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A Visit From the Goon Squad

“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 Café, 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.


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.