Madison Square December 2008

“Out of Body” =
Madison Square/Dec. 2008

Original Title: “Your Past is My Future”

Where: Near a place where my younger son was taking a day-long Lego robot-building class during Christmas vacation. It was one of those warm December days. After dropping him off, I tarried — for what felt like the first time in decades — in Madison Square Park. I was surprised by how fine and manicured it looked, how upscale, really. Then I realized that my point of comparison was 1987, when I’d first moved to New York and was sleeping on a foam couch in someone’s dark living room on West 69th Street, and working as a temp. One of my early jobs was on East 23rd Street, right by Madison Square, and on my lunch breaks, I would bolt outdoors and sit in on a bench there, watching junkies nod off on all sides of me. Then I would go back to work, having brushed up the night before on whatever word processing program was required (usually WordStar or WordPerfect) at a place on Broadway where you could rent computer time. I always brought my own floppy disc with fiction I was working on, so that I could switch back and forth between what I was supposed to be doing and what I desperately wanted to do.

Music: Curve, DOPPLEGANGER

History: After the foam couch on West 69th Street, I moved into a 5th floor walkup studio on East 27th Street. It was a glorious apartment: a narrow room facing south, quiet and flooded with sunset at the end of each day. I lived there for two years, but in my mid-twenties time seemed to pass more slowly, so according to my current perceptions it felt more like five or six years. I worked from 1:00 to 6:00 pm as a private secretary, and wrote fiction from 8:00 am to noon. On weekends I went running along the East River. After the Williamsburg Bridge, I followed exactly the path that Rob and Drew take, past the warehouse, under the FDR. That’s when I discovered the garbage beach where the last scene of “Out of Body” takes place. Whenever I reached it, I would stop and stand on the garbage for a while, watching boats pass along the river and listening to the roar of traffic on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. That garbage beach seems to have disappeared. I’ve looked for it from the Brooklyn Bridge — where I run now — but there’s no sign of it; the space between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge looks as sparklingly refreshed as Madison Park.

Beginning:

Your friends are pretending to be all kinds of stuff, and your special job is to call them on it. Drew says he’s going straight to law school. After practicing awhile, he’ll run for state senator. Then U.S. senator. Eventually, president. He lays all this out the way you’d say, After Modern Chinese Painting I’ll go to the gym, then work in Bobst until dinner, if you even made plans anymore, which you don’t, if you were even in school anymore, which you aren’t, although that’s supposedly temporary.

You look at Drew through layers of hash smoke floating in the sun. He’s leaning back on the futon couch, his arm around Sasha. He’s got a big, hey-come-on-in face and a head of dark hair, and he’s built — not with weight-room muscle like yours, but in a basic animal way that must come from all that swimming he does.

“Just don’t try and say you didn’t inhale,” you tell him.

Everyone laughs except Bix, who’s at his computer, and you feel like a funny guy for maybe half a second, until it occurs to you that they probably only laughed because they could see you were trying to be funny, and they’re afraid you’ll jump out the window onto East Seventh Street if you fail, even at something so small.

Drew takes a long hit. You hear the smoke creak in his chest. He hands the pipe to Sasha, who passes it to Lizzie without smoking any.

“I promise, Rob,” Drew croaks at you, holding in smoke, “if anyone asks, I’ll tell them the hash I smoked with Robert Freeman Jr. was excellent.”

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