I carried a used scanner in one of those large, blue nylon Ikea bags, slung on my shoulder. I’d just picked it up in a Craigslist transaction and was walking now through the evening dark of the calm, quaint Carroll Gardens streets to where the party was. I walked without knowing the area and I felt how one feels going toward a party, and unsure of oneself. In those days, I was in pieces. Had been already for too long. Consequently, I had shut down, tried not to look, tried not to see. Emergency autopilot took over, maneuvering me through the motions of existence, because I was no longer there to drive.
There was a canal. I walked alongside a raised highway. And then uphill.
A bar in Park Slope — A local bar, really nice. The birthday party was set up in the back room—helium balloons, a karaoke machine, birthday cake . . . nice people.
I arrived at the beginning, around nine, when there was only the birthday person and his closest friends, promising myself that I would not drink and would leave early. But the real outcome was that I started drinking at nine and just had more time to get wasted.
Hours later, the party was full of people. The front room with the bar was fairly empty, with three or four locals. Anna and I ended up in there and soon were dancing with the locals. Around this point, my memory blacks out.
He saw me come out of the bar, carrying the scanner and a lot of balloons.Tweet
I will use his account of what happened next. He saw me sitting alone at the bar in front of a full glass of whiskey, so he came up and asked me how things were, and we talked and even danced some. At the end of the night, when almost everyone had gone, as he was about to get into a cab with his roommate, he saw me come out of the bar, carrying the scanner and a lot of balloons. He recalled that Anna had gone, so with his good sense asked after me, what I was doing. I was wasted and said I didn’t know. Then I said I would go back in for another drink. But everyone’s gone. / Oh. / We’re taking a cab, which direction do you live? / I don’t know. I followed them into the cab. Pulling away, I kept complaining I was about to throw up. The driver wanted me out of the cab, but he and his roommate promised that I’d be fine. When we got to his place, I was supposed to continue on, but the driver refused to take me.
He and his roommate continued to drink and hang out, and I, begrudgingly there, not understanding why I was there, isolated myself in protest, going outside to sit on the stoop, flopping violently about from the waist, everything spinning nauseatingly, consciousness passing in and out. I stayed out on the stoop like that for a long time, until at some point I retreated into the apartment and crashed on his bed.
(Many years ago, a friend of mine, Rita, was married to Dave, who is in the same band as he is. So I’d known of him for many years, but hardly ever saw him around and didn’t have any contact with him. But in the last two years before this night, because he and I were hanging around the same gallery, I would see him somewhat often and say a few words to him now and then. He seemed like a guy with a lot of complexes and issues, someone difficult to get along with, not very enjoyable.)
One or two hours later he wakes me up. He’s sitting cross-legged on the far corner of the bed, drinking a large can of beer, a Coors. He’s oscillating with drunkenness.
We are both amused by the bizarre occurrence of winding up in each other’s company, at six in the morning, on his bed.
He plays at being surly with me—looking off to the side with squinted eyes, a smirk—like a local hood leaning in a doorway when talking to an unknown girl. A put-on toughness as first-meet tactic. (This I would have expected from him. To not be exactly nice.)
And so drunkenly, playfully, we perform a little fencing—trying to show off our personalities and bring out the other’s. There’s a little round pocket mirror between us to ash our cigarettes on.
He has that thing that makes a big impression on me. Previously I mostly noticed it in one other person, my friend Katja. A disposition to the world of people, and to giving them this extra significance. As if the world were a fable or fairytale, where the characters are always drawn large.
He has an unrestrained, go for it, fast, and instinctive enthusiasm. He rushes forth, a body on trajectories of enthusiasm, and going distances out of sheer health—like the Road Runner character, where you don’t see any efforts of motion, just a blur or line, nor any signs after of energy spent.
He shows me where the bathroom is—We walk out of his makeshift bedroom area—enclosed by one real wall, one partial one made of drywall, one large piece of cardboard, and one green bed sheet attached to a laundry line with band pins (atop which is perched a plastic hospital demo baby)—cut through the rest of the small storefront, which is used as a “studio,” turn a corner. He takes a step down and then holds out a hand for me and we descend a short but steep staircase into a pitch-black basement. His roommates are sleeping in a bed encased in black garbage bags fixed with packing tape. There’s a wheelchair for a chair. He points to the bathroom across the room and shines a small pocket light in its direction to light my way. The bathroom’s tiny and poor—a pool of water on the linoleum flooring, the saddest array of no-name toothbrushes and shampoo bottles, trimmed hair in the sink.
When I come out of the bathroom he’s half-reclined on the stairs and flashes the pocket light at me.
He makes us some coffee and I sit waiting in the wheelchair.
Do you want to be my girlfriend? We’d be good together. We’re both old and don’t fit in. And other funny things.Tweet
We go back upstairs and continue our banter, drunkenly talking about some of the books lying around. I make a futile attempt to read the back cover of one. After a few sentences, my mind simply hollows out and I end up staring at it.
As I finish up my coffee, he senses I’m about to go. He cries in protest, You’re going to leave, aren’t you? Why don’t you save yourself half an hour and take a nap? (Marijuana.)
He slides close to me, takes the coffee cup from me, and puts it down. He places his hand on my knee and the atmosphere suddenly becomes heavy, drowsy, slowed.
We kiss for a while, during which he says to me, Do you want to be my girlfriend? We’d be good together. We’re both old and don’t fit in. And other funny things.
Then we fall asleep. Some hours later I wake up and go into the studio space to smoke a cigarette. He is fast asleep.
The Bohemian—In the bed area there are macabre kitsch objects on the bookshelf and trunk, and B&W xeroxes, a crumpled napkin, and other ephemera pinned to the drywall. An ancient black cat with extrusions of clumped, discolored fur sleeps on the bed. Shadowy Stars of David are projected onto the walls from the wrought-iron grating outside.
The studio space is trashed, wildly. Like a lazy wind blew trash over the rough bareness of the room. Old takeout plates of food, a heavy-duty garbage bag full up with garbage, beer cans, a bottle of Chinese hot sauce, nothing upright. A lot of albums, turntables, a television, a macabre mechanical black cat resembling the live one, a ceramic raccoon. More xeroxes and ephemera pinned to the walls.
Things are untreated, allowed to overgrow. The no-attention to aesthetics—of the bathroom, of the bed encased in black garbage bags taped together—shocks me. Nothing is animal or body or matter anymore. Everything is meant to signify and therefore to function. To have a value. And then the sign discards the material dimension. I felt myself in some wonderland of exorcised shapes and life forms, forgotten textures, formations, extremities, all quietly existing here, piling up, as though this were the only safe haven, a secret cubby hole, magically outside time. I had fallen asleep and awoken to someone and someplace from times lost, to a something that I had almost forgotten about. Something only recently so familiar to my milieu in NY, by now forcibly erased.
I sleep some more. Another hour or two pass by and I get up. He is still sound asleep. So I leave him a note and collect my scanner and walk out into the sunlight to figure out where I was and get home, not feeling strongly about this encounter, just sort of amused.
It was funny for me to crash into someone foreign. That was the benefit of that night for me. My life had been proceeding at a pitch of shrill desperation, and then it crashed, for a second.
It was like opening my eyes and finding myself in another dimension, how I woke up in this strange apartment, with this strange person sitting there, with a can of beer, looking at me. And I proceeded to have this small adventure in another dimension before returning to my own. By the J train.
Otherwise, it wasn’t important to me. But for the next day or two I carried the pleasure of the shock—the shock of the crash, the shock of the absurdly unexpected, and the shock of having touched a world so extreme.
He communicated with me often in the following days. First, out of politeness, we agreed to hang out in some days, just as friends, to smooth over any awkwardness, but then he wrote me to just say hello. There was something remarkable about it. His texts had so much atmosphere. It seemed like if he cared about someone, or he thought he might care about someone (my case), that person was so much in his thoughts that he never allowed distance to become distance, absence to become absence. His notes were full of his attention, surrounding you with warmth, like in a time of need.
And with that the number of things about him that had left a strange effect on me hit critical mass. I started to wonder about his sudden entrance into my life. Would he (the last person I would’ve expected) be that friend to me (the kind I’d failed to make since moving back to New York two years prior, the kind to have adventures with, to laugh uncontrollably with, the kind that makes your life into a world)? He was different than the people I generally knew, and so I couldn’t help thinking about him as an x factor—that all-important unforeseeable thing that, when introduced into a system, revolutionizes everything.
The night before our appointment I decide to research him online. I look at some photos of his band performing. I find a few video clips. I watch them. Him. I like them. And he’s good. Really good. I’m drawn to certain videos, and watch them again. And then again.
At ATP he’s on stage holding a contraption out in front of him, which looks like a small pole with a lamp head dangling from the top. He plays it like a dangling drum, hitting, swatting it with a mallet with his other hand. He keeps his eyes fixed on it, on hitting it, while staying in a crouch, lowering to the floor and back up, darting forward and backward, around in circles. Wearing a long piece of green lace tied over his eyes like a blindfold and a baseball cap. After a while he lets up, loosely twirling the contraption above his head nonchalantly, roars into a microphone a few times in a beastly way, and then straightens up twirling the contraption disinterestedly . . .
When he slows down, it’s the opposite of slowing down. It’s a building of intensity.Tweet
Then he tosses it to the left off the stage, lets it drop from his hands like it was something gross or distasteful, picks up a wooden box from the floor, holds it, indecision, then makes an arc with his left arm, pointing it out to the left and then sweeping it around to the front, to rest on top of the mic. Emits some noises into the mic, then in slow motion releases his arm back out to the left . . .
And looks to his right, into the stage, like he’s just seeing what’s happening there, like nothing. Still holding the wooden box at his side, he shifts from one foot to the other, taking on the slack posture of just another spectator. After a moment, he slowly goes down onto one knee and with his left hand reaches for and adjusts his baseball cap. . .
He’s a primordial swamp of pre-social bodies, sounds. You’re looking through veils, prisms of time, and see there somnolent hypnotic other bodies dancing playing gliding one into another, a-signifying, mesmerizing, magical, poignant. When he slows down, it’s the opposite of slowing down. It’s a building of intensity. When he stops one thing, becomes idle, before doing some other thing, like when he casually stopped and looked into the stage, to see what his bandmates were doing, just stood there slackly, and then slowly went down on one knee, and then his hand slowly reaching for his baseball cap and pulling it down a little more… his hand, as it moves toward his cap, has the “drag” of centuries, it moves through eons of time absorbing all the light, becoming a surreal, celestial hand floating across the heavens.
If you like this article, please subscribe to n+1.