I had thoroughly obliterated any possibility of completing my education, but I couldn’t stay in my parents’ house, feigning motivation while jonesing pitifully. In a desperate scramble, I invented a plan to move to Washington, D.C. to seek my fortune. I stuffed everything into the wayback of my automobile and strapped a mattress to the roof, Joad-like. I crashed on the sprung pull-out sofa of my newly-married best friend. After a few languid weeks in their garden apartment, during which I taught myself macramé, I found employment at a liquor store in suburban Maryland. I claimed knowledge of wine, based on my tenure with the liquor importer. I thought I was doing okay, moving to and fro, talking of Beaujolais Nouveau, until I misheard a phone order from Happy Rockefeller and sent her a case of Chateau Oo-La-La ’72. The job had lasted a week.
What am I, a swallow? How many times can one return to New Jersey? My parents’ capacity to enable my bleary schemes was losing its resiliency. I spouted one bullshit story after another. Or sulked in my room. My father, stern and unrelentingly helpful, sent me on countless interviews for potential work. He had the will to solve the problem and he marshaled every connection to find a niche for me. Opportunities zoomed by. Life felt tattered and stupid. Decision-making was anathema: resistance merely rote. I had smaller fish to fry. Alcohol had become my morose subtext.
When the house was dark and quiet, I climbed out my bedroom window, sat on the garage roof, drank a six of warm tall boys, flicked the butts of my cigarettes into the shrubbery below, and pissed into the gutter.
An old acquaintance invited me to meet him at a bar in SoHo, at the time a brand-new, trendy-by-day/scary-by-night neighborhood. He was in possession of the hair, the chin, and the self-assurance to sell ad space for The Village Voice. He was everything I was not. Everything. After we bullshitted one another for a couple hours, the evening dribbled to a close. Sullen peevishness fired me up the West Side Highway. I rolled down the window and, with the radio full blast, hurtled across the George Washington Bridge with one eye closed. I made it to my hometown when my vision finally gave out. Two oncoming headlights multiplied into three, then five –
The impact of the glancing collision knocked me into the steering wheel. No one was hurt. Oddly, I wasn’t even breathalyzed. After a certain unquantifiable number of beers, I wore an unmistakable facial expression my friends dubbed – The V’ed-out Look. I would ratchet my brow into brutal corrugation in an attempt to prevent my eyelids from slamming shut. Despite the effort, the lids always drooped perilously. The police seemed more interested in the younger kids in the other car. Perhaps shock and bewilderment overrode The V’ed-out Look. But, Officer, I have a record, I thought, I hit them. In any event, the cops drove me home. I put myself to bed. There were no charges, but the Barracuda was scrap. The accident was a wake-up call. I had to acknowledge that my driving had consequences. My brilliant solution was to sell the car for parts and move into Manhattan.
Walk. Don’t Walk.
I found myself a one-bedroom in East 80s, a walk-up not far from my college friends, Shelley and Mitch. A satisfyingly hermetic chamber, daylight never penetrated. It had been loopily decorated by some colorblind person who had ill-advisedly taken the brown acid. Matted shag carpeting the color and aroma of soil covered the floor and the walls bore an earth tone finish that looked like very coarse sandpaper and would draw blood if you happened to brush against it. The wallpaper in the bathroom was foiled and flocked; in the kitchen, it was just foiled. My trusty old brown beanbag chair fit the color scheme perfectly. Here was place I could call home.
I had a real job at last. I assisted a freelance art director, a man of persuasive charm and spotty follow-through. Engaged to help with his Bicentennial art exhibit and book project called 200 Years of American Illustration, I was essentially responsible for fielding phone calls and documenting the art that came in. The boss was hardly ever around, which allowed me to recover from my hangover, work on the crossword, and write long, fussy letters to my distant drinking buddies. In the afternoon, people involved in his many projects might appear and it would fall to me to entertain them, while hedging as to the probability of his return. One such person was Trudi Farber, an animated redhead with an easy laugh who was illustrating a series of elementary school workbooks. Sometimes she actually waited to see if he’d show up and the two of us gabbed the afternoon away. Months went by before I asked her out.
Meanwhile, I hung out with Shelley and Mitch, smoking hash and listening to Bowie and Mott the Hoople or smoking hash and watching basketball on their twelve-inch black-and-white TV. The Knicks’ backcourt was a thing of beauty. These evenings dwindled when Mitch entered a master’s program and disappeared entirely when Shelley took a bartending gig at Tittle Tattle, a singles bar on a strip of First Avenue in the 60s.
Shelley had been hired solely on the basis of her tits, which were great. This fact she exploited proudly. Once or twice on weekday nights, I drifted into Tittle Tattle around eleven to lurk in the corner where the bar met the wall, cadging drinks and glaring at the sports celebs and pimp-ish guys who tried to get her to lean over the bar. I could sit amidst all that lubricated hubbub, not talk to anyone, and still feel part of the world, the microscopic, resentful, lonesome, pathetic part. Most nights, though, I was perfectly content to nestle in my beanbag chair surrounded by umber waves of shag; a Miller beer and a heaping ashtray close at hand.
I threw a party in my empty new apartment (the one after the brown one) and invited Tru to meet a few of my friends. The beanbag chair had pride of place in the barren landscape, along with the component stereo with a broken turntable. The group sat on the floor, drinking beer and smoking reefer. For some forgotten reason, possibly related to my obligations as host, I dug a loaf of white bread out of the fridge. I ripped a slice in half and crammed the pieces behind my glasses. “Hey. I’m Stevie Wonder-Bread,” I said and did an awful imitation of the guy. What did Trudi think? Was I trying to be funny? Was I acting like an asshole preemptively? Funny or lame, humiliating or ironic; any interpretation was welcome. It turned out she didn’t give a shit.