I wake to the sound of old-school hip-hop playing faintly down in the street. Also jazz, from the apartment next door. The woman who lives above me is picking at her banjo. Someone down the block is a playing a classic Beatles tune. Plus there’s like four hundred cars honking their horns outside, and my roommates are having a screaming argument over which one of them stole the other’s idea for a podcast. I drink a LaCroix and head to yoga.
During yoga, I offer this very famous literary author named Jonathan an adjustment on his Warrior Pose and during the mid-class LaCroix break he asks me if I’ve ever read anything by Philip Roth. I say that I have. Then he asks me if I’d be interested in reading a draft of an essay he’s writing. I tell him I’m in a rush, but we exchange numbers. I make a mental note to check out how his latest release is selling in paperback before deciding whether I’ll call him back.
For breakfast, I swing by a new eatery called Nudge and pick up a LaCroix and a banana that’s been held over a skillet where bacon is frying for two minutes. Delicious.
I accidentally make eye contact with a guy on the train and he reads me a scene from his pilot script about a successful actor forced to return to the small town where he grew up when his father gets sick. When he’s done he asks me if I found the dialogue believable and I say I did. Then a man standing nearby yells to the whole train, “Hey, there’s a guy giving feedback down here!” and suddenly every man on the train is shouting scenes from their pilot scripts at me. They’re all about either successful actors or comedians returning to the small towns where they grew up when their father’s get sick. It’s all very cliché and makes me feel pretty good about the pilot script I’ve been working on, where a successful author returns to a mid-sized suburb to confront his mother.
I arrive at Notch HQ in time to begin the workday. Notch is what marketing would be if marketing took classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade and ate more pineapple. There are vases of orchids all over the place, also vintage pinball machines and Betty Page pin-up posters with Che Guevara heads pasted over her breasts. During the morning staff meeting, a Croatian woman wearing a camouflage jacket over a tiger print bikini reads a found poem made up of death row inmate’s last words. When she’s done the CEO, Bryce, asks everyone to pitch him nine ideas on how the imagery in the poem can be translated into GIFs that Lorde can project onstage during her summer tour.
Today is my performance review. Bryce comes into my office and maintains direct eye contact while telling me an extremely graphic story about having sex with his secretary’s aunt at a funeral. When he’s done he says I cringed seven times while he was talking, and asks if I think I can get down to three cringes by my next review in six months. Notch was a news magazine when I started working here. I have a degree in journalism from Emerson. I also have eighty thousand dollars in student loan debt. I tell Bryce I’ll do my best, and crack another LaCroix as soon as he walks out of my office.
I spend the rest of my day teaching a Korean rapper American slang terms for marijuana and researching who owns the rights to Casper the Friendly Ghost. For dinner, I decide to go by Truancy for a beef spindle. Everyone in Brooklyn is going crazy for beef spindles, and the ones at Truancy are the best, even if their claim to have invented them is total bull, since everyone knows that beef spindles occurred to Maggie Gyllenhaal in a dream on the set of The Deuce.
Walking into Truancy I bump into that author, Jonathan. He asks if I’m still interested in reading a draft of his essay. I tell him I’ll call him when I have time. Before he walks away he asks me if I think gentrification is bad. I say I do. Then he asks me if I know who François Truffaut is. I say I do. He says he had a feeling I would, and winks.
The clerk at Truancy says they’re all out of LaCroix and I suddenly become aware that within the walls and beneath the streets of this city there are seething legions of vermin all tearing at one another in an endless, seething orgy of unimaginable horror, and that really the city is theirs and theirs alone, and that nothing I accomplish can save me from one day dying and having my corpse lowered down into their domain, but then the clerk tells me that they have LaCroix at the bodega next door, so I head over there.
Walking out of the bodega, I stumble into a clash between feuding improv teams. A guy in a flannel shirt says to another guy in a flannel shirt, “Here’s a suggestion: Go fuck yourself.” That guy starts writhing around, pretending to fuck himself, and then a third guy in a flannel shirt criticizes his decision to contort his body around and says that if he were working from the top of his intelligence he would have simply mimed masturbating. Then they all start arguing about what ‘working from the top of your intelligence’ means. As I watch, something strikes my head from behind, and everything goes black…
Briefly regain consciousness, tied and gagged in the trunk of a moving car. My head swims, and for a moment I almost grasp what “working from the top of your intelligence” means before passing out again.
Wake up tied to a chair in a cheap hotel room. Jonathan is watching me from the bed. He asks if I was ever planning to read his essay and I admit that I probably wasn’t. He starts crying. “People think I’ve got it made,” he says. “Endowment money. These cool frames for my glasses. Blurbs from Kakutani. But sometimes I feel like, within the walls and beneath the streets of this city there are seething legions of vermin all tearing at one another in an endless, seething orgy of unimaginable horror, and that really the city is…”
I stop him. “Jonathan,” I say, “I’d love to read the essay.” Jonathan smiles.