Mazzy in the City
Mazzy had already tuned out Bunny’s speech about the renovated LaGuardia, the LaGuardia of the past and the future. She squinted as the sun poured into the skyrocketing glass of the atrium. The two were walking quickly, even though Mazzy’s cousin was right on schedule, and would be touching down, ideally, in 45 minutes.
“Delta?” asked Bunny.
“Hang a left, we want C. It’s right ahead.” Mazzy, a petite brunette, felt a little awkward as she strode through the airport in jeans and a ratty hoodie. Bunny looked stunning in culottes over gorgeous, cream-colored leather boots, and had topped that with a peasant shawl and improvised headwrap. Bunny worked at one of the airport’s newsstands but didn’t mind being there on a day off to help collect Darren.
“He’s a taller version of you, basically,” she said to Mazzy, as they reached Terminal C.
“Taller, slimmer, maybe still lanky,’ said Mazzy, claiming seats for the two. Presently, he arrived, striding up the hallway toward them with a hand gripping a simple, roomy backpack, and he leaned forward for a welcoming hug.
“Everything okay coming over?” asked Mazzy, as they began back down the concourse. “This is Bunny, my unindicted co-conspirator. She can give you updates on me better than I can.” Darren took Bunny’s warm handshake and said, “Very good to meet you!”, then “Let’s find a bite. I’m starving from the plane.”
He reported (around a kielbasa) that the crew in Chattanooga were well, that yes, the leaves had turned, and that his and Mazzy’s grandma had made a huge batch of apple butter. The image of the huge, steaming iron kettle and its bracing aroma hanging in the air made her physically require a plate of buttered toast slathered in the rich, dark condiment. Darren realized he’d shown up without any and swore to get a jar in the mail to her.
Without the fuss of baggage claim the three found their way to a cab stand, their brisk walk interspersed with bits of play-running, already laughing like children entered into a playground contract: feckless, stupid, even, if the moment required it, and that was okay. Huddling in the ghostly smoke and patchouli of a sooty cab, Bunny suggested drinks.
“We’ll hit the Mitre,” she said. “You’ll have a gauge for any other places you go here,” and the bar quirkily delivered on her promise. They put on a bit for each other with competitive coolness—such as the jukebox allowed, anyway—and obscure cocktails, and the black perturbations of routine fell away.
As the day waned Bunny made her excuses, after expressing envy at her friend’s week off. Boss visiting family in Virginia, Miss Mazzy on the loose and showing her cousin the sights. She hugged the two goodnight, and they all shared a yawn and a laugh.
For the first day they’d chosen to go into Manhattan and walk, with no fixed plan beyond a couple bookstores and maybe a record shop on St. Mark’s that Darren had heard about. It was bright and a little chilly.
“We can get fake watches,” joked Darren. Mazzy grinned at him and nodded. Bunny had told her that it would take six months to even begin to get her head around St. Mark’s, and she agreed. She had noticed, in her first months here, that there weren’t really many visibly provocative characters any more. Who knew…maybe there was another wave of organic weirdness due, or overdue, although she considered outrageousness-as-rebellion to be played out.
It was inside, she’d begun to understand. There was plenty of eccentricity to be found inside, if one needed it, or felt its call. That had always been the case, always would be.
She’d seen New Orleans, Chicago, other cities. New York City was no different. There were people on the street, coming and going, with determination or resignation. They were out for a bite, running errands or late for work, frazzled, having a day that was going south. Plain animal purpose. No wild eyes these days, but—as with the other cities—there was still the quiet populace of street people, in shifting wary league with one another, holed up in little blanket-lined burrows in sun-warmed doorways, their eyes both watchful and somewhere far away. As someone who’d decided—actively, consciously—to be a writer, she kept her eyes open, knowing the value of even the smallest exchange, and that there was something of value in every minute of every day.
“We’ve got a band to see tonight,” she said. “Calla Lilies.”
“I like the name,” said Darren. They were near the Bowery, and so Darren looked up the street address for CBGB. “Speaking of bands,” he said, “I’d love to get a pic in the front of the place, out on the sidewalk at least.” Mazzy stopped abruptly.
“Oh boy,” she said, her eyes a little wide. He watched her, waiting.
“Well, the façade isn’t really there anymore,” she said softly. “The awning: it’s, you know.” Darren considered this, and they walked for another block, and then he reached for the small laminated neighborhood guide in his back pocket. He unfolded it and showed it to Mazzy.
“Look, it’s cool,” he said. “We’re near Washington Square Park!”
The sun had dipped and gone and they were back in Queens. A lot of running to get right back onto the train, but they were young and had somewhere to be. Darren disappeared into the back of the apartment with his duffel.
He emerged from the bedroom clad simply in jeans and a black tee, over which he was pulling an old fleece-lined denim jacket. Dammit, it was effortless, and he looked better than her. The city could smell uncoolness, who belonged, really belonged, perhaps owing to something innate and uncontrollable, an election from birth. Mazzy had gone with black stretch pants like the Spanish girls pulled off so effortlessly, with a jacket that had a sort of Eastern European military-surplus vibe, and topped this with a Nordic knit cap with dangling ties. They were dressed. It couldn’t be helped, she felt with a flicker of irritation.
“Ready?” asked Darren.
“We’re out,” said Mazzy, smiling. “If you’re hungry, we can grab something.”
Macey Galls had lucked into a job as a research assistant for a PI who had an office in Elmhurst, on 45th. It suited her: Lawrence Belletto had a wallet full of fake IDs and a fantastic old leather briefcase. He spent most of the day in a distracted funk, brow knit, far away in thought about one thing or another. He let Mazzy have her space and appreciated her work. And he loved a joke, both the telling and the hearing. He had a boat and sometimes, if the two had a couple of spare hours, would load himself and Mazzy and some snacks into it and head out into the Bay, making for Long Island Sound and the calm of the water.
She rode, happy, and let words and sunlit space collect in her heart.
She hadn’t been able to reach Bunny for directions, so Mazzy and Darren walked into a place near the 7 line and got a beer. It was set up for an open mic night which was an hour or so away, but Mazzy spotted a group of kids leaned over in consult with their phones. A girl with platinum-blonde pigtails noticed her stare. Mazzy walked a few steps over and raised a hand in brief greeting.
“I like your shirt,” she told the girl, who was wearing a homemade Calla Lilies tank. “We’re looking for them tonight. They’re supposed to be playing?” The girl sucked noisily at her drink and nodded.
“Their manager works at Reef. Or maybe Mariel’s. In the Village: try both.” She squinted briefly, suddenly a bit unsure. They thanked her, finished their beers and just made the train. Its bright interior clacked in time with the movement over the tracks, and they swayed along until their stop appeared and they got off, eyes upward, searching.
They entered the tiny building.
It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the low ceiling and low light. The subdued physicality was offset by a steady murmur, the clink of silverware, and brief ripples of laughter. The place seated maybe 100, mostly on long communal tables, briskly served by aproned waitstaff. Mazzy and Darren stood at the end of one of the tables near the door. A large group was eating tapas and seriously into animated conversation. Mazzy was supposed to inquire here? She tried to catch the attention of the woman nearest her, who wore ancient coveralls over Doc Martens.
“Um. Excuse me?” she ventured quietly. On the second try, the woman looked up.
“Sorry…we’re looking for Mariel’s?”
“Oh. It’s in SoHo.” Mazzy shifted on her feet.
“So it’s a club, right?” The woman had turned back toward her friends, but swiveled her head again toward Mazzy.
“On Wooster. It sits next to a huge bakery.”
“Thanks so much,” Mazzy said with a quick, polite dip of her chin, then they were off again.
In the cab Darren chuckled and said, “They’re making you work for it.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, leaning back against the seat and watching the streetlights scroll by overhead. “I need to slow down. That IPA kicked my ass.”
Mariel’s seemed to be done up in red, or maybe it was just the lighting. A deep maroon soaked the place—the wood, the chrome of the trim, the thin felt of a pool table, the edges of the huge dim mirror behind the bar. This was indeed it. A watering hole for locals, a salting of the indigent, and most importantly, musicians.
At the far end of the bar sat Bunny, leaning over a glass as a rangy young man rolled his neck and laughed. They made for the two.
“Guys!” exclaimed Bunny. “Guys, this is Will. He got me the tip. If there’s a band worth seeing, he gets me the tip.” Will craned toward Mazzy and Darren, smiling, and shook hands.
“We can go right over,” offered Bunny. “Will drove.”
“It’s a Festiva, but it’ll get us there,” said Will. Darren looked at Mazzy, who nodded.
“Okay, then!” said Mazzy. “One more drink and we’re enroute!”
Bunny had been a kid in suburban Maryland named Tim Keele.
Baffled by the staid routine and expectations of his numbed, pre-fab town, he’d fled for Baltimore and a new life on the decidedly funky streets of Hampden. Tottering fetchingly on four-inch open-toed heels (a new tattoo on his left forearm read STRAPPY AND FLIRTY), and perfecting a louche, eye-linered gaze that mystified and beguiled those that it was leveled against, Bunny Keele set about perfecting life, area by segment by chapter, not so much flitting as cavorting.
“Baby,” an acquaintance had remarked in advance of that bright rebirth, “you’re so wired you’re hoppin’, girl!”
One move later she was in the city, and there was no great pressure to break out, or break in, or break through. Life, Bunny knew, was art—or it should be—and life in the city was art itself: a jewel clattering around in a cloisonné box, a thing to be taken out and displayed, handled, felt…a game won, a victory to be held, savored, curled tightly into the tongue.
The band was playing in an alley three blocks from Mariel’s. Will parked the car in a bank’s lot, looking around for anyone who’d hit him up him for a “parking” fee, and the four got out. There was a murmur coming from between the buildings opposite the bank, and as they walked over the crowd became clearer, huddled in clumps at the edge of the streetlights. There, behind a chain-link fence demarcation was the band, already plugged in and tuning up.
“Good timing,” offered Darren.
He seemed to take the boroughs in stride, as if he was some unflappable being who could materialize here, or in Berlin or Beijing and simply go about his business, see whomever he’d come to see, or glide through the day—if there were no concrete plans—with the ease of a native.
“What’s Nashville like?” she’d asked once, as the two messaged each other in an overdue catch-up.
“School good [he, like her, had chosen one of the UT campuses], classes good.”
“Lots of songwriters, yeah?”
“Yeah. People-watching at the songwriter nights—you took a lot of Anthropology stuff, you’d eat it up.” They agreed that she’d get down for a visit sometime.
Darren noticed Mazzy sharply shiver.
“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” he chattered, ‘but it’s cold as fuck.”
“They killed at South-By,” said a voice, loud enough for those in its vicinity to appreciate its solemn appraisal. “Six hundred people in this tiny barbecue place, ha, the fucking fire code—” but there the voice was cut off by a single, sharply struck chord which, as the guitarist rotated his distressed Epiphone toward his amp, bled into a gelatinous squall of feedback and got the set underway.
The singer grabbed the fence, gripped it and turned himself upon the mesh until he was inverted upon it, somehow keeping hold of the mic, insteps finally gripping the fence’s top bar for dear life, and bellowed like a calf as the drums and bass traded thudding riffs over the guitar, which now began an intro.
Darren wasn’t so much perplexed as amused, but Mazzy could only think of leftover spring rolls and the X Files marathon they were missing.
Mazzy had been cooped up in Knoxville, and not even a close creative community at UT had made it better. She then struck out for Iowa, with only the tunnel-vision compulsion to become a writer: of enlarging that pipeline, of accessing whatever it was she was supposed to access, whatever insight or connection that would propel her forward into life proper and her place within it. It took about a month for her to realize that she sought truth, yes, but not the truth offered by fiction, necessarily, rather the force and grit and telling detail of journalism. There was meat there. Finely wrought observations, caustic assessments, scabrous asides. One could do…anything.
She’d confessed all this, more or less, to a friend, over coffee, in a dreary café. The friend had gotten a brief pained look. Brief, but it had crossed her face.
“Oh, sweetie,” she’d said, trying to knot her words together in an airy, nonjudgmental way, “you want to be Joan Didion.” By the end of a slice each of pie, it had been established—with a fair measure of regret—that Joan Didion’s world was gone, that it was a hell of a time for journalism, for women who wanted immersion in that sea of text, that glorious, soul-filling bathysphere of print.
“So I just give up?” she’d asked, though a cloud.
She didn’t want to just give up.
Next morning Mazzy walked the short length of hallway, past a lightly snoring Darren, and adjusted the thermostat. The place was freezing. The sun, high outside, tinted her blinds. The clock read noon.
A quick scroll through possible reasons to stay up showed nothing urgent, so she returned to bed.
Darren woke an hour later, and once the two were finally up and about agreed to a day of taking it easy. He ran down to the corner for noodles and a newspaper, then it was back to the apartment and the comfy indentations of the couch. Half an hour later the two were slouched low on the couch, feet splayed on the laminate of the coffee table.
“Maximum sloth,” said Mazzy.
“Mm,” managed Darren through an Udon-coma.
Mazzy closed her eyes and dozed, thinking of the little diner the three of them had happened upon yesterday, she and Bunny still not having eaten. Bunny, eyes playfully conspiratorial, asking for an egg cream, at which the solid woman behind the counter leaned back into the wall’s serving aperture and asked whether Mr. Zilberman could come out and make an egg cream?
The woman, eyes warm behind feigned impatience, turning back to them and clucking a bit over the corned beef: was it okay? These were nice kids, trying to punch tickets, trying to eat the city, to square the experience with some gauzy mental picture of the city, throngs jostling at counters, plates in rapid flight across linoleum, hungry patrons filled anew. This the woman was able to tell, and she’d wiped at her apron distractedly and watched the youngsters eat.
“Eat,” she’d said, voice softening. “In two months, this will be a spa for pets.” Mazzy finished a bite and said simply “Pets.”
“Pets,” said Mrs. Zilberman. “Therapy, whatever they do. For dogs.” This last word she cleaved into two syllables, the chewy and wonderful “duw-uggs.” The three nodded, looking down. Darren took a drink of his egg cream, placed in front of him by a spry, natty Mr. Zilberman who smiled a browned smile.
“Across the street,” he offered with his grandfather’s Kiev-shopkeeper insistence, “a gym.” He raised his hands as if confronting a riddle.
Thursday was light as well, with the only activity a leisurely walk around a little of Queens: a stroll through Flushing Meadows, museums, and a pic of Darren in front of the Unisphere. It was nice to have nowhere to be, at least until that night. Collars pulled up against sudden gusts, they passed a bag of falafel back and forth.
“Brooklyn tonight,” Mazzy said.
“Nice,” Darren said, dropping onto a bench and pulling his sunglasses back on his head. The light and the day, chill aside, were perfect.
“It’s a get-together at someone’s house. A couple Lawrence did some work for. It should be fun—they’re neat people.”
They arrived around eight. The place was a grand old Prewar pile that had been subdivided and redone. It was incredible. Whether Pete and Jessa owned it outright or just in part was impossible to tell. Jessa was the one who opened the door.
“Mazzy!” she said, gorgeous in a black pantsuit, “glad you could make it!” Mazzy introduced Darren, and the two were ushered in by a greyhound with an enraptured pug in tow.
The hallway opened onto a large room which had other rooms, in turn, branching out to the left and right. Mazzy and Darren walked slowly in, taking in the easy elegance and nodding if they caught an eye. Further down the space, two final rooms peeled off. These were lined with bookshelves and had the same salting of attendees who chatted over drinks, scanned the shelves in appreciation or took a load off in one of the spare-yet-comfy armchairs.
“Ah, there you are!” said an acquaintance of Mazzy’s (whose name might’ve been Mischa). “Let’s get some drinks. I think we’re gonna play Exquisite Corpse in a minute. The house is just; I love it,” she finished, taking the two in her slender-fingered, silver-ringed hands and leading them into the space’s end, a huge white kitchen with bars on either side, bottles in motion and flanking knots of partygoers nourished.
In their lazy slalom through Flushing Meadows, Darren had felt easy. His preconception of Manhattan (a towering, endless stadium of stone) had been largely borne out, yet it was okay. It was what he expected, and he’d have been disappointed had it been otherwise. He knew that he’d only seen the surface, the veneer, but had been happy to skim along that veneer, the hum in the air making its own essential life-noise, its own restless goading momentum. Queens had given up some of its secrets. He’d filled his lungs with its air and felt like he had business being on its sidewalks.
With Brooklyn, the jury was out. He’d nudged Mazzy several times in the taxi, pointing out the tapestry of brownstones, row-homes, tenements, and hypnotic sea of storefronts. Hypnotic, yes. It was its own micro-climate. He sensed the protocols, the sheer design of it all. These lives were curated, a realization reinforced as he watched Pete produce a container of portabella steaks—fragrant from a few hours in red wine—and tong them onto the grill to cheers. He spent a few minutes admiring the depthless green paint on Pete’s ’61 Volkswagen and easily concluded that here was a guy seriously worth knowing.
After an hour of exchanging names, though, the cousins were enlisted into a shift of scenery. The evening was moving from Bushwick to Greenpoint, to the loft of a director (or producer, one: Mazzy hadn’t gotten a clear picture of the place). Once inside, under lights that were far too bright, Mazzy was seized upon by a woman matronly yet sizzling with energy. She opened her arms to receive an incoming hug, simultaneously realizing that she was blanking on the woman’s name. They’d met at a fundraiser—
“It’s Mazzy, right?” Then: “Roberta!” She cut a natty figure in brown worsted, a berry-colored pocket-square punching up the breast pocket, and she held a tall gin and tonic.
“I really love these homes, both of them that we’ve seen,” said Darren in greeting.
“Yes?” said Roberta.
“They’re full of life,” he said simply. “And full of, you know, someone’s vision.” Mazzy loved meeting old-school denizens of the city, and told Roberta they’d seen a band and were going to be able to catch a show called Forge, and surely Roberta had seen some great stuff?
“My favorite was this,” Roberta said, clicking into a memory. “Omigod. Andy and Truman were there. Mick was there. The Stones had just been in Toronto. They played the El Mocambo with Chuck Berry, so they were hanging out with Chuck in the city, seeing the sights, right?” She paused for a couple of pulls on her drink, repositioned the napkin around its wet base, then continued. “And Chuck’s there at the club and he looks so lonely, just standing by himself and nursing a drink.” She threw a quick wave and a welcoming bob of her head toward the door. Glancing immediately back to Mazzy, Roberta sensed her and the kid entertaining a kernel of doubt, or at least reservation. Maybe they’d done some math and pegged Roberta as having been too young to have talked her way into such an affair, so she continued: “Omigod, it was scandalous! I was fourteen!”
Mazzy asked about the club. It seemed like every square of New York had not just history, but layers of it, like sediment, like a fossil record of every imaginable sort of endeavor, feat, encounter and spectacle. Who could know it? Who could absorb it? Roberta’s face went from animated to illuminated.
“Omigod. Okay. Désemplir.” She raised both hands in emphasis and, apparently, reverence. “It was open for only three hours on April 12th, 1977. Have you heard of the Cheetah? Okay. It was there. Some really sketchy Czech guys were running a massage parlor after the Cheetah, then it sat empty for however long. So yeah, just the three hours. But you could do that then in the city. Omigod—” Someone caught her attention and she broke away, shrieking in delight, and Mazzy and Darren stood as forgotten as the gamy baba ghanoush and passionfruit tarts on the tables at the back of the room.
Back at the apartment they addressed their hunger with a vast pizza, and Darren—full of half of the pie—mounded a group of pillows at one end of the couch, settled in for a movie, and promptly fell asleep.
In his defense, thought Mazzy to herself, it was 4 a.m.
Of all the things that recommended New York, perhaps the most intriguing was that once the sun went down, time seemed to lose consequence. If something was pressing in daylight, it could be disarmed or overridden under the moon. The accretion of energy from the day didn’t just vanish. Some slept, yes, even some of the young, but something about the city made it optional.
Friday dawned, tonight was Forge, and—still happy with the stroke of luck that was her week off—she had time to tend to some submissions.
Two of the journals were in Brooklyn and one in Queens, the last of these only about ten blocks from her apartment. With Darren supplied with a subway cheat-sheet and headed toward the Strand, she now prepared to drop off three pieces: a take on Venezuela’s mounting woes, a review of Carrie Brownstein’s memoir and the jewel of the stack—a rambling, evocative interview with the Hmong family who ran a bodega on her block. Yet after leaving this last piece at a teeming loft in Williamsburg and thanking the distant guy who sat eating a sandwich and glumly soldiering through a slush pile, something popped, unbidden, into her mind.
She didn’t want the city.
It was a ludicrous thought, especially for one who’d made it there and had a place bigger than a shoe box and a tolerable job. Where, though, did she want to be? Back to somewhere like Tennessee or Iowa? She honestly didn’t entertain any contemptuous feelings about the vast middle of the country, no need to cast aspersions upon a place just to do it. It seemed reactionary and contrived. If not there, though, where? There was no growth, professional or personal, in a move backward. The whole thing was tiring, and she felt such doubt as a needless weight.
Bunny met them at Mazzy’s for pre-drinks, then the compatriots made the train, got off at Second Avenue and grabbed a cab to First.
Mazzy felt run down but was buoyed a bit as she and Bunny and Darren stood and took in the old-world sweep of The Lyceum. An arch soared over the two old wooden doors that swung open to receive the evening’s guests, and the three walked inside.
In the lobby Mazzy looked up at the hammered-metal ceiling and took in a swirling grid of acanthus leaves laid over a glorious field of finely wrought quatrefoils. She swore, softly and violently.
“Hm?” queried Bunny, looking over the program between sips of her drink. Mazzy then looked around the lobby, the theatre-goers, their faces flushed and expectant. The last of the smokers came in now, fishing through bags and jackets for their tickets.
“I could be writing this up,” she said blankly.
“Writing it up,” repeated Bunny. “For who?”
“Well,” said Mazzy, “no one just yet. But I could shop it around.” Her friend was quiet, pretending distraction in the program.
“Mazzy,” she said finally, “This may be covered. Maybe by a lot of people.” She paused. “Or maybe not, maybe by no one.” Now she looked at Mazzy, softly but directly. “My point is…do you have anything on you to write with? Did you do any prep? Anything you’d want to concentrate on, to keep for later, any angle?” Mazzy shook her head, and Bunny laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. The last of the crowd had vanished through the auditorium doors.
“Let’s just watch it then, okay?” she said with a smile. Darren emerged from the restroom, and the three walked inside and found their seats.
A little online digging had revealed some of the show’s intent. Tonight was actually Forge II, as Forge I had played the year before in a series of tiny hovels. They were the right hovels, though, and had netted Jan Karpassian a respectable amount of press and (crucially) buzz. Essentially, he read three different pieces of his poetry while masturbating to each. No, no exposed hardware, she’d read, just a solid, undulant grip inside billowing trousers that looked to have been sourced from a Bedouin. This performance did three things, ostensibly: it demonstrated the renewability of life’s creative and physical energies, it demonstrated the ability to hold both the base and the noble in the mind at the same time, and it demonstrated the absurdity of drawing distinctions between “base” and “noble.”
Dammit, there was the name right on the program:
A REFINEMENT. A STATEMENT FROM ONE MONAD, ONE FRAGILE MAMMAL.
And here was Karpassian now, emerging to lowered lights and ambient sound in the wings. Birds offered early-morning chirping to the left; formless acoustic guitar played to the right. He stopped at center stage, girded in a loincloth, leonine and fierce, black hair framing impossible bronze shoulders. A woman made her way toward him from the shadows now, walked around him in an arc and then deposited a slender black pedestal at the stage’s front, then returned to the wings for six more such columns, during which another assistant distributed parchment cards throughout the audience.
From the loincloth he produced, slowly, a small stack of something which he raised to his eyes, as if in solemn contemplation. With a deft movement, he fanned them out and held them out to the audience for inspection. They were glass slides, about three inches square, and he passed them over the eyes of the crowd in an arc. As they completed the arc at stage right he lowered a pointed finger toward a henna-haired woman three rows in, and nodded.
“Nightfall,” the woman said, then, with a little more confidence, “so you say.” Karpassian nodded, unblinking, then took a few steps backward and began to produce the essences of his body. The saliva was straightforward enough, deposited onto the slide and then laid onto the first pedestal. He froze, then: a waxen effigy who after a moment began to weep, a cello edging out the guitar, and the tears he collected as well. The sweat came from his armpits, wet under the heat of the lights. These slides were laid with care onto the pedestals, with his finger pointing each time, and the words “Plain barren conclusion!” “White-hot simulacrum!” “You can see, right?” rang with increasing conviction. Bunny had Darren and Mazzy by the forearm, the three transfixed in the airless ardor of the space, and when Karpassian held a slide for a moment before running it along his thigh and collecting a bright smear of the resultant blood, there was an audible gasp in the room. “Slight, delicious agreements, close enough to touch,” said a man right behind Darren, a collegiate sort with clean jaw and close-cropped hair.
Mazzy remembered the brief paragraph about the show from the program. It was something about being an expansion on the former idea—by using the audience and random words as poetry, Karpassian escaped both being dependent on his own need to organize his words, as well as the tyranny of coherent text.
The urine was straightforward enough, (accompanied by the shrill declaration “Closing in, you ascertain your error!”), and then there was a look of serenity and focus as a cloying note of shit filled the air.
The cello shuddered to a halt, replaced by a violin cresting excitably in a shimmering legato, while Karpassian raised his hands in supplication, eyes far away, the lights increased their glare and the chirping birds slowed to a disturbing dirge. He was after the final bodily extract, slowly turning his back to the audience, busy cajoling the sticky elixir from within, before walking in triumph back to the final pedestal with a slide which didn’t quite contain his issue, finger stabbing at an elderly black man who proclaimed, with unshakable finality, “Fair enough, let the clocksprings rest!”
This was not a pin poised slowly against the skin of a balloon, creating a brief dimpled impression before the pop, it was more of a rubbing of the fingers along the balloon’s thin wall, fingers causing small squawks as their pads grip the rubber, hold fast, then slide forward again. Karpassian was there—everything else aside—for the touch of the spirit’s finger, laid on either in caress, idle track over skin, or furrows pressed into folds of flesh moist under the stage’s lights. This broke through the cards, the stupid slides, the hokum of the loin-wrap, and Mazzy took in slow breath and then there was applause, and it came to her.
Not in a roman-candle gestalt, but with simple, obvious clarity.
The city didn’t just have its own aesthetics, it created that aesthetics through sheer force of will, a sui generis daily incarnation bathed in a roiling strange glow. If you wanted in, if you wanted to sign on, fine. If not, the city would happily continue its high-contrast, jostling pageant without you. Breathy and breathless, every stoop and weather-ravaged awning and strutting mindless pigeon.
Fair enough, she reckoned.
They stayed at Bunny’s afterward.
“The trains are better now,” she’d told Mazzy, “less chance of criminals, though still the exact same chance of crazy.” It looked like a moot point, as they didn’t even get to Bunny’s until six. Four short hours of sleep, then back to Queens for showers and then packing for Darren. He flew that afternoon, and after fighting LaGuardia on a Saturday Mazzy would have all Sunday for rest, recuperation, and simple nothing before returning to Lawrence and the phones on Monday.
Darren put his mug into the sink and walked over to the futon and Bunny. He opened his arms for a hug.
“Darren!” she yelped, getting up and embracing him. “You can’t leave! You will not!”
“Got to,” he smiled. “Work. School. They insist.”
“That piece of paper with your name on it,” said Mazzy.
“Yes. The piece of paper says it must be so.” Bunny laughed, walking them to the door.
“Girl,” said Mazzy, “always thanks. You know the deal.” Bunny shook her head gleefully.
“I love you, Mazzylicious, you be careful. And keep your phone charged!”
A week later Mazzy and Bunny sat on a sofa in a room that had a tight, still vibe underlaid with sweat and walls that smelled vaguely of weed and the pent-up damp of winters past. She’d lost track of the way on the ride over, and a look through the room’s large second-story bay window showed only dirty streetlight yellow: Irish brickwork with fire escapes tacked on in an angular black serial. The talk around them was dissipated, as if the assembled were convening a post-verbal conclave.
“Look,” Bunny had said, “you can fail here or you can fail in a cow pasture somewhere,” and she’d been right. That left open the question of net value, though, a net value of life, of the way one spends it: how, where, and to which ends. Was success in New York somehow sweeter? One thing was certain, and this was true for any writer, especially one trying to ply the trade in the 21st century, flailing against the (often-declared but as-yet unmaterialized) Death of Print: New York is your best shot. There did seem to be a demand contained within the city’s bustle, and it said that you didn’t waste time, didn’t half-ass things. You showed up, did your best work, fought fiercely for that shot. It was an active choice, made anew each time you woke up, and it cared not about hangovers, relationship bullshit, nor such niceties as eviction notices or cab strikes.
Mazzy understood. Maybe something had been done to her. Maybe there was some weird alchemy here, or a collective unconscious localized on the Atlantic seaboard and fed by myth, glitter and refusal to live within small frameworks.
It was enough. It was more than enough, and maybe that, finally, was the point.