Yes, Claudia Can

 

Claudia is a major devotee of power clashing, especially when she has to do something scary. She is especially emboldened when she is reckless with patterns, she likes to pair gingham with tie dye, floral with plaid, and today, it is clean vertical stripes with jaggedly horizontal ones.

Like many women who struggle with learning disorders, Claudia grew up with the tendency to assume that other people were right, and she was wrong. Always quick to take responsibility and even quicker to apologize for mistakes she couldn’t even recall making, this vulnerability has made her an easy mark for opportunists who have something to gain from her passivity. But today, she’s had enough.

Her studio mate is a 47 year old sculptor named Gerard. She pays a decently cheap share of rent, likely because he’s had trouble getting people to stay in the past, but he acts like he’s “doing her a solid”. He is also messy, loud, and smelly. He moves stuff she’s working on when she isn’t there, and smokes in the studio, though she meekly asked him months ago if he could take it out to the fire escape, the door to which is literally 5 feet away from his work table. He wears an uncomfortable looking leather jacket and a newsboy cap, backwards. He uses flammable chemicals regularly and leaves half eaten falafel sandwiches around everywhere. He reminds Claudia on a weekly basis that he once dated an Asian woman in the nineties but she was crazy. Gerard usually manages to keep his mess contained to his disproportionally large share of the studio, but the last time Claudia came in when he wasn’t there (and he is almost always there), he had spilled an ashtray and the floor next to her table was covered in cigarette butts, with a smear of ash on one of her sketches. This ends now.

When she left her apartment, she was trembling with righteousness. Claudia had her list of demands, ready to dole them out. No more smoking inside, throw away leftover food, and don’t touch her shit. Pretty reasonable stuff. Then on the subway, she started having second thoughts. “It was only a sketch”, she thought. “It wasn’t even that good, I probably wouldn’t have used it anyway”. Walking down Knickerbocker, she tells herself “Lots of people smoke in the studio, it’s not a big deal”. Climbing the stairs to the studio, she has decided “I’ll give it another week, and if he messes up something I’m working on again, then I’ll say something.”

But when she opens the door to the studio, she feels her blood return to a boil.

There is a layer of saw dust covering everything in the studio, including her table and everything around it, her supplies, her equipment, her work. The air inside the studio is practically gelatinous with fumes, and the power chord to the jig saw he’s using, still plugged in, is stretched dangerously tight across the studio floor. The Pogues are blasting from Gerard’s paint splattered boom box, and he is talking loudly over it on his cell phone, his back turned to her, smoking of course.

“So I told that hipster curator, ‘ I was showing subversive deconstructed furniture before you were goddamned born’”, his cloying Wisconsin accent snarling on Claudia’s last nerve.

“Gerard” she says, her heart beginning to race.

“So then I say, ‘Have your space give me a call when they catch on to your entitled bullshit and kick your butt to the curb, you little princess!’”

“GERARD!” Claudia now screams. Gerard whirls around, startled, cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“We need to have a talk, Gerard.”

Yes, Claudia Can

Portrait of Mary Anne as a Nice Young Lady

Mary Anne and Logan Bruno broke up when they were 15, but stayed friendly, until they lost touch when he moved back to Louisville, Kentucky junior year of high school. He’d hoped for a football scholarship, but wound up enlisting in the Army right after graduation. While still in Basic Training, an M16 rifle backfired and gave Logan a brain injury. All things considered, he was lucky. He could have died.

Today, he leads a relatively normal life. He lives at home with his parents, and works at his father’s plexiglass manufacturing company, and most of the time he does fine, but…he has his bad days. On bad days, he is confused, irritable, drowsy. He doesn’t remember basic little things, like his email password, or further back things, like huge chunks of time before Basic Training. On the bad days, his mother sets up a nice cozy spot for him on the screened in back porch, looking out at the woods behind their home. She brings out a pitcher of iced tea and blankets, and his high school yearbooks, though they lost the ones from Stoneybrook in the move.

“Do you remember when we moved back to Louisville?” she asks him, rubbing his arm as he flips through the black and white photos of his teenaged years.

“Yeah, Ma” His eyes scan through the images of him with his football team, crowded together eating pizza in the cafeteria and dancing to “Hot Stuff” for the Senior Talent Show.

“There’s Jimmy and Kyle. Yeah, I remember that, Ma”

Mrs. Bruno is relieved. Going further, she asks,“Do you remember where we lived before we moved back to Louisville?” Logan looks straight ahead, searches for what she is talking about in the trees, but his memory is blank.

“Didn’t we always live in Louisville?”

“No, for a minute we lived in Connecticut, for Dad’s work?” She folds her hands tightly in her lap, worried. This is the first time he can’t remember Stoneybrook.

“I remember…I guess there was… I remember a lot of girls. I was always around a whole lotta girls.” Mrs. Logan nods heavily, relieved. He remembers.

“I must’ve been a real player with the ladies. Bein’ around all those girls, Ma”

Mrs. Bruno smiles chastely, and flips further through the pages of his yearbook.

“Ma, how bad of a player was I, with all those girls wantin’ to be around me all the time?”

Mrs. Bruno closes the yearbook in her lap.

“Ma?”

“Actually, Sweetness, you were in a club with those girls. A Babysitting Club” Logan’s face falls.

“A Babysitting Club?”

“Yeah, y’all would hang out and get babysitting jobs, and go to meetings and pay dues…yeah, it was this club you were in…with all those girls” Logan buries his face in his hands.

“This sounds so pussy, Ma” Mrs. Bruno puts her hand in his hair, grimacing. She hates when he gets frustrated and rude.

“No, Sweetness. It wasn’t. You were just an alternate member, you weren’t even full time. And anyway, you had a girlfriend who was in the club, that’s why you were doing it. She was a nice young lady.” Logan looks up from his hands, brightening.

“I had a girlfriend?” Mrs. Bruno takes her phone out from her sweater pocket and taps Mary Anne’s name into Google. She brings the screen into his view, scrolling through the image results. There she is in her staff photo at her library job, here she is breaking a piñata at her friend Kristy’s 30th birthday party. The next image makes Logan’s eyelids flutter. Mary Anne is standing on a dimly lit stage, reading from a piece of paper into a microphone with a banner above her head that reads “Poly-Positive Poetry Festival” She is wearing a rust colored vintage blouse with vinyl toed black boots. There is a papier mache sculpture of a giant phallus with its tip engulfed in a cluster of pink helium balloons in the background.

“This is her?” Logan is bewildered, and feeling warm.

“Yeah, Sweetness. That’s her. Do you remember her? Her name is Mary Anne”

Logan stares at the photo, then scrolls through the next few, from the same reading, Mary Anne presenting whatever erotic thing she is reading from her paper with a small grin that is not quite shy, maybe just nervous, or patiently waiting.

“Yeah” Logan’s throat is dry. “I think I do remember her”

Portrait of Mary Anne as a Nice Young Lady

This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Dawn’s earth mother tendencies intensify in the few weeks after the annual Third Eye Consciousness Journey, a 23 mile hike along the central coast of California, led by a married couple she knows from her Ecology grad program, who now run a beet farm near Rio del Mar.

She comes back gloriously tanned, dreamy eyed, and resembling an Olsen twin circa 2005, bescarved and wild haired. She pays you an unannounced visit on a Wednesday afternoon, bringing you a carob chip edible and a mix cd she’s made special for you. “It’s mostly Vashti Bunyan and Tuvan throat singing” she lets you know, in a voice delivered the same way as saying “you’re welcome” On the disc, she has written “play this LOUD” in a whimsical scrawl. She stretches out on your hardwood floor and stays that way, stretching in various positions ranging from languorous to rigidly focused, like she’s trying to re-open her Third Eye again, right here and now. You wonder if you should get her a birthing towel. She is fluid, then stiff, then fluid again, but ultimately she seems happy. She tells you about how Johnny and Delilah, her beet farmer spirit guides, gave everyone a stone at the beginning of the hike and told them to smooth it with their fingers whenever they felt tired or anxious, to treat it as one with their bodies, a lightning rod for all of their negative energy. On the last night of the journey, they all threw these stones they had become so intimately bonded to into the Monterey Bay.

Dawn looks up at you from the floor, her eyes vivid with exhilaration. Your heart kind of melts, because even though she is speaking mostly in monologue and overusing the word “transcendent”, she genuinely seems relaxed and satisfied, something she almost never is. With Dawn, there is always a cause to fight for, an environmental loss to mourn, and while you don’t discredit her for caring, and admire her for working so tirelessly, you wish she could enjoy herself more. You wish she wouldn’t eat a Lara bar for dinner most nights before falling asleep on her couch at 1:00 AM while assembling the next mailing list for whatever fundraising initiative she’s entangled in.

Rolling around on your floor, covering herself with dust, she suddenly snaps to attention and says she has to go, she’s meeting a man in Bushwick. She met him on the Journey, and they were pleased to find they live only 5 stops away from each other on the L. She gives you a long, dry kiss on the forehead before flouncing out of your apartment.

It’s only 5:30, so you have some of the pot cookie she brought you. It’s a strong one, her exact words were “these drugs be potent!” so you just break off a corner and eat it with some milk. Still, within 50 minutes you are hyperventilating in your bathroom, staring at your forehead acne in the mirror and contemplating calling your mom. Struggling for your bearings, you run hot water into a washcloth and curl up in your bed with it. Dawn’s mix cd is on your bedside table, so you pop it into your laptop. As Vashti Bunyan’s pillowy, sixties-rich voice fills your room singing “Just Another Diamond Day”, the hot vapor from the washcloth guides you into a swirling daydream of Dawn standing on a rocky cliff, wearing this long dress. The wind is whipping her ombre hair around her face, and she is holding meaningful, spiritual objects in her hands. A conch shell, and…I don’t know, a gourd. She turns to you with purpose, looks you in the eyes and says “I told you, Transcendent”.

This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Sacre Bleu, Mallory!

Mallory had a Francophile phase in college, specifically of the French New Wave variety. She dated a film student who smoked Djarum cigarettes and showed her Truffaut and Godard movies and…things kind of got out of hand. She dressed in pencil skirts and Jean Seberg stripes, and got Anna Karina style bangs, despite her hairdresser’s woeful pleading that they wouldn’t work with her curls. You could often find her at parties encamped on the sofa, chain smoking and saying eye rollingly terrible things like “modern music is so boring”.

Her film student boyfriend made a short movie for class of her waking up in her bed, brushing her teeth, and wandering around a playground on a windy day, looking despaired. The film was torn to shreds by his classmates in the critique, and he broke up with her. It took her a year to grow her bangs back out.

Sacre Bleu, Mallory!

Kristy On Top

Kristy rejoiced when slouchy sweaters became en vogue, not because she could start wearing them, but because now she wouldn’t feel under dressed at parties she was already wearing them to anyway.

She runs a nanny staffing agency (because of course she does) with a specialty in matching nannies with children with special needs. She wears sweaters to the office every day, because she keeps her office ice cold, it’s the only way she can work. In the summer time, she cranks the AC, and in the winter, she keeps her office windows open. Its one of many idiosyncrasies she’s acquired as The Boss, from eating exactly 3 wheat crackers and 10 cherry tomatoes for her afternoon snack, to cracking her knuckles, one at a time, at the start of every board meeting.

Her employees generally like her, but secretly make fun of her sweaters and borderline autistic snacking habits. Kristy is good at maintaining a healthy balance of morale and efficacy in her staff, but she is often lonely. The lines between authority and friendship aren’t blurred here and now like they were in the Babysitter’s Club.

She is going to a work party in Midtown, she rented out the banquet room of a trendy sushi restaurant and hopes she preordered enough sashimi for everyone, and wonders if anyone will get bold enough to offer her a parting hug at the end of the night.

Kristy On Top

Jessi’s Big Break

 

Jessi was a dancer for the New York City Ballet, but an Achilles Tendon injury sidelined her career 3 years ago. Since then, she has been teaching Movement classes at Julliard and trying to get pregnant with her husband, Dov. She has also been taking improv classes and…as it turns out, Jessi is funny. As a child, she was the definition of overextended: school, ballet, babysitting, the babysitting club, helping out with her younger siblings, Becca and Squirt. For the first time, Jessi is allowed to just be goofy and loud and make up her own stuff, and not just follow the choreography of some other person’s plan. Dov is supportive of her newfound hobby, but figures she’ll cool it when she gets pregnant….

Jessi’s Big Break

Spacey Stacy

 

Stacy works in hedge fund analysis. She works long hours, but she loves it. She finds comfort in numbers, the digits flashing through her computer, her blood sugar count, how many miles she ran on her fit bit band before she goes into the office. No one at work knows she’s diabetic, she doesn’t want to give any of her shouting, amphetamine amped associates any more reason to infantilize her.

In college, she was given a number of nicknames like Spacey Stacy, and Space The Case (as in headcase), because of her ability to immediately go into her work with an unbreakable  focus. She was revered as a roommate at Stanford for her indifference to TV shows blaring in the dorm room while she studied, impenetrably locked into her “math trance”.

She has a boyfriend, Stanley Weisman, a stock broker who until recently, didn’t punish her for her tireless work ethic. But lately, his patience has been wearing thin. He calls Stacy from Nobu, they had dinner plans and she’s late, they won’t seat him until the rest of his party has arrived. Stacy keeps a few simple cocktail dresses at the office, they don’t need steaming and are easy to slip on in a rush.

“I’m sick of this shit” he tells her on the phone, and she grabs for this little black dress she has hanging on her curtain rod, but the healthiest part of her brain is still working through the numbers…

Spacey Stacy