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Blinking myself out of two or three weeks’ worth of seriously overdue sleep, I yawned up at a coconut cluster of light brown ceiling stains. Circles within circles and still this mildewy paste on my yellowwhite teeth. Wait a second—when did all those get up there? . . . It must have definitely been that sneaky thunderstorm. There’s probably a really big leak . . . Great. Just great. Because I wonder who’s going to have the pleasure of paying for the repairs or whatever when the landlord freaks out. Oh I definitely do wonder . . .
Something buzzed away on the nightstand. I reached out a drowsy hand, and that same something thudded to the floor. I groaned. I jerk-a-jerked my really long legs up off my waterbed. But as soon as my ten tippy-toes landed on the slightly damp wooden shore my superbad breakup dream came flying and shining in through the window. Poke-a-poking its cheating penis right through my totally ruined Wednesday morning. Ugh, what a total fucking bastard. I put my supercute head in my supercute hands and cried my ex away . . .
Humboldt Street was definitely looking gray today. Gray and gloomy. Yawning, blinking, yawning I stood at the window and licked the bitter night off my teeth. I wiped my glasses and rubbed my temples round and round. Because all the fun Brooklyn colors were like totally gone, totally gone. They’d been buried behind the December sky or something, and now the neighborhood was just wilting away in the lifeless light, the carbonated street-zest fizzed out, flat, the Williamsburg joie de vivre like actually MIA for the past two or three weeks. All the grumpy working-class houses shrugging their vinyl siding up at me—the bland beiges, the sandy greens, the twentysomething shades of whatever—while I rubbed my temples and watched a really old woman with a bent back walk her miniature dog down the one-way sidewalk (a terrier, a Yorkshire maybe), the cartoonish couple limping alongside the parallel parked cars, alongside the faded fire hydrants and baby stink trees. I watched them till they limped left at the end of the scratched up street. Till they limped over the horizon and lost themselves in the Bushwick mysteries. I turned away from the window still rubbing my temples . . . still waking up, waking up . . .
I poured, then microwaved a cup of coffee from the Chemex coffeemaker which Precious must have obviously used earlier this morning, the kitchen shining with disinfectant, cabinets and faucet polished to commericalworthy perfection. She also probably definitely must have cleaned the bathroom, I mumbled with a gulp of energizing guilt, and poured myself another cup of delicious Costa Rican Tarrazú . . .
A neon-pink square was calling me over to the fridge. I wiggled the kitschy Central Park magnet a little to the left, then squinted up at the flawlessly compressed, no-nonsense handwriting. Apparently Precious wanted to hang out tonight. She was going out in the East Village with some of her coworkers and would I wanna meet up with them? There was a smiley face after the question mark. I sipped on my thoughts. Because I mean I’d like already met most of her coworkers and they were all like definitely nice, definitely interesting. Plus they were all like actually trying to save the world. (Something about providing educational resources to impoverished kids in Southeast Asia. Or was it Angola?) So even if they weren’t all that fun to hang out or party with, the fact that they worked at a non-profit like definitely counted for a whole lot. Definitely . . . I pressed my button nose all the way up to the sticky note and read the last line. Apparently Precious just wanted to remind me that it was my turn to pay the utilities this month and that rent was due next week and could I definitely not be late sending the check out this time. Hugs and kisses and show me the fucking money! . . . Great. Just great . . .
I went back to my room and reached down behind the nightstand. Frowning, yawning, frowning I listened to the voicemail Professor Amís had left me. Apparently he wanted to get together today. Like right now if possible. He wanted to know how my application was coming along. How my rough cut was looking . . . I bit my lip, then texted Precious to tell her I was meeting up with one of my old professors, and after that I was totally stuck at the Comfort Station for the rest of the night. I probably wouldn’t be free till midnight. But I could like definitely meet up with them afterwards! That is, if they were still out and about or what not . . .
I sighed as I peered into the bathroom mirror. My hair was like definitely a real mess today. I brushed back my frizzy black bangs. Plus my chipmunk eyes were like really itchy, really dry—really pink. I yanked open the medicine cabinet and started to sift through all the meds which Precious’s mom insisted she always definitely take . . . Adderall, Provigil, Klonopin, Zoloft, Prozac, Abilify . . . But where the hell was the Ritalin? I tried the cabinet below the sink. Bingo. I swallowed one tablet, two or three tasty tablets, and saved two or three for later. Because it was like definitely going to be a long day at work. I went back to the kitchen, grabbed a clean cereal bowl from off the drying rack, shoved an extra-small hand into my favorite Tupperware container, and scooped up a handful of crunchy granola clusters. Yum yum. Yum yum. I ate standing up and tossed the empty bowl into the kitchen sink. Wiping my mouth, my charming little chin, I checked the time on my smartphone—1:45 PM. Okay, that gave me like two or three hours to take a shower, get dressed, meet up with Professor Amís, avoid any unannounced zombie apocalypses and/or subway delays, and skedaddle on over to the Lower East Side for work. I’d be cutting it close but it was definitely doable. Definitely manageable. I nodded and headed back down the hall, clumsily tripping on my blue and yellow vintage sneakers as I tumbled past the front door . . . tumbling, tumbling, tumbling into my bedroom like a sleepy tarantula . . .
Uh-oh, I definitely didn’t wanna believe! No way. Please no. Definitely NO! I heaved my really long legs off the damp floor with a groan, with a dry-cleaning-is-way-too-horribly-expensive tantrum, and totally hating myself for having had that second or third bottle of Merlot in bed last night I tore off the most likely ruined Irish linen and threw the wine-dripping body bag deep in the closet. Then I flipped over my hamper and dug up a smelly set of sheets. Seriously pissed off now, seriously sick of all this, I grabbed my black-on-black gallery geisha outfit and stomped off into the bathroom. Into the shower. Into the day . . .
The rickety L train was trembling its way through the double-tracked mineshaft which carted the early afternoon shift down into the Manhattan quarry. Sandwiched in tight between a flannel-geared hipster prospector and an inner-Brooklyn roughneck, I picked at my Skittles-flavored nails and thought about Giacomo. About how I hadn’t seen him in like two or three weeks. I picked at my nails and thought really hard about what would happen to the earth when the sun had like totally burned up its hydrogen core and half squeezed, half bloated itself up into a hungry red giant. I picked at my nails and tried really hard to ignore the Middle Eastern-looking transgender teen slumped up against the rattling doors—picking his or her nose and blatantly checking out my really long legs as we were all slowly, slowly lowered down into the Island Kingdom . . .
I transferred at 14th Street. I waved goodbye to my fellow treasure hunters and rode the 1 train up to 23rd Street . . .
Adrift on the scummy sidewalk again, surrounded by blind bumper cars, by ravenous carnies, I checked my GPS for directions. I was like definitely feeling a little nervous, a little queasy. Snakes of doubt were squirming in my extra-small core—like right below my bellybutton. For a yellow second I even thought about turning back and heading straight to the Comfort Station. But then I just shook my supercute head and reminded myself that since this was my first time visiting a celebrity’s apartment, it was like totally natural to feel like vomiting all over the curb. Totally. I nodded and glanced up at the optimistic shred of grayblue sky trapped tight between the barbed wire terraces, between the stylish prison yard suites, trapped tight way up there, between the master bedroom mausoleums. I nodded and plugged in my bone-white headphones. Jamaican dancehall beats bump-a-bumping my tension away, I took a really deep breath and let the somewhat recently updated map on my smartphone guide me through flamboyant Chelsea. Quicksilver clouds flashing like graywhite strobe lights as I grinded my gallery geisha dress over the not-yet-popping drag bars, the closed nightclubs and lesbian lounges. Over the bear-friendly torture chambers and the really pricy shoe stores. Grinding and grinding over the cupcake townhouses . . . Oh how I grinded . . .
So I’m still not totally sure why I stuttered when I tried to tell the hunchback in a burgundy pinstripe suit that I was here to see Professor Amís. Or why I screamed when the bald gimp took me by my hand and led me past the Mondrian-style canvas, past the indoor sculpture garden, and then nudged me into the velvet-padded elevator with a wink and what had to be a really painful bow. I just did. I definitely don’t know why. Just like I definitely don’t know why I held on tighter than tight to my tote bag as all the floors trickled up. My Skittles-flavored nails clawing at the canvas straps until the elevator curtains slid back on a pair of Corinthian columns, on a glinting floor mosaic, on—I gasped. I tried my very best not to vomit. Wearing one of her outrageously skimpy attires (tight leather pants, leopard print top), bitchy blonde Lola Woods was kneeling in the atrium under a noseless marble bust of someone who I definitely thought might be Julius Caesar. Lola Woods kneeling and trying to slip on her 5th Avenue slippers. AH!
I stepped inside the Roman loft and hissed. “Hi, Lola.”
One fuchsia slipper on her foot, one in her veiny hand, Lola’s wide-set granite eyes looked up at me without acknowledging who or what I was. She blinked. She frowned.
“Don’t call me that, Zoe. You know I don’t like it. It’s been Delores ever since we graduated. Not Lola. What are you doing here?”
“What do you think I’m doing here!” I snapped back. “I’m showing Professor Amís what I’ve been working on.”
“Oh yeah,” Lola nodding and slipping on her other slipper. “I heard you were working on some kind of urban documentary. Something about a homeless loser . . . Sounds exiting.”
“What, no. That’s like not it at all. I hate documentaries. It’s definitely not a documentary. It’s a twentysomething rom-com about true—”
“Whatever, Zoe. I’m not the one you need to convince,” Lola trying to stand up but stumbling against the noseless sculpture. Was she drunk? I wondered with a really hopeful smile.
Straightening herself out, Lola lifted a bulky camera case off the floor and said, “You really shouldn’t get so defensive about things. It’s not healthy. It’s not professional.”
“I’m definitely not getting defensive,” gnashing my tiny teeth. “But what about you, how’s your film noir detective thing coming along? It’s really impressive that you’d like ever be able to find the time to work on it. I mean seeing as how we’re both working overtime at the gallery. Plus I know you’re always ready to help Professor Amís out whenever he needs a hand. So I’m sure it must be like totally exhausting having to fit everything in those tight pants. Whoops. I mean in that tight schedule.” I tried my very best to smile the same sinister smile which Giacomo was so good at.
“Wait a second,” Lola walking up to me, the skin under her granite eyes shiny and swollen, hard alcohol definitely on her breath. “Look, I don’t know what you think is going on here but—”
A FrenchGermanMartian voice hummed deep within the Etruscan apartment. “Zoe?” humming and humming. “Zoe? Are zee here? Zoe? Hmm? Zoe? Hmm? Vhere are zee? Zoe? Hmm? Zoe? Are zee here?”
“Hey professor!” I shouted back, and without saying goodbye to Lola’s bitchy blonde ass I cartwheeled across the glinting mosaic of some ancient battle which I definitely thought might be Alexander the Great defeating Darius III of Persia. I cartwheeled and somersaulted into the penthouse villa, my really long legs flipping me up into some kind of watchtower or pagoda or levitating glass orb which I definitely thought might be part of the Manhattan beacon system. The entire apartment probably definitely designed to shatter into flames at the first sign of an approaching army or a populist rebellion or a new religion or yea . . .
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the height of Papa Doc’s voodoo dictatorship, little Martín Amís was shipped off overseas the day his testes dropped and his voice cracked. As the eldest son of a totally corrupt government official little Martín took up his rightful residency at a ridiculously exclusive boarding school in the Swiss Alps, where the dorms reeked of 3000-year-old papyrus, and corseted maids and castrated butlers were on call 24/7 to satisfy every inch of little Martín’s burgeoning curiosity. Little Martín sampled and grew. Little Martín licked his little black lips . . . Almost but not actually a man yet, Martín Amís spent his university years in Paris, in London, in Frankfurt—the former child prodigy plowing through anthropology, archeology, astrology, astronomy, belles lettres, biochemistry, computer science, falconry, game theory, gender dissent, Hegelian dogma, Humboldtian science, economics of liberation, Neoplatonic law, Kama Sutra studies, Kantian mysticism, Marx, Marx, Marx, pure and applied mathematics, metallurgy, neurotheology, oriental semiotics, Pythagorean psychoanalysis, universal history, Wagnerian philosophy, Zookeeping—Martín plowed and sowed. Martín whispered and professors sobbed . . . Then, on his nineteenth birthday, it finally happened. Martín’s first senior thesis (the first of five) was published to instantaneous international acclaim, with the paper’s provocative title taken up as the go-to rallying cry for a consciousness-tripping generation. “The Sexual Revolution’s Backdoor Effects on Contemporary Non-Indo-European Conceptions of the Body Politic in a Deforested, Post-Hiroshima, Post-Vatican II, Post-Chomsky, Post-Woodstock Planet: or, How Indigenous Radicalization is a Sublimating Reaction Against the Global Proliferation of a Eurocentric Paradigm of the Human (specifically in regards to the mutually assured deconstruction doctrine followed by the United States and the Soviet Union, which, in order to preserve socio-economic structures of legitimacy at home, requires both hegemonies to actively engage in a foreign policy of Eros suppression and Thanatos promulgation).” Talk show appearances, marriage proposals, death threats, followed that very same afternoon. Martín reaped his massive destiny . . .
Weighing in at 245 Herculean pounds, and existing at 6-feet 6-inches above mere mortals, Martín Amís was a four-time Pulitzer prize-winning author, a three-time Academy Award-winning director, and a regular contributor to countless critical reviews and popular magazines, always willing to share his wittier than witty insights on molecular gastronomy, Phoenician studies, Siglo de Oro literature and drama, Formula One racing, quantum computing, portfolio management theory, life on earth (pre- and postmortem). A record-breaking philanthropist, Martín Amís was also a champion arm wrestler, a surrealist sculptor who only worked in moon rock, and in the last two or three months had established himself as the world’s most avant-garde wildlife photographer. He wrote the biweekly cricket column for all the major sports blogs and had been named Professor of the Year for the last ten years running at NYU. He was a chess grandmaster with an Elo rating of 2800 and rising. He brewed his own ayahuasca and was the most cited author on Hitler and the Holocaust. He coached several inter-borough dodgeball teams, was clean-shaven (head and chest, skull and stubble), could bench 350 pounds ten times while reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets verbatim (all 154 of them), and was a self-taught piano virtuoso known for his Beethoven and Brahms. Women masturbated over him. Men hated his guts—and totally masturbated over him. He was Martín Amís, the world’s most recognized, and recognizable, human being . . .
But there were rumors. Rumors that like just wouldn’t ever go away. Rumors that Professor Amís liked to film his graduate students fondling underage North Korean prostitutes on the cheetah rug he’d shot and skinned on his most recent trip to the Serengeti. Rumors that Professor Amís would occasionally use his Chelsea loft to stage secret reenactments of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 days of Sodom. Rumors that Professor Amís had enthusiastically participated in crimes against humanity as a volunteer soldier in the UmKhonto we Sizwe. Rumors that he was a power hungry grave robber and an intellectual copycat. Just another publicity whore with a fondness for Cuban cigars. Rumors that he had a big black dick and was a great big asshole. Rumors, rumors, rumors that like just wouldn’t ever go away . . .
Powerfully perched in the center of a white leather loveseat, a yellow turtleneck wrapped tight around his obsidian skin, dinosaur-green jeans clinging to his bulging thighs, all 6 feet 6 inches, all 245 rippling pounds of Professor Martín Amís hummed across at me. Hypnotizing me like a black sun. Like a Caribbean god of dark matter. Professor Amís chewing on a cigar and casually flipping his way though the storyboard drawings I’d given him, clouds of intellectual fervor swirling above his electromagnetic skull, his red fountain pen tracing scathing arcs over my truelove rom-com. I lowered my supercute head, folded my extra-small hands on my extra-small lap. Because I was like definitely sure the designer chair I was sitting in was definitely not meant for sitting in. The skinny legs totally about to snap I shifted my weight over my feet but my quads started to shake-a-shake. I picked at my Skittles-flavored nails, smoothed out all the wrinkles in my black dress and sipped on the glass of spicy scotch which Professor Amís had offered me, taking quick nervous glances up at the taxidermy hanging from the Romanesque ceiling—Eurasian Vultures, California condors, a leatherback sea turtle, a Kodiak bear, four Siberian tigers, a killer whale . . .
All-knowing eyes blinking, Professor Amís lifted his onyx cranium and with a galaxy-crushing hand plucked the cigar from his muscular mouth, forcefully pressing it down into the amethyst ashtray next to him on the creamy couch. “Zoe,” he hummed. “Tell me, Zoe. Is this all zee have for moi? Hmm? Tell me, ma chérie. Tell me. Vhere is all zee footage? Hmm? Vhere is zee footage?”
“Um,” fidgeting, blushing. “Well I haven’t actually started shooting yet, professor . . .”
“No? But zee application is almost due. Zee movie is almost due. Vhat have zee been doing? Hmm? Vhat have zee been doing?”
“I know I know. It’s just that I’ve been like ridiculously busy at the gallery. I’m like seriously stressing out about this really important show next week. Plus Giacomo isn’t that easy to get a hold of. I haven’t even had a chance to see him in like two or three weeks and—”
“Enough, ma chérie, enough. Don’t zee vant to go to film school, hmm? Don’t zee vant to be a director like moi? Hmm? Don’t zee vant to be rich and famous like moi? Hmm? Zoe? Hmm?”
“Oh I definitely do, professor! I definitely do. And I mean I already have most of the scenes worked out in my head. So all I really need to do is—”
“Vell zee must hurry! Zee movie is due next veek!”
Vibrating with uncontainable brilliance Professor Amís crossed his dinosaur-green jeans and rubbed his skull. He patted the creamy cushion beside him. “Ah, zee are so zoung, Zoe. So innocent,” humming into the penthouse villa. “Zee must let loose zee fires. Zee loins must burn vith passion. Passion! Do zee understand this—this burning vith passion in zee loins? Hmm? Zee must burn! Zee must burn and break all zee rules. This is zee only vay to live. Zee only vay . . .”
“I think I definitely know what you mean, professor,” totally lying, totally confused.
“Ah, Zoe, Zoe, Zoe,” humming and humming. “Ve remember vhen zee and Lola and zee other delicious friend of zours vere in my honors seminar. Vhat vas it? Ah, zes. How does zee representation of zee final solution evolve over zee generations. How does zee zeitgeist transform memory. How do Hollywood and zee mass media influence zee ideology of zee future. Ah, zes. Zes, zes. Zee vere my favorite. Zee paper of zours arguing zat zee figure of zee Jewish princess vas a pop culture martyr for zee repressed rage of zee diaspora vas zee most interesting. Zee best. Hmm? And now zee have nothing. Now Lola is almost finished with zee movie and zee have nothing. Zee have nothing—nothing!”
I blinked. I stared to shake. “Lola’s almost done?”
“Zat is correct, ma chérie. Lola is, as zee Americans like to say, ‘almost done’. And does Lola not also vork at zee gallery with zee? Hmm? Is she not also busy? Hmm? Zee must hurry! Hurry!”
A trillion tears started to fog up my glasses.
Boredom creasing his face into a blur of black scratches, black snakes, Professor Amís licked his muscular lips and flung my unappreciated storyboard drawings down on the coffee table (four elephant tusks supporting a titanium top). His all-knowing eyes pounced across at me.
“But zat is enough for now. Enough business. Let us now speak about zee pleasure. Zes, zee pleasure. Tonight ve vill talk about zee pleasure vith zee special guests. Zes, zee special guests. Tonight zee special guests vill drink vine. Exquisite Chilean vine. Do zee like zee vine, Zoe? Hmm? Tonight, vith zee vine, ve vill discuss zee mind-body problem. Ah, zes, zee mind-body problem! Vhat do zee think of zee mind-body problem, Zoe? It is zee only problem, is it not? Ah, zes. Zes, zes. Then, after zee exquisite Chilean vine, ve vill drink zak’s milk from Zeebet. Do zee know Zeebet, Zoe? Hmm? Zeebet? Hmm? Zoe? Vith zee milk from Zeebet ve vill achieve zee blending of anima and animus, of zee individual vith zee collective—hmm? Zoe? Hmm? And then zee special guests vill go to a zazz club. Do zee like zazz? Ve love zazz. Ve love zazz so very much. Tonight vill be a most vanderful evening. Vould zee vant to stay, Zoe? Hmm? Stay? Here. Vith zee vine. Vith zee milk from Zeebet. Vith moi? Stay? Here? Stay? Zoe? Here? Stay?”
The handmade chair squeaked and squealed beneath me. I shifted my feet, held on really tight to my canvas tote bag and said in my saddest chirp—“I’m really sorry, professor, but I actually can’t tonight. I have to go to work now.” I gulped down the rest of the spicy scotch. “But thanks so much for the invite. It sounds like you guys are definitely going to have a ton of fun. I really wish I could stay.” I heard a snap snap. I jumped to my feet.
“As zee vish, Zoe,” Professor Amís slowly raising himself up to his full god-king height, slowly handing me my slaughtered notes. “Ve am only trying to help zee. Zee look tired. Are zee tired, Zoe? Hmm? Zee must be very careful. Do not lose zee control, ma chérie. Do not.”
“Oh I’ll definitely be okay, professor. But you’re totally right. I definitely do need to get a hold of Giacomo and get going. I just need to stop procrastinating.” I started backpedaling toward the elevator, Professor Amís standing like a yellowblackgreen obelisk in the center of the lofted pantheon, a circular skylight funneling the cosmos down onto his onyx cranium, stuffed animals swinging round and round overhead—a toucan, a zebra, a swordfish, a chest-beating silverback gorilla—swinging round and round . . .
In the distance Professor Amís lit another Cuban cigar. “Ah, Zoe,” humming across the penthouse villa. “Ve almost forgot. Zee must forgive moi for not joining zee at zee bar last month. Ve lost zee track of zee time vhile playing vith one of zee pet projects of mine. Zee must forgive moi.”
“What? Oh don’t worry about it. I totally understand. And you know what, I didn’t even really notice.” I backflipped into the velvet-padded elevator. “Alright, well, thanks for all your help, professor. Hopefully we can get together soon.”
“Zee vould be my pleasure, ma chérie. My pleasure,” an entire city humming behind him. “My pleasure . . .”
The elevator curtains shut away the Corinthian columns, the mosaic floor, the word “pleasure” rumbling my supercute ear drums back and forth, back and forth as all the floors went trickling down . . .
Ground floor. Ridiculously mad at myself for being such a slacker—Lola!—and definitely feeling a little tipsy, a little sloppy, I charged out of the elevator, charged through the indoor sculpture garden, accidently charged through a Pilates class and almost slipped on someone’s sweaty mat, charged backwards, and when I finally charged past the hunchbacked gimp sitting on the reception desk, burgundy stumps dangling from his pinstripe trunk, I definitely made sure to charge straight ahead without turning to look at the bald bastard who I just knew was waiting for a chance to wink at me. Or worse. Like much, much worse . . .
Charging outside I reached into my canvas tote bag and worked up a tablespoon of saliva while running through the next really important scene in my stalled out rom-com. With a semiwet gulp I swallowed the tasty Ritalin tablets which I’d strategically stockpiled for later but which I like obviously needed right now! Then I clenched my extra-small fists and charged toward the subway. Ugh, I was already like thirty minutes late!