Freeloading is exhausting. All conversation, no alone-time, and for the only child of a single mother like your boy here, solitude is the base of the mental health food pyramid, the grain-and-bread group of not losing my shit rather than the occasional, Chili Cheese Frito-esque indulgence some people seem to find it. When I do get some quiet, it's in the dead-sober middle of the day, when regular citizens are out getting paid or educated, and I fritter it away shaking my fool head at the parade of unsound ideas and irresponsible people I've spent my life in thrall to-a great word, thrall; sounds like a monster's gullet-while normal kids were busy soaking up all types of valuable knowledge from their square-ass parents.
I speak mainly of the Uptown Girl (Billy Joel, whaddup?), my girlfriend until some twelve hours after the expulsion. But also the general cast, or caste, of Whoopty Whoo Ivy League We's A Comin' Academy. I'm pretty sure none of my classmates' mothers would've considered a son who sells narcotics a dream come true, any more than they themselves would have concluded that bopping around town holding the ripcord to an incarceration parachute was a reasonable way to earn a little cash-since, unlike your boy here, none of them needed to turn his classmates into customers so he could call his jealousy disdain.
The last thing I want to sound like is one of those black conservative TV pundits they're always trotting out to declare that racism hasn't existed since 1965 and the black community's in tatters because of unwed mothers and rap music. Or a character from an early John Singleton flick, back when he gave an earnest fuck and wrote the same "it takes a man to raise a man" speech into every script. Or a whiny little punk. I haven't sidestepped all the other hood cliches just to blame my problems on skewed values in the home, or a dearth of positive male role models. But the fucking path to success can be a little hard to discern when you're walking around bent over double, dragging a cauldron bubbling with a four-part blend of molten anger-for those keeping score at home, that's anger at Billy, anger at Karen, anger at not knowing how angry I should be, and anger at my inability to claim my anger-plus a full fondue set to spoon it up with.
The assiduous consumption of Cannabis sativa has proved useful in reducing the flame. Where there's smoke, there's no fire: I figured that out a hell of a lot earlier than perhaps I should have. If stress had sent Karen foraging for Haagen-Dazs, I'd probably be wearing a fat-suit right now. Instead, I've got the lungs of a coal miner. Fuck it. Everybody self-medicates. Or maybe it's just me. How should I know? Who am I, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), the father of sociology?
It was Saturday afternoon, and I couldn't think of a single person I could bear to kick it with. Tomorrow I was scheduled to housesit for Nick Fizz, one of Karen's homeboys from the High School of Art and Design, a real graffiti hotbed back in the early eighties that had funneled a lot of kids right into the shortlived gallery scene. Karen had gotten a trip to London out of her fine arts career, and sold one canvas, for enough money to cover her inaugural semester at City College. It was a big aerosol portrait of this old-school rapper named Melle Mel, and she'd be the first to tell you that it was hideous and is almost certainly locked away in a storage unit now, regardless of the coked-up pricetag.
Fizz, meanwhile, was the exception to the rule, a graff success story. He'd been smart enough to sidestep the crack epidemic that turned forty percent of New York's writers into dealers and another forth into fiends in the mid-eighties, had sufficient foresight or small enough cojones to retire from trains before the buff started decimating the best lines in 1986, forcing everybody to crowd onto the Js, Ms, Bs and Ls like emergency rafts and then killing the scene entirely, eternally, by '89. Weird that all these so-called hip-hop heads consider '89 the heart of the "golden era," when it was also the year graffiti died.
Anyway, Fizz decided it was graphic design he loved, not vandalism, and started an ad agency. Now he's right back on the trains, all-city via the cheesy banners lining the insides of every car-saturation-bombing at its most annoying, except that instead of some teenager's messy mop-tag repeated and repeated and repeated, it's "Now You Can Have Beautiful Clear Skin! Visit Dr. Jonathan Zizmor M.D.! As Seen On TV!"
Fizz's crib was bright and spacious, decorated with the kind of pink-fur-Kangol flair only a gay Puerto Rican b-boy can pull off. Better yet, Fizz lived on 108th and Broadway, half a block from the best Dominican restaurant in the city, La Rosita, which I discovered through this older chick from Whoopty Whoo Ivy League We's A Comin' Academy who was my Peer Mentor when I started in ninth grade and who actually took the concept seriously and school me on which teachers to avoid like zombie death plague and which like the common cold, what culinary options the neighborhood afforded, how to restrain myself from smacking the tonsils out of some ignorant rich kid at least twice a day, that sort of thing.
She was the only black girl in her class, which is why the administration hooked us up, although in her case the struggle was not attending Manhattan's third-most prestigious prep school under the auspices of the coveted What the Hell, Let's Give a Clever Young Colored Boy a Chance to Transcend His Race Scholarship like me, but being the daughter of Tom Petty's attorney, caked up to her clavicles and yet still presumed a welfare case. She graduated and went on to major in art history at Columbia, and until I got a girlfriend the big-sister/little-brother thing endured and I'ld cross town and eat lunch with her sometimes, always at La Rosita. I can't explain why a simple plate of yellow rice and red benas and a side of yucca con ajo should be so much better there than at the other three hundred spots just like it, but there you go. So I could hardly wait to get to Fizz's spot and breathe air and eat good and sleep in a bed and jerk off in peace.
Fuck it, I though, why wait for tomorrow when you can have tomorrow today. I hopped the 2 Express to Dumbo, which is this stupid yuppie acronym meaning Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass, like hardy-har, we live in a flying elephant, and made my way to this one particular building I discovered a little more than a year ago.
I'm not going to say exactly where it's located, although I guess you could figure it out by process of elimination if you spent long enough in the neighborhood-which was not a neighborhood at all a few years back, just a wedged-in ghost town of moldering factories and deserted cobblestone alleys. I haven't bothered to find out what the building was before they gutted and condominiumized it. If I were a different type of kid I'd have visited some windowless city planning office, claimed I was doing a school project and gone down to the basement and unrolled a set of decomposing blueprints beneath a flickering yellow lamp and had some kind of revelation.
Your boy here, I figured out as much as I needed to know and then left it alone. I'm crap at science to begin with, so if there's some monumental discovery about wormholes and the rending of space-time to be made, I'm not gonna be the guy who makes it. Nor am I foolish enough to run my mouth and blow my own spot, end up getting my foot run over by Stephen Hawking's wheelchair or some shit.
Sorry, I don't mean to be mysterious. The deal is this: if you enter the stairwell of this building at lobby level and walk all fourteen flights of stairs-which nobody would, since there's a very nice elevator tricked out with mirrors and wood paneling and it always seems to be idling right there, doors open no less-you emerge on the top floor having traveled exactly twenty-four hours into the future.
And no, smart guy, you can't walk down and go back. That would be hot, obviously. You could make a fortune, like the dude in Back to the Future Part II. It was the first thing I tried.
I'm going to say this once and then I promise I won't come back to it, or even address the reader in the second person anymore, which I can see getting annoying very quickly, seeing as most people want to lose themselves in stories, not open a book and have a finger pointing at them all the time, unless it's a pop-up book. If you're already frowning and thinking I'm an unreliable narrator, or going "oh goody, I love magical realism," then you should cut your losses and go read Tuesdays with Morrie, before I get to the really wild shit later on. Skepticism is an admirable trait, but so is asking yourself if you're really such a fucking Master of the Universe that things might not be happening beneath the surface of your world right now without you knowing. Or even in midair when your back's turned. I mean, hell, they didn't discover the duckbilled platypus until 1896, and then everybody thought it was a hoax because mammals aren't supposed to lay eggs, you feel me?
I've thought about it a lot, and as far as I can tell, there's very little to be gained by jumping one day forward. It seems like there should be, but really you're behind. You missed work, school, you don't know if the Yankees won. Also, whenever I get my H.G. Wells on, I step into the future with a queasy stomach, spangly vision, a general desire to curl up and die that lasts an hour, maybe two. It didn't happen the first time, before I knew what I was doing, so possibly it's not travel sickness but some psychological aversion to flouting cosmic law, giving physics the finger.
The whole thing reminds me of this game I used to play with my boy Cedric in sixth grade, where we'd invent these doofus superheroes. Like, The Salamanderer, who has the regenerative powers of an amphibian: if you cut off his arm, it grows back, weaker and smaller, in about six weeks. Or Diner Man, who's totally invincible, but only in diners, and spends all his time trying to convince supervillains to grab some pie. Or this dude we never got around to naming, whose power was that he could fly six inches off the ground. We used to convulse on the floor of my bedroom, laughing at this stuff. It wasn't until recently that I realized it was a metaphor for something. And only as I write this does it occur to me that Graffito The Elusive should have been on the team: will go to any extreme to save the innocent, unless they're his relatives.
Edit the description to add:
- Historical context: the work's place in history, how it was received
- A summary of the work's overall themes (example: "Here, Byron evokes the classic struggle between virtue and temptation...")
- A description of the work's overall style and tone