Fourth

Bodies huddle near the edge of the water.  Sitting, standing, holding hands.  Friends drink out of plastic cups.  Lovers hold chins while they put lips on lips.  Cars are double and triple parked, lined up behind one another with the patriotic expectation of not caring about being trapped while we patiently wait.

I stand with my bike between my legs, in between a bent chain link fence and a car with its engine running.  Behind me, Huron Street pops and snaps with a rapid succession of illegal fireworks.  Low-lying flares light up a half-moon dome of space between the concrete and the canopy.  Puerto Ricans play their music from cars and boom boxes, sitting in chairs unfolded in front of bodegas.

A girl screams in Polish.  A French bulldog walks past wearing an American flag around its neck.  A boy sits on the roof of his car smoking a cigarette while mauve clouds disappear against a dark sky, rapidly becoming of lesser consequence, dominated by the darkness and the red, white, and blue lights below.  An older man comes up to shake my hand and tell me that he’s seen the fireworks seventy times, or maybe he says seventeen times.  He says they used to launch them off of the East River but the city changes it every year.  He doesn’t know why.

BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!

It starts: a series of wilting marigolds and golden palm trees, sunbursts like a lion’s mane.  Handfuls of red and green glitter tossed into the air while the explosions rattle the air like thunder.

The fingernail moon is covered in smoke, soft like a searchlight, while fireworks crest over the top of midtown Manhattan.  A girl walks past, followed by two friends.  They’ve already given up.  “This view isn’t even that good,” she says.  But it is good; she’s just unwilling to see it.

When I was a kid, back when my parents were still married, we used to watch fireworks from the back of my dad’s Ford F150, parked next to an endless row of other cars on the dirt median divided by defunct train tracks.  We packed beers and Capri Suns into a cooler.  We brought blankets and nylon chairs and waited for fireworks to launch out of the football stadium of the community college.

It was the same community college where my brother would end up getting his front teeth knocked out with a baseball bat, where I would attempt to learn how to back dive off of a two-meter board, where I developed an unhealthy addiction to peppermint Certs.  Years later – after they stopped doing the firework program because of budget cuts, after they razed the hillside and built a horrid series of taupe condominiums – I would end up back there again, taking classes in rooms filled with apathetic kids who were never good at school.

The smoke becomes so dense that the sky begins to look like a premature dawn, the light from the city catching in smoke and intimating sunrise.  Clouds travel towards us like ghosts, away from New Jersey and towards the East River.  Red reflects into the smoke and it looks as though the city has caught fire.

A beautiful apocalypse.

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Field Trip

Click on the image below to take a trip to the Flip Collective.

It rains all day.  Not in manageable sprinkles but in impossible, regular torrents.  We walk around Woodstock, which is really just a winding main street flanked by old buildings filled with new shit: shirts and coffee cups, summer cardigans and ornamental bongs.  Soon enough everyone is wet and impatient and someone suggests going to the local movie theater, an ancient three-screen with a proper marquee, the kind with black letters someone stands on a ladder to arrange by hand.

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Field Trip

Apologies for the lack of posts on JBLY.  I’ve been working on some book projects and other fun things, which, regrettably, mean my correspondence with the people of the digital age will be spotty.  Good things, people.  Good things.  In the meantime, swing over to Flip Collective to check out my piece today.  Click through on the image below.

I leave a party early.  I didn’t drink.  I didn’t smoke cigarettes out on a balcony hanging over Canal Street.  Music played but I didn’t dance.  Nobody danced.  The best conversation I had all night involved an iPhone slideshow of Berlin.  Shots of cups filled with milky coffee.  A building with the question, “Black Is Still Beautiful?” written on the top.  Trees and neighborhoods in decay.  “I want to go there,” I said…

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Crack Attack

The subway doors open.  My headphones are on as I cross the threshold.  Over my internet-procured, Pitchfork Best New Tracks-researched, I’m-so-indie bullshit I hear “OH MY GOD!  THIS IS THE WOMAN I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR ALL MY LIFE, MAN!  ALL MY LIFE!”

I keep my eyes down. I walk towards the other side of the train.  I hope and pray that this loud man, whose face I have not ventured to seek out, is not talking about me.  Dear God, I think, please let these words be intended for someone else.

“MAN!  MAN!  YOU SEE HER?  ISN’T SHE BEAUTIFUL?  HEY!  YOU!  LADY!  YOU’RE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUULLLLL!”

I notice that the lisped sound of this man’s excessively booming voice is pointing in my direction, and when I look up across from me, I am confronted with the humored stares of three boys, all looking at me, the victim of this embarrassing crime of flattery delivered by a lunatic.  Fucking hell.

I look back down at my iPod, turning the volume all the way down so I can hear everything being yelled at me.  A pair of sneakers appears in front of me.  I look up.

He holds onto a silver bar with aging hands and leans towards me with a maniacal friendliness.  “You so pretty,” he says, his voice lowered slightly, sweet as crazy candy laced with arsenic.  I squeak out a “Thank you” and place my gaze firmly back into my lap.  His charm turns towards the girl next to me, a young blonde in dark blue jeans.  “You so pretty, too.  I can’t choose!  Can I have both of you?”  She says something and he walks away.

After he has tired of wooing the ladies, his comments turn towards the men on the train.  “Don’t look at me like that, man,” he yells at a boy sitting across from me.  “People gonna think I like guys.  You fuckin ugly, man.  Ugly.”

The volume of his voice gains footing again, desiring to make its way down the train towards a man standing by the door.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT GUY WEARING, MAN?!  LOOK AT THE COLOR COMBINATIONS!  JESUS CHRIST.  YOU UGLY MAN.  UGLY!  ANYONE GOT ROACH SPRAY?”

Crazy Pants snaps one of his arms back, bent like a pantomime snake about to attack, or, you know, someone spraying a giant human cockroach with a giant can of fake insecticide.

“SSSSSSSSS!!! SSSSSSSS!!!”  His mouth makes the hissing noise of an aerosol can releasing poison.  He dances down the aisle; his toes tapping on the linoleum floor that is his stage.

“You ever see a guy uglier than that?!” he yells, standing in a state of rest.  No one offers their personal opinion.  On the other side of the subway, someone stifles a laugh.  “Can’t dress for shit!” he continues.

The subway stops, letting out a number of confused and horrified travelers.  The man catches someone before he leaves.  “MAN!  YOUR HEAD SO BIG!  WHEN’S IT GONNA STOP GROWING?  YOU NEED A HELMET FOR THAT SHIT!  YOUR HEAD SO BIG!”  He looks down at the Human Cockroach he assaulted a few minutes previous.  “Pap, you’re not the ugliest man no more,” he assures him.  The doors close.

Our tin can subway rattles down the tracks.  Crazy Pants anticipates the end of our journey together.  “You guys have been great,” he says with wistful sentiment, as though we were an audience who paid good money to sit center stage at the insane asylum.  His acerbic tone returns, however, and he wraps up his monologue with “The ugly ones, you’re still ugly, though.”

The doors open.  My stop.  I shuffle towards the door, hoping he doesn’t follow me and his other favorite blonde onto the platform.

“CRACK ATTACK!  CRACK ATTACK!  CRACK ATTACK!” he yells, pin pointing with great accuracy the theme of the last five minutes.

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Life on a Bike

I bought my bike off of a boy named Peter who lived on a park filled with flowering trees.  It was a red Motobacane.  Made in France.  He brought bikes back from Connecticut and fixed them up in his apartment.  It had curved handlebars that made me think I was going to fly forward and knock my front teeth out on uneven pavement.  My boots clung shakily to the old silver pedals made out of dulled aluminum.  It felt strange riding again; I hadn’t been on a bike since a year previous, when I was still living in West Hollywood and would only ever ride the half a mile to see movies at The Grove.

Not wanting to take advantage of Peter’s time, I rode the bike down the sidewalk just twenty feet before turning around.  It wasn’t comfortable.  My legs bent too close to my body and my back hunched forward like a cat.  It took Peter offering two times to raise the seat for me to accept.  I did stupid things like this often – not changing things that would be the obvious solutions to my problems.  “It’s okay,” I would say, shaking off someone’s invitation to help me, even if it meant I did things like not buy a bike that was perfectly fine for me and wasting an afternoon walking thirty minutes from North Brooklyn to South Brooklyn and then thirty minutes back, empty handed and frustrated.

He took my purse and told me to ride around the park, get a feel for the bike.  Changing the seat had made all the difference; my legs rotated in circular motions, the left knee rising as the right knee fell, over and over again.  I rode through the park’s center, little kids skateboarding and riding scooters, unwatched, their parents likely enjoying some time to themselves.

It was cloudy and the air felt damp against my skin.  It had been so long since I had thought about nothing.  My normal thought process – frantic and planning and searching and panicked – had slowed down to a tolerable roar.  Left.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Steady.  Left.  Right.  Steady.  I thought only of not falling over.  Bliss.

I came back to where he was, standing at his place against an over-painted wrought iron gate.  “I’ll take it,” I told him, and then I handed him a bunch of twenty-dollar bills that I counted out between my right and left hand, the sound of paper against paper indicating our transaction.

“One two three four five.  One two three four five.  One two three four five.”

I thanked him and rode down Driggs on my very own bike.  It felt strange to be in New York and own an item that was a further extension of myself.  Vainly, I wondered what I looked like riding it down the street.  “There’s that girl on the red bike,” someone might say, and they might see my blonde hair and my focused stare and think that the bike said something about my personality, which it didn’t.  There was something liberating I knowing that I had purchased something not wholly because I thought it looked cool or was in my taste, but that it would get me from A to B, that it was light, and that its 57 cm measurements accommodated my long legs.

Later, I met my friends on Grand Avenue.  We were riding over the bridge to watch the friend of a friend play in some beer-soaked bar on Houston.  I was indescribably nervous.  The bike and I were still new to each other and for whatever reason I didn’t trust it.  I kept thinking – even though I had learned how to ride a bike over twenty years ago – that a tire would come loose and I would pitch forward.  I imagined myself falling over on pavement.  I thought about what bones would likely break first – if it would be my arm or my collarbone or possibly a hip.  “Get a helmet,” my mom told me.  I thought about that, too.

I watched my friends barrel down the sloped portion of the bridge, gladly picking up speed.  I was jealous of their freedom.  I pumped the brakes and kept my pace measured.  Somewhere towards the end of the bridge, I began to realize I had trust issues in general.  With people.  With things.  It would take me awhile to get used to this again.

At the bar, my friends drank shots of tequila and drank bottles of beer.  A jazz band played horrifically in the corner, obliterating my ability to hear and think clearly.  Outside, the sun went down and the clouds moved in, threatening to bring in another day of rain.  And in an hour, we left, going back up and over the bridge.  A giant, yellowed full moon hung low above the bridge.  Lightning snapped in the distance, beyond Manhattan, beyond Brooklyn.  We rode next to moving subways filled with blue seats and stationary passengers.  Cuh-clack!  Cuh-clack!  Cuh-clack!

In Brooklyn, white flowers bloomed on the branches of trees overhead.  Dogwoods, I think.  The neon lights from bars and Laundromats reflected off of their petals, changing them blue and purple and red in parts.  We dropped Jo off at her apartment.  Justin came next.  We rode together along the water, Manhattan to our left, shining and sturdy and glowing brightly.

“I fucking love New York!” I yelled.  “I fucking love New York!”

And then I rode alone, just me and the moon, my love of the place having come back, just like riding a bike.

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Field Trip

Check out my piece on Flip Collective today.  Click through on the image below.

My street waited to be charming again.  It was April and I could see it in the buds that formed at the ends of branches, in the park covered in grass and not snow.  Change was so slow to arrive.  Winter had us scratching at our pale arms and pulling on darkening hair.  Going out and socializing just felt like something we had to do to avoid the complete disintegration of our mental health.  It was formulaic and necessary, like taking antipsychotics.  December and January.  February and March.  I slept through it all.  I was waiting for a reason to love this place again.

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Bite Me

“There might be a lot of girls when you get there,” my booker warns me ahead of time.  Sure enough, the elevator opens up into a room of models standing and sitting, lining up behind one another and staring around with looks of irritation disguised as patience.  Great.  Totally fucking awesome.

My initial reaction is to turn around, go back through the closing elevator doors, and continue on with my day, knowing that while my bank account risks the potential to suffer, I will go another few days without gray hairs and/or stomach ulcers.  I used to stick around for casting like this.  In turn, I used to waste a lot of my time.

When a client requests to see this many girls it means a few things.  One: they’re inconsiderate of other people’s time.  This requires the assumption that models are, in fact, people.  While it might be one thing for them to be in this office for two hours seeing girls come in and out with their books, it’s another thing to be one of the seventy-five girls waiting for their turn.  Sure, it might be our job to wait – I mean, in addition to looking decent and showing up on time to jobs, castings are really the only thing left on the list of responsibilities this career entails – but such excessive waits can be avoided.  Two: the client doesn’t know what they want.  When you’re standing next to a short redhead, an anorexic blonde, and a zaftig brunette – and all of you are waiting with fifty other chicks for the same job – the likelihood you’re going to be exactly what the client wants gets exponentially smaller.  This is not because you are a bad model; this is because the client in question operates from a planet called Clusterfuck with no place to land their spaceship.  Picking a girl out of this mess is just like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks.  You can wait around and hope you’re that lucky noodle, or you can just go home, confident in your silent protest.

A friend of mine is standing in line.  “How long have you been here?” I ask, groaning as she responds with an answer of “Forty-five minutes.”  I look back at the elevator like a dog whose owner has just stopped into the grocery store and tied them up to a post outside.  Part of me wants to be a good little mutt and stay.  The other part of me wants to tear at my leash with sharp teeth and liberate myself.  Against my better judgment, I throw my shit down in a chair and prepare to stick it out.

There is no sign-in sheet.  This is also something that makes me mad because it means that for the next hour I am waiting, I will be overwhelmed with the anxiety that some stupid bitch is going to cut me in line.  Usually the girls are pretty good about self-regulating, smiling at one another and asking things like, “I’m in front of you, right?” which is just codeword for  “If you go in before me, I will cut you.”  This underlying tension manages to preserve order.  Still, when a client doesn’t provide a simple sheet of computer paper and a black pen for girls to list their names on, the operation looks amateurish and, well, it just makes me mad.

The girls are a strange combination of models from good agencies and models from bad ones.  The majority of them wear cheap black heels – likely reading “Manmade Upper Leather Sole” on the inside – reminding me of how lucky you are to make consistent money in this business.  There are girls with fat arms and lumpy asses, ones that should be models mixing around with ones that shouldn’t be.  The “better” girls look more expensive than the others; they have no fat on their inner thighs and they carry designer handbags filled with Yves Saint Laurent lipstick and second-generation iPads.

As I look around the room, I think to myself that not nearly enough girls in here have eating disorders.  This thought disturbs even me.

I listen to the girls in front of me talk – something I generally prefer models not do.  An absurdly tall brunette likely around the age of eighteen prattles on about indescribably boring topics of conversation that seem exciting when you first start modeling.  When asked by another girl what she had been up to recently, the brunette responds – with no sense of irony – “My agency’s always wanted me to tone up my stomach…so…that’s what I’ve been up to.”  The girls start talking about another model they knew who apparently wasn’t working in New York or Paris (gasp) and she apparently “got sent to Korea.”  The brunette makes it sound like a war assignment.

After forty-five minutes of sitting in a chair and pretending to read The New Yorker, it is my turn to stand up behind my new favorite brunette who is now making phone call after phone call on her BlackBerry.   Does this chick ever shut the f up? She apparently has an impulsive need to be in constant communication, which confuses me because she never has anything interesting to say.  It’s like a streaming feed of NPR, only if NPR sucked.  There is something about her that makes me want to wretch; I cant decide if it’s her lumpy yellow nail polish or the bizarre scabs on the back of her neck.

Finally, it’s my turn.  I lean against a window ledge as I watch some sort-of hip guy flip through my book.  Flip.  Flip.  Flip.  I listen to the pages flop onto one another as I stare out the window.  The brunette with the loud mouth and the weird neck scabs and the abs that need toning is standing behind me in an Audrey-Hepburn-Made-in-China-knock-off, waiting for him to see her in it.  He apparently liked her enough to have her try something on.  Me, however, after my sitting and standing and waiting and being generally bored, he is not a big fan of.  “Thank you,” he says, and hands me my book.  Ah, well.  Can’t win them all.

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Payoff

Ten degrees has made all the difference.  I lock my house with a silver key, not wearing gloves and not needing to.  I walk down my street with its barren trees, listening to the provincial sound of my boots against the concrete.  In a few months they will sit abandoned in the back of my closet, banished in favor of less sturdy things, strapier and feminine.

Spring is a smell: wet pavement and trees about to fulfill promises.  It’s the sound of skateboards traveling over buckled concrete, attached to boys in baggy jeans, shirts rippling away from their backs.  Bicycles carry pretty girls with their long hair and heavy coats; their giggles come and go like a fire siren, loud and blaring and then immediately gone.  Cars pass with their windows down.  Rap music.  Pop music.  The man in the burgundy Subaru is back, screaming show tunes out his window while he makes circles around Bedford Avenue.

I check the branches overhead, looking for telltale green buds to confirm my hope that we have reached a clearing in the weather.  Just two hours ago I was planning my escape to Nicaragua or Mexico – any place that only required a duffle bag filled with shorts and sunblock.  But I can’t leave the city now, not after putting up with two months of garbage.  This is the pay off, today and on.

The park is covered with developing grass, remarkable amounts of green poking through intensely saturated dirt.  Prickly brown pods litter the ground beneath trees I don’t know the names of.  Oak, maybe.  The pods sit on the dirt and wait to be swallowed whole or decomposed.  We used to crush these underfoot as children, making them explode into a fibrous mess.  “Itching powder,” we called it, and would jam it down the backs of our enemies in fits of nasty laughter.

Provoked birds fly overhead in an intense flapping of wings, the sound of rustling taffeta or falling stacks of paper, traveling together on an unseen path, riding currents I cannot feel.

Old Polish men congregate around green benches, talking in their voices that sound like tapes being played in reverse, warbled and hugging to consonants.  Baseball bats connect with white leather balls with that dense aluminum ping.  Sickly pale faces crane their necks towards the sun, praying for their greenish translucence to be alleviated.  Lovers walk down sidewalks holding hands, coming up for air.

 

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The Nothing Days: Summer Show

I set my alarm for 7 AM, convinced I will be ambitious enough to want to go to the gym before work.  The sky is a vibrant blue, almost teal color, through my window shades.  I close my eyes, only half inspired, and fall asleep for another hour.

At 8:03 I brush my teeth.  I eat my gluten-free bread and drink my expensive pasteurized orange juice.  I fill a mug my friend gave me for Christmas with the equivalent of two cups of coffee, adjusted with soymilk and stevia powder according to my taste or lack thereof.  The outside of the cup reads “Genius.”  There is a chip on the lip.  I saved the piece with the intention of gluing it back on but never did and now I don’t know where that piece is.  My life is kind of like this.

I fill up another two-cup cup of coffee and drink it quickly while smearing makeup on my face in the way a child might – untrained and careless.  Pink cheeks, mascara, chapstick.  My outfit consists of a highly and needlessly complex combination of layered undergarments, hot pants, and a sheer top.  I will only wear this ensemble for twenty-seven minutes combined all day; once I get to my job I wear someone else’s.

The designer’s office occupies an entire floor of a building.  It’s like a sherbet penthouse.  Orange walls, Astroturf-green carpet, hot pink chairs.  Women walk around wearing the clothes and the shoes of the same designer.  Little gold round buckles.  Patterns.  Blonde hair.  Everyone here is nice.

We change in a large closet that is cold like a walk-in refrigerator.  I drink two hot coffees from the community kitchen.  They have soymilk in the fridge.  I try on more clothes.  Eat fruit.  Switch between sandals and boots.  Try on jackets and knitwear.  Blue jeans, white jeans.  I grab lunch from across the street, basking in the hot and humid outside air for thirty seconds each way.  I buy roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  Both are good but greasy.

I try on more clothes.  Read the New Yorker.  Listen to the girl I’m working with read punch lines from her iPhone.  And then, at four, I am done.

For the first ten minutes out of the lobby I begin to thaw, soaking up heat like an arid sponge.  I’m happy.  Days like this are good.  Days when people are nice to you.  Days when you don’t feel as much like a useless coat hanger.  These are the days I am thankful that this is my job, at least for now…until it is not my job anymore.  I walk down the street with the same energy I had walking into the job, something that isn’t necessarily a given.  In fact, it is rare.

Above, cloud cover provides some relief from the potentially oppressive ninety-degree heat.  People walk around at a pace slightly more lively than dead … increasingly optimistic about their day on account of shade and shade alone.

I pass Fishes Eddy on 23rd Street.  My mom and I found this place back in 2002.  She bought a mug with the Manhattan skyline on it and cardboard coasters of a similar print.  That was before I ever lived here.  Years and a lifetime ago.  I walk inside for the sake of nostalgia and partial necessity.  I buy a cobalt blue porcelain tray for loose change and a large cream bowl on sale for $11.95.

Back out into the heat I go.

The Green Market is open and I walk towards the peaks its white tents.  A plastic bizarre.  I buy three succulents that remind me of home.  Not home in Manhattan but home on Poinsettia Place.

The man who sells vegetarian empanadas is not there which is a shame because I would rather like one right now.  A crew of three girls walk by; their collective “look” harkening back to the days of MC Hammer’s entourage mixed with a little bit of MIA flavor for contemporary measure.  Tight black pants, afro-mohawks bleached blonde, black and silver sunglasses, and legs for days.  I can almost hear “Can’t Touch This” trailing behind them.

I buy two half-gallons of soymilk and some freshly ground almond butter from Whole Foods.  I take the N train down to Price Street, balancing my heavy bag of porcelain with a tray of succulents and a carton of the aforementioned soymilk.  I pray that the almond butter doesn’t leak into my purse, which is something that could feasibly happen to me and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened to me already.  I walk back home with a stupid smile on my face.  Stupid because nothing about today really mattered.  There was no grand event.  No particularly special moment.  Just a good and easy day, free of annoyance and anxiety and berating thoughts and all the free (albeit excessive) air conditioning I could ask for.

I continue my attempt at sidewalk juggling as I open the door to my apartment building, at which point my SIGG water bottle jumps out of my bag, viciously attacking my succulents and toppling them to the ground in a one-sided battle.  “Oh, no!” I quietly lament, scraping black bits of dirt off of a dirty stoop back into their rightful home around the delicate roots of my verdant memories.  And as if the universe is attempting to salvage the lowest moment of my lovely day, a fireman from across the street calls me “Miss” and asks if I need some help.  I decline, stating that my problem is only a “mild cacti tragedy.”  He walks away and I make a mental note that I accurately pluralized “cactus” in a fleeting conversation with a stranger. I then acknowledge that most of the words that come out of my mouth are verbose and obtuse and make me sound like a fucking nerd cramming for her AP English exam.  But that’s okay.  I’m growing into myself quite nicely, I should think.

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