Manhattan Loverboy

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Overview

Overly suspicious second novel from Arthur Nersesian, author of The Fuck-Up.

Nersesian's brilliant follow-up to his underground classic, The Fuck-Up, Manhattan Loverboyis paranoid delusion and fantastic comedy in the service of social realism. Updating the picaresque chronicles in L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz and Kafka's The Trial, MLB is the tale of an orphan whose only known background is that of the city itself, a scaffold-covered grid sewn together with "Do Not Cross" tape. ...

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Overview

Overly suspicious second novel from Arthur Nersesian, author of The Fuck-Up.

Nersesian's brilliant follow-up to his underground classic, The Fuck-Up, Manhattan Loverboyis paranoid delusion and fantastic comedy in the service of social realism. Updating the picaresque chronicles in L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz and Kafka's The Trial, MLB is the tale of an orphan whose only known background is that of the city itself, a scaffold-covered grid sewn together with "Do Not Cross" tape. In this overly suspicious masterpiece, love is expressed through corrective surgery, and families meet across boardroom tables.

Arthur Nersesian was managing editor of the literary magazine, the Portable Lower East Side. He was born and raised in New York City.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
It's bad enough that when Mr. and Mrs. Ngm adopt Joey they tell him that he has no heritage and is only a substitute for the child they couldn't have, but losing an unsolicited graduate fellowship at Columbia a semester before graduation sends him over the edge. Joey's confrontation with Whitlock, the man responsible for yanking his fellowship, leads to a series of events, from a new job to infatuation with Amy, who mysteriously asks to share his apartment, to his finally learning something about his real relationship with Whitlock. Part Lewis Carroll, part Franz Kafka, Nersesian (The Fuck-Up) leads us down a maze of false leads and dead ends, while Joey pursues Amy, battles Whitlock, and investigates his heritage. Joey's dilemmas are told with wit and compassion, drawing the reader into a world of paranoia and coincidence while illuminating questions of free will and destiny. Highly recommended.--Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Phil Leggiere
The human contours of the new city, with its surreally shifting social boundaries and incredibly shrinking public zones, remains largely out of reach, with the fortunate exceptions of 'science fiction' writers like J.G. Ballard and John Shirley, and, in a very different way, urban surrealist/satirist Arthur Nersesian... MLB is paranoid fantasy and fantastic comedy in the service of social realism, using the methods of L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz or Kafka's The Trial to update the picaresque urban chronicles of Augie March, with a far darker edge... At its best, MLB assays the grittiest, funkiest urban-magic-realism yet, creating a satirical fiction avidly in search of the truth it's all too aware is even stranger than itself.
Downtown
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781888451092
  • Publisher: Akashic Books
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Pages: 203
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Nersesian is the author of eight novels, including the smash hit The Fuck-Up (more than 100,000 copies sold), Dogrun, Suicide Casanova (Akashic), and, most recently, The Swing Voter of Staten Island, which is the first volume in a series, The Five Books of Moses. He lives in New York City.

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE: LA VÍA DEL TREN SUBTERRÁNEO ES PELIGROSALong before love there was solitude. Solitude begat need. Need begat anguish, and anguish brought me to love. Before I was a proofreader, I was a solitary graduate student. Many years before I was a student, I was an orphan. A very tall and silent lady from the Bundles O' Joy Adoption Agency escorted me to my new home. My adopted father thanked her, led me into his study, and carefully explained his motives for having me brought there."We'll try to love you, Joey, but we should explain that you're something of a substitute."

"A substitute?" I uttered, barely able to pronounce the word.

"Mrs. Ngm." That was what he called mother. "She's not like other women." At this point, my new-found mother emerged.

"Sir?"

"She's barren." He pointed to her lower reaches.

"And Mr. Ngm," Mrs. Ngm put in, "he's...in-adequate."

"What does that mean?"

Mrs. Ngm went to the fruit bowl and tore open a tangerine.

"Do you see any seeds in this tangerine?"

"No."

"This tangerine is Mr. Ngm."

Their sense of inadequacy was passed on to me. They treated me very well, but not like parents. And they never failed to explain that I was only someone picked at random to fill an irrational parenting urge. Yet even this parental urge was not very apparent. Mr. Ngm rarely came home after that day, and Mrs. Ngm kept dashing out of rooms as I entered them.

I'm not sure whether this is a syndrome for adopted children, or whether it was just my own reaction to adoptive non-parents, but as I grew older I became increasingly obsessed with the identity of my real parents. This obsession, unfulfilled, eventually manifested itself in an acute interest in histories.

Faulkner said that American Indians said that the spirits of their ancestors said some-thing like, man can't own the earth because the earth owns man. Man's identity is suited to his parcel of earth. We are but a single cell in these long bloodlines of countries and cultures. People are the living earth, they are the terrain come alive: Arabs are the desert, unchanging yet turbulent; the English are the sea, humid and unfathomable; Russians, in a variety of ways, just go on and on; Americans are the youngest sons of the earth and act immature. But the American melting pot of integration isn't even hot yet. The twentieth century was the century of immigrants; we can still see our torn roots elsewhere.

I clearly remember the day my preschool teacher asked what everyone's heritage was. Young as they were, my classmates bleated out: "I'm Irish," "I'm Afro-American," "I'm Vietnamese," etc.

But I, little Joseph, was left dumb. I was the rootless orphan. As I got older, I spent more and more time in dark, deserted libraries, searching through history books for my face, my race. Though I never found myself within the photos or descriptions of these worldly books, this compulsion eventually left me with a vast knowledge of history.

Ignorant of history, you think that the world starts when you're born and ends when you kick. But me, I'm thousands of years old. I've survived wars, revolutions, intrigues, and catastrophes of all varieties. I can tell you intimate details of Pharaohs and Cataracts from both the Upper and Lower Nile, from Higher and Lower Civilization. I can give excruciating descript-ions on how to get from one administrative building to another in early Byzantine Constantinople. I read, studied, became buddies with personalities on fire and confidantes of God. If I were to see William of Orange, or Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who strangely resembled long-retired, New York TV community-chronicler Chauncey Howell), or any number of ancient potentates on the street, I'd be able to stop them and ask what they were doing alive in New York. * * *I arrived too late for the dorm-room lottery during that first semester at Columbia. But I was intent on not missing an academic year. When I informed Mr. Ngm of the situation, he sent a memo explaining that my scholastic budget was pre-fixed. Life beyond that would be a test of self-reliance.

I searched the ads in the papers and fliers in laundromats. With a limited amount of money, and not picky, I finally narrowed it down to a choice between a cozy studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (one hour away from school), or a wide stairway in an upper West Side loft (a mere ten minutes away). The stairway was a discontinued passage in a large loft building. The landlord, I learned, would have demolished the conduit, but there was a possibility that the upper floors in the loft could be turned into commercial space. If this occurred, the owner would need the stairs to comply with building codes; so he left it intact.

The place was currently residential; so he renovated the stairway and advertised it as a "mini-triplex-studio." It wasn't as bad as it sounded. Like the body itself, the top landing of this stairway/apartment contained a nutritional gateway, my kitchen, the second landing a cushion of fat, my bedroom (my bed was a 4' x 3' piece of styrofoam—I had to sleep curled like a cat), and the final landing, the bathroom and exit.

In life, we are born and we slip from day to day until we die. Although there are signifying days and stages of life, there is no clear moment when we might say that we had only practiced living until now, and henceforth we shall actually live. After three undergrad years in that stairway studio, I realized that it was time to reach a landing, a new start. I decided to circumcise my adopted-family name. I planned to give myself a name with a national heritage that more closely resembled where I believed I came from, though where exactly that was was still a riddle to me. Realizing that I might never be absolutely sure, I felt I might as well give my allegiance to a culture worthy of my respect.

But were there any? Of all the great cultures that had ever flourished, of all the imperial civilizations, not a single one had stood the test of time. Their glory had faded. All that remained were crass, consumer societies, mere islands for corporate empires to bridge and tunnel.

One night around this time, I was wandering around the exasperating East Village feeling depressed in the French tradition. I clearly remember a boy in his late teens hidden under a huge, floppy fedora and clad in a baggy, out-of-date suit, who rushed up and asked me if I were Jewish. I thought about it, and decided to play a hunch.

"Yes."

He hustled me off into an unwashed Winnebago and said it was time to reaffirm my faith. Together, we submerged into a Mitzvah tank. He asked my name. He asked again.

"Levi," said I, thinking more of the jeans than the genes. Rolling up my sleeve, he wrapped a leather thong around my arm and led me through an ancient chant. I mumbled, faking the words. I wanted, needed the cleansing. His chanting beckoned Hollywood trailers of ancient epics: Charlton Heston in robes and beard, Peter O'Toole in Masada, Richard Gere in King David. I saw the diaspora pass before me, and looking upon those wandering and beleaguered people, my eyes filled with tears. I saw myself in that sandswept caravan, my people, my past. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large-headed, red-haired, red-faced Hasid appeared, and with a single sniff he started shrieking.

"Dos is a goy, a goy! Out with him!"

Even after being thrown out of the van and screamed at in public, I didn't give up the faith. There were little things, odd signs, that revealed to me my kinship with the thirteen great tribes. I craved gefilte fish, matzoh, and sickly sweet wines. Flatchki (tripe) and platski (potato pancakes) were delicious, and knishes were always a treat. Satur-days were a kind of natural sabbath.- And I adored the tumbling sounds—scholum, yehuda, and menachem—like big drums rolling down a stairwell. Soon, I found myself wandering in this great Jewish mist, a hazy history that unfolded forever backward.

I knew a lot of baggage came with being a Jew, but I was good at carrying bags. I kept my Mitzvah name, Levi. I let my sideburns grow long and began to train myself. With most of my core courses complete, I switched my minor from philosophy to Hebrew and began studying the ancient laws and customs.

In the student dining room, there was a row of tables where Israeli exchange students sat. Without their permission, and although I didn't live on campus, I joined my happy friends. I tried to speak about historical and political matters with them. They were polite, but they seemed a little bewildered by me. They seemed suspicious.

I got a job that January at a kosher pizza place. It was my last semester before graduation, and I wanted to make enough money to visit the Holy Land. I wrote the parents that the 258 steps of the stairway studio was too much of a test. I couldn't hack it. From New York, I made preparations to join a kibbutz. After getting my BA, but just before departing, I sent out applications to several elite and exciting graduate programs. No sooner were they mailed, though, then I realized that my life was on a new and different course—Israel.* * *As I stepped off the plane, I felt it. As sure as Little Joe was from the Ponderosa, I was a citizen here. The kibbutz was fun. I was brought into the fold. With my fellow man and woman, I planted seeds and harvested the crops. Afterwards, I sat around overly-laden tables until late at night, exchanging tales, folk dancing, or weeping to sad, quickly translated songs of the motherland. I was one of them, only perhaps I did behave a little differently, a little strangely. For some reason, as if I had an acute case of Tourette's Syndrome, I couldn't stop ending every sentence with verbal ejaculations like: "And may I die killing the vile invader of our blessed soil!" Perhaps I was a little over-zealous, trying to compensate for being a convert. (But I'm not sure that merited the nickname "Goy Boy.")

Despite that, though, I was having a good time, really enjoying myself. The problem was that this wasn't the way it was supposed to be—it wasn't supposed to be fun. I was expecting a more spiritual thing.

I left the kibbutz after a month and moved to the Holy City, Jerusalem. There, I devoted myself to the reading of holy books and religious training. I got heavily into chanting and wailing. Whatever it was I was expecting, I was certain it was close at hand. One day, while davening at the base of the Wailing Wall, I smote myself on the chest. It made a hollow sound. I did it again, and then again and again, harder each time, until everyone around me quit wailing and moved away. I didn't pay attention to them—I was on to something.

What was that sound? It was something important, I knew that. But what? Then it all became clear. It was an absence of identity. It was the great gap in my soul that could never be filled.

I wrote a letter to the Bundles O'Joy adoption agency demanding the name of my true parents. A month later, I received three letters. One was from the adoption agency saying that it was protected information and referring me to the legal department of some large company. Another letter was from my adoptive parents. The last letter informed me that I had been accepted into a strange and wonderful graduate program. The fact that all of these letters arrived at once struck me as a divine sign.

The Ngms informed me that they were worried about my aberrant behavior and, if I chose to return immediately, I wouldn't have to live in a stairwell. An uncle whom I had never even known had just died, and I was eligible to take over the title of his huge, inexpensive Manhattan apartment in the Silk Stocking district of the Upper East Side. It seemed as good a time to leave as any. So I returned to Gotham City. At a corner diner in Gramercy Park, I met Mrs. Ngm. Or at least she said she was Mrs. Ngm.

"Mrs. Ngm, you look quite different from how I remember you."

"This is what a lifetime of housework does to a woman's body."

"But you look younger, better than I remember."

"Housework is a good thing," she replied. I was given a form to sign, a set of door keys, the address to the new place, and the blessings of Mr. Ngm. She informed me that some of his brother's personal effects still littered the place. If I wanted to, I could throw them out.

"Where is Mr. Ngm?" I asked adoptive Mama.

"The business is going under," she nodded sadly. Adoptive Dad, who was almost always at work, made a career of trying to save his dying Bonsai plant business.

"Say hi to him for me."

She bowed low, smiled brightly, turned to go, but stopped suddenly and added, "Mr. Ngm asked me to inform you that you are the trustee of his heart." If only I had an organ donor card.

I thanked her and headed to my new homeland. The apartment was a pin cushion to my needling spiritual disappointment. It was cheap, and I was assured it was spacious. But I expected little as I dragged my bags up the stairs of the large tenement. When I threw open the door I gasped a bit. It was the only time in my life that something had surpassed my expectations in a positive way.

The apartment was huge and wide-open like a great indoor meadow, an entire floor with a cathedral-high, pressed-copper ceiling. A small bathroom and kitchen were partitioned off to the rear. Windows in the front lined the avenue. In the back, however, the windows were built on a courtyard that was so narrow I'd have to go on a diet if I ever contemplated suicide by jumping through them. They looked out to windows of a new condominium that was built just inches away. I kept the window shades pulled for privacy, but no matter what time it was, day or night, I'd always hear a party through those windows.

My dead uncle had lived in one quarter of the huge hall, away from the street. The other three-quarters of the place were empty and thick with dust. That lived-in quarter of the apartment was cluttered with old, broken furniture and strange, classical garbage that he had accumulated over the years. Statues, friezes, birdbaths, archways, and an apparent sarcophagus, among other things, cluttered the rear quarter of the place. There were also boxes of yellowing pop psychology books and science fiction novels.

While taking a dump one morning, I noticed that the toilet wasn't fastened to the floor—it could be lifted up and swung sideways. With a little maneuvering, I discovered a hiding place had been created by my adoptive father's furtive brother. Inside the lost lacunae was an old New York City Subway map.

Israel had been good to me, but it didn't bring resolution. After returning to New York, I realized late one night what I had to do. I had my name legally changed to cold vowels. Not since Travolta donned a three-piece polyester had there been such a significant statement. It's bad enough that most given names are silly clichés decided by giddy, post-adolescent parents flipping through baby-naming books, but a surname should be more than a bland, culturally assimilating moniker. A name should be a unique definition of the man himself. In New York, I found myself: I was a man without a consonant—Joey A-e-i-o-u.* * *The B. Whitlock Memorial Fellowship for Academic Achievement in History had a ring to it. Even though it was offered at Columbia, I'd never heard of it. In fact, I never found out how I got this covert, coveted Fellowship. I'd never recalled applying for it. In my registration packet, I was informed that it was automatically bestowed on the undergraduate who showed the highest distinction in history. The year before, the preceding Whitlock scholar had dropped out, and I could find out nothing about him. So I was the only student in the program. The prerequisites were equally mind-boggling. It required course work that jumped departments and even campuses. The best description I had of it was given to me by its director, Professor Flesh: "This program qualifies you to lead a once prosperous nation in economic decline back into its glorious, halcyon days." It was better than working in an office.

With my apartment taken care of, and tuition covered, I only needed pocket money, so I went out and got a part-time job where every intelligent, self-hating person works—a bookstore, in particular the Strand Bookstore.

On weekends, I'd putz around doing shit work. By weekdays, I played the role of the esteemed Whitlock scholar. Much of that role consisted of evening tête-à-têtes with teetotaling professors who assigned difficult-to-find books, often lent to me off their own shelves. Exams were oral. Papers were only accepted if they were published in one of sixteen academic publications in fields related to the course. It was a challenge at first. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I still had faith that through knowledge all answers could be reached. I would learn or stumble upon some clue of nothing short of my very identity. But after an adolescence of reading histories, and then another year of this program, moving minutely across the same old ground, I started losing it. I wanted to join the ranks of the petite bourgeoisie. A thankless, hands-on job, like firefighting was just the thing. By the final semester of the program, I actually considered dropping out and taking the civil service test. But before my decision was solidified, something odious happened.

On an overcast day, more than a million years ago, at the start of my ice age—it was the final term in the program—I was called into Professor Flesh's office. He said, "Reaganomics are still the gladiator games of our age."

"Huh?"

"That's how historians will see this."

"What?"

"The rich have made a contest out of cuts; the lower tiers are again in the cold. I'm sorry, young Josef, call it Reaga-mortis."

He informed me that my award, the Whitlock Memorial Fellowship, which had sustained me through a year and a half in the costly program, had, without rhyme or reason, been rescinded. Unless I could find some other way of financing myself, I was out of the ball game.

"This is my last term!" I appealed. "All I have to do is hand in my thesis, and then I'll get a quick appointment in some Catholic girls college in some economically depressed area, and I'm set for life."

"Sorry, Joey, but it's out of my hands."

"Who cancelled my award? Why? I was good."

"Only the Lord and perhaps Dean Sovereign can say."

"Dean Sovereign? Where is he?"

"In Butler." Butler, the building behind the seated statuess, has the biggest front stoop anywhere. Up I went and in through the halls that Mark Rudd, student activist and campus leader of the S.D.S., had seized over twenty years ago.

"Halt!" groaned a security guard. I explained that I was trying to find out who had left me out in the cold, and that I was hoping Sovereign could assist. The security guard asked to see my ID. I showed it to him. He asked if I had an appointment. No. He pointed toward the door and said, "Out."

I asked to see his superior. A button-bursting, seam-stressing sergeant informed me that Sovereign only saw celebrities, the filthy rich, or, at the very least, people with appointments. Proper channels had to be observed. As he walked me out past the Alma Mater statue, he said, "Try calling first."

I raced to the nearest pay phone and called. A secretary answered, "Dean's office. Can I help you?"

"May I ask your name, dear?"

"Veronica," she replied, "Why?"

"Hi, Veronica," I started, and then, releasing the hostility slated for the security guard: "I'm trying to find out what motherfucking organization is behind the severing of my fellowship. Now you could tell me, Veronica, or I could go through the Freedom of Information Act and sue the shit out of this cocksucking university, capisce?"

After a gasp, she laughed.

"Oh, you think this is funny?"

"What is your fellowship?"

"What are you going to do? Tell me that I can only find out that sort of information through the mail? Fuck that! I have my rights! What's your nationality?"

"Calm down," she replied, "What program are you in?"

"Fine, we'll go through this little farce, this charade. My name is Joseph Aeiou and I'm...

"Aeillo..."

"No, Aeiou, and I'm in the contemporary..."

"How-'r-ya?"

"No, Joseph Aeiou, in the masters program in hist..."

"Yagoda??" she asked.

"No, asshole, Aeiou, like the fucking vowels, A-E-I-O-U! Got it?"

"Put a cap on the foul language. I'm trying to help you."

"Spell it back to me, just to assure me you got it." She did.

"Good, now this was my last semester, see..."

"What was the program?"

"I was in the division of contemporary history. And all I had to do was hand in my butt-fucking thesis, and some fascist..."

"One second," she said, but I had already given her too many seconds; I just kept talking: "Some fascist elitist organization cuts me and laughs it off, lady...." She came back on the line.

"Hello, Joseph."

"...What you're doing is ripping my nuts off, veins, arteries, and all. Do you want to do that, lady? Do you really want to know what's inside those soft little sacs, lady? Do you want my oozy balls on your conscience?" Although she couldn't see it, I grabbed my nuts to bring the point home.

"Have them messengered in," she giggled.

"You're pushing it, lady!"

She was laughing at my expense! "All right, I'm really not supposed to give out this information."

"Please, I swear I won't tell that you're the one who betrayed them."

"Say please."

"Please," I said.

"Say, 'I'm sorry for being such a gutless asshole, but I'm just a scared little faggot.'"

I couldn't believe she was asking such a thing, but what could I do? I was too beaten down for any pride. I repeated what she'd told me to say.

"All right," she said very matter-of-factly. "Mr. Andrew Whitlock, fifty-three years old, is your benefactor. He made the decision to cut the award."

"Very shrewd!" I complimented her on her cruel tact.

"What are you talking about?""Trying to give me the brush-off with just the name. What's a name? I can't do shit with a name. You must think I'm abysmally stupid. You must hate me with a personal vengeance. What country are your people from?"

"Do you have a pen or pencil?"

"Don't give me that false concern, bogus-hospitality shit! You despise me just as much as I despise you."

She hung up the phone on me. I called her back. "Please don't hang up. I'm sorry."

"I hear street noises in the background. Are you calling from a pay phone?" she asked.

"Yeah," I replied, "and my quarter's going to run out soon, so please just give me the number."

"I'll give you his business address if you yell at the top of your lungs, 'I'm a fucking asshole!'"

"Haven't you scarred me enough?" I appealed. She hung up.

I called her back. She said hello, and I yelled, "I'M A FUCKING ASSHOLE! Now give me the fucking number." She read me a business number.

"Have a good day, sir."

"If I ever see you, I'll scoop your ovaries out." I hung up the phone on the bitch.

Cutting a young man's grant money was like fooling with his inalienable rights or the reagan between his legs. No one fools with my inalien-able Jeffersonian rights—or my reagan. America had survived nine wars—not including Panama, the Gulf, and a combative catering task (Somalia)—all so I could go to school. I dialed this Whitlock's business number. A secret-ary answered.

"Where the fuck is your office? I'm gonna Unibomb your Somali warlord and toss his body parts into Jeff Dahmer's cage..."

She hung up on me. I called her back about eleven minutes later and, pinching my nose to achieve a nasal falsetto, told her that I was a bike messenger. In order for them to get a very valuable tubular document, I needed to know the firm's location. She gave me a Wall Street address.

Stepping off the train at the Wall Street stop, I knew I was entering very dangerous territory: an office building during business hours.

As I walked into the militarized zone, I realized that my only chance was to get him out in the open, away from the other suits. I located a vast rhombus of a building loaded with security and elevators. The dynastic firm was Whitlock Incorporated, and I later learned that Whitlock was the last of his inbred line. Like the plot of some low-budget horror film, he had to reproduce or, after two hundred years, the name of the firm would change.

I took the elevator up, swallowing a couple of times to relieve the ear pressure as the altitude increased. Where were they when you needed them: feces-flinging rocker G.G. Allin, mad bomber George Metesky, still-bald Sinead O'Connor, sinfully censorious Rev. Don Wildmon, and other friends of the enemies of the powers that be?

The elevator opened into a large reception area. I asked a horse-eyed secretary if Mr. Whitlock were available. She looked at my stumpy body, read my unclean T-shirt, "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, SHE AIN'T A HUMAN BEING," and asked if I had an appoint-ment. I don't make mistakes twice. Damn right I did. I assumed a Benny Hill-like accent and introduc-ed myself as Wilbur Whitlock, a distant cousin in town for the infamous San Gennaro festival.

She told me to have a seat and got on the horn. Since the seating area was out of sight and adjacent to a large, open space, filled with secretaries, computers, and stenography machines, I disappeared into this clerical quagmire, and watched, and waited. Overworked, the horse-eyed receptionist was completely unaware that I had disappeared.

In a moment, a tornado of people swirled into the reception area. Aides, subordinates, and secretaries flanked the dashing, late, late middle-aged rajah, Whitlock. Every moment of his existence had to be transformed into minutes, records, and notes, enough to assemble a pyramid of documentation. Through the nebulous mass of sidekicks, I caught glimpses of Whitlock. He resembled pieces of Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, and Jack Nicholson—all fused together under a sunlamp.

Apparently, he had made this trip to the reception area to meet his distant cousin in person. I assumed this after he conducted an extensive interview with the horse-eyed receptionist, presumably concerning my whereabouts. He looked around and waited a moment. I watched her shrug ignorantly. About fifty thousand dollars later—time was money—he slipped back into his carpeted snakehole. An elevator suddenly whipped open its mirrored doors; I raced in past the reception-ist.

"Sir!" Horse-eyes neighed after me. The elevator closed, dropped, and let me loose. Around pillar and post I lingered. Five o'clock released them: those-who-had-traded-their-shots-at-immortality-for-a-suit. I scoured through them. Identical suits in slightly different shades of gray gushed out of the elevators in life-raft-sized crews streaming homeward.

The clock ticked on. No sign of him; the living Reactor who transformed lives into money. I bided my time with wonder. Should I go right to violence: a knee-capping, Red Brigade-style abduction, a bit of bondage, and assassination a la Bader-Meinhof? Maybe something less dramatic, a Beirut kidnapping in which I'd just sedate him for the remainder of his natural life with tranquiliz-ers. Or dared I try to reason with the beast?

Before I could decide, he beamed down. I instantly recog-nized him on an upper balcony. A Mussolini without a downward-draping flag. He paused regally as he surveyed his small army returning to its bivouac for the night. Each worker was a brush stroke on the master's canvas. Exiting the building, he carried the thinnest briefcase I had ever seen. He moved in quick lines, like a back-row chess piece. I followed at a distance. He tried to hail a cab, but there were none. Why no car was waiting for him, I couldn't fathom. He finally gave up and just walked. As we pressed through TriBeCa and up through a section of Chinatown, the streets became mysteriously empty. An opportunity was slowly unveiling itself. Soon, the two of us had the streets to ourselves. It was a study in contrast: he had billions, I had only bills.

The hour of vengeance was upon him. I increased my pace, closing in for the kill. Street sounds faded with the day-light. As we walked on those antique cobblestones of SoHo, only the hollow echo of our footsteps could be heard. Gradually, he sensed that he was being followed. He took casual detours and caught glimpses of me, a distorted figure in storefront windows. I watched him trying to remain calm; panicking might hasten his abduction. Soon, he started picking up his pace.

Like a master hunter, I could feel his heart slamming around in his chest, trying to get out. Like the gnu stalked by the lioness, he knew that wherever I finally intersected with him would be his death. Anxiety was having a field day: STAB OUT MY EYES, CRUNCH THE BONES IN MY LIMBS, RIP OUT MY TONGUE, BUT END THE TORTURE! Stripped of office rank and the brigades of subordinates, divested of communicative services and computer hookups, estranged, unplugged, deprived, and cut off from all his engines, generators, resources, strategies, and foot soldiers, the emperor wasn't merely naked, he was nude.

Faster he walked. His body lurched and jerked. He tried to run but the leash of reason held tight. Just walk faster, faster! It was like watching a silent film. I slapped my shoes hard on the pavement, giving the impression I was finally swooping down on the trembl-ing bunny. Finally, he threw down the paper-thin briefcase and broke into a run. But sud-denly, the pavement rose and tripped him into a muddy puddle.

He floundered a moment, but his large arms hoisted him from the ground. It was then that I realized that he was truly big, no, large, no, towering. When he slipped back into the puddle, falling sideways, he resembled a collapsed crane. Twice my size, pillowed in muscles: If he had ever turned to face his rock-slinging David, he'd have seen that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. I walked away discreetly yet triumphantly.

"Hey," I heard a thunderous bellow. Springing to his feet, he had finally mustered the courage to face the enemy. Yikes!

I raced, he chased. I dashed to West Broadway and skedadd-led into some artsy-fartsy gallery. I ducked behind a postmodern, primitive expressionist piece. He soon loomed from behind a neoclassical sculpture. I raced back outside, into the Rizzoli Bookstore, and up the long flight of steps, squealing, "Help! Help!"

At the top step, I grabbed a huge, hundred dollar art book and held it above my head like a mighty boulder. He stood at the base of the steps below.

"He chased me," Whitlock explained to the security guard who was holding him at the base of the stairs. "He tried to steal my wallet or something."

"That's crazy," I said, still holding the book menacingly.

"Just don't hurt the book," the security guard appealed. Whitlock turned and stormed out. After a moment, I put the art book down and left. I had scored one for the little people. Thankless and un-laureled, I returned home. It had been a long day.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2000

    Hilarious! Panicky! Paronoid! New Yorkful!

    Nersesian's new novel is a mile a minute romp that pits young against old, rich against poor, loved against unloved, native New Yorker against nonnative. And it is simply one of the funniest if not the funniest book I ever read. Read a couple of pages in a bookstore and try not to laugh.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2000

    perfect

    everything about this book is great....the story is hysterically funny....the size of the book is perfect for subway reading, which is also the perfect setting {the subway, that is}. also, its really cool that he is still doing books with akashic. very funny, crazy book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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