Bed Bugs and Rolling Stones

by

01/11/2016

Neighborhood: Uncategorized, Upper West Side

Does anyone move to Manhattan with plans of anything but taking over the city?

Imaging the opening credits of my life, I could practically feel the crane shot tracking me as my mother drove me over the Brooklyn Bridge. The camera pushing in closer and closer, past hundreds of passing cars, to find me, the hero, sitting shotgun with my forehead resting on the window. The approaching skyline’s reflection scrolling over my wide-eyed eagerness. Sinatra’s velvet croon across the soundtrack; something like that. Viewers watching would think sure, I looked a little green, but this kid’s got moxie, goddamitt.

I circled an ad in the back of The Village Voice for a four-month sublet on the Upper West Side and figured I’d save the clipping for posterity.

I rode the elevator to my Rolling Stone internship and strode through the glass double-doors with the kind of strut I imagined befitted a young Hunter S. Thompson. I’d stepped into the pages of the magazine I’d been collecting since 7th grade.

The faded awning read The Dexter House. My new home on the Upper West Side – the post WW II hodgepodge of apartment rentals, SRO and hostel was populated with seniors in pajama bottoms, Eastern Europeans with hacking coughs and the occasional stoned backpacker. No one said hello, everyone smelled like sour milk and they all jockeyed in my mind to be protagonist in some yet to be penned masterwork.

The room itself was small and at the end of a cramped zig-zag hallway that needed its own key to be accessed. There was a futon, table, fake plants, smudged house phone and a homemade mural of a waterfall that was hopefully painted by a child. The filthy carpet was thin as billiards felt. My shared bathroom was a few more zigs and zags down the hall. I sat on the futon and thought what perfectly humble beginnings to make my rise all the move impressive.

*******

I had brought an August heatwave with me. Within a week I was scratching furiously. At work a pretty staffer saw me Googling “bed bugs.”

I was transcribing a Gillian Anderson interview when Jann Wenner pointed at me as an example and turned to the whole office — he screamed that he wanted them all to clean their fucking desks up. He kicked the plastic trash can next to me and retreated into his office with a door slam. I shuffled papers, mortified. This wasn’t even my desk. Interns didn’t have desks.

My neighbors kept to themselves. What I knew of them came in the form of clumps of hair, squeezed out toothpaste tubes or old shampoo bottles in our shared bathroom. As much as possible I tried to hold it till Rolling Stone. It gave me a something to do at work.

I didn’t know anyone, really. A few frat guys I’d gone to college with shared an apartment across the park and once or twice I went to their place to eat bad pizza and do cocaine.

I had an old high school friend in Brooklyn who wanted me to invest in his web porn site starring his girlfriend. Occasionally in the lobby, I ran into the lisping Peruvian man who rented me the room over tea in his apartment. He was always inviting me back to his room for more tea. He was a crystal healer who also practiced magnet therapy. He wanted to ply his trade on me. The more politely I declined, the more he insisted. In the elevator he commented on my summer cold and minutes later he was knocking on my door with his neti pot in hand.

I was out of my depth at Rolling Stone. The other interns were stylishly dressed, mature and ambitious. They compared restaurants and clubs. One was tall and handsome like Liev Shrieber – he was a cigar aficionado and was already pitching story ideas to the editors. One day I returned from the bathroom to find the other interns had all gone to lunch without me. I decided Rolling Stone was too corporate for me. Fucking Jennifer Annison on the cover! I began hiding in the stock room, reading old copies of the magazine before it had sold-out.

I voiced my bed bug fear to the Peruvian in the lobby once. On his insistence I lifted up my shirt and showed him the red bite marks along my waistline. One of the old men who seemingly lived on the lobby couch said I probably just had fleas.

The house phone in my room often rang in the middle of the night. I’d answer hoping to talk to someone but there was never anyone there. I just wanted to hear a voice, but it was alway a quick hang-up.

I started cutting out of Rolling Stone a little early in the afternoons. I found a night job selling theatre membership packages over the phone. It wasn’t telemarketing; this was art. During coffee breaks, I unsuccessfully tried to talk with the actors. A failed character actor-type ran the room and complimented my phone demeanor. I’d be on a call and he’d shush the rest of the room and point to me as an example for them to listen, to learn. I was good at engaging people over the phone. I was passionate about the plays (“Between ‘Christmas at the Ivanovs’ and ‘Therese Raquin’ we’ve got quite an eclectic season on our hands!”) which I got a comped tickets to. More so though, I was lonely and excited to talk to anyone.

One time I made a date with an older woman over a sales call. She’d bought tickets to The Alchemist for 5 of her girlfriends. We met at a dark bar with a black awning and neon wall art. It felt very adult. When I stood to introduce myself she literally made a frowny face. Having heard I was just out of college, I think she was picturing a broad-shouldered-type in a varsity jacket. I’d pictured Diane Keaton in Manhattan but kept my frowny face to myself. She had spiky comic book red hair like a woman in a movie you do not want to piss off. To kill time as she finished her martini, she asked what my plan was now that I was in New York. I think I mumbled something about keeping my overheard low while looking for material for a novel. This is not something any woman – especially a mature woman in New York – wants to hear on a date. “Good luck,” she said after our drink.

I began ditching Rolling Stone even earlier each day so I could pop into a little Mexican dive by the theatre that had a free taco bar during happy hour. I’d go buzzed on a couple $3 margaritas into the telemarketing gig. Our boss no longer pointed me out as a shining example to the other callers. He said I blabbed too much on these calls – I could “open” but had no idea how to “close.” I didn’t have anyone to use my second free ticket and went to see ‘Christmas at the Ivanovs’ by myself. Afterwards I felt guilty for having oversold it all month over the phone.

One night the smudged house phone rang in the middle of the night. I was lying on the futon itching and answered it. But this time no one hung up. A voice told me he’d seen me around and wanted to fuck me, suck on me and do me hard in the elevator.

Thinking this was a joke, I was excited. This must mean I had a visitor. The frat guys across the park had threatened to come over and visit some night and drag me out bar-hopping. I grabbed my coat and hurried down to the lobby expecting to see them there.

But the lobby was empty. Only the old man who told me I had fleas sat in the chair eating from a tupperware container. I asked him if someone had just used the lobby phone. He said no. I insisted. I told him I’d just gotten a call. He said the building’s room phones were all connected to each other. It must be someone calling me from their room.

Deflated, I returned upstairs and sat on the futon. I stared at the phone, willing it not to ring. When it did, I answered it and the voice on the other end began talking about how it wanted to lick my asshole. I interrupted. I told the voice’s owner I was gonna find whoever he was and that it shouldn’t be too hard with his distinct lack of accent of any kind in such a multicultural building. I told him he had picked the wrong room to call and talk about assholes. “I’m gonna find you and kill you,” I said and slammed the phone down. I was shaking hard.

The spiky-haired redhead was right. What was I doing? I didn’t have any plan for making it in New York. I didn’t sleep all night.

My brother had a couch at his condo outside Boston I could crash at for free and I had a friend at the Cambridge Chronicle. That day at Rolling Stone I made and photocopied flyers advertising a room for 500 dollars. I called the Peruvian and told him I was subletting my sublet for my final month.

I left the city with no fanfare. There was no one for me to say goodbye to. Like a rolling stone.

A few months ago I found an old ID from my 1997 internship. I don’t know why I saved it. It doesn’t even say Rolling Stone just “Wenner Media.” I look pale and pasty. A swatch of acne is smeared like jam across my chin. My hair is plastered to one side and chest hair sprouts out from a plaid button-down my mom bought me in high school. I shudder to think what I’m wearing for pants. The only interesting thing about me is that I look like a serial killer.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 15 years now. It’s home. When people ask if I’ve ever lived in New York, I shrug unsure what to say about my lackluster few months there.

I wasn’t ready for New York then. I remember that voice who called me on the building phone and think I should’ve felt lucky than anyone wanted to do anything to my asshole.

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