2 Nov 2004

Original Sin (i)

The tincture of Manhattan stands, dusty, under a tired evening. Jamie enters, center stage. She’s a little cradle-cage of solipsism, take it from your invisible narrator, your eye on this scene. The blank is fucking with Jamie as she marches her way into this scene. The blank is what tells her she has no identity, needs no introduction, like the anonymous virus that gives you that goddamn cold. She must be an archetype or something, to enjoy a role, a raison d’etre, to survive in this prima scene, this unholy entry wound into the story of what happens in the Manhattan tincture, that extract of an island.

How much of her unborn brain will she be able to keep, she wonders. The fucking blank bastard fucks with her. I pretend to be trapped in Jamie’s mind, for now. For the purposes of this story, her world is objective reality. And you’re a prisoner of this really, insofar as these words bind you.

The fucking blank bastard is kicking her ass. It’s kicking her ass through the streets, because she knows she has to find the licorice, if not that street she’s looking for. If not the street, the licorice. Something has got a hold on her, some beast, some monkey has climbed onto her back, she doesn’t know where the FUCK it came from. It wants to be fed. . . Licorice. No ordinary licorice. Chadwick’s licorice. The blackest of all licorice. Licorice so black, light cannot escape from it. Where the fuck does this licorice come from, she wonders. I could tell her it’s forged from the furnaces of hell. She won’t believe me though. She will believe me by the end of the story. I know how the story ends, but for you, second person, the present tense reigns.

How can she be addicted to licorice, she wonders. It’s not even just a psychological addiction. Oh, it is that, no question, the imperative creeps into her dreams like a sly, sophisticated, soft spoken cigarette demon. It slips in through her brain’s backdoor. But damned if it isn’t physical too. The taste looms large in her imagination, so tragically beautiful but not real, not enough. She needs the real thing. Soon enough, she is motivated to get it. If nothing else. The crave spills over the misty mind barrier into solid bodily functions. It’s an itch in the face and an ache in the ears and a soreness in the joints. It’s a concrete slagheap of lethargy. It’s a dash of jaundice, a smidgeon of scurvy. And it all is blotted out, verboten, by Chadwick’s sticks. For a few minutes. A cheap fix. She needs. . . Licorice. Chadwick’s licorice. It tastes so good. A dark sweet, not bitter, but a void of anything but sweet. Sweet is the light. And the blank bastard is kicking her ass, because she asks the blank bastard why she craves, and the blank bastard doesn’t answer. The blank bastard just wants one thing. Sweet. Dark. Licorice. Sweet Dark Licorice. Deja fucking vu. She’s felt this crave before. She tries not to take this ridiculous crisis too seriously, but it is a little serious, since the habit is starting to cut into her welfare cheques. So she stews on it. It remains, stomach achingly profound.

And she needs those cheques to live. She can barely afford her rent.

She lucked into her sorta-stable situation by finding the welfare fountain. She found a hacker who would whore her into the government bureaucrazy, the virtual network sitting inside some computers in some 55th floor office someplace where money falls from the ceiling like rain, the hallowed offices, the water in the circle of low-rent life, the giving river, the trough for scoundrels, for cockroaches to consume, in survival, sans self-respect. Someone wormed their way into the oh-so-unprotected machinations, computers with no failsafe or auxiliary, responsible for distributing that ultimate mafia’s money with now-severed tentacles of P2 conspiracy still clinging, in a ghostly layer, to every transaction. Someone hacked into it for Jamie. A fairy hacker, her roommate at the time. A good deed, if you ignore that theft of a few binary digits in a system that represented a nano-percentile of the virtual pie. At the time, there were still more virtual dollars in the gross global product of the republic of planet earth than there were people. Inflation was expanding the virtual universe to the edges of its infinite cage. Then the electricity ran out. Bye bye virtual cage, infinite fininteness, big crunch, collapsed universe in a lone server, plug pulled, 0. The final yin. But that’s another ghost story.

The harsh reality is that Jamie is going to be broke if she doesn’t keep buying that weirdly expensive licorice from Chadwick’s, and if she’s broke she’ll be evicted, and then where will she go? Back to the fairies? They won’t have her. The bridge has burned. Not by her, she thinks, but god knows who did it or why. When the bridge burned, she was fucked up, and didn’t notice. That night choked on its own vomit. It’s dead. At least it won’t come back to haunt her in memory. Hopefully.

There is fear every day, primal fear. Shelter seems to be shrinking away. It slinks away from her bed in nightmares, leaves her cold, in the streets of New York, blowing like trash, cementing to a foundation somewhere, being absorbed into the city, thoroughly. They’re always tearing shit down around here, the old buildings are being slaughtered with wrecking balls and dynamite. They’ll tear her down too, eventually, after she is absorbed. Her numb cunt won’t mind, her powdered organic frame will fall rhythm to construction and destruction. They’ll turn her into a new office tower. People will discuss the price of oil and politicians will shake hands with business leaders in her offices. She will watch the consequences unfold on foreign shores, in passive comprehension, as she dreams herself spectator to the drama. In this reverie, she will no longer play a role. She will see it all and be it all, as totality. She will be apathetic. Stone. Buddha. She will no longer care about her future, her fate, the fate of society, the fate of humanity, the fate of planet earth, no longer a republic, even the fate of the universe. It will blink on and then off, and then on again, or not. Maybe God is done flicking the switch. She won’t care. Either way’s cool. She’ll dig the universe. Ultimate empathy in the void of ego. Something like that. It could work. It would work better than this stupid society that calls itself “pragmatic”. That thinks it’s got it all figured out. That the checks and balances are in place, and we got our economy afloat, and if you can’t get ahead, it’s your fucking fault you whiner. It don’t get no better than this, fool. Get a thick skin. Grow up. Welcome to reality. This gives her the message that her night death reverie is a downer. An unrealistic fantasy. Maybe even a wishful thought or a sugar coat. Saccharine. Psychedelic. Fluff. Fairy and airy.

The question hammers at her in the glare of the day, keeps her up at night: If you die tomorrow, what have you done? What have you seen? She knows the answer, but won’t allow herself to think it.

She lives in the pragmatic society. It hides ridiculous luxuries, esoteric technologies, secret societies, even a carefully rationed amount of magic. The horrors are right out in front of everybody. They’re on the news every day. They’re on film and in print, they’re in the screech of Schnitke’s strings. They’re in the bomb craters of Bahgdad. Some churches still flay their followers with the idea of eternal damnation, but there are citizens of the republic of planet earth who are well versed in hell - much moreso than the priests who perpetuate that hellish dogma. And the ones who suffer this gnosis, gorged on the fruit of knowledge – they don’t fear its degrees. Anyone who has been on the other side of the grainy Times newspaper photo, who has bled the blood pixels you see in the morning, has understood absolute pain.

The world has got a tinge of utopia and a firey underbelly dystopia, in which our Licorice-hunting lady Jamie has found a niche – a niche on which to hang her tired metabolism, so she can take a spirit nap, because sleep is so good when you’ve got a warm bed in a warm apartment, and the heat bills are paid, and this crazy chaostrophy they call a city is enclosing you, washing over you like an alien wave, and you just turn off the light and let it wash over you. If you can get enough licorice, you’ll be alright.

But the body aches in the daytime, it aches when you think about it aching, it opens up a pandora’s box of aches, it aches in infinite fractal regression, progression, aches upon aches. It’s an achy bastard. If everybody’s body is as achy as Jamie, she wonders, how can they go about their daily business so stoically? Jamie’s not a stoic, she complains when she aches, but she has managed to eliminate most factors that trigger or exascerbate aches, so she lives as ache free as she can.

One thing that causes Jamie to ache a lot is work. She has had a handful of jobs in this absurd city, and all of them caused aches eventually. The job that proved ache-free for the longest amount of time was the one where she had to stand on a street corner and count the number of taxis that went by. That was outside, but there was a roof nearby, so the rain and snow didn’t take an intolerable toll on Jamie’s sensitive nerves. She kept a tally. It was a nine to five job. She worked seven days a week, so she earned a lot of money.

No one actually hired her for that job. The activity was done of her own initiative. Some cynics might have said it wasn’t really a job at all. But the fairies were putting her up for rent at the time, so it was all good. That winter she got too cold, and quit that sweet gig. The other jobs were realer, and all induced aches earlier, usually after a week. The McDonalds job was the worst of the lot, closely followed by Walmart and The Computer Chip Factory (She can’t remember was the fuck it was called, and neither can I). She was drunk every day for that one. Relevant memories are hard to dig up.

But it was a good year, even though she was unemployed for most of it. Jamie had been taken in by the fairies. The fairies were a short-lived band of gay philanthropists. Not much was known about them. They took in homeless or soon-to-be-homeless people. They rented a vast number of condos in the Jackson Tower, and the facilities were legendary.

Of course, there were many appeals made to the fairies. In order to make an appeal, one was advised to visit the fairycafe, or as it was known by people not in the know, Robin’s Donuts, on Madison and 72nd. The fairy network would be informed of the request, and a fairy agent would meet you in the far booth at an agreed upon time. Fairies wait for no one, so the supplicant was advised to be early for the appointment. In would walk a large, rather muscular stud in a red cape, with bejeweled fairy wings, draped in paisley shawls. The shawls were designed by the local paisley artisan and kaleidoscope maker, Jon Kaleidoscopsmith. The fairy would sit down and discuss the worthiness of the request with the submitter. But the criteria for being allowed residence at the fairy condominiums was unknown to anyone. A carefully guarded secret. One poor fairy never even talked under torture, it was said by one of the Robin’s Donut crew one gray evening. The thought of a fairy being tortured by those mafia scumbags sickened us all to the core, those fuckers. Although strangely, it did turn me on a bit, and that disturbed me. It was said that to be accepted by the fairies, you had to be a virgo, and you had to have the manna. Nobody understood what the manna was. It was something like funk, and it helped to be on a particular drug, a little known synthetic tryptamine called 4HO-DIPT, which totally disappeared on the street around nineteen ninety-whatever.

What turned the fairies on was groveling. That’s all they wanted. No sex. At least, hardly ever, there were a few cases where the supplicant was asked to give up more than his dignity. But generally, they just wanted you to get down on your knees and beg to stay with them, and maybe even cry a little. They were good at making people cry. It was rarely hard to nudge their clientelle over the edge. They would make everyone supplicate themselves, but they would only select one in ten.

Jamie won the lottery, as did fifty others that year. Jamie cried, and was granted herself free room and board. She got a room. She got bored. But she was comfortable, for a while.

* * *

Jamie needs to stop thinking about licorice.
“Fucking fuck!” she seethes at the empty street. She rarely has the energy to curse aloud these days, but tonight she’s on fire. Tonight, she’s got a pulse and a purpose. She’s got a show to see. She’s got some blood in her cheeks. She’s not a frigid bitch. She could even go for a dick inside her, maybe. It’s been a while since she had that crave. The licorice blotted out every other desire, it seems - implanted a self perpetuating viral meme. But mostly she’d like to kill someone because she can’t find the street she’s looking for. But mostly she’d like some – no.
Jamie needs to stop thinking about licorice. She needs to find that street.
She already bought her fix, a big bulge of a fix, a goddamn bag of a fix, and she ate it all. It’s gone. She should be satiated. But it’s gone. None in reserve, and it’s comforting to have a licorice surplus. She spent her last fifty bucks, are you happy Chadwick? She has just enough for the ticket now and she’s going to that show, damnit. She has nothing else to live for. She’ll really kill herself this time, if she doesn’t see that show. But then, if she sees the show, she can die, so she’ll probably kill herself anyway. Eventually. But first she must see that show. Because life can’t be allowed to take its course, life’s a bitch, and she’ll have to be a bigger one by killing herself off. She’ll have to kill herself off before whatever disease mother nature has planned to finish her off with does its work. Then she’ll be the winner. For once in her fucking life. And that fucking fairy lottery doesn’t count. She had to cry for that one. She was really the loser after all. Because her condo contract ran out, so now she has no free room, but she still feels the stinging humiliation of the forced weep that quickly turned into a real one. It wasn’t fair, in the end. Too high a price to pay. The year of free room and board is gone, except as grains of nostalgia she still shakes out of her shoes every once in a while.
So she needs to forget the posh and freaky fairy facilities and find that street. 61st. She doesn’t know how she got to this isolated canyon. She hasn’t been this far from her sedentary hole in years, and she’s never been to this part of Manhattan. She didn’t know there were places like this. Empty places. Unless you count the crackhead under the fire exit. But he’s empty, in his own way. And full of crack. He’s in that rare part of the crack cycle – the section of satiation. He’s high. Jamie thinks maybe she can get directions from him. He knows where up is, at least. Obviously. Right now, anyway, he knows that preposition.
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Jamie calls. She doesn’t bother with formalities, politeness, politics, niceties. She’s a rude rat, and she’s down with that. The head stares at his pipe for ten seconds, strokes his beard, and finally answers her:
“Practice, man.”