you ever feel like you are … overcompensating? For the name?
BB: What, precisely, are you implying?
SMC: Just, god, you’re very. Verbose. Annoying. Pedantic?
BB: Cierra la puta boca! Ta gueule! Halt deine blöde Fresse! 閉嘴! बकवासबंदकरो!
BB: I just told you to shut the fuck up in five languages.
SMC: That is pretty much what I was say - you know what? Thank you, Bimbo bear, for speaking with me.
BB: You’re quite welcome. Except it’s pronounced more like beem-bo.
SMC: Bimbo. BIMBO. BIMBO!
BB: I hesitate to debase myself in a professional setting, but you should know I have claws under this eiderdown fucking fur.
SMC: Okay, let’s all say goodnight to the Beem-bo bear. Thank again you for joining us.
I imagine him as sounding kind of like a Mexican Werner Herzog, if that helps.
OH MY GOD TWOULIPO.
I walked into the bistro and she was already waiting for me, blonde hair pulled up and her shoulders hunched, guarded by a mimosa and an empty pulp-traced flute.
“He’s not…” her eyelids flicked down, lilac, faintly puffy. “Coming.” I should’ve asked why, but I wasn’t about to pass up a rare chance to be alone with her.
She ordered another mimosa, I ordered steak frites, rare. When I cut into the meat, the juice seeped onto the plate and pinkened my fries. She shuddered, her throat bulging slightly with a swallowed retch.
“Could you not do that?”
“Do what? Eat?”
“Yes. No, that’s silly I guess, I invited you to brunch, I just, I don’t know. Can’t look at that.”
“Are you pregnant?”
“No. No way.”
She almost looked sad at that, I remember especially because she usually gave babies a wide berth, declaring her intentions to be Child Free. Child free, she’d say, waving a hand derisively, not childless, like you’re somehow incomplete. But that day the shape of her mouth was an unvoiced melancholy. I wiped my mouth on my flannel cuff, leaving a soft smear of grease.
“Let’s go.” She rose, suddenly, leaving a pile of twenties on the table.
“Anywhere. I just want, I don’t know, a day.”
“One day,” she said decisively. I shrugged and slipped my coat back on. “Let’s walk.”
I would give her anything she wanted, and so we walked west, scuffing down Grand Street, watching the storefronts shading from 99¢ stores and boutiques flanked by mannequin legs with exaggerated butts, to bars with polished wood and taxidermied birds, shops selling locally made soaps. Each one seemed to hold the same interest for her, peering at pink leggings and non-toxic cerulean nail polish with the same intensity. She stopped to pet the iguana-dark skin of an avocado at a fruit stand, a lycra dress, a black bodega cat.
We stopped in a bar for Bloody Mary’s, and she ate her pickled greenbeans with arousing abandon, closed her eyes against the throatheat of horseradish and pepper, but couldn’t finish, finger firm against the end of her suspended straw dripping tomato like the end of an IV. Tracking north to Metropolitan, we hung a left under the rumbly ribs of the BQE. Waiting for the light, she placed a palm against one of the vast concrete supports and her face drew into lines of disappointment that the thrum of traffic didn’t shiver her hand. We stopped in a boutique, and she stroked a blue cashmere scarf. The salesgirl told her it would look great with her eyes and I had to agree. I flipped over the price tag and flinched, but she just asked if they took credit cards.
She wrapped it around her throat, snugging her chin into the softness. “Mmm. It’s the background of every painting from Picasso’s blue period overlaid and made into a scarf.”
“Still, two hundred? That’s like a week of rent. Oh god, do you have a terminal disease?”
“Okay. Just embezzled a bunch of money from a hedge fund and want to spend it before you get caught?” She smiled unwillingly.
“No. Stop guessing. Let’s just … walk.”
Having gone as far west as you can get in that part of Brooklyn, we stood on the North 6th Street pier, watching the black tongue of the East River lap up against the pilings, surging stronger, frothier when a ferry pulled in to dock. Further out, the river looked blue, beyond that the Manhattan skyline, and even further, the sky. She tucked her hand into mine and put her head on my shoulder, blonde hairs wind-whipped into my face and scintillating the light. I can still feel the pressure of it, a complete letting-go, the muscles of her slender neck limp and her skull against my coat.
“Sometimes, I look at the skyline from here and it still looks like I’ve never been there,” she said almost lost in the skirl of wind off the river. “I’ve worked in it, walked around in it how many times but from here it’s still just this imagined place, where if you could just get there, everything would be okay.”
“I could take you on the ferry?” I suggested, half joking. The absence of her head and hand felt like thirst as she stood.
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
We made it back to the subway, trotted down stairs. She walked blithe on the yellow Duplo edges of the platform, and when the L train screeched into the station she closed her eyes and let the wind blow her hair back, smiling. “Stand clear of the closing doors, please,” she mimicked with perfect intonation, once boarded and curled on pale-blue plastic. “I love that sentence.”
“Are you sure you don’t have Stage IV cancer?”
“You’re not… you’re not planning, I mean, you’re not?” I remember feeling gristle caught in my molars as I said that, a fibrous lump that resisted my tongue.
“Suicidal? No,” she petted my sleeve, skirting the grease stain. “Promise.”
This is Montrose Avenue, the woman intoned with a weird mix of cheer and finality. It was her stop, but she clutched my wrist.
“I don’t want to go home, not quite yet.” So we took the train a few stops further out, emerging at Jefferson Street. The sky was a startling expanse, a buttery light slanting over Wyckoff. From here, we could only see the top of the Empire State, attenuated by haze but not without grandeur. We walked west again, pulled back further and then released like a child’s springwheeled race car, past Chinese-owned vintage stores and the great fishy-smelling maws that powered them from the streets behind, men in tiny forklifts careening across the sidewalk with bales of clothing, past entire blocks graffitied with a single theme. She spent a long time looking at a concrete wall with a window painted on, looking over a pan-European city, spires and domes.
We walked past projects, blocks of them stopping the cross-streets with almost medieval bulk, a few trees tokenly scraggling among the brick, past a Key Food plastered in ads for food that’s long since spoilt. She put her hand in mine again, in my pocket. Finally we stepped up to her building. She stood on tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek, then on the corner of my mouth.
“Wait, let me walk you up.”
“Oh, you don’t have to.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“Oh, but you really shouldn’t.”
“Please,” unwilling to let our odd and newfound intimacy go.
She silently pressed the numerical code, fingers nimble on the keypad, and I remembered that she played piano, and that I’d never heard her. One of those things you forget until it’s too late. I followed her, and when we got to her apartment, the door was unlatched, and there was squawk and static from inside, and I thought of muggers, of break-ins, of rapists, of everything except what it was, and my hand on her shoulder didn’t stop her from pushing the door inwards.
The kitchen was spattered with blood. I tried to gather her in my arms, prepared for scream or sob, but she pushed me away, expressionless. I might have seen a booted foot lying skewed at inanimate angle from behind the island, but I can’t be sure. All I remember is her pale face, chin high and resolute as she walked into the apartment and waited, hands held in front of her with wrists together, palms up like an incongruous Jesus, in supplication or in purpose, waiting quietly for the blue-suited policemen to take her away from me.
I love how “equally comfortable” is so relative.
I am equally comfortable in blue jeans and little black dresses, which is to say: not at all. I am profoundly uncomfortable in every situation in which I find myself, like a flayed mollusk ripped from its shell. As I take long walks upon the beach I find myself wanting to walk out into the surf and never return, as I cuddle by the fire I wonder “if I put my hand in these flames would I feel it? Would I snatch my hand away or would I just burn?” The very world chafes upon my skin and I scream inside, all of the time; whether I am wearing blue jeans or a little black dress does not matter, as I am always the walking corpse of myself.
At the end of my analysis, I'd compiled enough information to create a super profile - I wrote that "my friends would describe me as an outgoing and social world traveler, who's equally comfortable in blue jeans and little black dresses."
What a revelation. This, my friends, is what we can get from data analytics.
I am a
molecular biologist otter trainer who is equally comfortable in hazmat suits and reproductions of the dress Marie Antoinette was wearing the day she was guillotined.
I’m walking east from the Met, steady rain and steam wisping off the street, crossing Madison and quickening my step to make it across. A pudgy pale man in a red windbreaker standing at the corner stares balefully downtown, presumably trying to hail a cab, and as I pass by he turns his gaze to me and says, with exquisite malice, “Everybody hates you.”
Stutterstepped, I half spin. ”Excuse me?” He whips around so his back is to oncoming traffic, unwilling even to look at me, I suppose.
I make it to Lexington, hang right, catch the downtown 6. My shoes ache a little, and I move to sit down. A hand at my lower back pushes me away.
I half spin. ”Excuse me.” An older man in a tattered newsboy cap gestures at the bench, traced with a brown substance of indeterminate gumminess, then gallantly extracts a page from his AM New York and lays it over the gunk, inclining his head to let me know I can sit.
“Sorry to,” he extends his hand outward, “I just didn’t want you to ruin that nice coat.”
-Excuse me, sir. Sir!
-Would you like to play a game?
-Well, not really but…
-If you can answer this one trivia question correctly, you get a prize.
-Well, my train’s not coming for a half hour, why not. Shoot.
-Here it is: what is the longest work that has ever been written?
-Oh, I know this one. It’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.
-But, it is… Oh well. Maybe next time.
-I’ll give you a couple more chances.
-Does the Complete Works of Shakespeare count?
-Sure. But that’s not the right answer either.
-Can you give me a hint?
-It has been bound in pelt and bark, scale and skin.
-This is a real thing?
-I don’t know. The Bible?
-Come on. Give me another clue.
-It encompasses lives everyone has already forgotten, the crossings-sweep who died in an attic, the lyrebird who died in his nest. It gives the history of the unobserved and the reconstructed. It’s a palimpsest of erasures and inventions, it informs itself. It describes how one lives and inks in how one dies.
-What? When was it written?
-It’s still being written.
-In what language?
-Its own language, with a letters and a lexicon and an inscrutable grammar.
-Give me a break, I’m going to miss my train. Just tell me what it is.
-I’ll give you one more hint.
-It does all of this with only four letters.
-What the fuck language only has four letters?
-A. T. G. C.