The plaza smells like shoe polish and falafel. The man at the front desk acknowledges us with a tuck of his chin, the door-close buttons on the elevator are placebos and have been since the 70s, I heard it on a podcast. She said "daddy hire him" and now we're all generating value for the shareholders together; it's a real brotherhood. Be more social. Hey, it’s nice to meet you. Stop not being more like us. Tell me about yourself. What would you say are your biggest flaws? I haven’t been here long. Beautiful time of year! Went to visit my family. They’re all upstairs, actually. It’s on the server. It’s on my home computer. We don’t have the dry powder this time, its on us. Want to run for lunch? Can you get it done? It’s on the server. I hate abstract art. I love going to the movies. I hate modern art. She doesn’t seem to like me. I wish she would like me. She never says I love you. My teeth are too small. My shoes are all old. She doesn’t own a dress. She doesn't wear dresses. I don’t like coffee. He’s a bit strange, right? I have no idea—that’s pretty funny. Have you heard back? I need to respond to that email. We pay in but won’t see any return. Poor kid. I have no sympathy for him. He was crazy. He was just another wacko. Another crazy. Poor kids. Text me!
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I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink coffee. She drinks coffee. They all drink—I don’t drink. Coffee, that is. I drink. Don’t take that the wrong way. There’s no good way to get across town, the trains are always held up. The trains are never on time. At least the trains aren’t on time, I can finish my coffee. My tongue stinks and the lights are too bright. Why are there barcodes on the cups, they never scan them—they punch in the value to the register directly. I wonder how much the ink costs. You know printer ink is more expensive per ounce than human blood? Like as a medical expense for transfusions and stuff like that. She always looks just past my shoulder and her ears never pop when the train goes under the river. I think she's a lizard. She wrinkles her nose at way my pants fit. We’re all half drunk but Hemingway said something about that, she said. What are your biggest strengths? Subscribe, and let me know what you think in...
We're going to need you to focus on growing your personal brand. Here is a short dialogue between two young men stepping onto the train, headed to a coffee shop that is roughly halfway between where they both live. They do this once a week but sometimes they miss a week when work doesn't permit though neither one feels particularly bad about that when it happens. One says:
I hate that, no I hate that--
And the other says:
When people write about their work like it's a manifesto.
How is that insincere?
Because all of those people are from the suburbs. It's too much gravitas coming from a place where gravitas isn't warranted. You're just some tax-paying American faggot with a thesaurus, right?
Why is sincerity a requirement?
Like, why should that be the quality you're looking for in a thing--if it's insincere you'll stop it at the gate and crucify it with a bad review. Okay. But if it's sincere, it passes go and then what? That's two self-righteous assumptions for the price of one, which I guess is economical--
You want to be surrounded by insincerity?
Say yes I dare you.
Sound like you're implying we need to start a war before people like you and me are allowed to be artists or something. Also whatever I'm surrounded by, I don't really care if it checks the artisanal box or not so long as it's good.
You're putting that word in my mouth though.
No, artisanal. You're just making a caricature out of what I'm saying
No I'm making a caricature out of you. What you're saying is already a caricature. It's a separate, second caricature. The first may be in poor taste, fine. But the second is your design. I'm only pointing it out. Also don't let me just shoehorn words like "good" in there, call me out.
This is cute. I know you're tying up a rhetorical knot now so when I can't untangle it, the tack of the conversation carries the momentum of a victory for you regardless--you're basically just masturbating right now.
It was more a joke in my mind.
Right, you drop in some esoteric humor like smoke and mirrors to sidestep the point.
That conversation can become competition at any moment?
No, that manifestos are insincere.
Why is sincerity a requirement?
No listen, because the form is unwarranted.
On the whole?
What good is broadly speaking?
Same good for why the rule of thumb is a successful idiom, right?
Yeah well--broken clock; are we hanging our hats on metaphors?
It's just an illustration
Come on, that was funny.
Never mind, illustration of what--that some are insincere?
That most are.
By what standard?
By a cultural standard, or something pervasive like that.
By your standard.
Something, something, baby with the bathwater. You're prejudiced.
You're masturbating again
I am not.
Well stop watching me then
What are you even listening to right now?
You've had an earbud in one ear since we got on the train. If I were some girl I'd be worried you didn't like me.
Trying playlists, I've never been a playlist person. Everybody makes playlists except me apparently.
It's just one song--
That's a good playlist though.
You're a cartoon character, man. I Can't Dance?
Don't tell me Genesis is insincere.
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit you know.
What does that make shit like meta-commentary?
You just made that up.
Step away from the closing doors, please.
Yeah if we all agree that sarcasm is to wit what going blue is to comedy, and if I suggest to you that it shares a midwife with irony, in what shape does that leave the postmodern doorstopper as a literary typology?
Two things: Analogies fell out of fashion when they took them off the SAT, and more importantly that whole statement was just a gigantic hand-waving nothingburger.
Right, or maybe maybe-not actually, but how many degrees did I need in order to set all those words together like that? Also analogies became fashion-forward when they took them off the SAT.
Two. Imagine what sorts of shit we will be cooking up after three.
Unintelligibly arcane shit?
Hey what can I get for you?
Cappuccino would be great.
Wet or dry?
Five fifty, on the card?
Fucking six dollars for a coffee?
For a cappuccino.
Pack of cigarettes is over twelve if you go to the wrong bodega.
How's a young man supposed to ruin himself at these prices, really?
You know in Greece everyone rolls their own, and the men carry around all the accoutrements in literal fanny-packs.
Fanny-packs. Waist-slung, the whole deal. Full of tobacco and papers. Fanny-packs. In the club, at the bar, at a restaurant, at your mother's house. They're not considered a faux-pas or anything. And it's only the men. When she wants a cigarette, she'll paw at his arm while he's busy staring out over the rim of his silty coffee past the street at nothing and he'll hand her a paper and a pinch, all without looking. Muscle memory. Fanny-packs.
Every twenty-something in Athens with a dick and balls who is cool wears a fanny-pack, yep.
Huh. What a sight. Also what does dry mean with respect to a cappuccino?
I have no idea but dry always sounds more masculine and I never want to ask.
So tell me what you're working on.
A postmodern doorstopper, technically. You?
Does it make rhetorical appeals?
Well it's anachronistic, naive, and you're a lout for trying, I hate to break it to you.
That's a given. But maybe it will be fashionable.
Or sensational. Big self-aware post-sincere paperweight for you, then?
That's the dream.
Are you writing in an optimistically disparaging tone and referencing mundane, contemporary fixtures of life like gchat to make sure it's "of its time"?
Yeah. Everybody whose anybody has an understanding of their time so intricate and lyrically intuited that their twenties are usually spent struggling to communicate it, so.
Dealing with an idiosyncratic rendering of various addictions as well?
Broken a hundred thousand words yet?
It's incredible, isn't it, the way anything at any moment can suddenly become indistinguishable from a child with his pants down.
Too many metaphors, you're babbling.
We babble, that's our thing.
Is that our thing? I wish we had a different thing.
You hear what I'm saying though right, about the metaphors?
Yeah, you're not wrong.
I blame the Information Age or whatever the penny-sociologists or psychoanalysts or whatever the fuck are calling the what, the current state of informational proliferation? This week? Networked society?
I can't keep up.
Outside the snow is coming down at an angle and the slushing noises made by feet shuffling past occasionally come in through the open door while someone steps inside out of the morning grey and stands in the doorway fumbling with their scarf to free their voice, his head muffled up in synthetic wool and the windows are foggy inside and dripping water in little puddles on the floor so that when he moves up to the counter and lifts his eyes off of his phone screen where he and everyone else is busy trimming their social topiaries, he and everyone else has left a trail of melt in a streak from the sidewalk to the scone cabinet and someone is talking to him but the only sound beating up out of his throat is the whirring noise of the fin tube radiator placed awkwardly against a wall halfway to the left of where the owner would surely love to have squeezed another tiny table but can't because they're always placed awkwardly so you can't fit anything around them like heating is the secondary objective and ruining your floor space is the primary and the poor thing, it's struggling to keep up with the winter air sweeping past every time someone shuffles in past the bell where outside the snow is coming down at an angle and all of the slushing noises, the ones made by the occasional cab that's turned down the little one-lane avenue that come in through the open door while someone steps inside--they fade off quickly but the red glow of the tail lights left behind in the evening dimness lingers, refracted in the glass and in the haze on the glass so you can see the cab going even around the corner if you wait the three seconds and watch the light slip off of the window but stay behind wherever the water's beaded up on it to make spotted circles out of it but nobody does wait the three seconds because why would you, you have things to do and that's the reason why people keep coming in and out for hours and hours and hours where outside the snow is coming down at an angle and the
Fuck my phone died
You want my charger?
Nah, that's alright.
There should be outlets in the back near the toilets
It's alright, man. Thanks.
Yeah I was just repeating myself anyhow.
My girlfriend brings me to a walkup far into Brooklyn. It's seedy, the paint is peeling and there are flickering neons above the entrance to the bodega on the ground floor like a bad 80s film someone forgot to turn off. A train screams by overhead somewhere above the latticework of corroding, green steel beams. They shake and rumble well after it's gone.
Yeah, it's a nice space inside I swear.
We buzz a side door and it clicks open immediately. The music is loud and pounding. Beyond the first flight of stairs is a bleach white hallway packed with people shoulder to shoulder all talking and talking and talking. There are little white rooms--two off either side of the hallway, and a fifth in the back. The whole place reeks of cigarettes worse than my grandmother's house. I liked my grandmother. It takes me a moment to notice I am the only person moving my way through the crowd without a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. My girlfriend is already handing me hers and fishing for the pack in her purse. She's too good to me and we both know it and it's not about the cigarette.
It's an art thing--the whole point is you're supposed to smoke inside, she says.
I stare blankly at the wainscoting between the wall and the ceiling and her cigarette is trailing a thin brume from my lips where it dangles, stupefied, up into my nose. She works one eyebrow at me and I can feel it out of the corner of my eye so I say
I've got nothing for that
and she frowns but it's the kind of frown a person frowns when they're trying to hide a little grin so that's fine.
One of her friends from Harvard stops her to talk about nothing so I slip into a side room. It's considerably less crowded, somehow. I suppose the hallway is the most efficient space for social posturing in a price-per-square-foot sort of way. My little room is apparently the site of an art exhibit; on the walls are hung a few abstract works scattered here and there with an annoyingly careful attention paid to the specific askew-ness of the whole ensemble. I wonder if that was just me projecting for a moment, then decide the two aren't mutually exclusive. Each canvas is no bigger than a sheet of printer paper, onto which have been affixed dozens of cigarette butts with literal actual factual hot glue. Each individual butt has been carefully smoked to leave different shades of lipstick impressions on the filters.
I stub my cigarette on the nearest canvas to make a petty point to myself and look around. My tongue tastes like this building now so I spit on the floor and slide back out into the hallway. More people from Harvard have formed in the back room with her so I press my way toward the opposing side room half hoping to find something even more challenging displayed inside--not for the spectacle, more for the game of working out how I might compliment the piece if I were an art critic who had been paid handsomely to say something nice but was also enough of a clandestine scrooge that I could say it in such a way that was both complimentary and disparaging, but not so disparaging you'd ever really be sure if it was meant to come off that way or not. It's an idiots game, yes, but the smoke cloud over my head is starting to obscure the rafters and it's either this or listen to six Harvard graduates reason through their third line of coke in an hour and a half, so, in I shuffle.
Suspended from a clothesline tacked up diagonally to the corners of the room is a thin sheet. And printed on that thin sheet is an image of a mundane city street. Upon closer inspection, the image of the mundane city street has been treated with the clone stamp tool in photoshop so that it has an odd repetitive quality in certain places. And that's it. Immediately conceding my idiots game to the victorious artist after deciding I would be a terrible art critic, I slouch back into the hallway, accept a cigarette offered to me by a middle-aged woman I don't know who kindly noticed that I looked out of place, let my girlfriend know I am headed out front for a moment with a nod toward the stair, and the fresh air never felt so shocking. Above, a train thunders by and the street shakes just a little bit. It's loud.
Before long another young man steps out onto the stoop. I feel like I've met him at one of these things before--it's the same people. It's mostly the same post-grads. He's short and thin and has small glasses and he's not pretty like James Dean but his hair curls like James Dean's. I can't remember his name but I know he writes book reviews. He's a writer. He wrote his thesis on James Joyce. No, he never went to graduate school actually but he wants to write his thesis on Joyce some day. He said he has no idea what to say about him yet, but maybe he will in the future. Or he doesn't know what he would write about at all, but he does love James Joyce also. He tilts his head toward the door asks me what I thought and I just ask him what he thought instead and he coughs and smiles and pinches his brow with his thumb and forefinger.
We sit and listen to the neon sign pop and he rolls another cigarette for me. I tell him I don't smoke. He says it's still something to do with your hands, and he's not wrong. So we smoke ourselves sweaty and listen to the bridge roll and groan and neither one really has too much to say but that's just fine, because I read somewhere that you know you've really found someone when the two of you aren't uncomfortable just sitting quietly with each other and I liked that sentiment. We do that for a while. He nods to himself a few times. He tells me the walls in his apartment are all blank because none of his friends who are artists will give him anything to hang on them. It starts to rain but just barely and the streets are hot so they start to steam but just barely. My girlfriend comes out and finds us sitting on the sidewalk against the wall in the pissing weather out of papers and going back and forth very slowly about whether that turn-of-the-century-era pin that men used to stick through one side of the shirt collar, through the back of the tie knot, and out the other side of the collar to keep their tie set firmly in place should come back into style or not and we'd probably look like real cinematic bums if not for the fact that our belts matched our shoes and our watch bands. He's a friend of hers from Harvard, that's who he is. Should have known. I did not go to Harvard. She's to good for me and we all know it, the way she wears her only velvet dress or something similar or whatever.
You guys alright? She says.
I think I'm leaving you for him, I say. He frowns but it's another one of those.
Uh huh. Still going for a drink? She says.
Yeah, we say.
We stand through the spins and set off down the street in the rain and she asks him what he's editing at the moment and he tells us and it's interesting.
By Mister Ford
Mr. Ford's writing is the collective reflections of five apes and a MacBook Air, posting from an undisclosed location within the Central Park Zoo but usually at odd times because the laptop does not belong to them and would obviously be missed during regular business hours.