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Nothing Works: 1

-New York City 2005

I should be through thinking about it. Ok, but I remember just going batshit, breaking up with Vanessa on the payphone. Hanging up, couple minutes, then I’m bashing the receiver, bang, bang, chopping it down, Alphabet City, this two-in-the-afternoon snapshot of my life, that part where I’m always mystified, and there’s gotta be a reason, like I’ve been stabbed, because I can’t quite believe it, I’m out there fighting the phone booth and staring, at bright red bats, with teeth.

And here again, a single platelet in centrifuge, I find myself spinning, rip-roaring, crazily drawing comics. The hotel room, heat all the way up, so much like those Hong Kong Sundays, sleeping, drawing, afternoons in the stairwell of the Wing Wah, sweltering, soft lull, that gentle respiration, and Sakura, the only difference is another day, another city . . .

If anything, Amy found me through Vanessa. Before Vanessa was everywhere. This was the early days of PDFs, of E-mail, when Vanessa was still going office-to-office with her portfolio to pick up work. Amy was an editor, assistant to something or whoever, but up at the Viacom building in Times Square that was like the grail for those freelance checks, from Nickelodeon, MTV, from Spike, that dot-com, development money. But before that, me and Fabrice were laughing our heads off over her gothic-themed, 200-page short stories; ravens, vials of blood—we were in the MFA program, teaching and writing, or supposedly. Amy was the star-crossed, chubby-faced girl in the class he taught wearing chokers, that bored into him with her eyes, which was hilarious. Until he was sleeping with her.

Of buildings, skyscraping and undulating, leaning-to like palms, waving in a gale. Like I remember Vanessa, that shine of sweat on her shoulders, laughing, pink hair, and those leopard-print jeans. What else? So back to the pad, draw then scratch until pen tears paper. Draw cities while shitting, draw in bed on back, pad in air, line from mercury pen never dry, if not draw then dream, not Vanessa, about men, eight-eyes, with slats in toes, made for concrete, and thin-air thoughts, divining cities miles beneath ground . . .

The Deep Donkey Crew! Sure. The way she explained it, locking onto me with that same gaze. Four-page strip, a webcomic. Based on the Communist-themed, homosexual hip-hop group. Wait . . . Now, trying to dig into this thing, I’m grasping at straws. Scrolling the jpegs she sent me, pics of these dudes, in speedos, jumping around, and all I can seem to think about are cities. Starting, erasing, wiping my eyes. Time is running out, and meanwhile nothing works.

Me, Fabrice. And between us, we might’ve fucked a hundred girls named Amy! Or not that many. While they lived together, briefly, I’d see Amy here and there, campus, or on Broadway, wearing mostly black, and if anything she looked even more tortured, more put upon. I’d stop by and Fabrice too, weirdly, he’d seem as if he’d been crying. On the couch, some sci-fi movie, flickering, paused on the TV. Soon after that, I guess it was over.

In other words, I had to take a second, and I couldn’t recall her face, on the phone these years later. Was I still drawing? What was I doing? On the unfinished wood floor in a mess of Tang containers and magazines? Ah, you know. Surviving . . . A few days after that phone call, L train, all the way into the city, tapping my foot, I’m licking the backside of my teeth. Pushing through crowds on First Avenue. Get to the place. I see her, at the bar, and a surprise, no more black, except the nice low-cut dress. Her hair is brown now, longer, I’m all instinct, nodding, and yeah, that’s funny, about life. She remembered how much I used to talk about comics. Thirty, forty minutes, counting down, so I push right in, kissing, too strong, maybe, but she gives a little, wetly, beer-tinged, before pulling back. Not yet, she says, almost laughing. I glance at the floor. She dabs her mouth with a napkin.

“Look, I need an artist. I want to give you some work.”


Nothing Works: 2

-New York City 2005

Dazzled, hey, slick skin, like Egyptian snakes . . . Which was the sort of thing I’d say to Vanessa, stretched on her couch, watching her at the table, drawing deep into the night. Meaning what? I’d said plenty of dumb things. We could crawl all over each other like salamanders. Also though, and it was quick, from whatever she felt about me starting off, over weeks, days, I couldn’t do much about it, but I could definitely feel that dripping, falling apart thing, bit-by-bit, where she stopped believing me.

At any rate, grooves in the paper, redrawing faces, eyes, it goes a few laps before you realize you’re drawing in circles. Keep moving. Jump to backgrounds. But then each vista, each building is also like a face, little marks, light achieved through halftone, bottom-lit windows, like smiles, and you’d be surprised how much you can f-up a single, ink-puddled check . . . That night in the bar, she gave me three hundred dollars, Amy, cash, the other half after. I had about a month, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely certain I was going to knock out this job and then pull off some kind of hook-up as well. On the phone with her for hours, that was the first few weeks. Character studies, turnarounds, drawing these dudes from the pictures she sent me. About growing up, therapy, her distant father, so forth, though after a while I was avoiding her calls. At the time I was in a one-room studio loft, kind of a dump, mid-November, propped under the window with my board, drawing, spiraling, and the real issue with three days left was when the lone radiator sputtered, turned over and died.           

But I’m still listening to her voicemails on my phone. Between calling the super. Two more nights. Struggling, trying to think, much less draw, that cold, with everything, chipping at away me. That she remembered how good my stuff was. Bad enough. The tired pinch in her voice. Men always bail on her, I guess. And no, I didn’t have to give the money back, to please just show her whatever I’ve got. Anything. Get back to her when I get the chance . . . But the call I make is to the bookstore, for what’s left of my vacation days. Stuffing piles of sketches into a folder, pencils and markers into a dirty ziplock bag. Cut the roof of my mouth trying to floss. Shit!  haven’t showered in days. On the way out I leave the phone on the futon. No point. And I’m rushing, frantic maybe, but then the one thing I have done consistently, for years, is fail at this. From there to the hotel. The funny part is, earlier, I figured I’d scout a few places for when I got the chance with Amy. There go those three bones. Third floor, it’s a fuckshop, so not even a desk. First thing, I turn the heat, up, up, 80 degrees, with my shirt off, no shoes, I’m already exhausted, fingers of dawn through the window, and as I crawl around on the carpet laying out the different sketches like a map, I realize it’s already over.

My first gig as a freelance artist and, oh wait, this is how it’s gonna crash and burn . . . And Sakura, what else do we have to hold on to, dreams and pictures, these easy beginnings to fall back on time and again? Busted, finished, even if it’s over, pen to paper, keep drawing, that’s what you hear me muttering to myself, sitting against the wall, I can barely hold my eyes open. What would Picasso do, for instance, holed up, dead in the water? What would Gil Kane do? What would Vanessa do, with sketches, photocopies, trickling off the bed, pictures of Singapore, Ankor Wat, what was I even going to do with that stuff? One more about Vanessa, because I’d always fall asleep on the couch, waiting for her to finish drawing. She’d take off her shirt, her bra, get on my back. Breathing. She’d say it right against my ear: Wake up.