Fiction. Faced with photos of a once- tumultuous New York art world, the narrator's mind in this scathing, darkly funny novel begins to erupt. Memories jostle for center stage, just as those that they are about always did. These brilliant but broken survivors of the '80s and '90s have now reached the brink of middle age and are facing the challenge of continuing to feel authentic. Luminous with imagery, cackling with bitter humor, and with a new foreword by the author, this roman à clé spares no one. It's a canny portrait of one era's vaporization, and a study of the perpetual need that some of us feel to reconstruct ourselves—atom by atom. "With scrupulously intense sentences—pitch- perfect, pitch-dark—Indiana conjures a hugely sad New York novel that feels at once state-of-the-art and stunningly ancient."—The Believer "...a great book—melancholic and funny and wicked smart..."—Michael Miller "...some of the best prose of his career."—Publishers Weekly "Gary Indiana delves into the minds of his creepy, appalling characters with such probing wit and lip-smacking glee that we actually enjoy our time with these amoral monsters."—John Waters
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About the Author
Writer, filmmaker, and visual artist, Gary Indiana has published over eighteen books, both fiction and nonfiction. DO EVERYTHING IN THE DARK (Itna Press, 2015) is his seventh novel, originally published in 2003.
Read an Excerpt
DO EVERYTHING IN THE DARK
By GARY INDIANA
ST. MARTIN'S PRESSCopyright © 2003 Gary Indiana
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE DEBRIS FIELD
So people do, as the poet remarked, come here in order to live. Our necropolis with anvils of memory chained to every street and building, every tourist postcard view. All its sunsets and bridges and mutilated dawns. Haunted house of mortal dreams, ectoplasms flickering in obsidian windows. People come here to live, after all. You'd think they were here to die. Well, aren't we all. I will achieve grandeur, proclaimed another poet, but not in this apartment.
Last year I lived in Paris. Now I live here, more or less. People tell me things. I listen. I watch and wait. I have discovered the junction of lapidary beauty and sublime ugliness known as the spirit of the age. Like stout Cortez or fat Balboa, whose vicious eyes popped wide in wild surmise, however that dumb poem goes.
Zeitgeist is a historian's favorite hallucination: a confidence trick, quanta leaping over the specific. "These people lived and died clutching statistically measured expectations to their breasts, delusions wired into their brains by lulls in the convulsions of time." We missed the big picture because our eyes locked on some whirling dervish in the lower left corner. All of us, except a few far-thinking individuals, avatars who shift history with their bare hands, starvation protests, atom bombs, religious manias, or the raw will to power.
The rest of us were caught by surprise when we woke up buried to our necks in shit.
Let's assume, at least, that the big picture isn't a rectangle, a film of watered silk in a frame, or a mastermind's jump cut, but something more like an urn on a mantelpiece.
Not everyone gets buried. Some burn.
Last spring, an eternity ago, as I passed in front of the Brasserie Lipp, a boy hawking Le Monde Economique hollered, "Bush assassiné! Bush assassiné!," hoping to whip up trade. People going in and out of Lipp applauded him....
"Alone in the yellow room at last my ankles behind your neck. My ears are between my knees planted in the rug." I am the deity of this particular universe. Well, no. I didn't build this horny contortionist out of mud and blow in the breath of life. I'm only a witness, and as witnesses go, maybe not the most credible sort.
A few months ago, a person I hesitate to call close, Jesse W., stayed with me for several weeks, recovering from an ugly incident he doesn't remember. He was beaten senseless, by whom and with what, nobody knows.
Jesse's apartment is two blocks from here. Much bigger and more expensive than mine. It's the kind of building that makes you wish you'd moved to New York years before you did. Or that you'd never come here in the first place. Jesse insisted on yanking piles of notebooks and photographs from shelves and drawers and showing me pictures of people we know. Or knew. Then he dragged them all over here, in boxes. He could've left them there. He wasn't moving, after all. Of course I read his diaries whenever he left the house.
I can't show you all my cards at once, but Jesse's one. Maybe several. A joker and a wild card and sometimes dull as a two of clubs. Like any game using multiple decks there are too many cards to fan out on a cramped surface all at once, and, as somebody once told me, I'm a lousy poker player: my face betrays me every time. I think this is a game of triple solitaire. I'll show you the cards you need to see faceup.
This torn-out journal page seems as typical a place as any to start with Jesse:
"The carpeting in this hotel was last shampooed when Janis Joplin OD'd across the street. The scattered magnolia scent around the balcony. This morning someone asked me what I still loved in this fife, what did I have left that I loved. I said: Leroy Brathwaite's penis and Franklin Avenue in springtime. Maybe I always lie when someone: asks me what I loves"
Undated, like most of Jesse's stuff. Timeless, you tell me.
Miles is bitter. Tender sentiments, smooches on his glabrous forehead, Italian vacations, fan letters, good reviews yellowing in a drawer, psychoanalysis, or the diffident kindness of strangers can't bleed out his bitterness That's finished. The days of masking bitterness are gone. They were gone before I was.
Of all the people he had ever known, Miles announced when he was drunk, Tova Finkelstein was the least aware of what she herself was really like. And then he would tell you what she was really like.
Pathologically cheap, Tova thought of herself as Lady Bountiful.
Callous, rude, unkind to friends and strangers alike, Tova imagined herself generous, warm, friendly, and helpful.
Inflexibly petty in her private dealings, Tova insisted on being viewed in the public eye as nobly concerned with the fate of the world, with other people's sufferings, with every conceivable worthy cause. And somehow, out of brainy imperiousness and a magic trunk of flimsy disguises, Tova got herself written about as her mirror described her, in fawning magazine articles, even when the journalists knew perfectly well what a self-obsessed monster she was. Tova knew how to work the press better than Benjamin Franklin.
I listened to this endlessly. Tova. Her monstrosity. The noble poses she struck, the low impulses she dissembled. There were other monsters lurking in Miles's brain, ghosts flickering on midnight stairwells like the Evil Pretender in a Gothic romance, the gloaming chorus of what I called Miles's two-penny opera. You are too relentless for me, I would tell him. Your desires are too immense. Your frustration exhausts me and your anger swallows up everything.
I can't be with you, I said. I will go mad, I said. And he howled, or sobbed, pleaded, flung a glass against the wall, You wait, he hissed on our last night together. Wait until the world does you in and then you tell me how relentless I am. All right, I said, I'll wait, I'll see. But I won't wait here in hell with you.
I used to visit a man who lived in lunar shadow, a man who died in cringing terror.
Jorgen Delmos had written four novels in the distant past, "unjustly obscure" in the estimate of many chronic rediscoverers of the precious. Jorgen loved hiring black hustlers and imagined that writing ornate novels about this enthusiasm was the same thing as striking a blow against racism. A bevy of high-altitude critics who patronized Jorgen without ever earning him a nickel interpreted his work in the same progressive light.
"I am grooming this dummy to take over my responsibilities," he told me whenever I came, dragging it out by a serrated trench in its plaster shoulder that shed white pebbled trails on the cracked floor. Jorgen named his dummy Cuenca, after a city he noticed on a map of Spain. "Cuenca will talk for me and write my books and eat and luck and shit and piss and sleep for me while I slather makeup on my face and scream."
I used to bring him chicken soup when he was dying, a useless gesture, and furthermore unnoticed. Trying to be virtuous and worthy when your impulses run the other way requires a patience I've always lacked. Jorgen had arcane nutritional theories he adhered to with an alchemist's fixity. The soup went cold.
Jorgen's purported genius dragged people into his craziness. He spoke so slowly, in such a lugubrious faraway voice, that you hung on every word he managed to ooze out, each one followed by an epic pause, even as you squirmed and hated yourself for your inability to leave his shithole apartment.
He'd stolen the dummy thirty years earlier from Macy's, when he worked on the cleaning crew. Cuenca had everything but a head. A screw of some kind extruded from the center of its neck. It had breasts without nipples. She, ill can call her that, had been used for modeling bras and bustiers, and I remembered that one of Jorgen's wishes had been to write like Virginia Woolf. Had he ever been going to write: another, novel, I thought, that dummy would have been just the beginning. Thank God, I thought, that thing has no vagina.
Dinner in Santa Fe. Denise and Caroline fled New York in the fourth year of their ménage, in search of an ideal desert anachronism where the utopian eccentricities of earlier times didn't scrape against the metal teeth of electronic living. Santa Fe seemed to fit the bill, for the first week or two.
Keeping in touch was never Denise's strong suit. Before their departure, she phoned up after a nine-month silence and said:
"Caroline and I are moving to New Mexico for a while."
"A while? Couple months?"
"Possibly longer," she reluctantly allowed.
"How much longer? Six months?"
"Well, no, actually, maybe kind of permanently," said Denise, who had made withholding a kind of art form. "Depending how it works out."
I didn't hear another word until it was over.
Dinner on the moon. Wasabi-coated dried peas and other dry, unpleasantly crackly snacks as a prelude to something like jerk chicken in grapefruit sauce. Raspberry-scented candles and soft voices and the wistful ruminative memories of middle-aged people who will probably have a similar dinner, similar crunchy dried peas, and the same languid conversations in six months or a year, or three years, or ten years, when one or two of them has died. Mel, the real estate artist (as they often called him), wasted from hepatitis, his skin like waxed fruit, speaks of people who return in dreams from the dark regions where they've drifted, altered in a few particulars.
He enumerates: the people we used to know; the people who died; the people we grew tired of; the people who were waiting for a different life to come along when we knew them; the people none of us really knew; the people who showed up and left again so quickly that they only left an image dissolving in a doorway; the people who hung around for years familiar as an old shoe and one day transformed themselves, changed everything from the ground up, flew off like butterflies or crashed to earth from a preposterous height; the people who withdrew, monastically, into a harsh discipline of silence; people who cleaned up their acts and went nowhere with them; people we envied for their great looks, their money, their mastery of situations, who crumbled physically and mentally collapsed after decades of furtive dissipation; the people we still know but never see; the people we disliked for years, but came to appreciate; the people we liked at first and grew to despise after long periods of almost unconscious study; people we wanted to sleep with but didn't; people we slept with impulsively, more or less by accident; people we yearned for and made fools of ourselves over, who rejected us then, and years later, when everything that inflamed us about them had long sputtered out, attached themselves to us with fierce unwanted desire; the famous who dropped into obscurity, befriended us in those luckless times, and dropped us when fortune smiled again; the people who lived in a different world, and mistook us for other kinds of people than we were; the people we could never quite look in the eye.
Mel roamed the U.S. and Canada six months of the year, buying old houses, gutting them with his boyfriend Sam, revising them the way nouveau i-biz rich people wanted their places, i.e., like antique showrooms scattered with soft pastels, handwoven fabrics, geometric wedges of natural light. A Ross Bleckner over the ten-thousand-dollar sofa, an apple-green AGA stove warming the kitchen all year round. And, in every bathroom, a bidet. As the millennium neared, hip-hop millionaires had discovered the bidet on their first trips to Europe, and now anyone who knew his shit demanded a bidet next to every toilet.
According to Miles, Tova Finkelstein, his nemesis, engineered "an impossibly awkward situation." that affected and in fact entirely changed his relations with Paul, his former squeeze, a beloved New York actor dying of AIDS. When Paul became seropositive, he called on Miles, after a silence of several years, to write a one-person play for him, a summa sexualis that would serve as Paul's final, deeply personal artistic statement: a thing that would belong, not to the avant-garde ensemble Paul had spent his career working with, but uniquely to Paul, to a lesser extent to Miles, and also to Nigel, the man Paul now lived with, who would direct.
Ours is still the age of irony, whatever you may have read. The piece was entitled An Evening with Jorgen Delmos.
Miles and Nigel understood each other straightaway and liked each other, too: no proprietary frictions slipped into the mix. The three men found they could work together all day and still enjoy each other at cocktail time.
They developed the play for a year, forcing a fatalistic patience on themselves. Paul could very well expire in his sleep and that would have been the end of that, but they bore on with an obdurate baseless faith that he'd survive for as long as it took.
"I still remember the lunch in Soho when he asked me," was one of Miles's standard, sentimental rest stops mid-indictment. He reminded me of an old whore in a flowered sundress fanning herself with a theater program while wheezing rhapsodically of a girlhood flirtation. "Oysters and champagne, beluga. Funny what sticks in your mind. All the insane things we'd done years before came back. That year was like a fever dream."
Between the first and second seasons the play ran, Paul's HIV segued into full-blown AIDS. AZT was the sole, piss-poor medication available at the time. Paul was frequently sick, sometimes locked in the toilet vomiting minutes before curtain, but somehow never missed a performance. The show ran on. Crowds lined up for blocks from opening night till closing. The play's success worked better than AZT. Paul often drifted to the edge of death during the days when the theater was dark, but every weekend (Jorgen Delmos ran Thursday through Sunday) sprang back impossibly robust and inexhaustible. Paul and Miles won awards, Nigel won awards, it was agreed that they would run the play as long as bookings were offered; these poured in from Amsterdam, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, London, and a dozen American cities.
A few months into the second New York season, Tova began attending the occasional performance. Soon it was every performance, current girlfriend in tow. They frequently joined Paul and Nigel for late dinners and drinks.
"Tova always speaks so highly of you," Paul told Miles. Miles kept his mouth shut. Of course Tova spoke highly of him, she wasn't a fool, Miles knew she had something up her sleeve that not speaking highly of him might very well compromise.
Excerpted from DO EVERYTHING IN THE DARK by GARY INDIANA Copyright © 2003 by Gary Indiana
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.