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Vol. 1, No. 3

Red Spiral Notebook
by Cintra Wilson

What kind of person are you anyway,
reading somebody else's personal stuff.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

 

OCT. 6 95
      This is not how I see myself. I never thought I'd be the guy in the suit, Associate Brand Managing with some other guy in a suit, rattling around in a cubicle making important decisions insuring the absolute product superiority of LATHER 2000 high-tech deodorant soap for 43 hours every week, via fax, phone, ad company, and depressing promotional coupon-clowns in finer stores, all for a mere $45,000, dental, and medical. Gary, the Senior Brand Manager, isn't a bad guy, for a married BMW squash racquet triangle-jawed replicant who sneaks into peep shows at lunch.
      Bridget thinks I'm eventually going to see the light and succumb to being more like Gary. Bridget's in love with the idea that we are successfully successful and In Love, and she buys me Sharper Image geegaws like single-malt golf tees and leather-beveled executive shiatsu phone-cozies and such.
      Only three months until my three-week vacation. I will sit on a remote island beach and attempt to locate my soul. I think all the LATHER 2000 may have banished it down the drain with all of the dangerous bacteria on my hands.

 

OCT 9, 1995
      Happy Birthday to me. Bridget bought me a very complicated-looking pair of hiking boots, for all the savage terrain I am likely to encounter between the parking garage and the NordicTrack. Too bad she didn't get me a machete.
      I am 27 years old now, and I have never written a poem, nor been sufficiently moved to write one. Whose fault is that? Is my life actually devoid of color, or is my brain just color-blind and missing all the richness and beauty and emotion in the world? With the exception, of course, of all the motherfucking outstanding properties of LATHER 2000, the deodorantly miraculous inspirer of chest-beating soap-awe. I think I'll have Gary sodomize me with a bar of it tomorrow, just to feel its power inside of me. Bridget is in the bathtub, humming something, and I can't help thinking that she's trying to be juuust audible enough for me to hear her and think to myself "What a great wife/mom she'd make. Like a bird, or angel, she sings in my bathtub." Am I incapable of tenderness? Maybe I missed my true calling, clubbing orphans.

 

OCT 15 95
      Steve called me from New York. He sounded totally fucked up. He wants me to ruin my cherished and long-awaited vacation by coming to stay with him. I should think not.
      He moved into this apartment several months ago as a roommate to this Jenna woman who is 32, and now they're fucking, so there's a spare room with a dirty little bed and all the garbage that he no longer uses, that he wants me to sleep in.
      I totally loved Steve when we were into the same evil fascinations-spelunking around in abandoned projects, getting in fights-that was fun when we were kids, but he's still doing it. And I've never seen the romance that he does in the world of drugs. Steve kept doing drugs when the rest of us stopped experimenting, and we all watched him get his phone turned off and lose jobs and girls and whirl loose in that bad, dumb orbit. I miss him, actually. It's weird thinking how long we've known each other, how long our moms have been friends. How our paths have been so inversely proportional.

 

POST-THANKSGIVING, 1995
      Remind me to never go home for the holidays. I am just recovering from the amazing whiplash manipulations they were trying to pull on me. Margaret kept tugging on my sleeve and burbling over into tears, while Mom would look on with her look of momly concern. Margaret believes Steve is in Terrible Danger. So like an idiot, I told her that I'd talked to him and he invited me to New York. Then she got a dreadful gleam of ill-placed hope in her eye. When I mentioned that I couldn't go, because Bridget and I were going to Hawaii, Dad started looking at me sideways, like I had just deeply abused him on some fundamental level he couldn't quite put into words. Then Mom and Bridget spent a lot of time tittering and playing with food, and I got the ugly sensation that because I brought Bridget home for Thanksgiving, they both think we might be tiptoeing onto the path that has a view of Marriage on the not-too-distant horizon, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
      What a way to celebrate the genocide of all those Indians: two different flavors of huge, ulcerous, festering guilt trips.

 

NOVEMBER 30, 1995
      Bridget can spiral into a whine that would shred a phone book, particularly when I leave the tops off of her facial/tooth/hair products. I get primed to go out for a pack of cigarettes and never return, but then she gets in bed at night and her perfume and shampoo and skin fuse together into this big, sweet, heart-breaking scent that makes my sinuses dance and my groin throb and her thighs melt under me and I bite her buttery neck and I forget to move out. So, Margaret called to beg me to go Save Steve from Himself, then Mom called and said SHE wants me to go to NYC because Margaret keeps pestering her about it, then BRIDGET of all people says she'll gladly forfeit Hawaii for me to go see Steve because she's sucking up to my mother! What do they think I can do?! Ride in on some kind of clean, moralistic steed with a fire hose of Righteous Living and blast all of the Danger off him? Margaret thinks I can convince him to come back. Hah! Maybe I can convince Steve that it's an imperative part of the New York Acting Experience to fuck up really badly and crawl back home to live in your parents' garage in Shame.
      The best reason I can think of for going, at this point, is three weeks without Bridget. Hopefully I'd miss her, then I'd come back and everything would be OK.

 

XMAS EVE 1995
      We got in a fight, and I shoved the tree over and broke a bunch of Bridget's ornaments, including the glass elf from her grandmother, a BIG DEAL, apparently. She ran out crying; she's probably gone to get a drink and feel sorry for herself. All is vanity and vexation of the spirit, sayeth the Lord.

 

XMAS 1995
      Happy Birthday to Jesus. She bought me rollerblades. Rollerblades! I guess she thinks I should be playing hockey in the park with all those other Thermolite execu-pricks like Gary. Who the fuck does she think I am?! She was clearly depressed that the angora dress I got her wasn't a ring-I watched the shades flip down over her face when she saw the size of the box.

 

DECEMBER 31, 1995
      New Year's resolution: I'll go to NYC, or Bridget and I will carve each other into sashimi.
      Happy New Year. Only 1,460 shopping days until Armageddon.

 

JAN 3, 1996
      I leave in three days. I'm sure Bridget is glad I'm leaving. Margaret gave me a watch. I guess it is my booby prize. I wanted to go to the fucking beach.

 

JAN 6, 1996-EN ROUTE TO NYC
      The plane started shuddering and flipping around over the Rockies, and the stewardesses stopped smiling and the captain made them strap themselves into the stewardess Death Seats, and I imagined Bridget at my funeral, hyperventilating, inside out with grief, hanging on to people's elbows for support, that unreasonable smell of hers going to waste. I called her on the $15 phone, because I needed to hear that somebody loved me in a crazed, unhealthy way, beyond all reason, before I died. She instantly knew I was drunk.
      "It's turbulence! There's always turbulence! Quit being such a baby!"
      We're about to land. I can see the lights of Newark spread below like a rhinestone scarf. I hope the plane doesn't slam nose-first into the ground and explode, raining blood and fire and metal all over the tarmac.

 

JAN 9 1996, NEW YORK CITY
      Steve is a hopeless, fucked-up shell of a man, a wiped-out little freak: gray skin, pointy shoulders, straggly hair, even his teeth look wrong. Worst of all, though, is his new personality: Defeated Yet Tragically Amused. Laughing at himself swirling down the pipes. Shrug, heh heh, heheh, chainsmokechainsmoke. He was a detestable collegiate asshole before: baseball hat, microbreweries, arrogant, loud, rude, prone to flights of silly theatrics-a dipshit, but healthy. Now half of his brawn has evaporated, and the other half has this sick leer and looks possessed by some hobbling vampire lackey.
      And I don't know what Jenna used to be-maybe she had a rich family once. She doesn't anymore. She walks around the apartment in black cotton underwear and a tank top most of the time, but it's not sexy, it's more like an insult. Her limbs are all little and white with yellow bruises and black stubble and her blue poisoned blood shows through; hair like one of those fancy buffet-cut radishes, blue-black like her eyes and heart and future. She's the only woman I've ever seen hang around with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth all day, ashes wafting into her half-closed eyes. She barely even blinks, like an iguana. I was alone with her for about five minutes today.
      "So Steve kinda likes you, huh?" I said, like a moron.
      She emphasizes the front part of every word in this affected way; some New England junkie patois she invented: "Yah well, HOStages often learn to LOve their CAPtors. He must be SUFfering from STOCKholm SYNdrome." Snort.
      They're in the other room now, rolled up on their nasty old couch full of cigarette burns, watching a black-and-white TV. As soon as one of them gets home, they practically try to crawl into each other's bodies. It's not sexual, it's something abandoned kittens would do in a hailstorm, sucking each other's thumbs.
      I haven't seen them doing any drugs yet.

 

JAN 10 96
      Jenna's "clothing store." It's a greasy little box of a storefront in the Lower East Side, full of garbage and rags she either finds on the street or picks out of crates at Catholic thrift stores. All over the floor are open cardboard boxes distractedly filled with junk covered by a thin moss of waxy dust. She doesn't know what half of the stuff is. She ought to soak it all in gasoline and light a match.

 

JAN 11-CAFE TWIN DONUT, EAST VILLAGE NYC
      There's this girl in the corner, in her 20s. She gives me this erotic emergency pain: a lost, porcelain Ophelia girl, in a light-blue angora sweater-big damaged ringlets of pinkish-orange hair, tiny gingery arches drawn over each eye. She is with a gaggle of gay fashion freaks who are sprawled around her in a membrane, protecting the nucleus of their exclusive world which is her EYES, the color of cyanide swimming pools, turquoise church windows with Caribbean light pulsing through them.
      She keeps drifting back and forth in her chair as if pulled by an invisible current of thicker, warmer air, the slow autistic dance of heavy seaweed. Her eyes go all white and ghostly under their frosty blue lids, her lashes are reddish blonde. Right when you think she's going to topple out of her chair, she starts laughing at some comment one of the twits around her just made. I have to dig my fingers into the table, I have to hook my legs around the chair, not to be pulled into her, I can't look at her or I'll just drift into the deep, irresistible undertow of her. She and I belong in a gondola on the Nile with the stars forming a halo around Cheops; there are bells and ancient incantations lacing through the holy quiet and I pull the sheer white scarf that covers the pearly phosphorescence of her sleeping body off slowly, slowly, and she gives a soft half smile and her eyes melt open, blue cognac flames shooting up and through me and I am pulled inexorably out of my body and into her watery Atlantean soul. . . . Yah. In my wildest. Let's see if I can walk out of here without calling attention to the stun baton in my slacks.

 

JAN 13 96
      Finally caught them at it. I walk in and there's this smell like burning candy. Steve and Jenna were with this other couple: a horribly thin girl with bleach-desiccated blonde hair in a tissue-thin dress, and a guy with a goatee and khaki pants and no socks. All of them were laying like sun-baked reptiles in the freezing apartment.
      "This is DANny and YVEtte. They do INstalLAtions," brayed Jenna. Danny looked like he was made of melted wax. He had the limpest, clammiest handshake I've ever had the pleasure of. I could not for the life of me imagine what people like that would "Install." Steve started licking his lips and cowering around me like Peter Lorre. "Well, shit. . . . " he giggled, awash in the toxic shock of his fetid shame/opium nausea cocktail, " . . . wanna try it, Carl?"
      "Ahhhh . . . no."
      They had made tubes out of foil, and were holding strips of foil under each other's chins. The person doing the smack would run a match under the line of dope on the foil and then suck up the smoke with the foil tube when it bubbled and fried off. Once it was in their lungs they would reverently hold it there as long as possible, lost in prayer, finally letting the smoke drool out of their lips with all of their inhibitions, ambitions, cares, hopes, and self-respect, itching themselves reeeeal slow. What a wonderful narcotic. They looked like feverish premature newborns, with fingers like pods, everything hot and red and sensitive. Oh, and then they threw up.

 

JAN 14
      Bridget announced over the phone to me that she is pregnant. I felt my bowels twist and a cold arm of horror shoot up my spine and grab my neck. She asked me what I want her to do. I said I really didn't feel like it was my decision. That wasn't the answer she wanted. I told her we'd talk about it extensively when I got back.
      I went back to Cafe Twin Donut to see if I could see Ophelia again, but she wasn't there. Probably floating on an inflatable shell-shaped raft in some indoor Paris swimming pool, under a golden skylight.

 

JAN 15
      Jenna was "sick" today, so Steve and I had a long talk over at Jenna's "store"-a conversation of the "Man, what happened to you?!" variety, initiated by myself. He said a lot of bullshit. Jenna this, Jenna that. He talked about the drugs; something about always having felt like a fraud, deep down, overstepping his assigned role in life, always having been falsely inflated and now having sunk to the level of his true nature, or something to that infuriatingly wrong and denial-laden effect.
      "Margaret really wants you to come back to the Bay Area," I finally told him.
      He looks 7 years sadder and older than he should. He clacked his tongue, saying without saying, I'm not the guy that my mother wants back. He HAS changed. I don't know enough to know whether he'll ever change back. He's not even Steve, here. Apparently, Jenna and all of his friends call him "Jelkes."
      Steve (Jelkes) is idiotically consumed with this idea that Jenna is so flowerlike and helpless, and that he is a Man, a Provider for the first time in his life. I didn't point out to him that what he's providing her with seems to be the very thing that's going to make her dead soon, but I figure that irony wasn't exactly lost on him, either.
      I told him about Bridget. He started laughing. I realized that one of his bicuspids was dead, turning the green-gray of dead teeth. "What're you gonna do? Be a corporation Dad for the rest of your life?"
      Is there nothing to be said for honor, duty, safety, blah blah? No, there isn't, but the one thing I keep asking myself is: What would happen to me if I lost access to her smell?

 

JAN 17
      I fell off the world.
      Last night I came back to the apartment, and who opens the door but Yvette, the Installer. She's high, carrying a glassine bag in her teeth, smiling the loose, geening smile of the doped. "Oh hi, Carl. . . . "
      I walk in. Stop, gulp, shock, freeze, hammer, sweat, freeze. Ophelia is sitting on the couch with her shoes off, her hair pulled on top of her head and squiggling down over her face and neck, her shoulders are covered by a white knitted shawl. I can see the whites of her eyes: she is very, very, very high. "Hi," I offer weakly, imploding with a deadly collision of feelings.
      "Hi," she says, softly.
      Yvette: "This is my friend Lee; Lee, Carl; Carl, Lee; Lee, Carl."
      "Hi."
      "Hi."
      Lulllllllllll.
      After 178 years of excruciating silence, Jenna breezes into the room, completely recovered from her "illness" of the other day, smoking with a long cigarette holder, wearing a kimono over her normal uniform of undress. She invites me to sit down. Because every alarm in my psyche is simultaneously clanging and all of my nerve endings are frizzing like lightning balls, I accept a cup of tea.
      I anemically made monosyllabic comments like "Yah" and "Huh" for a while, while Yvette and Jenna chattered endlessly, slicing up people they knew. Lee sat silent-Lee, enjoying an enclosed hermetic world among us. My heart was wringing its hands. Why is this radiant angel dozing on dope in this bat's nest? I started hating Yvette with glare and intensity, because I recognized her as the Corruptor; now I know what she Installs. Lee slowly drank her tea, curls bumbling into her face, with propriety and shame and politeness at an almost Japanese level.
      "Jelkes" walked in, with a half a bottle of vodka and some Oreos; a trade, apparently, for a broken lamp in Jenna's store-a cracked ceramic thing shaped like a weepy mime. I end up doing several shots of the vodka, watching Lee do the foil-tube dance on the couch, with Yvette holding the lighter under the roiling smack. There she was, right in front of me, a wild, mythical, unpossessable thing, a Pegasus or panther or stunt plane, a whole new, heart-shattering vista of desire.
      "I had the funniest nod. . . . " she said, her voice toodley and tonelessly musical, like water poured slowly. "I was in the middle of an orchard full of pineapple trees."
      "Pineapples are the international symbol of Welcome," I stupidly helpfulled.
      She loop-de-looped in and out of images like those old Merrie Melodie cartoons from the '30s where all inanimate things come to life and sing rascally songs-houses bobbing alongside musical cars, flowers whistling. A part of my mind said No Wonder. It was around that time that I started getting drunk and curious.
      My brain started filling in with the Major and Minor Arcana of Heroin All-Stars: William Burroughs. Lou Reed. Miles Davis. Jim Carroll. Years upon years of abuse, having junk-sculpted them into Icons of the Untouchable Coolness that some people only get by dying young.
      "I think Carl wants to try it," sayeth Jelkes.
      "I think Carl would be too susceptible," sayeth Carl.
      "It's not like some ANti-DRUg film you saw in SEventh GRAde. You can't get HOOked just SMOking it ONCE."
      "You'd have to smoke it like every day for like three months to even BEGIN to get any kind of habit," whines expert Jelkes.
      "Two months," whispers Lee.
      "Three." Jelkes, giving me the Mephistophelian leer.
      "It's an experience everyone should have once," murmured Lee hypnotically, turning her face to me, her endless eyes wrapping me in haunt and lust and defenselessness. She could have been saying, "Join me on my island of gardens, where the sun is ablaze in perpetual setting and the sea is warm as blood."
      I felt like a mosquito being sucked into a jet engine.
      It reminded me a little bit of hashish-same kind of taste. I noticed that my feet were purring and some foreign delight was tickling up my knees and into my balls and stomach and at that point my head began vibrating with subtle extraterrestrial wizardry. As I had feared, all of the miserable tense and squeamish feelings that normally hold me in check as a person sailed away. The whole lens of my outlook was squeegeed clear into total benign objectivity, and I found my psyche loosening and limbering and I started to talk like an expert skier floating down a virgin hill of powder. The most horrifying thing about the experience (besides the vomiting, which was actually kind of enjoyable) was how effortlessly I could understand and express myself; it didn't matter that I was the non-junk-community Outsider, friend of extinct mastodon Steve, or that I didn't want to pay attention to anybody but Lee-this confessional behavior was totally appropriate. I told Lee things I never could have said if I was straight; how breathtaking I thought she was, how I'd seen her and how she had stopped me cold and invaded my thoughts ever since and how stupid I must sound, how she must hear that kind of thing all the time, and. . . .
      Oh, heaven, she put her hand on my knee, and gave it a lovely squeeeeeeze. Diamonds were whirling out of my skull with the joy of dervishes. Suns consumed suns in erotic union. That was the point at which I guess I nodded out. I think my head tipped back and I jettisoned into a quiet supernova.
      Bridget called, late that night. I heard her voice imploring on the machine, from my shipwrecked disaster zone alone on the couch. I could feel the tug of a part of me inside of her in fetal slumber.

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