A siren wailed. A siren wailed. A siren wailed and this annoyingly hyperactive thing called earth spun itself into the day, and with a totally obnoxious twentysomething-degree tilt, impulsively decided to trace out another 1.6 million miles of its favorite ellipse onto the egocentric fabric of spacetime. Onto the nothing-new firmament of past and future history. Because after roughly four billion years of this oh-so-starry routine, like what else was there to do? . . .
I blinked. I blinked twice and licked the really intense night off my tiny teeth as an ambulance went screeching up Humboldt Street. Went screeching up—something grumbled in my core. Tangytart acid surged up my throat. A tablespoon of Tabasco on my tongue I pushed myself up off the soggy pillow and brushed up against something warm, something hard—the ruffled sheets twitching an inch or so below the cotton surface. No time to investigate I jerk-a-jerked my superlong legs off the waterbed and whirled out of the room, one palm covering my heaving mouth, one palm ramming the bathroom door wide open and just barely lifting the toilet seat before all the vinegary vomit came gurgling up. The gin and lime, the coffee. The yellowgreen rocket fuel. Highly pressurized puke rupturing my extra-small throat. Barf-red tears like totally ruining my bra and underwear . . . Ugh, it was all like seriously disgusting. Seriously gross. I definitely didn’t wanna ever, ever watch . . .
After unpacking my midmorning’s heart with tangytart puke, my stomach like totally empty now, I rinsed my supersore face in the sink and spit one, two or three yucky times. I wiped the porcelain clean, then lifted my throbbing head and peeked into the bathroom mirror. But uh-oh, this definitely definitely wasn’t good . . . Ostrich feathers sticking out in all directions, one bloody nostril sprinkled with pixie dust, my lower lip crusted over, my front teeth totally chipped and both of my skunk eyes scrunched up into a pair of purple prunes! AH! NO! FUCK SHIT FUCK! Cringing, sighing, cringing I rubbed the bruised flesh round and round, trying my very best not to think or watch or scream at the junkie scarecrow trapped in the mirror . . . Definitely not in a teeth-brushing mood I dried my disfigured face then flinched as a kid-sized ghost whisked behind my blurry reflection, paranormal giggles echoing out in the hall . . . I held my breath and tippy-toed out of the bathroom—the front door slamming shut as I rolled back into my messier than messy bedroom . . . But I definitely already knew what to expect, and yep, of course—the human under the sheets was like totally gone. In his or her place, snaked across one of the puffy pillows (one of my puffy pillows!), a silver skull smirked its emerald eyes up at me. Oh that bastard! Hissing and gripping the Jolly Roger bolo tie in an angry fist I stared at the mustard-colored splatter on what had like actually been my last set of sheets. I stared and felt something squishy under my feet. I looked down, then blinked and blushed and bit my teeny-weeny tongue because a kid-sized condom was curled up like a slug round and round my precious ankle, all ten of my tiny toes shining with a second or third skin of gooier than gooey semen. Oh that fucking bastard! I threw the slippery tube in the trash and tried my very best to remember like what exactly happened at the opening last night. Because I definitely didn’t remember much. I mean I definitely remembered talking to bitchy blonde Lola about something or other. But I definitely didn’t remember what. And then there was that green-eyed skank who was like actually spoiling my life. Plus I like kinda remembered getting into a cab with someone. With some kid wearing a cut-off white jacket or something . . . I squeezed the bolo tie and slowly put two and three together. Because this was like obviously the same bolo tie I’d pulled out of that knapsack in the basement. Because that kid must have obviously been the transcendental scuba diver or whatever. But I just wasn’t sure if I had politely asked the kid to please-oh-please fuck my superbrilliant brains out, or if Federico or whatever his name was had basically just followed me home and made himself a creamy casserole out of my innocent innards. Ugh, I definitely didn’t wanna think about it. Definitely not. Because there was like obviously no way to tell and anyway it was all that stupid skank’s fault! . . . I picked a dandruff flake off my frizzy black bangs. I felt totally gross, totally tired—totally unwell. But obviously there wasn’t time for a shower or a spa visit or nothing really nice like that. Not if I wanted to catch them before their flight boarded. Not if I wanted to tell him how much I like still totally loved him and how I like totally didn’t care if I was just a supercute piece of ass on the side. Because I was like totally okay with just being his twentysomething booty call. Because I like totally understood the human condition now! Oh yes, I definitely did! So without wasting any more time thinking or pondering or musing I pulled on my favorite pair of ripped jeans, because I mean they didn’t smell too bad, and anyway all my other pants were in the hamper, so yea, too bad, so sorry society, whatever. Then I picked up my favorite striped sweater off the very wet floor and put it on without even drying it or scrubbing away the coffee stains or picking off all the buttery popcorn kernels or ironing out all the embarrassing bluewhite wrinkles or nothing as time-wasting as all that!
Almost dressed, almost ready, I wobbled over to the window and peered down at parallel parked blurs, iron and brick building blocks—the asphalt merging with the sidewalk and forming a half-pipe of grimy sunlight with a pair of mismatching shades tumbling down its curved sunslope, a strip of greasy light in between, the smaller of the shades towing along its human-headed companion. Tied to each other. Tied to Brooklyn and me . . . But why was it all so blurry?—standing at the window and rubbing my sandwoman eyes, watching the two or three shapes scuttle down the street together. On a stroll. On a walk. On their way to a BYOB Bushwick boutique . . . And then it hit me. My glasses! FUCK SHIT FUCK! My glasses! How the fuck did I let myself get so drunk! Why was I always such a fucking idiot! What the fuck! AH! Groaning and moaning I grabbed my canvas tote bag off the floor and stuffed my ultrathin laptop right on in along with that bastard’s bolo tie (which I had every intention of tossing into the dirtiest, the dankest and darkest gutter I could possibly find!). Then I stomped off into the kitchen for a drink of something, anything. My head was like seriously killing me . . .
“Oh, my, God! What the hell does she want this time!” growling and muttering the second I saw the sticky note pinned like a human scalp underneath the kitschy Central Park magnet, the annoyingly compressed, annoyingly flawless handwriting like actually forcing me to press my swollen button nose all the way up to the neon-pink square and squint.
You forgot to pay the rent this month! I had to ask my parents for the money! I want all of your stuff out of here by the end of the week! No funny stuff!
P.S. Some bitchy girl from your gallery called and said you were fired!
P.P.S. The landlord called and said our neighbors downstairs are complaining about a ceiling leak under your bedroom!
P.P.P.S. Have you been stealing my medicine!
Biting back a scream I ripped the note off the fridge and took my time crumpling it into a little ball of sticky pink hate. Then I hurled that betraying bitch into the garbage can and with nothing left to drink in the fridge, no Chemex coffee brewed, I swallowed a mouthful of Aspirin, a mouthful of Percocet, a mouthful of Ritalin and gulped down the remainder of my rage at the kitchen sink. Oh that bitch! That total fucking bitch! I looked down at my shaking hands, at my splintered fingernails. I screamed and scratched off the last bit of sweeter than sweet nail polish. Then I put on my blue and yellow vintage sneakers and totally got the fuck out of this superbad vibes apartment . . .
Someone on the train smelled way beyond terrible today. But I definitely couldn’t tell who. It might have possibly been one of the two or three penis-faced boys swaying in the aisle, hands casually drooped through the overhead straps, ironic basketball jerseys swooshing from side to side, side to side as the subway cars went snorkeling through this Williamsburg princedom—four feathery armpits stuffing my guiltless nostrils with spoiled clam chowder, creatively rotten scallops, gentrified BO. Ugh, it was like all seriously gross. Seriously uncalled for. Trying my very best not to gag, not to faint, not to judge, I took out my bone-white headphones and rummaged in my tote bag for my smartphone so that I could like just zone out on a trance wave and not think or exist or whatever for at least five or ten minutes . . . I screamed . . . Gone. Totally gone . . . I screamed . . . Last night. After talking to that California skank. Gone. Totally gone . . . I screamed and screamed and screamed while the train dived like a steel-whiskered walrus and shipwrecked on an island sky-high on glass promises, consumer cures, trillion-dollar truths just waiting to be deciphered and downloaded. Wirelessly shared from borough to borough. Coast to coast . . . I closed my gopher eyes and tried my very best not to smell, not to cry, not to worry. About everything . . .
Union Square. The song ended, the train stopped, the giggling doors slid open and I tippy-toed out over the urine-scented platform with two or three full-body shrieks as a sewer rat squirmed its shit-slick tail across my faultless feet! Ugh, seriously uncalled for! Seriously gross! Chewing on my crusty lower lip and hoping against all hope that their flight was delayed or cancelled or something I scurried up the stairs and elbowed my way through a mooing herd of mentally disabled felons, then scurried across the crowded mezzanine and scurried down the stairs on the opposite end of the station, elbowing my way though a flag-waving flock of Polynesian sightseers. Because my plan was to either take the 4 or 5 train heading uptown so that I could transfer to the Queens-bound 7 train at Grand Central and ride that all the way to the 74th Street stop where I could then hop-a-hop on the Q70 bus to LaGuardia. Because that was obviously the fastest way to the airport. Obviously . . . But oh boy, oh jeez, all I could see were blurry blobs. Hundreds and hundreds of blurry blobs scattered like undead passenger pigeons across the platform. Seriously hating myself for not having an emergency pair of reading glasses or contacts or something I sat down against one of the dirtier than dirty support columns and started rehearsing what I’d say once I finally saw him again. Because my speech would like obviously have to be perfectly perfect. Obviously. I nodded and practiced my lines. I practiced and swallowed a teaspoon of tangytart vomit, make that two or three tangytart teaspoons, each of my superloud stomach grumbles painfully reminding yours truly that she hadn’t had anything to eat for breakfast or for dinner or for lunch or forever! . . .
A few hunger pains later, my train still nowhere in sight, my panic levels like totally rising, totally approaching critical mass, I jumped up and splashed over to the nearest blur. (A blur which turned out to be a banjo-playing cross-country backpacker from Oklahoma.) I stomped my feet and clenched my jaw. I put my hands on my extra-small hips. I asked the tree hugger for the fucking time . . .
After waiting what like actually must have been an hour for the grungy folksinger to dig into his bottomless backpack and scoop out all his cooking utensils, his portable stoves, his sleeping bags, his compasses, his sundials, his hourglasses, the Okie finally found a dusty old pocketwatch his great-grandfather had carried while working as a railroad engineer out West.
The tree hugger smiled affectionately at the threadlike chain, at the ticking hands.
“It’s a quarter to eleven,” the tree hugger whispering. “Give or take a few nanoseconds.”
I screamed and punched the bastard hippie in his bastard face. But before the bleeding heart could call the cops or pick up his front teeth I scurried over to the opposite platform and hopped on the 6 train heading downtown . . .
I hopped off one stop later. I scurried over to the opposite platform and made a more than necessary pit stop at what had once upon a very early twentieth century been the women’s public lavatory but was now, after a series of neoliberal renovations, after the party-till-you-vote-for-Ronald-fucking-Reagan 1980’s, a newsstand. I grabbed a 20-hour energy shot, a deliciously chewy Laffy Taffy, and a blueredyellow Gatorade. I swiped Daddy’s extra-platinum credit card, squinting hard at the miniature TV behind the tobacco-spitting, the laughing, the arak-sipping, the clapping, the Falstaffian cashier from Bagdad or Aleppo or Beirut or one of those war-speaking places over there. I chugged and chewed and squinted and watched the two- or three-minute trailer to that sci-fi blockbuster which I was like probably definitely never ever going to have the time to see. I chugged and chewed and watched the silent explosions, the zero-gravity sex, the ticket-selling carnage. I chugged and chewed and scolded myself for not being able to direct something as ridiculously awesome as that. Because why-oh-why couldn’t it be my movie on the TV? Because why-oh-why couldn’t I be the one everyone claps and dies for! Because why-oh-why wasn’t I worshiped like that! Loved like that! . . .
Totally refueled, totally ready to rock and fucking roll I threw away the 20-hour energy shot, threw away the crinkly candy wrapper, squeezed the empty Gatorade bottle in my extra-small hands, shielded my disfigured face from the cold blue sun and the cold clear wind, and then climbed back up into the carnival . . .
Brandishing my plastic blade at the onslaught of workaholic blurs, and reminding myself that I like definitely needed to call my really successful, really Polish parents and tell them about my eviction notice, my brand new unemployment status, and my possible sexual assault, I lowered my throbbing head and scurried out of the horribly horrible Astor Place ruckus. I scurried down half a brain-jarring block of Broadway, letting out a louder than loud growl of relief when I took a quick right and then scurried onto the much more harmonious and refined, much more peaceful and dignified, much more affluent and spiritual—Waverly Place. Because it was obviously time for plan B . . .
Washington Square. Diamonds winking up at the cobalt sky. I blinked, blinked twice. Diamonds winking underneath my alma mater. I blinked and scurried and squinted until I could make out two or three blurs in plain white tees leaning against an unmarked van, their aviator sunglasses shooting me with creepy suspicion. I lowered my throbbing head because I like definitely didn’t wanna risk a closer look. No way. Because they were probably just some middle-aged sex tourists trying to get a glimpse of the adorable college cherubs. An objectified pang in my postfeminist ovaries I scurried up to the cube-shaped citadel. Pulled harder than hard on the really heavy doors. Then travelled back two or three years . . .
With a reluctant hiss I showed the security officer my laminated guest pass, trying my very best to smile like a well-bred suburban kitten while the hideous hog compared the supercute face on the card with my mutilated mask. With a sarcastic meow I stated my name, my occupation—Zoe Dreamstein. Unemployed gallery geisha. Snorting his amusement the bastard waved me through the metal detector, beads of nervous sweat sprouting up along the twin tips of my unwaxed eyebrows as I held my tote bag tight to my claustrophobic chest and tippy-toed out over the marble-floored campus, the air swirling into that totally recognizable dimension of compressed awkwardness, oppressive density, humid social anxiety. Into that hormone-governed vortex of quixotic attitude and 400-level seminars. Trial-and-error threesomes. Double-spaced essays. Machiavellian power struggles and cafeteria fashion shows . . .
Chewing on my flavorless nails I wiggled my superlong legs into the elevator and shrank back against the maternal cage, trying my very best to hide behind my bruises as two or three frat boys crammed in beside me. Way too scared to move or breathe or live I lowered my throbbing head and stared at their Sperry Top-siders. Because I could like actually feel the preppy bro to my left—a baseball cap on backwards, a popped collar poking out from underneath a purplewhite sweater—because I could like actually feel him checking me out through a Greek life prism of beer pong and hydroponic weed. (And did he know I didn’t belong here? And was he on to me already? And was he going to tell on little ol’ me?) I held my breath and looked straight ahead at the closed elevator doors. I held my breath and tried my very best to tighten my chapped lips, my aching cheeks, my totally unstable disguise . . .
Fourth floor. I nudged my way down the hectic hall, feeling like an imposter, a double agent, a KGB femme fatale. And maybe that’s also why I suddenly felt like doing a little snoop-a-snooping. Because being bad was just so much more fun . . . I licked my lips. I made sure no one was around, and in the first classroom I spied, through a square of naughty-nice window glass, a semicircle of seated students with spiral-bound notebooks on their barely legal laps, studious heads attentively turned toward an elderly lady in yellow and bumblebee-black. A discussion based class, I confidently surmised, staring at the protective professor and licking the steamy memories off the glass, thinking that maybe that one Pizza Boy was like actually on to something. Because maybe I should like definitely apply to grad school or the Peace Corps. Because maybe that would make everything better. Like so much better . . .
My lumpy forehead bumped the glass. An accident! Just an accident! But the really mean professor stung me through the porthole with such a serious please-get-the-fuck-out-of-here-before-I-call-security scowl, that I gave a paranoid yelp and did an undercover twirl, scurrying deeper and deeper into mine enemy’s territory . . .
There were thirty or so students in the next room. A large lecture hall that sloped and fell to the right in an inclined rectangle of outrageously overpriced indoctrination. Unzipped backpacks, highlighted textbooks, hindering any and all brilliance up or down the carpeted steps. But at least the Einstein-esque professor scribbling cuneiform or linear algebra or the fourth movement of a violin partita in B minor on the blackboard must have definitely been a good one, because nobody’s smartphone was out, nobody was nodding off, and I definitely couldn’t see anybody doodling dicks or tits or nothing cute like that . . . I sighed and licked my nostalgia away. Like a totally blind mole rate I turned and burrowed back underground, veering left at the end of the tapering hall. Wiggling my superlong legs between a couple of sweethearts who were like seriously having the time of their lives licking each other’s pasty eyeballs. With a moan I slipped out of the sunny classroom pastures. With a really deep breath I hurried up a silent stairwell . . .
The temperature dropped. Oh boy, oh jeez, I was like definitely in the inner sanctum now. In the hush-hush domain of faculty offices and department meetings. Where tenure track decisions were secretly arranged behind bureaucratic doors, visiting professors tossed back out on the streets like overfucked concubines. Oh boy. Oh jeez . . .
The walls were narrowing. Ugly florescent lights buzzed above me, stretching my tote bag-carrying silhouette across the gunmetal floor. I clicked my tongue. I used my submarine sonar to navigate my way though the semidark—my tongue clicks ricocheting off distant objects, distant kraken . . . I ran my fingers along the bumpy office plaques, used my braille-reading skills (I taught myself in kindergarten) to carefully connect the dots, all the dots . . . Department of Neuroscience, office hours 1 PM to 4 PM . . . Department of Environmental Studies, closed on Tuesdays . . . Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies . . . Department of Latino Studies . . . Department of Journalism . . . Distinguished Professor and Chair of Art History, Computer Science, Enology, Experimental Archeology, Film Studies, Haitian Poetry, Hungarian Literature, International Economics, Precolonial Caribbean History, Postcolonial African Politics, Queer Theory, Semiotics, String Theory—Professor Martín Amís. With a shout of success I tripped and faceplanted in front of my favorite professor’s office . . .
The lights were on but I definitely couldn’t see through the frosted glass panels tinted hemoglobin-red by the EXIT sign behind me. I knocked once, twice, thrice on the glass and waited . . . Nothing. I pressed my ear flat to the glass. Nothing. Thinking that maybe Professor Amís hadn’t been able to hear my delicate finger drumming, I was about to knock again—louder this time, with a superbossy fist this time—when a four-armed shadow suddenly crept over the frosted glass and ouch! Something poke-a-poked me in my shoulder blade!
“Hey you!” poking and shouting. “Hey you!”
I swiveled and raised my extra-small dukes, totally ready to throw the fuck down.
Holding hands and dressed in matching black, that same PDA couple from downstairs was standing under the EXIT sign, staring at me, red light dripping down their lips and fangs.
The boy with scissors for hair poked me in the shoulder again. “Yea, you,” he said. His lower lip was pierced, and I realized with a suburban shudder, with two or three suburban shudders, that I was dealing with a Goth. AH! NO!
“Stop that,” I said, swatting the freak’s finger away, his black nail polish matching his black eyeliner matching the black anguish of his misunderstood soul. “Don’t fucking poke me. What the fuck do you want?”
The Goth slowly pulled his rejected finger back, ruffled his blades of raven’s hair. “Are you a student? You don’t look like a student. Are you supposed to be up here?”
I gritted my chipped teeth. “I’m here to see Professor Amís.”
“Professor fucking Amís!” I screamed, jerking my thumb at the door. “This office. I’m sure you’ve definitely seen him around. The guy’s like impossible to miss. He looks like a god and he hums all the time. Plus he’s a fucking big deal. Like intellectually speaking.”
The misfits looked at each other, grinned, winked, and with her spiked collar still clinking to the beat of her snickers, the Gothette said, “Yea I don’t know about any humming professor-god. But I saw some guys taking pictures and collecting samples off this door a few hours ago. So maybe this professor-god of yours switched offices.”
Her fellow freak poked my shoulder again. “Hey are you sure you’re allowed up here? What happened to your face? And why are you all alone on a Friday? Show me your guest pass. I know you don’t belong here.”
I definitely wasn’t about to show this Gestapo bastard anything. But I was about to punch him in his totalitarian throat. I pulled my extra-small fist back and—
“A-lo! A-lo! Vho is here? Hmm? Vho is here? A-lo! A-lo!”
I could hear latches turning, pulleys creaking, a drawbridge lowering . . .
“Oh aren’t you a lucky bastard,” whispering and shaking my fists, pivoting away into Professor Amís’s office with a backside mumble—“And why don’t you freaks get a room. It’s not Halloween you know.”
“What was that!” someone somewhere yelling but I definitely wasn’t about to turn and see who. I just kept spelunking on ahead while someone’s tortured voice echoed in my slipstream—“Why don’t you mind your own fucking business! You prude bitch!” The door must have like definitely swung itself shut behind me. I could totally hear it locking into place with a click click, click . . .
The smell. It was always the smell that got me. That dream-catching blend of scotch and shoe polish. Of frankincense and fine cigar. Of culture and crime. Oh boy, oh jeez, it went straight to this throbbing head of mine . . .
I scratched my swollen button nose and tried my very best to focus in on Professor Amís’s voice, humming at me from somewhere in the office-cave—“Ah it is zee, ma chérie. How are zee today? Hmm? Zoe? Are zee zood? Are zee zood today? Hmm? Zoe? Hmm?” Professor Amís’s 6-foot-6, 245-pound avatar materializing from out of the pungent depths. (The office-cave had to be at least twice or thrice the size of my apartment. If not more, much, much more . . .)
I gripped my tote bag and mumbled my respects to the Supreme Being. “Hi, professor. Ugh, not too good actually. I’m like ridiculously hung over and ridiculously angry today.”
Professor Amís’s round and hairless face creased itself with sympathy. A galaxy-caressing hand patted me on the shoulder. “Angry?” he hummed. “But vhy, ma chérie—vhy angry? Here. Sit down.” Professor Amís pointed to a sugarcane chair opposite his moon rock throne. “Zes. Sit down.”
I sat down and sighed. “I don’t know, professor. Everything’s just fucked right now. I was supposed to make it over to LaGuardia today but I totally missed their flight and now I’m going to have to wait till they get back to try my very best to get back with my ex and I think it’s like definitely going to be too late and it’s all because of this stuck-up LA cunt who’s been sleeping with him just to spite me. I hate her, professor. I like actually hate her. But how was Giacomo last night? Did he say anything about me or Peter? Did he talk about us?”
“Hmm? Vhat? Hmm? Peter? Giacomo? Zee homeless preacher of zee application?” Professor Amís leaning back in his throne and stroking his chin. “Interesting. Zat is very interesting . . . Vhy don’t zee show moi vhat zee have, hmm? Show moi everything and then ve shall zee vhat ve can do about zee situation. Hmm? Zood? Hmm?”
I nodded and pulled out my ultrathin laptop. I clicked on the little bit of usable footage I actually had then raised myself up on my ten tippy-toes and tossed the computer up over the celestial peak. Professor Amís’s all-knowing eyes dilating and zooming in on the flashing screen. He hummed, he watched, and trying my very best to ignore my hangover, my hunger, I chewed on my totally bland fingernails and looked round and round the office-cave for any cool new artifacts or antiques . . . The never-ending walls of books, the floor-to-ceiling stacks of medieval manuscripts . . . a world-renowned collection of samurai swords and Zulu throwing spears . . . a Formula One racecar, a stuffed orangutan and a baby humpback whale . . . the twin towers of VHS tapes and DVDs . . . the collectable vinyl records and sacred Hindu stones . . . Oh that might be new—squinting and staring at what totally looked like the Antiktythera mechanism balanced on top of Tutankhamen’s—
“Interesting. Very, very interesting,” Professor Amís slamming my laptop shut. “Very interesting,” he repeated, pinkie-flicking my laptop off his mountain-desk and right into my little lap. “But vhere is zee rest, Zoe? Hmm? Vhere? Zee rest?”
I bit my lower lip. “Um, well, you know that’s like all I have right now. But I got a ton of footage last night. It’s just that I had to shoot it all on my smartphone and I think I left it at the gallery or someone stole it or I lost it or I don’t know. But either way I still think the whole thing’s going to be a ridiculously big hit. I promise, professor, it’ll seriously be the most successful rom-com to ever—”
“Enough! This is only zee fantasy! This is no romance, no comedy—no movie! . . . This is not even funny, Zoe. Hmm? Not even funny . . . This is nothing. Nothing. Nothing!”
I squeezed my laptop. I started to cry and shake.
Professor Amís rubbed his obsidian skull. “Ah, Zoe,” he hummed. “Ve thought zee vanted to be a famous director like moi. But now zee have missed zee deadline and zee have nothing. Zee should have seen Lola’s detective film. It vas an exquisite example of zee new film noir. Most exquisite. Lola vill go to film school and be vanderful. But zee vill not. Zee vill not go to film school next zear, ma chérie. Zee vill not be vanderful. Perhaps zee may try again in two or three zears. Perhaps then ve shall see . . .”
“Two or three years?” the blood rushing to my blistered face. “But I definitely can’t wait two or three more years. No way. I can’t. I totally won’t! NO!”
“No? Hmm? Then vhat vill zee do, ma chérie? Hmm? Vhat vill zee do?”
“I don’t know, professor. I just don’t know what to do. This is all that stupid skank’s fault!”
Professor Amís hummed and stroked his chin. “Ma chérie, do not vorry. Do not vorry. Ve vill tell zee a story. Listen to zee story. This vas vhen ve vas not a man of such importance. Ve vas zoung, very zoung. Ve vas, as zee Americans like to say, a ‘twentysomething’. Ve vas zoung, ambitious. Ve vanted to be zee next Sahagún, zee next Voltaire, zee next Goethe, zee next Carlyle, zee next Humboldt—zee next Veber! Hmm! Zee understand, Zoe? Veber? Hmm? . . . Ve vas vorking on zee monographs investigating zee relationship between sex, religion, narcotics, truth. This vas a, how zee say, ‘hip’ field vhen ve vas zoung. Zes, zes. Ve vas zoung, handsome, and vas nothing. Ve vas nothing and vas in zee Amazon. In Peru. Zes, Peru! Zee like Peru, Zoe? Zee like? Zes, zes, ve vas hiking in zee jungle for veeks. So many veeks looking for zee lost tribe. Zee tribe never before corrupted by zee civilized Homo sapiens like zee. Like moi . . . But ve vas starving. Ve had not eaten—had not tasted zee animal flesh in veeks! Ve vas lost, Zoe. So lost. So lost . . . Ve vas to die in zee jungle. Ve vas ashamed. Ve vas never to be zee next Veber! Never to be zee next Humboldt! Ve vas ashamed. So ashamed and so hungry . . . Ve lay down in zee jungle to die, Zoe. Forever. To die . . . But then zee found moi! Zes, zes! Zee naked boys found moi and carried moi back to zee village. Zee gave moi food and took care of moi. But vhen ve vas healthy, vhen ve vas zoung and handsome again, ve did not vant to leave. No, no, ve vanted to stay and learn zee language. Zee sexual language . . . Ve vanted to finish zee research! Hmm! Zee, understand? Zee research? Hmm? Zee research!”
I picked a dandruff flake off my frizzy black bangs.
Professor Amís humming—“Zes, zes, ve stayed in zee jungle. For two or three more zears ve stayed. And vhen it vas time to return to zee France. To leave zee jungle. Zat, ma chérie. Zat is vhen zee came for moi. Zat is vhen ve vas initiated . . . Zee shaman came vhen ve vas sleeping. Zee shaman voke moi up and made moi drink from zee cup. ‘Drink,’ zee shaman said. ‘Drink to quench zee spirits vithin.’ And then zee shaman brought moi out in front of zee village. Ve vas naked. Zee red masks vas naked. Everyone vas naked! So naked. So naked . . . Zee vas a girl—ve do not know zee age, do not ask, do not ask! Ve vere on zee ground. Zee burned our feet vith zee fire. Zee red masks vas vhipping us. Zee shaman vas speaking. Zee penis vas growing, changing zee colors. Ve vas inside zee girl. No, no, no, ve vas inside each other—fusing. Do zee understand zee fusing, ma chérie? Zee fusing? Hmm? Zee like zee fusing? If zee like zee fusing zee must study zee sketches. Zee are fascinating. Zee are detailed. Zes, detailed. Hmm? Zee like zee fusing? . . . But enough! Ve vant to ask zee a question. A question, ma chérie. Vho had zee control? Did ve have zee control? Or did zee shaman have zee control? Or did zee red masks have zee control? Or perhaps, ma chérie, did zee girl have zee control? Hmm? Zoe? Hmm? Tell me.” Professor Amís leaned over his desk and probed me with his all-knowing eyes. He asked again—“Vho had zee control?”
“Um,” mumbling and trying my very best to think of something to say that wouldn’t make it sound like I definitely didn’t know what in the world he was talking about . . . But then I gave up and just went for it.
“I mean, when you really think about it. It kinda sounds like—”
There was a loud knock-knock on the door.
I turned in my sugarcane chair. I squinted hard, real hard. But like all I could see were blurry blobs pressed up against the frosted windowpane.
There was another knock-knock. Another two or three impatient knock-knocks.
Professor Amís’s round and hairless face creased itself with confusion. He stood up and marched to the front of the office-cave. “Hmm, vho could zee be?” humming and rubbing his magnetic skull. “Ve vas not expecting. No, ve vas not. Lez me see. Lez me see.” I watched as his galaxy-bending hands slowly turned the latches, slowly pulled the pulleys, slowly lowered the drawbridge . . . But I definitely couldn’t see a thing around his totem pole torso.
“May ve help zee?” I heard Professor Amís ask someone.
“Excuse me, sir,” a sterile voice responding. “Are you Martín Amís?”
“Zes. Zat is ve. Ve am zee Martín Amís. Zes, ve am.”
“Good. We thought so. We are here investigating rumors.”
“Rumors? Vhat rumors?”
“Correct, sir. Rumors. We are here investigating rumors. And unfortunately, unfortunately for you, our investigation has led us here. To this office. The rumors that we are investigating lead to Martín Amís. The rumors that we are investigating lead to you.”
Chewing on a blood-sour fingernail I watched the back of Professor Amís’s cranium hover in the doorway. I heard him hum—“And vhat are zee rumors? Tell me zee rumors.”
“We’d rather not say, sir,” the sterile voice pausing. Then adding, “We’d rather not say in front of any students.”
“Students? Vhat students?” Professor Amís flashing an annoyed frown in my direction. Shaking his skull. “No, no,” he hummed. “She is no student. She is nobody. She is nothing! Nothing!”
I blushed. I started to cry and shake again.
Professor Amís totally yelling now—“Ve demand to know vhat zee rumors are. This is Amerika! Ve am a legalized citizen of zee country! Tell moi zee rumors! Tell moi!”
“Please calm down, sir. All shall be made clear in due time. The Law shall be known to all. Justice shall prevail across the land . . . However, I will tell you this. The rumor that has brought us to this office. The rumor that has brought us to you. Is the rumor of whether or not a certain distinguished professor of this storied institution may or may not have been involved in certain non-consensual historical reenactments with certain underage—”
“Enough!” Professor Amís shouting, massive vocal chords crackling. “Enough! Ve understand! Enough . . .” Professor Amís turning, turning, turning a skeleton smile at me.
“Ma chérie. Ve am afraid zat zee must go now. Zes, go. Ve shall have to resume zee discussion another time. Another day. Hmm?”
I bit down on my crusty lip. I sobbed—“But what am I supposed to do, professor? I totally don’t know what to do now. Everything’s just so fucked. Everything! I totally don’t—”
“Enough! Zee must take zee control. Do zee understand? Control! Zee must take it! Now go! Go!”
I jumped to my feet and grabbed my laptop, my tote bag. “Got it, professor. I’m sorry. Thanks for all your help.”
“My pleasure, ma chérie. My pleasure. And remember—zee control. Take it!” Professor Amís stepping aside and clearing a path for me, the EXIT sign’s red light pushing the two or three blurry blobs through the door. The two or three blurry blobs in plain white tees . . . I stumbled. I gagged. I definitely didn’t understand a thing.
“Is something wrong, ma chérie?” a galaxy-betrayed hand clinging to my collarbone.
I winced and shrugged myself free. “No, no, nothing’s wrong. Sorry. Hope the whole rumor thing works out. Bye, professor.”
Shielding myself with my tote bag and totally making sure to avoid all eye contact I wedged myself between the creepier than creepy aviator sunglasses and scurried down the hall without looking back, my blue and yellow vintage sneakers echoing past the department offices and faculty meeting rooms, past the plaques and the buzzing florescent lights which stretched and stretched my bloated silhouette across the gunmetal floor . . . a door swinging shut behind me . . . just a door locking itself into place with a click click, click . . . Zoe running . . . Zoe running and running . . .
Outside the terminally ill sun was already like half hidden behind the high-rise horizon by the time I made it safely through the really heavy university doors, another swarm of blacker than black storm clouds gathering in the distance. I slowed my superlong legs down to a comfortable foxtrot, self-consciously touched my hair again. Ugh, it definitely did feel oily and clumpy. Like seriously gross. I gritted my chipped teeth then pulled harder than hard on that same nasty knot. Crossing the street while trying my very best to untangle the frizzy strands, all the frizzy strands, all the—
“FUCK SHIT FUCK!” screaming and jumping back as a redwhite ambulance went screeching past my swollen button nose, the wider than wide tires like actually almost amputating my little feet as they set off a chemical chain reaction for fighting or flying or dying or dying or dying! AH! NO! AH! . . . I tried my very best to breathe, tried my very best to stand still . . . inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale . . . Totally shaking I fumbled in my bag for the bottle of soothingly sweet Valium. I forced down two or three tablets . . . Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale . . . My breathing somewhat under control, the muscle spasms somewhat subsiding, I made sure to look both ways, look twice and then cautiously tippy-toed across the empty street . . . very cautiously . . . very cautiously . . . because that—scolding myself, hating myself—because that was like almost it. The end. All over. Done. Totally done . . .
But at least Washington Square wasn’t nearly as crowded or as noisy or as painfully dystopian as Union Square always definitely was. It was actually kinda quaint this evening. In a Colorado ski resort sort of way. With a few senior citizen snowmen sitting together on the park benches—gossiping, chuckling, drooling on their fleece blankets and furiously masturbating whenever one of the exercise-obsessed housewives went skiing through the park in spandex pants and Prada sports bra, a pocket-sized Pomeranian barking on a pocket-sized sled. The hibernating pigeons poop-a-pooping in their sleep as I trudged past the center of the square, past the frozen fountain jets to where a naked street performer on a pogo stick was bouncing and backflipping and juggling two or three fire-haired Barbie dolls while his pet drone flew round and round the redwood Christmas tree light-a-lighting up the Washington Arch. Out of change, out of smiles, I trudged right past the triumphal climax (the drone did a loop-the-loop then shot the burning Barbies out of the air), and without even giving the credit card-accepting dissident a high five or a chest bump or an arm punch or nothing I trudged right past a little girl in a neon-pink down jacket who was methodically licking her Superman ice cream (blueredyellow swirls, sugar cone), and quietly savoring every jaw-dropping second of this really impressive circus act. Her mommy and daddy a watchful step behind . . .
A really strong craving for ice cream upsetting me and my grumbling core I crumpled down on an empty park bench. I put my throbbing head between my shaking hands. Because I seriously didn’t know what to do. Because I mean I definitely couldn’t wait another two or three years. I like didn’t even have a job anymore. How was I going to pay rent, buy food, be a real human being? . . . Two or three years. I should have like definitely been out of here and on my way to Hollywood by now. Two or three years. I should have like definitely been ridiculously rich, ridiculously famous by now . . . Ugh this was all that bitch’s fault. If only I hadn’t been such a good friend and asked Peter to get her a job at his new company. If only she hadn’t been such a total skank. Because it’s not like she hadn’t known we were an item. It’s not like I hadn’t told her a trillion and one times how I like totally knew the moment I met Peter at that networking event two or three years ago, the moment he gave me a bump of pure Columbian cocaine in the bathroom stall, how I like just totally knew we were totally meant to be! That it was truer than truelove . . . And so what if I had just graduated? And so what if he was like ten years older and engaged or whatever? So what! Because I mean it was obvious that he was going to leave his emotionally distant Connecticut fiancé and marry me marry me marry me! . . . If only that green-eyed bitch hadn’t interfered. If only she hadn’t sabotaged my film school application. If only she hadn’t like totally ruined my life! If only . . . I closed my weasel eyes. I screamed. Because I was obviously never ever going to reach any of my superstar goals . . .
Two or three disgusting smells knocked me out of my gloom. For a really hopeful second I even thought my favorite preacher was penguin-waddling past my bench. But when I saw and felt the blocklong trail of psychedelic plastic bags slithering across my vintage sneakers, I knew it definitely wasn’t. It was just that annoying harpy that I’d seen before. Somewhere . . . Dejected and totally done with it all I put my throbbing head back between my shaking hands, ran my teeny-weeny tongue over what was left of my mildewy teeth and went back to thinking really hard about what would happen to the earth when the sun had like totally burned up its hydrogen core and half squeezed, half bloated itself up into a hungry red giant . . . Wait a second!—my head snapping up with a superbrilliant crack—maybe that disgusting urban leper was best friends with Giacomo! Maybe they went dumpster diving together. Maybe if I just followed her for a little bit she’d like obviously lead me to their favorite hobo hangout. Maybe I could get everything ready and throw them a welcome home party and tell Peter how much I like totally loved him and always would! Optimistic frost crystalizing me into action I licked my crusty lower lip then launched myself off the park bench—skipping and skipping after the smelly bag lady who was like half a block or so ahead of me by now. Because maybe Peter and I would get back together. And maybe this time he would like definitely dump his Connecticut fiancé and obviously never talk to skanky Sophie Strudel ever again. And maybe Giacomo and I could still finish our rom-com and get ridiculously famous, ridiculously rich! And maybe we could all move to Hollywood together and live like gods. And maybe everything was like still actually going to be perfectly perfect! Maybe maybe!—skipping and skipping, skipping and skipping . . .
A few wheezing lungs later and we were somewhere on West 4th Street. But even though I was skip-a-skipping as fast as I possibly could I could just barely see my tour guide zigzagging somewhere up ahead of me, her chupacabra head sifting through biohazard dumpsters, organic waste compost bins, Agent Orange oil drums—the December sun crash landing somewhere in the Hudson. All the UV marshals dropping their rayguns and securing their personal flotation devices. All the shackled shadows laughing and fleeing from the very flammable wreckage . . . I wiggled my superlong legs through the blur, through the dark. I listened as my homeless captain clawed and sniffed at the cardboard pizza boxes, at the Chinese leftovers—marinara soy sauce sloshing back and forth between her preowned dentures. Back and forth. Back and forth . . . I waited for the psychedelic tail of plastic bags to snake-a-snake under the flickering streetlights. I lunged and grabbed on tight. Zoe holding her breath as our guiding leper towed us across the very turbulent intersection . . .
I think we took a right on 7th Avenue but I definitely couldn’t be sure and I definitely didn’t have time to stop and focus in on each blurry sign. It totally might have been 8th or 9th. Like all I could see were fuzzy snippets of red and green traffic lights. Garbage trucks and falling night. My swollen button nose rubbing up against bloody condoms, rabies-dipped heroin needles, lipstick-stained freebase pipes and a collector’s edition New York State-issued EBT card, my precious face just now noticing the rain, the snow, the hybrid cannonballs splitting the pavement and the wet anvils whistling, falling, shattering the Island Kingdom’s bedrock. Pipes bursting, sewers overflowing, a Pandora’s box of Stygian shit bubbling up through the broken sidewalk . . . Zoe holding her breath and wading through this totally blurry, totally yucky Manhattan marsh . . . dragging my no longer blue and yellow sneakers through gurgling gutters, alluvium puddles, my chipped teeth chattering, my frizzy black bangs pasted to my lumpy forehead . . . Zoe like not even trying to keep track of where we were going when we suddenly took another right, then a left, then a right left right . . . We might have definitely been in Chelsea. Or maybe in the meatpacking district. Either way it totally looked like a different city on a different planet. On a totally dead planet . . . I hugged my tote bag tight to my pneumonia-prone chest and seriously hated Zoe for not bringing a heavy winter jacket, or a Gore-Tex parka, or like anything really nice and really warm! . . . An NYPD squad car went splashing by, its high-intensity fog lights drilling through the purpleblack haze. I lowered our throbbing head. I shivered all the ominous goosebumps away, and for like the first time in my twentysomething life, as our swollen button nose followed that smelly harpy down a swampy side street, a pair of red beacons flashing up ahead of us, a pair of red wands waving us on, I like actually thought about praying. Because we seriously hoped their plane made it in okay. Because I mean we obviously didn’t wanna see it crash into a field. Or see it plow into a military installation. Or see it bring down two or three skyscrapers. Because I mean we obviously didn’t wanna see anything horribly horrible like that . . .