A young man without prospects finds his place in the universe--as a young woman's slave.
Poised somewhere between high school and adulthood, Leon Koch roams the bars and bedrooms of Bayside, Queens, twenty minutes and a thousand psychic miles from Manhattan--a multicultural landscape where the line dividing the middle class from the street gangs has been obliterated. With his two best friends just out of prison for pipe-bombing a house, Koch discovers that cocaine and alcohol have imbued him with "superpowers," twisting his mind into a plexus where love, fear, violence, and intimacy are indistinguishable. As life becomes a waking nightmare spent fighting with police, predators, and the law-abiding, unscarred citizens he dismisses as "normals," Koch drives relentlessly toward a fantasy zone. What he finds is a fetishistic realm of worship and ritual where people are never quite certain whether they're role-playing or getting played by their roles. Testing the bounds of sensation under the constant threat of violence, Koch explores a world that is a slave to its own secrets, where freedom exists only in a 911 call from the brink of self-annihilation.
Told in a hallucinatory, street-poetic voice, Everyone's Burning depicts the lives and deaths of a generation that raised itself on Star Wars, talk shows, and Charles Manson interviews. Koch is a bleary yet gimlet-eyed tour guide through one of their neighborhoods.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.69(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
I knew I was getting somewhere with the drinking when the superpowers started kicking in. I was twenty-three and I didn’t need to get laid anymore.
I could see things, too—black spots buzzing in the corners of my eyes, moving like gnats. I thought of them as emptinesses, as slashes in the color of the world. There was one opening up between Ortiz and me at the bar at Applebee’s in the Bay Terrace shopping center. When I pointed it out he called me a maniac.
“You’re beautiful,” I told him.
“Have a little self-respect.”
“I’m fine,” taking the top off my gin and tonic, then the bottom. “See?”
“Then have a little self-respect for me.”
He told me to take off my leather jacket already, he said it was summer.
“Seasons are for assholes,” I told him, wiping a bead from his glass and flicking it off my thumb. The weather was going away, I said—the weather, girls, temperatures, they’d all gone off to stop mattering.
He scanned me over the rim of his glass, said, “How about a little less craziness out your mouth today?”
“I can’t do it.”
“On my behalf. You can do it on my behalf.”
Ortiz was moving to Boise. There was opportunity in Idaho, another chance, a whole new city—he’d said it straight out. And he’d bought himself a suit to go in, black and shining, a uniform for life. He was twenty-five.
He looked good in that suit, he was beautiful, I kept staring at him. The booths around us were filled with normals in for latelunch or early dinner or whatever, breathing through their mouths and staring up at all the TV sets.
Ortiz and me had one end of the bar and Dr. Rick had the other, dozing over his glass. Back a century he might’ve really been a doctor, but I never got curious enough to ask. Dr. Rick was just part of the bar—he was always good for a laugh, he hated us.
Now and then I thought I heard a door opening and I’d freeze a little expecting Jeanie Riley to show up behind me. I’d been dating her for seven months without once getting into her pants. Wherever I was, Jeanie would come looking for me when she got out of class and try to take me home with her.
In the beginning she’d barely let me touch her and word had kept getting back that she was dogging me with other guys. Lately she’d been saying she was sorry, that it was hard for her to have sex with boys she really liked and that she wanted us to start over. I kept telling her I didn’t belong in bedrooms anymore.
Right now, Ortiz was good to look at—
“What?” he said.
“You’re a fucking ocean!”
I wouldn’t be seeing it without the powers, that his eyes were so pale blue with so many gold fibers shining in them.
“I shit you not,” I said.
“Would you say that if I wasn’t paying for you?”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ll pay.”
A newsreader was on one of the TVs, speaking in that voice that made everything the same—
The serenity of Big Sur was now more serene than ever, a deadly morning in Trenton had ended with three dead, and two nations stood on the brink of open war.
Into my third or fourth, I turned back to Ortiz, back to the eyes, and said, “Did you hear about the open war?”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “They’re standing right on it.”
“And it’s open.”
“That’s big news.”
“Look,” I said, one of the emptinesses holding still in the corner of my eye, this place where the color of the world had torn open. “You can’t move, you can’t leave.”
Ortiz nodded, tapping the knot of his tie.
“Look,” he said.
“There’s no look, I don’t look—I see everything.”
I meant the spots, I’d explained them, but Ortiz wasn’t getting what they were.
He told me, “Drink water.”
I told him again, they weren’t spots, they were emptinesses.
Dr. Rick looked up when I said it, that there were slashes in the color of the world. He was an old man, almost done with his body, going through the final form—he couldn’t have heard me, he was scanning.
Ortiz said, “That’s excellent news, my friend. You are a giant.”
A drink was coming, then it went away and then it was there again. The room was moving farther away and our temperatures were perfectly matched, mine and the room’s.
“What am I going to do?” I said. “You’ll leave and who do I know anymore? It’ll be just the amateurs, you leave me with normals.”
“Witchery,” he said, “nonsense.”
“Idaho’s nonsense. You’ll see.”
Ortiz aimed his face at me, his eyes went dull.
“I woke up last night with this light on in my fucking head that I couldn’t see through.”
The flickering red lights of the back bar made warm cherry blossoms in the brown liquors and angry devil eyes in the white ones.
“Emptinesses,” Ortiz said, smiling ahead of himself, the dazzle coming back into those eyes. “You’re the goods, my friend, you’re the goods.”
“Try not to smile so much. I can see right through your fucking head.”
“A smile’s a smile,” hissing a sip back through the cubes. “And two ways about it there are not.”
I couldn’t tell whether I was feeling nice or if I wanted to hit him. He lifted his chin to me, meaning I should get happy, and the grain started wriggling in the wood of the bar.
Raising his glass to me, Ortiz said, “To the brinks of nations, to wars standing open.”
“I don’t toast.”
When Jeanie came in I didn’t know it until she was right behind me. I didn’t turn around, I didn’t have to—I could smell her, hear the gum snapping in her smile.
She looked like one of the normals from the booths—the thin white skirt, the oiled legs, white pedicure in spaghetti-strap sandals. I was embarrassed to have her around, I was afraid of her.
“Hey, hello,” I said.
She leaned in for a kiss. I saw the tiny black pores across her nose, twitching like mouths, emptinesses. Her tongue against my lip sent my skin changing, it went hot, I leaned away from her.
“Shit, Leon. Would you cut it out with that?”
She took the stool on my left so that I was between her and Ortiz, crossing her legs and touching my shin with the side of her foot. I moved my leg away and I could still feel her foot where she’d touched me with it.
I was trying not to look at her feet.
“So,” she said, taking a lipstick and a compact from her purse, “what’s going on?”
She was looking into the little mirror, holding the lipstick away from her mouth. I looked over at Ortiz and he was gone.
“You’re beautiful,” I told Jeanie and Ortiz popped up on the other end of the bar, sat next to Dr. Rick.
“Then be nice to me,” twirling the lipstick back into its tube, snapping the compact shut.
“You have such good props for life,” I said.
Jeanie smiled, put her hand on my cheek, the heat itching up through my skin. “Are you going to be nice?”
I didn’t know, I moved my face away. Jeanie took her hand back, looking down at it like it might not be her hand anymore.
“Not for nothing,” she said, “but you really are a fool.”
“Not for nothing, but you really fucked me up.”
We didn’t know what to do, we stayed there, we waited.
After a while, Jeanie took a cigarette from my pack of reds on the bar and handed me my lighter to spark it for her—I liked that. I watched her smoke. She was snuffing it out when I called across the bar to Ortiz.
I said, “Come on back, Hoss. And bring your little brother with you.”
Dr. Rick hated us, but he’d go where we told him to go—Ortiz paid for his drinks. Dr. Rick moved slowly, Ortiz steadying him by the shoulders, Dr. Rick’s eyes half-closed, his legs shaking over each step.
“I bring the entertainment,” Ortiz said, putting Dr. Rick in the stool to my right.
“Little faggots need a baby-sitter?”
“We need medical advice, Doctor.”
“You need a kick in the cunt.”
“Ah, Doctor,” Ortiz said. “Yes, yes.”
“Oh,” I said, “absolutely.”
“Why can’t you ever be civilized?”
“Civilized?” Dr. Rick said looking her over, moving his head back a little like Jeanie was something he should be careful with. “It’s civilized to dress like a little whore? I can see your pussy through that thing.”
“You can suck my dick,” she said. “I could get up and beat the dogshit out of you right now.”
I started laughing and touched Jeanie’s knee, saying, “Man lives in his circle, Doctor. It’s his circle and his circle only.”
“You can take that to the House of the Rising Sun in Japan,” Jeanie told him, leaning out over the bar. “You can take that to the samurai.”
It was all from a Charles Manson interview, Jeanie had started it with the line about the dogshit. Ortiz knew it, too—he said he didn’t break laws, he made laws, he was the lawmaker.
“I make laws from here,” he said, drawing a line down the middle of his chest. “Nixon was just playing on me.”
Dr. Rick tried to get up, saying, “Little faggots,” but with nothing between him and the earth except those broken legs of his he fell back on his stool, Ortiz steadying him by the shoulders.
“Please be careful, Doctor. We need you.”
Dr. Rick said we needed to take a beating and Ortiz said, “Yes, yes, of course,” tapping the bar with a plastic stirrer. “Because there’s this light like all the color in the world is in my face at the same time—I can’t see through it.”
“You think you can teach me?” Dr. Rick said, trying to get up again. “You think you can teach me something? I’ll fit all of you inside me,” his shoulders shaking over the bar while his feet felt around for the floor. “I’ll slap you like my son, you son of a bitch.”
He went down, Ortiz and Jeanie reaching out to catch him—I stayed where I was. From the floor, Dr. Rick shouted, “I can fit all you little faggots inside of me,” and kicked Ortiz in the knee when he tried to touch him.
The bartender was climbing over the counter and Jeanie was crouching down by Dr. Rick, shaking her head. I almost told her not to touch him, but something about it needed to happen, there was something happening that needed finishing.
She was like his mother and his daughter, reaching her hand toward his face, whispering, and I saw him looking at that shining white curve of skin. It was too smooth, too delicate, he’d have to tear it up—he wouldn’t know what else to do with something like that, he’d been around too long.
It must have taken all the speed Dr. Rick had left in him to catch her, Jeanie was a quick girl, but he couldn’t hold her long—she snapped her hand out of his teeth screaming, blood whipping away from it, and I jumped down from my stool to grab her.
The bartender and Ortiz and one of the normals held Dr. Rick down while he kicked out the rest of his strength. I walked Jeanie to the kitchen, wrapped her hand in a clean rag, we went back to the bar and drank waiting for the police.
We didn’t owe anything to old men who hated us—now she knew it too.
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