East River 1997

“X’s and 0’s” = East River, 1997

Original Title: “XO”

Where: From 1990 to 1995, my boyfriend and I lived in a dollhouse-sized apartment on East 7th Street (which I used as Bix and Lizzie’s apartment in “Out of Body”) between 1st Avenue. and Avenue A. I ran a lot along the East River, taking the 6th Street overpass to get there. Alphabet City was still pretty rough, and aside from eating at the Life CafĂ©, which was on Avenue C, I rarely went East of Avenue A except to get to the river. During my runs, I often passed people fishing under the Williamsburg Bridge. One was a sound designer who worked with my boyfriend, and he told me that occasionally you could catch striped bass in the East River. I didn’t begin “X’s and O’s” until a couple of years later, after my boyfriend and I had gotten married and moved to an apartment on West 28th Street. By then, around 1997, New York was having a moment of widespread breathlessness about “information,” and “dot.coms,” and the transcendent future all this was hurtling us toward. Which led me to wonder: what about the people who have no part in this enthralling colloquy, no access to whatever future it might bring? That question led me to Scotty.

Fact: It was only after I’d begun writing about Bennie Salazar for GOON SQUAD, many years later, that I realized that he was the music producer from “X’s and O’s.” That character, originally named Jonah, was much flatter — as if he were missing some genetic material required to give him life.

Oddity: Only after writing “X’s and O’s” did I learn that mob hits are sometimes presaged by the deposit of a dead fish on the future victim’s doorstep.

Beginning:

Here’s how it started: I was sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park reading a copy of Spin I’d swiped from Hudson News, observing East Village females crossing the park on their way home from work and wondering (as I often did) how my ex-wife had managed to populate New York with thousands of women who looked nothing like her but still brought her to mind, when I made a discovery: my old friend Bennie Salazar was a record producer! It was right in Spin magazine, a whole article about Bennie and how he’d made his name on a group called the Conduits that went multiplatinum three or four years ago. There was a picture of Bennie receiving some kind of award, looking out of breath and a little cross-eyed — one of those frozen, hectic instants you just know has a whole happy life attached. I looked at the picture for less than a second; then I closed the magazine. I decided not to think about Bennie. There’s a fine line between thinking about somebody and thinking about not thinking about somebody, but I have the patience and the self-control to walk that line for hours — days, if I have to.

After one week of not thinking about Bennie — thinking so much about not thinking about Bennie that there was barely any room left in my brain for thoughts of any other kind — I decided to write him a letter. I addressed it to his record label, which turned out to be inside a green glass building on Park Avenue and Fifty-second Street. I took the subway up there and stood outside the building with my head back, looking up, up, wondering how high Bennie’s office might possibly be. I kept my eyes on the building as I dropped the letter into the mailbox directly in front of it. Hey Benjo, I’d written (that was what I used to call him). Long time no see. I hear you’re the man, now. Congrats. Couldn’t have happened to a luckier guy. Best wishes, Scotty Hausmann.