StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

85A: Chapter 9: “Colby at Irving Park Station”

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on February 2, 2010

So I thought I’d give a sneak preview of the book, 85A, on the blog.  It will be published this year through Bascom Hill Publishing.

Please remember that Seamus is 15 years old in the book, and he’s recounting an incident from when he was 14.

Also, the date is January 23, 1989 and he’s recounting something that occurred in the fall of 1987.

He’s an immature and vulgar narrator.  Hopefully with some redeeming qualities.

This is the chapter where he recounts how he once tried to pass himself off as English.  This incident did not happen in the author Kyle Thomas Smith’s actual life.

While we’re on the subject of the author, if you in any way reproduce the contents of this chapter without my express permission, I will find you and sue you!


Chapter IX

Colby at Irving Park Station

There’s this lavender-scented sex hormone—a crotch-teasing, unisex Spanish fly—they pump from all the ceilings on all the floors at Medusa’s. It fills your nostrils, fills your pores. It makes your blood beat, your body burst into flame. Mix that with all the cigarette smoke and sweat, you got yourself a two-story teenage cathouse—three stories if you count the stairs going up to Granny, the bouncer.

And that’s before you hear the drum machines and heavy bass. The owners are probably drumming up business for the local abortion clinic: “Send us your teens! No fetus can beat us!” If so, that clinic must be doing one hell of a business. On every other stair up to the top floor, there’s another funny-haired guy knocking back another funny-haired girl’s tonsils and pressing her tits so hard and spazzy, you’d think he’s making an emergency batch of biscuits out of them. And the only lights on the staircases are the little cartridges set in the walls that only give off about as much light as bike reflectors on an empty street with no lampposts. The hallway walls come in lots of colors. The coal-black walls stay coal-black, but they swirl the blood red and sky blue walls with cloud white. They all glow in dim neon till close. Not that I’m ever there to see them turn the neon off. I got a fuckin’ curfew, remember?

They can’t serve booze at Medusa’s. It’s a juice bar for minors. It’s against the law for them to tank us all up, so you gotta go out back by the dumpsters and guzzle out of a paper bag before going in. Even Medusa’s is forced to prohibit some vices. That’s why they got Granny frisking you for firearms and drugs before she lights another cancer stick and dropkicks another rabble-rouser out onto Sheffield Street.

Beyond that, you’re free to let your dick hang out and your body get beat in a mosh pit. The bouncers are required by law, though, to break up any brawl they see involving less than three people—that’s word for word what I heard Granny telling a new bouncer she was training one night. In the pit, though, it’s nothing but consensual punk rock. There are a few signs up saying that they’re not responsible for any injuries or lost or stolen items, but I’m not sure that stands up in court. Course, if anyone’s stupid enough to sue, they’ll probably have motherfuckin’ Al Capone at their door before a judge can even sign a subpoena.

As for dicks hanging out, maybe you see it once in a while, but I don’t think guys in the video room got too much to show for themselves there. And their teeny-weeny weenies were just what I was thinking about as I walked around the top floor after seeing Colby get busted. True, Colby did keep his hands up while Narc searched his pockets, didn’t kick him into the train while it was moving. Doesn’t mean he don’t got balls.  Means he’s got brains. Nobody gets away with shit in this country unless they’re in the White House—or my neighborhood’s whitey households. Colby knows when it’s in his best interest to cooperate. But just his naturalness—that hair he refuses to fuck up—it shows he’s got more going on in his jock than any of those sneering, snooty, funny-haired freaks who run from jocks and futz with their hair every fuckin’ five minutes. When I think of Colby, it makes me want to stop fuckin’ up my hair too. But I’m not ready to give that shit up just yet.

The L’s pulling up to Irving Park and Pulaski now, far, far away from Medusa’s. This is where courtyard apartment buildings make their first appearance on the O’Hare line, left and right of the train. The building to my right has gray-painted wooden staircases, running at sharp angles down to the alley where dumpsters sit brimming with garbage bags. Not a lot of nightlife here. Some dive bars, some greasy spoons, not a lot of trendy restaurants, and no clubs. No one ever talks about it. Never gets mentioned in The Reader, which I pick up every Thursday to look up shows and sex ads. Every morning, this L platform is crammed pillar to post. Unlike Jefferson Park, Irving Park station doesn’t have a lot of buses coming in from all over Chicago. Must mean people boarding here live here. Yeah, I could see that. There are lots of apartment buildings around; you can pack a lot of people into a neighborhood that way.

The apartment buildings are big too. On my way back from school once, I overheard an architect trying to impress his girlfriend by calling all the buildings around here “Tudor.” Whatever the fuck that means. To me, they just look like a bunch of big Joe-Mama gingerbread houses. Every time I pass, I feel like I’m in a fairy tale. Tempts me to get off the L and walk into one of the courtyards. I keep thinking I’ll get sucked into some time warp, like in The Time Machine. I’ll be transported to some fairly tale, like Hansel and Gretel or Mozart’s Magic Flute, only I’ll be the main character. Finally get a shot at a life worth living.

But could I get that here, at Irving Park and Pulaski? It’s not Piccadilly Circus. It’s not even Belmont and Clark. The people getting on—a lot of the men—look and smell like big Bluto bohunks. Don’t know what kind of jobs they’re headed to. Maybe they’re on their way to construction sites or factories—but wouldn’t they be starting their shifts a lot earlier in the morning? The women, a lot of them look like Polish cleaning ladies, except others look dressed for the office. Maybe they’re secretaries. Must be the ones who learned English and took typing classes at community centers. Good for them. Not all of them do.  Some of ’em been here forty years, never learned a lick of English. Give them all the credit in the world, though. Must be fuckin’ hard as hell, making your way after moving halfway around the world with nothing.

The ones who do learn English a lot of times wind up way the fuck ahead of any of us who were born here; the Chinese almost always do. But I bet the Polacks send most everything they earn back home. Wonder if their money orders ever make it past the guards at the Iron Curtain. But why are their families back home so fucking poor? Aren’t they all guaranteed jobs under communism? That’s what the guy who passes out The Socialist Worker under the Belmont L says. So why the fuck do they want to come here?  Probably swallowed a shitload of American propaganda, just like Americans have.

No, Irving Park-Pulaski isn’t the coolest hood on earth, but I always scan the station anyway, hoping to see Colby. Why the fuck did he get on here? I mean, here, of all places? I don’t know, but I keep thinking I’ll see him getting on again and, when I do, I’ll walk up and say, “Hey, weren’t you the guy who got busted for packing a marker?”

Yeah, that happened on the L one Saturday night—months before the first time I saw Tressa get off at Logan Square. Out of nowhere, this legion of leather-clad kids got on at Irving Park and Pulaski. My eyes got big, round, hypnotized. I had to clench my jaw to keep it from hitting the floor. You gotta understand, these were ultra-vivid Brit punks, not bland, fuckin’ eunuch Americans. No, we’re talking, they had…oh, man…charisma…their presence, it just radiated throughout the car like nothing I ever saw on Belmont—only like what I’d seen in photos in Punk: A Sordid Saga, like the ones of Siouxsie Sioux on stage in ’78, wearing a black trash bag and a Nazi armband. And they didn’t even have English accents when they talked. But they couldn’t’ve been from fuckin’ Chicago. I mean, they sounded like they were, but fuckin’ no one knows how to dress that cool here, except maybe Tressa.

And they all got on here, at fuckin’ Irving Park and Pulaski! Four of them—two girls, two guys. One of the guys had this blond Billy Idol hair. No, but it was better, much fuckin’ better than fuckin’ Billy Idol. What he did was, he spiked it all around to look like Sid—a blond Sid Vicious, it was fuckin’ brilliant! He had this tight-fitting black peacoat. Looked like he tore it up and then put it all back together with all these safety pins and sewn-on calico swatches. And the guy wasn’t wearing combats like the rest of the fuckin’ world. No, he wore black motorcycle boots with a red bandana tied to one of them. First time I ever saw that. His skin was deep bronze. He had this one chick hanging on him. She had a tar-black bob, shaved close to the skin on the sides and back, the rest dangling in fringes from the crown of her head to her chin, and her eyes were lined Cleopatra-style. She fuckin’ flaunted that fifteen-year-old hooker look—leopard-print coat; shredded, sheer nylons; go-go boots; and this sizzling hot-pink mini. The other chick was this blonde with long, curly hair. Her body was wrapped tight in a knee-length, black leather coat, her big bust busting out of it. Don’t know if she had anything else on besides her sheer scarlet stockings and black fuck-me pumps. She was sitting next to the kid I heard them call Colby. Her arm was in his, she was damn near in his lap. He had his hand on her thigh. Saw him move it over to her other thigh too and a little ways under the hem of her leather coat. She acted natural and let him do it right there on the L. But I couldn’t tell whether, when he tried going up her skirt, he actually found a skirt.

What I wouldn’t’ve fuckin’ given to be Blondie right then and there in that seat. Oh, Colby. Like I said, he had that 1940s black-lid hat on. It had a bow, like a bowtie, on the right side. Used to see those hats on sale at Wax Trax, but they looked fuckin’ ridiculous, sitting like clumsy clods on the racks. I’d look at that pile of hats and think, who the fuck could pull off a look that’s worth it in that? But Colby was as good an answer as I could ever ask for. At one point, he took off his hat. He had black hair and a simple, short haircut. Didn’t do anything hardcore to it—no parts shaved, wasn’t bone-close or fuzzy like a skinhead’s either. He just let it be the way it was, nothing to prove. Now that’s guts. His eyes, I could fuckin’ drown in them—the deep blue sea with moonlight lapping in the waves. His skin looked like it could tan like Dr. Strykeroth’s, but he kept it white as porcelain. He wore a black biker jacket with the Murphy’s Law logo painted in green on the right sleeve—yet another band I never heard before Tressa. He wore a gray collared shirt and black Levis cuffed over black, 8-hole Docs, like he was about to throw a fuckin’ Molotov cocktail at Buckingham Palace.

But, no, there was something a little too precious for violence in him. Maybe he was a little like Siouxsie Sioux—a gutter punk gone sensitive artist. His lips were so rose-red, they could’ve dissolved into wine and I would’ve been on my knees lapping up every last drop. But his hand was up some succubus’ thigh. What I wouldn’t fuckin’ give to be that succubus with that thigh.

Colby and his friends were all laughing together. Looked like they’d all known each other a long time. Maybe they all grew up around the block from each other. He’s so fucking lucky to grow up in a neighborhood where kids are doing the same shit he is. Who do I have? Fuckin’ Andy Payne? I had to do all this shit on my own, and pricks on Lehigh are driving up and screaming faggot and freak at me for it. I couldn’t hear what Colby and his friends were laughing about. Maybe I was too stunned to listen. Maybe I was so caught up in all the fun they were all having together, their talk just faded into white noise.

I kept my head down and made like I was looking out the window. Dr. Strykeroth would’ve given me a noogie if he saw that and said, “Why don’t you go up and try mingling, knucklehead?” Dr. S says I should have every reason to feel confident. He says I’m beautiful. But, no, not like Colby. Didn’t even feel fit to look at him; couldn’t stop looking at him either, though. It was like standing before God. Every now and then, I’d scope out my own gear. Sex Pistols God Save the Queen T-shirt; red hair, loosely fucked-up, shaved on the sides and back; a moth-eaten long black funeral coat that I found in our crawl space and that Dad’s always trying to stuff in the Tuesday garbage; scuffed-up combats, too fuckin’ big for me. I had nothing on these cats and I knew it. If Colby didn’t have me so spellbound, I would’ve walked out between the L cars and dropped myself like a sad sack under the speeding wheels.

Sid Vicious/Billy Idol took flat balloons out of his inside coat pocket and started blowing them up. He passed the first one, a red balloon, to Colby. Colby took a black magic marker out of his Murphy’s Law jacket’s right pocket. Blondie hung on his arm and watched with a red-lipstick smile as he started scribbling eyes, ears, a nose, a goofy-ass mouth, and all these fucked-up curls on the balloon. When he was done, he let the red balloon fall and bounce at his feet. Sid Vicious/Billy Idol blew up another balloon, a purple one, and passed it to Colby who lost no time marking it up. I didn’t get a look at what he was drawing but they were all howling up such a fucking storm at how fucked-up it all looked, they got me laughing too, but I caught myself before they could catch me and quick-looked out the window at the oil towers and bungalows coming up on Addison.

A few stops later, as Colby sketched more shit on to the second balloon, some fashion-disaster redneck with Andy Travis hair, a lumberjack shirt, tan corduroys, and gray New Balance gym shoes got out of his seat and clopped over to Colby and his friends like Boss Hog. “Excuse me,” said the redneck. The whole posse looked up. Redneck said, “Get off with me at the next stop please.” Colby and his friends looked at each other and back up at him, ‘huh?’ scribbled all over their faces. Redneck dug out his wallet and flashed a badge, “Get off with me at the next stop.” He was a fuckin’ narc.

Narc waved down the black guy who worked the train doors. Black L Guy nodded back. The L pulled up to California and Fullerton. Black L Guy got on his walkie-talkie, mumbled something to the conductor, and got on the PA, announcing, “We’ll be standing in the station momentarily.” Narc said to Colby and his friends, “C’mon. Off the train. Now. Empty your pockets.” They all filed out on to the California Street platform in the setting sun, not knowing which fuckin’ way was up.

Narc started frisking Colby, who stood with his hands in the air. I got out of my seat and called out the car, “What? What the fuck you harassing him for?” Narc turned around, but Black L Guy closed the doors before Narc could make a grab at me. The L pulled out of California Station, taking me miles and miles away from Colby and his friends. Black L Guy said, “Lucky he didn’t drag you out for mouthin’ off.” I threw my hands up, “They’re all fascists, man. Cops are all fucking fascists. Anyone who looks different, man. Anyone who looks different.” Black L Guy looked down, shook his head and chuckled to himself.

I didn’t see the humor. I sat back down, fuckin’ fuming. What the fuck was asshole Narc bustin’ Colby and his friends for? Drawing on balloons? Littering, when the first balloon bounced? Guess there were no murderers or serial rapists to go out and hassle that night. At least Colby didn’t write “DIE FAG” or some shit like that with his Magic Marker like Payne, who never gets busted for any of the shit he does.

Part of me wished Narc did hustle me out to the platform. Man, I thought, I could be in a jail cell with them tonight. Beats the shit out of going to Medusa’s. We could play poker on the cement floor and talk Johnny and Jello Biafra and Malcolm McLaren all the way till we make bail. Would’ve been the start of something beautiful. But, no, Black L Guy had to close the fuckin’ doors. Probably for the best, though. Wouldn’t want Colby and his posse seeing fuckin’ Mom or fuckin’ Dad or fuckin’ both. I mean, shit, who else could I call to post bond? Brody? And I sure as fuck wouldn’t want any of them hearing the stupid shit Mom and Dad would say in front of everyone in the pokey: Mom’s shrill, condemning religious vomit; Dad’s bull’s-eye putdowns; their genius for making me want to crawl into a hole and die. So maybe Black L Guy did me a favor.

Still, on the way to Washington and Dearborn, Colby’s all I could think about. Even walking the Washington tunnel to the Howard Line, I just kept turning his image over and over in my mind. I started thinking I should go back to Wax Trax and take another look at those hats. I should get one. Then Colby and me could walk down the streets together. I’d wear the hat and the biker jacket just like him and I’d get something painted on my sleeve too. Maybe a Union Jack with a circle around it and maybe there’d be another circle in that circle too, one that wraps around a jagged A, the first letter to the words, “Anarchy in the UK,” all those letters sketched out all-cool-n’-shit on the inner perimeter of the larger circle that’s around the Union Jack.

Maybe I’ll even get Colby to paint it for me, I thought. I liked what he drew on the red balloon. He’s probably a good artist. I imagined somehow getting the money together for the hat and the jacket. I’d wear black Levis too, rolled up and cuffed just like his. Except I wouldn’t have Docs. No, I’d have fuckin’ motorcycle boots with a red bandana tied around one of them, just like his friend’s. Now that would be an original look! Colby and me could be a two-man gang. We could laugh together, walking down the street, just like Sid and Johnny used to down Kings Road, screaming, “We don’t fucking care!” I’d throw my arm around his shoulder like I’d later see that fuckin’ skinhead throw his arms around his friends’ shoulders, only we’d be real friends, not just a couple reverse-conformist thugs.

And it could be at Irving Park-Pulaski. I don’t fuckin’ care. Not everything’s gotta go down on Belmont. Maybe we could go back to his house, I said to myself. Maybe he lives in an apartment and his Mom’s never there; she’s always at work or with her boyfriend—y’know, typical broken home-type shit. We could play fuckin’ Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds, Crass, and whatever else he’s got in his room. Bet Colby’s got all the albums anybody’d ever fuckin’ want. We could light cigarettes in his room. Play music on Saturday afternoons. Spend hours in there together, just the two of us. Then we could hit Medusa’s.

As I walked up the stairs to the Howard L at Washington, I thought, I’ll conscript Colby into my London Plan. Fuck knows I’ve been mapping it out since I was 11; now I’ll just add him. The Plan’s pretty straightforward. Right when we turn sixteen, we’ll get jobs at a supermarket or something, a Jewel or a Dominick’s—maybe even one around Irving Park and Pulaski, who knows? If something more glamorous turns up, well, so much the better, but anything’ll do at this point. We’ll save up a couple years and leave the day whichever one of us is younger turns eighteen. I’m sure Colby’s only fifteen. He doesn’t look any older than me. He’s just got his shit more together than I do. That’ll all change, though, once I build a bigger life in London. All this might mean we can’t go to Medusa’s or Wax Trax as much as we do now…not if we’re saving up and shit…but whoop-dee-fuckin’-doo! Those places suck ass anyway. Instead we can hang at his place, smoke cigarettes, blast 7 Seconds, Sex Pistols, fuckin’ PiL.

As the northbound L came, I told myself, I’ll tell Colby we’ll fly from O’Hare to London. Last I checked in the Sunday Trib, the cheapest fares run about $600—and that’s roundtrip. We only need one-way, so it’ll be a lot cheaper. We’ll get to Heathrow (that’s the airport there). We’ll get on the Tube (that’s what they call the L in London, and, in quids [that’s what they call bucks], it shouldn’t be any more expensive than the L). We’ll find a squat (that’s an abandoned building where you can stay till you have enough quids to pay rent on an apartment; lots of punks live in them) somewhere in Brixton (that’s where David Bowie grew up but it’s mostly Rastafarians now; they got blacks in England too, with British accents, it’s mental!). We’ll find some punks at the squat, ones we can trust to look after our shit. We’ll get back on the Tube and go apply for jobs at some West End pubs (that’s what the Brits call bars). Almost all of them pay you what they call “under the table” (that means you don’t have to worry about being an illegal alien).

We’ll start making money and get our own apartment. And then, who knows, maybe I will go to fuckin’ college. Maybe it’ll feel right by then. I’ll forge my high school transcripts and get into some college in England. Maybe Oxford. They won’t deport me if I have a student visa. I won’t have to work under the table anymore either. I’ll kick ass at Oxford and become a shrink like Dr. Stykeroth—but I’ll practice in England, not here. Fuck no, not here.

Or maybe I’ll follow my real dream of being a BBC actor. I hear they’ve got a lot of actors in the West End. Maybe I can meet ’em if I’m working in a pub where lots of them go after shows. They can tell me where to audition, how to get started in British show biz. I’ll get parts in plays. They don’t have to be big parts. They can be bit parts. But the more I act, the more attention I’ll attract. BBC agents’ll see me in small theaters and, pretty soon, all of England will see me on the BBC and Masterpiece Theatre and shit. That’s all it takes.

And I’ll tell Colby he can do whatever the fuck he wants, whatever he fuckin’ dreams of doing! I’ll encourage him. Maybe his mom never encouraged him, maybe his dad walked out on his mom before he even got a chance to give Colby a shred of encouragement, but I’ll fuckin’ encourage Colby. Maybe Colby wants to own a club, a much cooler club than fuckin’ Medusa’s. I’ll say, go ahead, do it. Maybe we can run it together, just as long as I don’t have to do any fuckin’ math. It can happen. All this shit can happen. You just gotta believe it.

I got off the Howard Line at Belmont and walked to Medusa’s, hoping Colby’d be out of the clink soon so we could make friends and get moving on our London Plans. Once inside the door at Medusa’s, I stood in line—or in the queue, as they call it in England—on the pitch-black stairwell heading up to the main floor, where Granny, the chain-smoking old lady, pats you down. She might be older than God’s own granny and bonier than a skinned fish, but I’ve seen Granny bounce skinheads the size of fuckin’ Appalachia on to the curb. Dudes who’ll mosh with Godzilla know better than to fuck with her. I stood among hordes of punks, skaters, New Wavers, housers, skinheads, trendies, poseurs of all stripes—every one of them pulling out every fuckin’ stop to show off how many people they all fuckin’ know. I stood all alone, this time thinking, I’d rather be alone than be friends with these assholes.

It took me fifteen minutes in the queue to make it up the stairs, which gave me ample time to look the whole Medusa mob scene up and down. What can I say, it looked fuckin’ pathetic! Most of them probably piled into cars and drove in from the fuckin’ suburbs, where they all play punk the same way little girls play dress-up with dollies. Not a one of them came anywhere close to Colby in coolness. It’s like, on the L at Irving Park, I had a vision of perfection that ruined me for anything I’d ever see again (until I’d see Tressa, that is, and maybe until I see London up close and personal). Granny slid her hands into my pockets and down my sides and legs and let me move on. I paid five bucks admission, looked back down the stairs and sighed so all those fucks could hear it as I walked up to the video room.

For about an hour, I wove through the Rosemary’s Baby meets Teen Steam orgies in the neon rooms, where they blast lavender-scented Spanish fly and Meat Beat Manifesto videos. It was like, all at once, I was walking across two planes of reality. One was the lower plane, where all those freaks are into all that show-off shit, playing up to each other, acting like they all fuckin’ know it all, not letting anyone into their little cliques unless the majority of their clique approves. Then there was another plane. Call it fuckin’ Mount Olympus, where the gods get together. Colby lives on high there. As I walked through the video room, I imagined his friends must live up on Olympus too, or else why would he be hanging out with them?

Mount Olympus, it’s where people are above all the poses video-room fops strike. It’s where people like Colby got bigger plans for their futures than fucking up their hair and buying twelve inches and test-pressings from bands only a few fucks know about. I thought, Colby and people like him…they do shit like move to other countries and make art and write books and make music, the kind that’s got lots of range and puts lots of styles together, not just this monotonous industrial shit. At least, that’s what I imagine they do. They express their true selves. You can see it on Colby’s face. Not a blemish on it. There’s just that glow rising from his soul. He’s lit from within. He doesn’t feel the need to fuck up his hair. Him and his friends—they’re fuckin’ self-styled. Lots of people wear leather jackets and boots, but, I dunno, not like them. I can’t explain. There was…fuckin’…something about it. I dunno. It was that…fuckin’…Mount Olympus experience. All at once, or, at least in my mind, I was on Mount Olympus and the lower plane, the neon rooms. And I wanted to be way up in the land of the gods and away from that fuckin’ lower plane, the fuckin’ neon rooms.

That’s why I walked out of the video room. From the third floor at Medusa’s, there are no stairs to Olympus—though I hear that, if you blow the DJ, he’ll take you up to the roof and cut you some lines of coke. I figured I’d cut my losses on the five bucks admission and walk back out, past the old lady with her cigarette and the bouncers following her lead. I didn’t expect I’d ever be back, though I also didn’t expect there was any other place for a fuckin’ freak like me to go.

As I stepped into the hallway toward the Exit sign on the main floor, I looked at the new queue of people waiting to pay up and get frisked. Right at the front of the queue, I saw a leopard-print coat. I saw a long, curly mass of blonde hair hanging down a knee-length black leather coat. I saw blond Sid Vicious hair. In front of all them, I saw a fuckin’ 1940s black-lid hat. I froze. It was like, I couldn’t go to Mount Olympus, so Mount Olympus fuckin’ came to me! But last I checked, wasn’t Mount Olympus getting hauled into the slammer? What’d they do, break out? Mustn’t be the cleverest group of punk-rock gods and goddesses if they decided to go on the lam in Medusa’s. Where the fuck’d they think the cops’d go looking for their divine little asses first?

What should I do? I thought. Go talk to them? Find out what happened? Find out if they got sprung or if they fuckin’ sprung themselves? I’m not good at that shit—going up and introducing myself. I used to try that shit at Xavier when I first got there. I’d go up to kids at school; I’d say, I’m Seamus; they’d look at me; I’d stand there. I’d ask what they’re into, who their favorite bands are. More standing there. I’d say my favorite bands, say what I’m into. More standing there, sometimes some laughter sputtering out of them. After a while, they’d take one last look at me and walk off. And I’d still be fuckin’ standing there. I don’t know what it is about me. I don’t know why the kids at Xavier walked off. I don’t know why they laughed at me later if they never bothered talking to me first. I told myself I’d never invite that experience again. I decided, if I wanted to know somebody, I’d wait for them to introduce themselves to me first. Only, nobody ever came up and introduced themselves—so I never met anybody, not till Tressa. I had to do everything by my fuckin’ self, go everywhere by my fuckin’ self, learn all this shit by my fuckin’ self. Rejection just hurt too fucking much to keep trying to talk to people, but Dr. Strykeroth’s still trying to get me to risk it anyway.

But I wasn’t up to it that night. I had Plans, real big fuckin’ London Plans for me and Colby, but I just couldn’t bring myself to walk up and introduce myself. I looked at what I was wearing. I looked at where I’m from. I kept my head down and decided to brush past Colby on my way out the building, even though I knew that later I’d regret being such a chicken shit.

But, on my way to the last set of stairs, Colby walked right up to me. Right fuckin’ up to me! He said, “Hey, weren’t you on the L when we got pulled off?”  I stopped, froze like a fuckin’ corpse in a morgue. My dream was fucking forcing itself to come true right before my fuckin’ eyes. I had no fucking idea what to say. I fumbled around my coat for a cigarette. Colby looked puzzled when, instead of answering him, I took a long pause to fish out and light up a Marlboro. Finally, I squeaked out the definitive answer Colby’d been waiting for: “Yeah.”

His friends gathered around me in a group. I thought I’d fuckin’ faint! Fuckin’…sensory overload! The chick in the leopard-print coat clutched on to her Billy Idol/Sid Vicious boyfriend and said, “We were arrested.”

“What?” I said.

Billy Idol/Sid Vicious said, “They called a squad car and took us to the station.”

“They fuckin’ cuff you?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, “They have to by law.”

I didn’t know how the fuck I was gonna manage the rest of this exchange. It all came on so—phew! —fuckin’…all of a sudden. There’s no way I’m cool enough to keep this going, I thought. I gotta be, like, 100,000 times cooler than I am right now to measure up to what they’re all used to up on Olympus. I decided now was as good a time as any to put on the voice I always wished I had—a cockney fuckin’ British accent. Why not? It’s my life. I should be able to sound whatever fuckin’ way I want. I should be able to be whoever I fuckin’ wanna be, even it means I gotta make some shit up about who I am and where I’m from.

Right then and there, in Medusa’s lobby, I transformed from Seamus from the Northwest Side to Seamus from the motherfuckin’ East End of London. A whole spiel—all the basics I could tell people—started forming in my head. After all, I’d be meeting a lot more people now that I was the fabulous Seamus from the East End of London. I’d say, “Hello, I’m Seamus from the East End of London:

  1. I drink tea.
  2. My dad’s the British ambassador to America.
  3. ’is job shipped ’im to Chicago. I ’ad to accompany ’im.
  4. I miss London.
  5. I’m goin’ off me fuckin’ trolley with boredom ’ere.
  6. I plan on goin’ back to London. It’s so much fuckin’ better that side of the pond.”

This was a stroke of fucking genius! This would be my life story from now on! It’d be like living in England without living in England yet! My new voice, my new persona would charm the fuckin’ shit out of Colby. We’d take tea at teatime. We’d talk on the phone. He’d tell me how his day went. We’d plan to take tea-and-sympathy again, real fucking soon. There’d be lots of tea. Lots and lots of fuckin’ tea.

I’d tell him how outrageous London is. I’d study up on it in the encyclopedia and all the travel booklets you can get for free from Caldwell Travel Agency. I’d talk like a fuckin’ insider. There’s no way he could find out the shit-truth about me: that I’m Phil and Mary O’Grady’s son and I’ve lived on the Northwest Side all my life. He’d never meet Mom and Dad. I’d make bloody fuckin’ sure of that. And it’s not like I know anybody’d he’d know. It’s not like we’d run into anyone from my neighborhood, not around here. It’s not like I’d have to worry about anyone from St. Xavier busting me out if we ran into them; they’d never fuckin’ deign to speak to me in the first place. If Colby’d call my house and Mom’d answer, I’d just tell him my parents are using American accents to fit in (“What can I say? Wanker mum and wanker Dad is into fittin’ in.”). I’d never have to be Seamus from the fucking Northwest Side again. Now I’m Seamus from the East End of London. And soon I’ll tell Colby he could move back to London with me. This was a stroke of fucking genius!

All these thoughts flashed through my head in the time it took to take another drag off my Marlboro. Colby said, “They had us in custody for almost half an hour.”

My first word in my new voice was, “Ay? Why?”

Colby twitched down an eyebrow, “Well, you saw. I had a marker on me.”

“Righ’, Righ’,” I said. “The balloons.”

“Yeah,” Colby replied, raising and then twitching his eyebrow back down again, “the balloons. You saw that guy get up and walk over to us, right? He was an undercover cop.”

“Righ’,” I said, nodding, smoking and talking all at once, like I once saw Johnny Marr do on 120 Minutes. “Fuckin’ narc. Fuckin’ wanker.”

Dead silence, thick as midnight. I’d spent years practicing a cockney accent in my bedroom and I thought I was doing a pretty fuckin’ good job, considering the short notice.  But not a word of it washed with Blondie, Colby’s leather-succubus girlfriend. Fuckin’ Blondie. She let go of Colby’s arm and fixed me a glare that said I was the fakest fuckin’ fraud she’d ever fuckin’ laid eyes on. She even spun around and laughed at me in front of all the freaks traipsing down the hallway and bounding up to the third floor.

Colby was nicer than Blondie. He just went on with what he was saying, “Anyway, I told the cop I wasn’t using my marker to tag graffiti. I was just drawing on some balloons. They couldn’t find any evidence against us, so they confiscated the marker and let us go.”

I took a mean drag off my Marlboro, let it out in a long exhale and laid down the law, “Tell you wha’, them fascists is wankas. Fuckin’ wankas. Oughta declare a state a fuckin’ anarchy and say fuck off with the lotta ’em.” More morgue silence. Blondie snickered one last time and walked right on past me up to the video room. Leopard Print followed and so did Sid Vicious/Billy Idol, both of them chiming in on Blondie’s laughter.

I realized I was the stupidest fuckin’ twat alive. Mount Olympus was a fuckin’ golden bird, laying golden eggs in my hands and I dropped the eggs and let that fucker fly away. What about living in foreign countries? What about making art with all them?  What about the books I’d write while we’re all sitting around cafes at teatime and going to the gigs they play (if any of them are in bands, that is)? What about the friendships we could make with each other, the kinds people make movies and write biographies about years later? Did I fuckin’ blow it like I’m blowing my chances of staying at Xavier?

Since I couldn’t take looking at Colby’s flawless face anymore, I let my eyes drop to the dark hallway floor. My eyes fell in motherfucking defeat to Colby’s boots as he started marching away with his friends. I wanted to take the cigarette I was smoking and stab it a thousand times through my left hand. Gone were all hopes, dreams, and best-laid London Plans with Colby…and there was no one to blame but my fuckin’ self. Before that moment, I never met a mirror I liked and it didn’t look like I ever fucking would.

As I was taking another drag off my cigarette and was about to incinerate my flesh, I felt a gentle grip on my shoulder. I looked over. It was Colby. “See you around, man,” he said. “Take care of yourself.” He took a look back at me. To look me in the eye. To see me. It was a look of understanding, like he understood how hard it must be standing there, wanting to burn myself alive. Did he ever feel that way himself? I can’t imagine. He’s so fucking beautiful and cool. He got me, though. Caught me fronting with that stupid fuckin’ cockney accent. He fuckin’ got me and cast no look of hate when he did. His look seemed like love, actually. But, no, I wouldn’t go that far. He still followed his friends and kept his back to me the whole way up the stairs to the video room.

Guess he wasn’t expecting me to follow. I wasn’t expecting to either. But, after he went upstairs and I took a couple more drags off my smoke, which I didn’t end up stabbing through my hand after all, I took a pen out of my coat pocket and scratched my name and number on the piece of paper I always keep for emergencies like this. I walked back into the video room, the lower plane, where I saw Colby making the rounds through a fuckin’ blue million neon video-room denizens, getting hugged and kissed and clasped and loved a blue million fuckin’ times over—the ambassador from Olympus that Dad never was from England. I stood back a couple minutes and watched.

A Thrill Kill Kult video was raging on all the screens. It made me bold. I nerved up the nutsack to tap Colby’s shoulder. He didn’t feel it at first. Billy Idol/Sid Vicious and Blondie were watching me, fucking aghast, as I kept tapping him. Colby turned around, took a step back, and looked at me. I handed him the slip of paper with my name and number on it and said in my plain Chicago voice, loud enough for him to hear over Thrill Kill Kult, “Here. Just in case you need a witness for what happened on the L.” He smiled and said, “Thanks.” I smiled back and walked out of the dark neon rooms, past Leopard Print, Blondie, and Billy Idol/Sid Vicious. I thought of asking Colby for his number, but I already fucked up once in the main-floor hallway. I wasn’t gonna fuck up again. I walked off Mount Olympus for the night. But now its king, this teenage Zeus in a 1940s black-lid hat, heard my plea. Maybe he’d call me later to welcome me on to his pantheon.

But what would he gain by calling me or being my friend? He’s already got friends. By the looks of it, he had the whole fuckin’ video room. What did I have to offer, except my London Plans? And I could have a life in London without him, I know that. It’d just be a lot fuckin’ lonelier, that’s all. At least Colby’s always right there in my mind, though. That’s what I thought to myself as I made my last exit to Sheffield Street: “Colby will always be on my mind. Even if he never calls, even if we never take tea, he will always be on my mind.”

It’s been well over a year now. Colby still hasn’t called. Not that I’m waiting by the phone anymore. And I haven’t seen him around since that night either, not even at the fuckin’ Murphy’s Law concert, where my eyes were peeled out of their fuckin’ sockets for him. And I’ve been back to the video room time and again and he never turned up. He wasn’t even at Medusa’s when Ministry played. Fuckin’ everyone who’s anyone was there! Not him, though. Who knows, maybe he moved. God, I fuckin’ hope not. I so want to see him again.

I never told Tressa about the night I met Colby. Never told her what happened with Narc. Never told her about my attempts at a cockney accent and a new story. But I did ask her if the name Colby rang a bell. She said it didn’t and asked me why I asked. I said somebody told me some story about somebody on Belmont named Colby but I couldn’t remember how it went. I could tell she could tell I was lying. I remembered the story. Knew it fuckin’ chapter and verse. I was its author. “Colby’s coming with me to London”: I nursed the story all last year. I nurse it now, but not so much now that a year has gone by and the phone hasn’t rung. Yet my London Plans still stand if he ever wants to hear my pitch, if I ever see him on the L again, if we ever become friends. I’ll keep watching out for him at Irving Park station. But I won’t do a cockney accent next time. That was just fuckin’ stupid.

(c) 2010

Kyle Thomas Smith is a writer in Brooklyn, NY.

85A Log: “What We Do Is Secret,” Joshua Furst and James Frey

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 8, 2008
Johnny Rotten - Patron Saint of 85A

Johnny Rotten - Patron Saint of 85A (from now on, I'll use his picture at the top of every 85A Log)

So, I will be meeting with Shell next Thursday, August 14th to go over the first draft of 85A. I can’t wait to hear her feedback, though, I must say, I have enjoyed my little vacation from the book.

In my sophomore year at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, we had Career Day. I went to all the career workshops that had anything to do with careers in the arts – Photographer, Actor, Musician, Arts Critic, and Writer. For a school that had little to no respect for the right brain, it’s no surprise that – instead of flying Hanif Kureishi or Kurt Vonnegut in with the mint the school raked in from its alumni association – some crusty old Jesuit got some crusty old alum, whose name I forget and whose writing was equally forgettable, to conduct the Writer’s workshop.

It was about as interesting as watching roadkill rot. The Fuddy-Duddy stood before us, crushed every bone in his feet with the names he dropped and then rattled off the titles of every award any writer worth his or her salt should vie to win. I wanted to be a writer precisely to get away from all that systemic bullshit he touted. Unmentioned went the opioid orgies that the freaks among us were dying to have with the muses.

Now that I’m done dumping all over that poor man, I will say that he offered all of us one piece of advice, which still resonates with me today. It was: “Once you write something, put it away for a couple weeks before you decide whether it’s any good.”

I guess that, on Thursday, I’ll have more perspective on whether 85A was any good. If not, who cares? Like I’ve been saying all along, that’s what next drafts are for.

So, this morning at 11 am, I took another Artist Date (see, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) and went to see the premiere of What We Do Is Secret at The Landmark Sunshine Theater on Houston & 1st Avenue in Manhattan. At the box office, I stood behind some chick who had fresh bullet wounds, with blood spurting, tattooed on her neck. It was kind of cool.

Anyway, Secret is a biopic by Rodger Grossman about the rise and fall of Darby Crash, lead singer of the Late Seventies L.A. punk band The Germs. Shane West from E.R. plays Crash. Evidently, the old band members of The Germs liked West’s performance so much that they decided to reunite and make West their new lead singer.

They must’ve seen something in this movie that I didn’t see. I mean, Shane West is a good actor and all, but he doesn’t come close to expressing the raucous inner life that Crash must have had. (Let me admit before I go any further that I was never a Germ’s fan. Although I did see them featured in The Decline of Western Civilization, I know about as much about them as the folks in the geriatrics home up the street.) Evidently, a major Cross for Crash was that he was a closet homosexual, but the film shows one snippet of that bete noire and then drops it like a burning coal. Also, although Grossman did his best to convince us that Crash was a barroom-brawl-waiting-to-happen, West makes Crash seem more like a leather-clad Merry Prankster than a G.G. Allin-meets-Ian-Curtis malcontent. He even makes his suicide (coincidentally, on the day John Lennon was assassinated) look more like a madcap stunt than an act of total despair.

Great tracks from Bowie on Grossman’s flick, though – two in total, both off one of my Top 20 Albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. “Five Years” plays as an allusion to Crash’s five-year plan for the Germs, which he may or may not have fulfilled before his suicide at age 22. Grossman plugs “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” as an elegy to Crash.

In fact, Crash hails Bowie several times in the movie. He’s got Aladdin Sane and Ziggy posters on his walls. He keeps putting Bowie on the guest lists for his shows even though Bowie himself wouldn’t have even heard of The Germs at the time. He demanded that the Editor-in-Chief of Slash magazine form Slash Records and record The Germ’s only LP, GI. Then, he demanded that the Editor get Bowie to produce the album, only to later settle for Joan Jett.

But didn’t that first wave of punks think Bowie was too soft and old school?

Oh! While we’re on the subject of Bowie…last night, I found out for the first time that he’s half Irish! Why didn’t anybody tell me that before? As a kid, I was always looking for Irish heroes – even if they were only part of the Irish diaspora like me – and Bowie was one of my idols.

Back to Secret, though…I’m glad I saw it. It at least reinforced some punk themes and images that will help fuel my writing on the next draft of 85A.

Plus, I’m halfway through a novel called The Sabotage Cafe by Joshua Furst. He’s a writer who teaches right here in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute. His novel is outstanding! I came across it on a display table at some bookstore in the Village. Furst is such a gifted writer and his book seamlessly fades in and out of the Eighties punk scene and present-day street-kid culture.

I’ll blog about it more once I finish it – which might not be for a little while, given the work that’s on my plate – but I hope to meet him some day to congratulate him on his remarkable achievement.

In other news, Shinnyo-en in Tokyo has sent me a book to edit called, Turning the Wheel: Stories of the Buddha’s Disciples, so that’s keeping me busy between 85A drafts.

I’m also going to be reviewing Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey for Edge Magazine. It’s his first-ever novel and his first book since the 2006 Smoking Gun/Oprah scandal.

I know he lied a lot in A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard, but I still enjoyed reading them. I loved his propulsive, plain-spoken narration and his unpredictable syntax. It sucked me right in and I just had to finish both books in one sitting each.

I’m about 150 pages into Bright Shiny Morning, though, and I’m not sure that the same style works for him in third-person fiction, where he has to be more detached and documentary. There isn’t the same sense of compulsion. Still, it’s good to see that he’s dropped a lot of his tough-guy facade with this book, where he treats the characters with a lot more compassion and sensitivity.

That’s it for tonight. I’m heading to a party in Clinton Hill, right across the street from Pratt actually. Wonder if I’ll see Joshua Furst there. Do I have the nerve to go up and shake his hand?

Furball: A Blog Memoir of My First Days in New York

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 7, 2008

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Today, August 7, 2008 marks my fifth anniversary in New York!

Not long ago, my friend Ross, one of the first people I met here, said: “Kyle, Remember when you came to New York in 2003? With champagne dreams and Pabst Blue Ribbon pockets – and then you met up with FURBALL! Oh, man. Please blog about that!”

Actually, I did live in New York briefly in 2000. It was after I left Chicago to be an expat writer in Paris. Turned out I was just reading too much Hemingway.

After a month in Paris, I realized how terrible my French was and how seriously the French take their language. So, for the next four months, I kept heading east through Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland. I stopped at point of interest after point of interest and cafe after cafe with my notebook, writing and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. It never became clear.

So, I took the train all the way back west to Barcelona and, after enough sangria, decided I’d get my life back on track in Manhattan. I’d only been there twice, both times to stay at Hotel Riverview and see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Jane Street Theater. (Why did that show ever close? It was a masterpiece.) I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Still and all, New York seemed the logical next step up from Chicago, where I’d lived my whole life.

Desperate for new beginnings, I subleased my friend’s sister’s studio apartment on Horatio Street with my last $1,700. I had never known rents so high. Actually, after paying for the sublet, I had a little more left over to buy Ramen Noodles, which became my cuisine for the month as I patched together all the editing and temp jobs I could.

Then my friend’s sister came back from her time away. She was kind and generous enough to let me stay with her for a cut of my meager wages until I could find a permanent job and a place of my own. After two more months of interviews and near misses, I still turned up nothing and wound up on the Amtrak back to Chicago, a city I’d tried so hard to leave. As the youngest of seven kids, I’d always felt such a need to strike out on my own and prove myself. But, after failing in New York that first time in 2000, it looked (and felt) like I’d just flat-out struck out.

Fortunately, for two months, one of my brothers was going to be away from his place at the Edgewater Beach Apartments on Sheridan Road. I stayed at his place while I found work and got back on my feet.

Once I landed a paying job and saved a couple paychecks, I moved down to Wicker Park. That’s when I went hardcore into writing five to six hours a day, mostly just filling up spiral notebooks a la Natalie Goldberg, trying to find my true writer’s voice. I also continued working with Trap Door Theatre, a European absurdist theater in Bucktown. I’d already been writing for them for over two years, even while telecommuting from Europe and New York, and they fitted me with an indispensably supportive community while I lived down my New York losses.

Although I was rebuilding my life in Chicago and becoming more and more prolific with my writing, I felt a persistent tug to move back to New York. I knew I’d need a lot of money to make that happen, though, so I saved a buck wherever I could.

Even after a year, I still didn’t have enough.

Fortune favored my bold plans, though. Some friends of my parents, Ray and Mary Simon, owned a condo in a building overlooking Lake Michigan in the Edgewater neighborhood. Their tenant had moved out, so they offered to lease the condo to me for $400 a month! I already had a good job writing for a civil rights organization and, at only $400 a month, I could save a much bigger bundle than I could while living in Wicker Park. So, I moved into a luxury lakeside highrise. I stayed in Chicago for two more years, spending sparsely and saving copiously.

Again, I loved my job at the civil rights organization, but, after a number of romantic disappointments and fading friendships, I knew the Universe was telling me to move on. In late June 2003, I gave seven weeks notice at work. In July 2003, I flew to New York to secure an apartment before the move that I’d scheduled for August 7, 2003.

The Tuesday before my trip, I saw an ad on that read: “One-Year Lease Available. Apartment in the historic Bushwick area. $950 mn for 950 sq ft.” My mouth dropped. Back then, Chicago still had lower rents than the ones advertised, but $950 for 950 square feet? Even in Chicago, you couldn’t get something that big for that price.

I didn’t know if the landlord would lease to me, though, since I didn’t have a job lined up out east. Plus, I’d heard all sorts of Midwest horror stories about apartment-hunting in New York. One claimed that, just to see an apartment, you had to camp out on the sidewalk the night before and stand in lines that snaked around the block. Not only that but, if you liked what you saw, the storytellers averred, you’d better have at least $7,000 in ready cash or the landlord won’t even look at you. And you’d better have that money masking-taped to your chest! Your odds of getting mugged in even the nicest New York neighborhoods are about 90%.

So I called the number on the ad. Some Greek guy answered. I asked about the apartment. He said, “When you a-be in town?” I answered, “Friday.” He said, “Okay. You come. You come. I show.” I said, “Yes, but I have to be honest with you. I don’t have a job yet. Would you still be willing to rent to me?” He asked, “Can you leave one month’s security?” My first unspoken reaction was, “Just a month?” I’d heard from various atrocity addicts that you need to pay up to a year’s security on a New York apartment. But I wasn’t going to pass up a bargain, so I said, “Sure. One month, no problem.” The man said, “Okay. Okay. You come. I show.”

So, I found a drastically marked-down price on for two nights at the Radisson on Lexington. The room cost less than the flophouse rates at Hotel Riverview, where, last I saw, rival tranny hookers were tossing switchblades from one hand to the other as they crouched down like front-linesman to face off in the hallways over allegations of stolen tricks.

Not only did I find a nice hotel on that New York go-round, but I had arranged a job interview for that Friday morning too. Actually, earlier that same week, I’d already had the phone interview for that job. The guy said to me, “I’m very taken with you, Kyle. I got the portfolio you Fed-Exed me. Your writing samples are superb. And now that I’ve spoken with you, I see no reason why you wouldn’t make a great addition to our team. Why don’t you come see me on Friday at 10 am and we can wrap things up.” A job! Already! Could things possbily fall into place more perfectly? And I’ll be signing a lease on an apartment right after the interview too!

It was 95 degrees, the morning I showed up to the interview in a blue wool Brooks Brothers suit. My interviewer was wearing Levis and a Ramones t-shirt. He didn’t hold my fancy attire against me, but he did inform me that the president of the organization and his wife had met the other candidate for the position on Thursday. That candidate had favorably impressed them. They wanted to hire him on the spot, but my interviewer had managed to keep them from making any offers until they could meet me.

“Great,” I exclaimed, “Will we be going to the president’s office this morning?”

The guy shook his head, “No. He couldn’t make the interview today. He was called out of town. He won’t be back for a week.”

I tried to hide my cringe, “Well, how soon does he want someone in this position?”

The interviewer sighed, “He wants me to make the other guy an offer by Monday. I’m going to try to hold him off again. I’ll try. I think I would work better with you than with this other guy, but it’s the president’s call.” I had a gut-feeling that my situation was hopeless; I knew it all sounded too good to be true. I dogged my way through the rest of the interview, shook the guy’s hand, and haven’t heard from him since.

So, in my wool suit with $7,000 taped to my chest, I descended the stairs into the boiling 2 Train station, following the map I’d scrupulously drawn for myself, downtown to the L train to Bushwick.

I got off at Morgan Street. I approached a musclebound black man in a nylon skullcap, “Excuse me, sir. Could you please direct me to Central Avenue?”

He sized me up, down and sideways before leaning in close and telling me, “Man, you in the wrawng neighborhood.”

I said, “Well, I normally don’t wear a suit, you see.”

He said, “Look. Central is about ten blocks that way, up Flushing. Just…watch your ass on the side streets.” Then he gave me another once-over and said, “Actually, watch your ass on the main streets too, okay?”

I nodded, “Thank you, Sir!”

I made my way over to Central Avenue. There it was – the building. I saw people exchanging money and cellophane bags out of a car with tinted windows. I saw trash bags stacked almost to the top floor. Saw a grizzled old man, passed out on the building’s front step, using an empty bottle in a paper bag for a pillow. I recalled the job interview I’d had about an hour or so earlier. Then I looked back at the building.

“Guess I’m not on Sheridan Road anymore,” I said to myself, “If I’m gonna be unemployed, I don’t want to be living right next to this kind of unemployment.” I didn’t keep my appointment with the landlord that day.

I turned and walked back to the J train instead. The nice man in the nylon skullcap was still there. He gave me a wave as if to say, “Glad to see you got back alive.” I waved back and thanked him again for his help. By the time I got to the subway, I was dehydrated under the weight of my wool suit. I could feel some of the masking tape on my chest peeling away under the last of my sweat and, for the first time that day, I could smell all the $7000 worth of bills too. Radisson, ho!

7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn

7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Fortunately, I made appointments to see other sublets that were available in Brooklyn, just in case my quest for a permanent lease didn’t work out (it didn’t). After washing up for another twenty-four hours or so in my Radisson bathtub, I put the money back on my chest with a new stretch of masking tape and made my way over to Park Slope on the F train.

I’d never been there before, but, by all accounts, it was a nice, sunny neighborhood. You can never tell these things from a subway tunnel, though, and I was still wary from my apartment hunting on Central Avenue.

When I walked up the F train staircase at 7th Avenue, I saw jovial faces of all colors on the street. Baby carriages abounded, along with upwardly mobile-looking people who looked to be around my age.

I should also throw in that I was carrying a gray velvet bag of Viking Runes. It’s no secret that I was once horribly addicted to oracles. My oracle of choice that month was Runes, so I checked my bag of Viking Runes to see if Park Slope would be a good place for me. I pulled out the Breakthrough Rune.



I went to 322 7th Avenue, #1 to see a lady named Theresa. She was offering a one-month sublet on a one-bedroom apartment for $950. “Well, it’s less space than the Central Avenue apartment, but, then again,” I reassured myself, “It looks like you get what you pay for on Central Avenue.” Moreover, $950 was one of the lowest priced sublets available in Park Slope on that month.

Now, there was a reason the price was so low. This Theresa woman had a cat named Furball. Whoever subleased from her would have to cat-sit Furball. Reduced rent would be their compensation.

Theresa was a comely bachelorette in her late thirties. For ten years, she’d lived in this 7th Avenue apartment, which had a narrow hallway leading to a cozy little living room. I saw a Columbia University diploma hanging on the wall above her desk. Off to the side was a utilitarian-yet-charming galley kitchen. The bedroom was on the other side of an arched doorway, where there was a downy queen-sized bed with a daisy-yellow, floral down comforter.

I couldn’t help but notice that she kept the bathroom door shut, though. In fact, she seemed to keep steering my attention away from it and to the other aspects and amenities of the building, such as the air conditioner. She even made a point of pointing out 7th Avenue, a charming main drag with lots of action.

Theresa told me that she had recently been downsized at her publishing-house job. She said she was going take a few weeks off to work on an organic farm in Nova Scotia before pounding the pavement.

As she related this to me, Furball walked into the room. Theresa blew kisses to Furball and then picked her up and started rubbing her nose into Furball’s face and belly. Furball was a mop of long gray hair with lion’s paws. If you brushed away the fields of fur covering Furball’s face, you’d see a radiant pair of golden eyes. I petted her head. She kept rubbing against my arm and my hand. “She likes you,” Theresa said.

I wanted to jump at the sublet, but I reasoned that this was New York, so I’d better be careful. I told Theresa that I was going to look at a few other sublets first. Theresa said, “Okay. But I have someone coming in about an hour. If she wants the apartment, I’ll have to lock in her offer.” I felt a gnawing in my bones, but I didn’t know if it was intuition or just jitters over my imminent move. I thanked Theresa and walked out of the building.

I wanted to go somewhere to think. Actually, I wanted to go somewhere and pull Runes to see if I should take Theresa’s apartment. (By the way, I no longer use Runes or any other oracular devices. Back then, though, I could barely stand to so much as order a coffee without consulting them first. Sick, sick, sick.)

I stopped into one place at 7th Avenue and 10th Street, just down the block from Theresa’s apartment. It was crammed to the gills with twenty and thirty-somethings. A dull roar overhead. People hanging out, studying. There was a pierced-up bull dyke and a hot guy with rippling muscles and tattoos behind the counter, which was three deep on the other side with hip young things, ordering coffee and espresso drinks. They had a wide selection of beer on tap too.

I sat on one of the couches. A spring from the cushion under me broke free and poked my ass. But instead of jumping up in disdain, I smiled at that spring’s cheeky charm. I looked at the name on the door. Tea Lounge, it said. Should I have taken Theresa’s apartment on the spot?, I asked myself. I had an instinct the answer was yes, but felt I had to check with the Runes first. I asked the Runes, “Should I take Theresa’s sublet?” Yet again, I pulled out the Breakthrough Rune.

Even though I was obviously in my element, I still didn’t want to rush into anything. So, I munched on a maple scone and thought it over. As I sat there musing, I said to myself, “This is one bad-ass, motherfuckin’ maple scone!”

Then I moseyed on a block over to a bar on 10th Street called Boom Boom Room. The bartendress looked like a hungover Kim Gordon with black hair, but she had a sweet voice and demeanor and only charged me a happy-hour price on my Guinness, even though the Boom Boom Room didn’t do happy hour on Saturdays.

On the neon grafitti walls behind the bar, the Boom Boom Room flashed music videos. What should be playing but Thin White Duke-period Bowie videos! “Look Back in Anger,” “Golden Years,” “Wild Is the Wind.” If this wasn’t a sign that I should move to Park Slope, I don’t know what was.

I looked at my watch. Oh my ears and whiskers! About an hour earlier, Theresa had said that the other potential subletter would be over to see the apartment in an hour. I gulped down the rest of my Guinness, waved goodbye to the nice renegade bartendress and high-tailed it back to 322 7th Ave.

I rang the buzzer. Theresa was surprised to see me back so soon.

“Hi, Theresa,” I said, “I decided that a bird in the hand is…Whatever, can I have the sublease contract?”

She said, “Oh, good! I liked you better than all the other subletters! Only, could I have some character references first?”

I dug into my bag, “Well, yes. You can have the references on page 2 of my resume.” I handed her my resume. “They’ll be happy to speak to you,” I continued, “Also, here are some photo-copies of letters of recommendation. They’re mostly for employment purposes, but I imagine the testimonials would work just as well for the situation we’re in now. In addition, I can give you the names and numbers of friends.”

Like any good HR professional, Theresa couldn’t help but take a gander at what was on my resume: international theater company, AIDS counseling services, civil rights organizations, part-time writing instructor in social service organizations. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Nah, I don’t need any references. You’re fine.”

We had trouble finding a lawyer to witness the signing of the sublease agreement. I didn’t want to be taken for a patsy. When none of the lawyers in her Rolodex were home, Theresa swore on her honor that she wasn’t the kind who’d void my contract and steal my money. After having her swear on Furball’s life that she was an honest woman, I ripped the masking tape off my chest, plunked $2,000 down on her coffee table and signed.

I then flew back to Chicago to finish up my last week of work and start packing. While I was handing the final draft of a proposal to my boss, the phone rang at my desk. It was Theresa. My boss walked on back to her office and I took the personal call.

“Hey, Theresa!,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Fine. Fine,” she said, “I’m just getting packed for my trip to Nova Scotia. How’s packing for your move going?”

“Oh, it’s a labor of love,” I answered, “Just as I’m sure Furball will be.”

Theresa paused. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m calling about. Do you remember my bathtub?”

“No,” I answered, “The bathroom door was shut.”

“Right, right,” Theresa said, “Yeah. Um…well, see…there was a reason for that.”

“Oh?,” I replied, “Is something wrong with the bathroom?”

“No,” Theresa said, “Not at all. It works just fine. It’s just…see, there’s a litter box beneath the sink.”

“Well, don’t worry, Theresa. Of course I’ll clean the litter box.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will, Kyle. There was never any doubt. It’s just…well, Furball doesn’t use the litter box.”

“Oh?,” I asked, leaning into the phone.

Theresa continued, “No, she…I mean, in a way, she does use the litter box. Only…”

“Yes?,” I prodded.

“She uses the tub as a litter box,” Theresa huffed. “There. I said it. She uses the tub…as a litter box. It’s not my fault, Kyle! I’ve done everything I could. I’ve filled the tub with water, thinking that’ll keep her away. Then all I find is a tub full of floaters. I’ve bought fun-and-fancy litter boxes with all sorts of catnip toys glued to the rim. I’ve hung little yarn balls from the sink pipes, y’know, so she could at least have something fun to swat at while she’s doing her dirt. I’ve even moved the litter box out into the hall, with a trail of Bonkers treats leading up to it.”

“And what happened after you did that?” I asked.

Theresa sighed. “She ate all the Bonkers. Then she got to work squatting in the tub.”

A moment of silence ensued.

Theresa then mournfully added, “She’s just…she’s just…IMPOSSIBLE!”

Lest Theresa burst into tears, I quickly responded, “Oh, don’t worry! Don’t worry, Theresa! I’ll…I’ll make sure Furball stays in line.”

At last, the day of August 7, 2003 came.

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to friends and coworkers. My friend Ruth had helped me pack and move boxes into storage. She and I then had a tear-stained goodbye at the W Hotel bar on the Gold Coast. Dubi and I had a last pitcher of sangria in the beer garden at Moody’s Pub. Laureen and I had coffee up the street from my Edgewater apartment. It would be my last coffee at Viva Java before the owner, my friend Ted, would die without warning and his shop would fold.

“We wish you all the luck in the world out there in New York,” a few managers at work said, “But now that you’re going, we’re screwed.” Less than two years later, the organization closed its doors for good. (I’m not claiming that I’m the glue that held them together. I’m just reporting what the managers told me right before I left. And they were screwed! But it was mainly on account of their new Executive Director, who ran the place into the ground after not bothering to show up to work for months on end.)

On the afternoon of August 7, 2003, Mom and Dad drove me to Midway Airport. Dad drove and Mom sat in the backseat. Dad insisted on listening to his favorite radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, on Talk Radio, even as I bashed my head against my passenger-side window, screaming for him to stop this madness and torture. Then I perked up, thinking, “This is yet another sign from the Universe that it’s time to leave Chicago!”

Finally, we arrived at Midway. I’ve never been good at displaying gooey emotions with my parents, so Mom kept her sentimentality in check for my sake. She had that look in her eye, though, of a mother sending her child off to the school bus for the first time. Only this kid’s bus was about to pull up to an east coast Babylon, and he didn’t know what was about to hit him. Because Dad had insisted that I get to the airport three hours early for my flight to LaGuardia, “just in case of long securities lines,” the guys at the Quick Check depot put me on a flight that was flying to La Guardia two hours earlier than mine. I considered this an auspices for the wonderful life that was awaiting me in New York.

After I landed, I had too many bags with me to take the shuttle from LaGuardia to the subway, so I took a cab instead, even though I wanted to save money.

Driving into Brooklyn, I had the definite sense that my life was about to change forever, that nothing would ever be the same again. I also had a mother’s intuition that something bad had happened to my Dell laptop when it passed through inspection at Midway. My heart started pounding. All my documents were on that computer. All my resumes and cover letters too! I’d hoped like hell that my laptop was okay.

As I dragged my suitcases up the stairwell, I heard the clanking of a chain-link collar and lots hoarse, heavy breathing rushing up behind me. Before I could look back, I felt four paws knock me flat on the stairs. I looked up to see a Great Dane, the size of Marmaduke, bounding up to the third floor. Its owner walked past me with a leash rolled up in her hand. She looked down at my flattened body, said, “Sorry,” and then went right on walking up the stairs.

I dragged my suitcases to Theresa’s door and into her narrow hallway. I didn’t feel like dragging them to the bedroom just yet, so I left them marooned in the corridor. At that moment, my primary concern was my laptop. I took it to the kitchen, plugged it in and pressed the Power button. I pressed it again and again. It refused to turn on.

Looking out the kitchen window onto 7th Avenue, I remembered both the cozy life I’d left behind and the chaos toward which I had willingly and consciously steered myself. I sat down at the kitchen table. I hung my head over the corpse of my Dell laptop, folded my head into my arms and cried.

Somewhere around my fifteenth tear, I heard a noise. “Meow,” a creature behind me seemed to be saying.

I took a deep breath. “Oh, Furball,” I said, “It’s you!”

Furball hissed.

I walked toward her, “No, no, Furball. You and me, we’re pals.”


“It’s okay Furball,” I said, extending my hand out toward her, “You’re okay. Believe me.” She walked right up to my hand, rubbed against it a few times, and then swatted it.


I put both my hands up and stepped backwards into the hallway to retrieve my bookbag. I withdrew my gray velvet Viking Rune bag. Furball hissed. I asked the Runes, “What do I have to look forward to in New York?”

It gave me the Rune for chaos and doom. I put one hand on my heart, one hand on my stomach. The computer crash, the hissing cat, and the Viking Runes had all spelled disaster and damnation in New York. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There was nothing I could do but take a nap.

I lay down. There was all sorts of long, twisted gray fur stuck to the daisy, floral comforter. Even though I’d had cats for most of my life up to then, I all of a sudden started sneezing. While normally that would have disrupted my napping, I found myself falling asleep even as I sneezed. The stress of the move, the plane ride, the Great Dane, the hauling of the suitcases up the stairs, the computer crashing, the cat hissing – all that weariness had the same narcotic effect on me that the poppy fields had on The Lion, The Tin Man, The Scare Crow, and Dorothy.

Suddenly, Theresa’s soft bed seemed just right.

When I woke up hours later, I felt rested, restored, strong enough to take on all of New York City. As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, though, I felt a presence hovering above my pillow.


I rolled over and sat up on the bed. There was a whole world to brave. First things first, though. I had to take a shower.

I made my way over to the bathroom. And there they were…

Furball’s infernal tub deposits.

I took one step back. I took a deep breath. Like many signs before, maybe this too was a sign, a message from the Universe: “If you’re going to move to New York, you’re going to have deal with a lot of shit.”

Not to worry, though. Just as I’d suspected, Theresa had masterful cleaning products stashed away under the kitchen sink. Formula 409…


And a sponge.

If I were to make no other friends in this town, at least I’d have the three of them. They became my prized companions throughout my first month at 322 7th Ave, #1 while I lived with Furball.

I picked up a scooper and transfered Furball’s care packages to the toilet. I then scrubbed with all my might until I was sure it was safe to step into the bathtub.

I felt like a million bucks soaping up and feeling all the suds rinse off my body. I built the Prell up into a thick lather that fell thickly on to my shoulders and on down to my chest, my belly, my privates, my legs, my feet. I dried off and decided to take a walk around Park Slope.

Paul Auster

Paul Auster, Author

I walked all around the neighborhood that night. I was hoping I’d run into Paul Auster, one of my heroes, whom I once wrote to requesting a writing mentorship. (He never responded.) Alas, he wasn’t out on a constitutional that night.

What did that matter, though. Park Slope itself was sublime at night. And now I was living here.

So intoxicating was Park Slope in its nocturnal grandeur that it didn’t even bother me that Furball hissed at me when I came home that night.

The Week Wears On…

As the week wore on, things appeared more promising than they had the first day.

Theresa called me from Nova Scotia to see how things were going. She apologized for Furball’s behavior. She told me, “Hiss back at her. Believe me, it keeps the relationship in balance.” She also offered to let me use her desktop computer all I wanted while she was away. I was able to repurpose old documents that I’d stored in the Sent file of my Yahoo email account, so my computer crash in no way deterred my job search.

On Theresa’s desktop, I applied for screen after screen full of job ads on the Internet. I figured this was New York, so, the competition factor being what it is, I shouldn’t imagine anybody getting back to me for an interview any time soon. But, within one week, three prospective employers called. I guess my resume stability in Chicago stood me well. (I ain’t had no stability like it since.)

It sure as hell wasn't no New York winter that day...

It sure as hell wasn’t no New York winter that day…but this was the Starbucks.

My first interview was for a writer position at a major Philanthropic Foundation in Midtown. I got to the area a few hours early, so that I might be able to get some writing done at Starbuck’s. Once again, I was wearing my blue wool Brooks Brothers suit and, once again, it was 95 degrees outside.

As I sat writing, some guy who looked remarkably like a 1970’s Dick Van Patten cruised me from the other side of Starbuck’s. Again, I had planned to sit there for hours with my notebook, so, after about 45 minutes, I walked over to the counter to get a refill on my ice water.

“Hi,” said Dick Van Patten’s doppelganger, “What are you writing?”

I answered, “Oh, just jotting down my usual discursive thoughts.”

“Well, you seemed to be going pretty hard at it.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, “I do nothing by halves.” I’ve never been into Dick Van Patten, so I tried squiggling out of the exchange as quickly as possible, but to no avail.

“You’re all dressed-up,” he noted, “Are you always this dressed-up?”

“No,” I told him, “I have an interview.”

“Really?,” he gave me a look of full-bodied inquiry, “What kind of interview? A job interview?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What kind of job?”

“It’s a Writer position.”

“Oh,” he nodded his approval, “You’re a writer.”


“Maybe you can write for me some time.” He handed me his card. “What’s your name?”


“Kyle,” he affirmed, “Wonderful to meet you. I’m John. Wow, you look great. I’m sure you’ll knock ’em dead at the interview. I live out in California. But, still, email me. Maybe my company can send some writing projects your way.”

“Thank you,” I smiled and, with an ever-so-slight curtsy, walked back to my table to continue writing.

John came to my table on his way out, just to wish me luck before going to his meeting. “Write or call me,” he said.

Well, I never ended up writing or calling John. Nor did I trust that his California company’s assignments would come without strings attached.

Still, his flattery so emboldened me that I smoked the interview! So much so that the interviewer said I seemed overqualified for the job. I guess that’s why I didn’t get it.

Oh, well, at least I “knocked ’em dead,” as John put it. At least, in that first month, New York employers recognized me as a force to be reckoned with.

That first interview ended at about two o’clock in the afternoon. I had to be back up in Midtown by 5:30 to have dinner with some friends of a friend, who’d tried roping me into a three-way the week before (I might have done it too if they weren’t all grab-ass and drool when they importuned) but when you don’t know anybody, it’s tough to pick and choose. Now, normally on a day like this, I would have passed the time by taking a walk, window-shopping, or writing somewhere, but, again, I was wearing that sweltering wool suit. I elected to take the F Train back to Brooklyn instead.

I was so hot, spent and exhausted that I didn’t pay Furball the slightest attention when she hissed at me on my way in. I stripped off my suit, my shirt, my socks, my underwear and headed over to the bathroom.

I saw that Furball had once again renewed her donations to the bathtub.

I gathered the Formula 409…

The Comet…

The Sponge…

That's what I looked like when I first got to New York City!  Man, what this city will do to you after five years!

That was me when I first got to New York City! Man, this place will wear you down after five years!

I scrubbed the bathtub and bathroom floors to a clean sheen.

Then I took the most exhilarating shower. Once again, the soap oozed off my upper body and down, down, down to my lower body and down the drain. I worked that Prell into a lather on my head that would make stables full of horses neigh with alacrity. Then, as I put my head under the showerhead and let the shampoo woosh down my shoulders…

The lights went out.

I thought, “Shit, Theresa didn’t pay the electric bill and now she’s up in Nova Scotia leaving me to hold the bag! Ah, well. I don’t have time to get into all that right now. I’ll call her when I get back from dinner.”

Then, through the door, I heard the guy from upstairs talking to the guy from across the hall. “Did your electricity go out?,” one guy asked. “Yeah,” the other said. I sighed with relief. “Oh, it’s just a building thing. It’ll be fixed by the time I get back from dinner.” I dried off, walked past a hissing Furball, and put on my clothes.

I walked out on to 7th Avenue. All of 7th Avenue was on 7th Avenue. Crowds formed. There was no electricity anywhere up and down the block. “Oh, it’s a 7th Avenue thing,” I told myself, “I’m sure it’ll be fixed by the time I get back from dinner.”

I walked over to the F Train. People came boiling out of the subway. “No trains running,” they announced.

It was then that I realized I wouldn’t be making it to dinner that night.

I started talking to people on the street. They told me, “All of the northeast United States has blacked out.” I gasped, “Oh my God! Al Qaeda! They seized our electricity. We’re as good as fried!”

Where else to take refuge during an insurrection but at Tea Lounge. Luckily, before I could start screaming blue murder to the Tea Loungers, someone sounded a battery-operated boom box on the street. That’s when I heard a radio announcer say: “I repeat, this blackout was not the result of terrorist activity.”

Phew! What a relief! Tea Lounge started giving out free cold drinks, now that the refrigerators were down. In fact, all the restaurants all up and down 7th Avenue started serving free drinks and cut-rate food. I started meeting neighbors from all around the block. It’s a good thing I came home to shower after the interview. I would have been stuck in Midtown for God knows how long. Many people had to walk 20, 30 miles home. Sadly, some people were severely injured.

But, as far as I could tell, all of us on 7th Avenue were having a blast!

All except for Furball.

There was no fan, no air conditioner, and the water in her bowl met with the scantest approval.

And, yes, when I came back from the festivities, she stood on the bed and hissed at me.

Contract Work…

After only two weeks of hauling my ass from interview to interview and negotiating a balls-out job search, I managed to land a few months of contract work. Furball didn’t join in my solo celebration. It didn’t matter, though. I just planned to sit back on Theresa’s couch, open a genteel mystery novel and unwind from all the effort it took to even make it this far in New York.

I tried – I did – to get into Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None… Her work just doesn’t compel me. While I was reading, all I could think about was my checking account and how glad I would be to get my security deposit back from Theresa.

Then I reminded myself, “Why shouldn’t I get my security deposit back? I’m a responsible person. I don’t throw wild parties. It’s not like anything around the apartment is going to get broken on my watch.”

That’s when Furball entered the living room.

At the front of Theresa’s living room stood a one-hundred pound flowerpot. The pot was set on a plantstand that had reed-thin legs.

Furball meowed for my attention. I looked at her. She lifted her long, furry tail and slammed it against one of the plant-stand’s legs. Time not only froze, but yelled, “Timber,” as Furball and I watched Theresa’s one-hundred pound flowerpot crash into a glass picture frame and then break into a hundred pieces on the hardwood floor.

Furball bolted under the bed. I sprang up off the couch and stood in horror over all the dirt and wreckage on the hardwood floor.

“It’s not enough that you shit in the tub!,” I screamed at the bed under which Furball hid, “It’s not enough that you hiss whenever I walk in the room! Now, you’ve bilked me out of my security deposit, you little bitch!”

After I cleaned up the mess, I went out and took a walk to calm down. When I came back, Furball was grooming herself on the living room floor.


Five days later, I was sitting at Theresa’s computer.

Theresa was back in town, but she was staying at a friend’s house until my sublease ran out. She’d asked me if it was alright for her to come by and use her own desktop computer while I was still on the sublease. I said it was no problem. So, over the course of the last couple weeks of my stay, she would come by her apartment and we would prattle a blue streak together.

With regards to the potted plant, she once again apologized for Furball’s behavior and assured me that it would not impact the return of my security deposit. That was nice to hear. Anyway, ever since that incident, Furball and I had come to a detante of sorts. She didn’t hiss at me anymore and I didn’t freeze her out.

One morning, I checked my email and saw that my friend Rob had written me. He wanted to know how my first month in New York was going. I told him I’d gotten a contract job, a new computer, which I still hadn’t set up, and my own apartment in Fort Greene, which I hadn’t set up yet either. I told him I’d also started dating someone and it was going well. I was happy in New York.

In his email, Rob had also asked about Furball. I wrote to him, “Right now, even as I type this email, Furball has her chin on my wrist and is looking up at me with cow eyes. So, you see, there are no boundaries here.”

Shortly after I sent this message to Rob, Theresa rang the buzzer and I let her up. When Furball saw Theresa, she hissed and ran under the bed. Theresa ran after her cat, trying to force her to be more loving and respectful. But I don’t think all the Coalition Forces combined have enough ammo to force Furball to be loving and respectful.

“You know,” Theresa said, “I remember when I adopted Furball. It was from some woman, an acquaintance of a friend. She had this cat…named Furball – I didn’t end up renaming her.

“Anyway, I went to go see who this Furball was. She hid under the bed the whole time. I reached under the bed to pet her. She bit me!

“I told the lady, ‘I don’t know if I want to adopt her. I mean, this cat isn’t very friendly.’ She guilt-tripped me, though. Told me it was either me or the pound. Plus, she’d declawed her. How could Furball defend herself if the pound were to throw in a room with other cats? I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I didn’t adopt her. So, now…here she is!”

A knock came on the door. It was one of the neighbors across the hall.

“Hi,” Theresa said. She gave the tall, blond guy a big hug. “You’re back!”

“Oh, I’m back,” he assented, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m back!”

“Come here, there’s someone I want you to meet,” she brought him in, “Johnjon, this is Kyle. He’s subletting from me. He just moved to New York and he’s already got a new job, a new apartment, a new computer and a new boyfriend.”

We shook hands. Little did I know that Johnjon was soon going to become one of my best friends and that I’d soon be moving in with him. But that’s another story, all having to do with how none of those things Theresa mentioned – the job, the apartment, the boyfriend, the computer – lasted as long as I’d hoped they would.

To get back to the story, though: right before Johnjon walked down the narrow hallway to come meet me, Furball walked out from under the bed and laid down at my feet. Theresa said, “Kyle must be taking great care of Furball because Furball doesn’t miss me at all.”


I dropped by Theresa’s house for a visit several weeks later. By that time, I was living in Fort Greene, one neighborhood over in Brooklyn. Theresa was laying on the couch with Furball, who was snuggling up to her neck.

I went to go pet Furball. She hissed at me.

Five years later, I’m still in New York. A little over four years ago, I adopted a Tuxedo kitten whom I named Marquez (namesake: Gabriel Garcia Marquez – which was setting the bar a little high).

Two years ago, I met my partner Julius. Nine months ago, Marquez and I moved into his house. Five months ago, Julius went to the ASPCA and adopted Giuseppe, a tabby, as a playmate for Marquez.

Both Marquez and Giuseppe make faithful use of their litter boxes. Theresa and I remain friends to this day, but Julius and I don’t want Giuseppe and Marquez hanging around Furball. She’s a bad influence.

We like our bathtubs just the way they are, thank you.

85A Log: Sid Lives! (Right Alongside Ian)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 16, 2008

So, last night, Mike and I were hanging out at one of the alfresco tables of this one Cuban restaurant on Bowery, right across from where CBGB used to be. Now CB is an art gallery called Morrison Hotel. Ain’t bad there actually. Vivid punk and glam memorabilia – Liebovitz and Mapplethorpe-level photos of The Stones, Iggy Pop, Elton John, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Sex Pistols, Bauhaus. The window display was that disgusting picture of Sid Vicious eating a mustard-slathered hot dog with his mouth open. Then, I kid you not, two people walked by – within five minutes of each other – wearing Sid Vicious t-shirts. This morning, on my way to go write at Tea Lounge, I passed a kid, no older than 18, wearing a t-shirt featuring the front page of a newspaper with the headline: “Sid Vicious Overdoses on Heroin, Dies.”

This all bodes so well for me! I mean, 85A might be set in 1989, but Seamus’ obsession with Sex Pistols (ten years after their breakup) is still timely. (His favorite band is Public Image Ltd. He’s way more into Johnny than Sid.)

Two books in particular have helped me recapture the disaffected spirit of Sex Pistols youth: Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage. Also, John Lydon’s autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs was surprisingly well-written and informative; I’ve always loved Johnny Rotten for his wit and candor. I also went back and watched My Beautiful Laundrette, This Is England, The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle, The Filth & The Fury, and of course Sid & Nancy.

I first saw Sid & Nancy when I was 13 years old. It had way too big an impact on me. Sid, Nancy, and Johnny’s foul mouths and havoc-reeking looked like total liberation to me. I started talking and acting like them every chance I got. Made my home life even worse than it already was. I also entered high school with that well-worn Rotten attitude, thinking everybody had seen the movie and knew what statement I was making. No, they just thought I was a twerp and an asshole. Walk in like that as a freshman, you’re going to spend the rest of your high school years living it down…and, well, that’s what happened.

So, I wondered what kind of appeal Sid & Nancy would hold for me at age 34. Oh my God! I am so embarrassed that I thought those people were cool. They were nasty, malignant, maladjusted scapegraces. Why didn’t I pick better role models growing up? What can I say, I was possessed. I needed to get all that sedition out of my system. Having said all that, Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb give peerless, searingly authentic portrayals of Sid and Nancy from start to finish.

I also recently rented Control, a wonderful film about the rise and fall of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis by Hungarian director Anton Corbijn. I was a captive Joy Division and early New Order fan as a teenager. All accounts I’ve read point up Ian Curtis as a total dick. Control has quite the opposite take on him. Even as an adulterer, he comes off as a sweet, sensitive, even polite youth who only wants a simple life of work, marriage, fatherhood and poetic musings. Life has other plans for him, though, when it catapults him into stardom. Samantha Morton gives a heartrending performance as Curtis’ beleaguered wife, Debbie Woodruff. Sam Riley is absolutely prodigious, adorable and tragic as Curtis.

But does the film’s account of Curtis’ death (at age 23) stand up to fact? Corbijn has Curtis hang himself in Debbie’s kitchen pantry. From what I’ve read, he hung a rope from Debbie’s living-room ceiling and stood on a block of ice, noose around his neck, while watching TV. By the time Debbie came home from work that night, the ice had melted, the TV was crackling static and Ian was dangling, dead.

I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but one of the things that charmed me most about the film was that the first track on the soundtrack was “Drive-in Saturday” from David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (1973). Curtis has just come home from buying Aladdin Sane at the record store in Macclesfield. He lays back on his bed and lets the album spirit him away. Then, his best friend Nick swings by with his girlfriend Debbie, who’ll soon be Curtis’ wife. Curtis rolls off his bed and starts applying glitter eyelashes to look more like Bowie. Oh, why didn’t that period of music last longer? In my late teens and early twenties, I used to sit in my bedroom with the lights out, playing that same LP.

Another amazing track they play is from one of my all-time favorite albums, “Warszawa” from Bowie’s Low (1977). It’s so deep, sad, haunting. Once again, in my room, I used to play “Warszawa” and all of Side Two of Low again and again and again while I smoked Camel Lights, wrote in my journal and looked out over all the miasma curling off the trees in my backyard. It made me want to be an expat writer, living in Berlin. Well…that didn’t end up happening.

But there is a great German film about a 14-year-old heroin addict prostitute called Christiane F. (1981). The soundtrack is all Thin White Duke-period Bowie (including, “Warszawa”); through most of that period of his music (1976-1979), he was living in Berlin. He even appears in the movie when Christiane goes to his concert and tries heroin for the first time. He does a killer live version of “Station to Station.” The movie is based on the book, Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. (I actually read the English translation about 15 years ago. It’s not bad.) Only problem with the movie is that the dubbing is so bad, you might find yourself laughing your ass off while she goes cold turkey.