Title: Super Sad True Love Story.
Author: Gary Shteyngart.
Genre: Fiction, literature, futuristic fiction, dystopian fiction, romance.
Publication Date: 2010.
Summary: In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of a Russian Jewish immigrant janitor and ardent fan of "printed, bound media artifacts" (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. While in the background a grim political situation is unfolding, and Lenny is set on reaching immortality, could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?
My rating: 8/10.
♥ There's more, isn't there? There's our legacy. We don't die because our progeny lives on! The ritual passing of the DNA, Mama's corkscrew curls, his granddaddy's lower lip, ah buh-lieve thuh chil'ren ah our future. I'm quoting here from "The Greatest Love of All," by 1980 pop diva Whitney Houston, track nine of her eponymous first LP.
Utter nonsense. The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish. The song's next line, "Teach them well and let them lead the way," encourages an adult's relinquishing of selfhood in favor of future generations. The phrase "I live for my kids," for example, is tantamount to admitting that one will be dead shortly and that one's life, for all practical purposes, is already over. "I'm gradually dying for my kids" would be more accurate.
But what ah our chil'ren? Lovely and fresh in their youth; blind on mortality; rolling around, Eunice Park-like, in the tall grass with their alabaster legs; fawns, sweet fawns, all of them, gleaming in their dreamy plasticity, at one with the outwardly simple nature of their world.
And then, a brief almost-century later: drooling on some poor Mexican nursemaid in an Arizona hospice.
Nullified. Did you know that each peaceful, natural death at age eight-one is a tragedy without compare? Every day people, individuals—Americans, if that makes it more urgent for you—fall face-down on the battlefield, never to get up again. Never to exist again. These are complex personalities, their cerebral cortexes shimmering with floating worlds, universes that would have floored our sheep-herding, fig-eating, analog ancestors. These folks are minor deities, vessels of love, life-givers, unsung geniuses, gods of the forge getting up at six-fifteen in the morning to fire up the coffeemaker, mouthing silent prayers that they will live to see the next day and the one after that and then Sarah's graduation and then...
♥ Why "from this day forward"? Because yesterday I met Eunice Park, and she will sustain me through forever.
♥ Nothing can diminish the Pantheon! Not the gaudy religious makeover (it is officially a church). Not the inflated, down-to-their-last-euro Americans seeking fat shelter beneath the portico. Not the modern-day Italians fighting and cajoling outside, boys trying to stick it inside girls, mopeds humming beneath hairy legs, multi-generational families bursting with pimply life. No, this is the most glorious grave marker to a race of men ever built. When I outlive the earth and depart from its familiar womb, I will take the memory of this building with me. I will encode it with zeros and ones and broadcast it across the universe. See what primitive man has wrought! Witness his first hankerings for immortality, his discipline, his selflessness.
♥ She raised her eye-glasses to reveal the soft early-sixties wrinkles that had made her face exactly how it was meant to look since the day she was born—a comfort to all.
♥ Eventually I realized that the driver had decided to cheat me, but I didn't protest his extended route, especially as we swung around the purple-lit carapace of the Coliseum, and I told myself, Remember this, Lenny; develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you'll never figure out what's important.
♥ This particular restaurant was favored by theater actors, and as I stabbed my fork at the thick hollows of pasta and the glistening aubergines, I tried to remember forever their loud, attention-seeking voices and the vibrant Italian hand gestures that in my mind are synonymous with the living animal, and hence with life itself.
I focused on the living animal in front of me and tried to make her love me.
♥ Maybe all is my fault. I pray in church extra for you. Reverend Cho say all young people have special path. Do you know what it is your special path? Please tell me if you know, other wise we look together.
..I love you,
♥ I've been practicing my abbreviations. I think you said ROFLAARP in Rome. Does that mean "Rolling On Floor Looking At Addictive Rodent Pornography"? See, I'm not that old!
♥ My parents were born in what used to be the Soviet Union, and my grandmother had survived the last years of Stalin, although barely, but I lack the genetic instinct to deal with unbridled authority. Before a greater force, I crumble. And so, as my hand began the long journey from my lap into the fear-saturated cabin air, I wanted my parents near me. I wanted my mother's hand on the back of my neck, the cool touch that always calmed me down as a child. I wanted to hear my parents' Russian spoken aloud, because I always thought of it as the language of cunning acquiescence. I wanted us to face this together, because what if they shot me as a traitor and my parents would have to hear the news from a neighbor, from a police report, from a potato-faced anchor on their favorite FoxLiberty-Ultra? "I love you," I whispered in the direction of Long Island, where my parents live. Deploying the satellite powers of my mind, I zoomed in one the undulating green roof of their humble Cape Cod house, the tiny yuan valuation floating over the equally minuscule green blot of their working-class backyard.
And then I wanted Eunice next to me, sharing these last moments. I wanted to feel her young powerlessness, my hand on her bony knees stroking the fear out of her, letting her know I was the only one who could keep her safe.
♥ Then I celebrated my Wall of Books. I counted the volumes on my twenty-foot-long modernist bookshelf to make sure none had been misplaced or used as kindling by my subtenant. "You're my sacred ones," I told the books. "No one but me still cares about you. But I'm going to keep you with me forever. And one day I'll make you important again."
♥ I admired Mrs. Margolis for living as long as she did, but once you give in to the idea that a memory is somehow a substitute for a human being, you may as well give up on Indefinite Life Extension. I guess you can say that, while admiring Mrs. Margolis, I also hated Mrs. Margolis. Hated her for giving up on life, for letting the waves come and recede, her withered body in tow. Maybe I hated all the old people in my building, and wished them to disappear already so that I could focus on my own struggle with mortality.
♥ I celebrated the teenaged mothers from the Vladeck Houses tending to their children's boo-boos ("A bee touched me, Mommy!"). I relished hearing language actually being spoken by children. Overblown verbs, explosive nouns, beautifully bungled prepositions. Language, not data. How long would it be before these kids retreated into the dense clickety-clack äppärät world of their absorbed mothers and missing fathers?
♥ My fashion friend Sandi in Rome had told me about the Credit Poles, yapping on about their cool retro design, the way the wood was intentionally gnarled in places and how the utility wire was replaced by strings of colored lights. The old-fashioned appearance of the Poles was obviously meant to evoke a sturdier time in our nation's history, except for the little LED counters at eye level that registered your Credit ranking as you walked by. Atop the Poles, American Restoration Authority signs billowed in several languages. In the Chinatown parts of East Broadway, the signs read in English and Chinese—"America Celebrates Its Spenders!"—with a cartoon of a miserly ant happily running toward a mountain of wrapped Christmas presents. In the Latino sections on Madison Street, they read in English and Spanish—"Save It for a Rainy Day, huevón"—with a frowning grasshopper in a zoot suit showing us his empty pockets. Alternate sings read in all three languages:
ALWAYS Keep Your Credit Ranking Within Limits:
AMERICAN RESTORATION AUTHORITY
"TOGETHER WE'LL SURPRISE THE WORLD!"
♥ I guess that's what I wanted right now, with Nettie Fine "INACTIVE," with Eunice six time zones away, with the Credit Poles reducing everyone to a simple three-digit numeral, with an innocent fat man dragged off a plane, with Joshie telling me "future salary & employment = let's discuss": a little love and mothering.
♥ My hair would continue to gray, and then one day it would fall out entirely, and then, on a day meaninglessly close to the present one, meaninglessly like the present one, I would disappear from the earth. And all these emotions, all these yearnings, all these data, if that helps to clinch the enormity of what I'm talking about, would be gone. And that's what immortality means to me, Joshie. It means selfishness. My generation's belief that each one of us matters more than you or anyone else would think.
There was a commotion on the water, a needed distraction. With a burble of warm white spray behind it, a northbound seaplane took off so gracefully, so seemingly free of mechanics and despair, that for a moment I imagined all our lives would just go on forever.
♥ Money equals life. By my estimation, even the preliminary beta dechronification treatments, for example, the insertion of Smart-Blood to regulate my ridiculous cardiovascular system, would run three million yean per year. With each second I had spent in Rome, lustily minding the architecture, rapturously fucking Fabrizia, drinking and eating enough daily glucose to kill a Cuban sugarcane farmer, I had paved the toll road to my own demise.
♥ Just then, passing by the ochre grandiosity of St. Mary's, I saw a pretty woman, a little chunky and wide of hip, cross herself in front of the church and kiss her fist, her Credit ranking flashing at an abysmal 670 on a nearby Credit Pole. I wanted to confront her, to make her see the folly of her religion, to change her diet, to help her spend less on makeup and other nonessentials, to make her worship every biological moment she was offered instead of some badly punctured deity. I also wanted to kiss her for some reason, feel the life pulsing in those big Catholic lips, remind myself of the primacy of the living animal, of my time amongst the Romans.
♥ ...the American Medicle [sic] Response ambulance trundled up to 575 Grand Street. In contravention of my belief that any life ending in death is essentially pointless, I needed my friends to open up that plastic bag and take one last look at me. Someone had to remember me, if only for a few more minutes in the vast silent waiting room of mine.
♥ I really needed to figure out what this LIBOR thing was and why it was falling by fifty-seven basis points. But, honestly, how little I cared about all these difficult economic details! How desperately I wanted to forsake these facts, to open a smelly old book or to go down on a pretty young girl instead. Why couldn't I have been born to a better world?
♥ The National Guard was out in force at the Staten Island Ferry building. A crowd of poor office women wearing white sneakers, their groaning ankles covered with sheer hose, waited patiently to walk past a sandbagged checkpoint by the gate to the ferry. An American Restoration Authority sign warned us that "IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE EXISTENCE OF THIS CHECKPOINT ('THE OBJECT'). BY READING THIS SIGN YOU HAVE DENIED EXISTENCE OF THE OBJECT AND IMPLIED CONSENT."
♥ The three of us hugged one another close, in a kind of overdone way, touching buttocks and flailing at each other genitally. We all grew up with a fairly tense idea of male friendship, for which the permissive times now allowed us to compensate, and often I wished that our crude words and endless posturing were code for affection and understanding. In some male societies, slang and ritualistic embraces form the entire culture, along with the occasional call to take up the spear.
As I hugged each boy and patted him on the shoulder, I noticed that we were surreptitiously sniffing one another for signs of decay, and that Vishnu and Noah were wearing some kind of spicy deodorant, perhaps as a way to mask their changing scent. We had each embarked on our very late thirties, a time when the bravado of youth and the promise of glorious exploits that had once held up together would begin to fade, as our bodies began to shed, slacken, and shrink. We were still as friendly and caring as any group of men could be, but I surmised that even the shuffle toward extinction would prove competitive for us, that some of us might shuffle faster than others.
♥ Every returning New Yorker asks the question: Is this still my city?
I have a ready answer, cloaked in obstinate despair: It is.
And if it's not, I will love it all the more. I will love it to the point where it becomes mine again.
♥ Things were going to get better. Someday. For me to fall in love with Eunice Park just as the world fell apart would be a tragedy beyond the Greeks.
♥ And she started kissing my comma of a snout in full view of the pachyderm, going gently up and down the endless thing with her tough little lips. As she did so, I locked eyes with the elephant, and I watched myself being kissed in the prism of the elephant's eye, the giant hazel apparatus surrounded with flecks of coarse gray eyebrow. He was twenty-five, Sammy, at the middle of his lifespan, much like I was. A lonely elephant, the only one the zoo had at the moment, removed from his compatriots and from the possibility of love. He slowly flickered back one massive ear, like a Galician shopkeeper of a century ago spreading his arms as if to say, "Yes, this is all there is." And then it occurred to me, lucky me mirrored in the beast's eye, lucky Lenny having his trunk kissed by Eunice Park: The elephant knows. The elephant knows there is nothing after this life and very little in it. The elephant is aware of his eventual extinction and he is hurt by it, reduced by it, made to feel his solitary nature, he who will eventually trample his way through bush and scrub to lie down and die where his mother once trembled at her haunches to give him life. Mother, aloneness, entrapment, extinction. The elephant is essentially an Ashkenazi animal, but a wholly rational one—it too wants to live forever.
♥ Still, I soaked in his warmth and believed it was only for me. I thought of Eunice Park and her pH-balanced body, healthy and strong. I thought of the warm early-summer day gathering in force outside the bay window, the New York of early summers past, the city that used to hold so many promises, the city of a million IOUs. I thought of Eunice's lips on my nose, the love mixed it with the pain, the foretaste of almonds and salt. I thought of how it was all just too beautiful to ever let go.
♥ The love I felt for her on that train ride had a capital and provinces, parishes and a Vatican, an orange planet and many sullen moons—it was systemic and it was complete.
♥ And the looks on the faces of my countrymen—passive heads bent, arms at their trousers, everyone guilty of not being their best, of not earning their daily bread, the kind of docility I had never expected from Americans, even after so many years of our decline. Here was the tiredness of failure imposed on a country that believed only in its opposite. Here was the end product of our deep moral exhaustion.
♥ She began talking in her brave post-retirement English about how glad she was to have a potential daughter-in-law (a perennial dream—two women against two men, better odds at the dinner table), filling in the contours of her loneliness with rapid-fire questions about my mysterious life in faraway New York.
♥ On the couch, my father draped his arm around my shoulders—there it was, the closeness—and said, "Nu, rasskazhi" ("So, tell me").
I breathed in the same breath as he did, as if we were connected. I felt his age seep into mine, as if he were the forward guard of my own mortality, although his skin was surprisingly unwrinkled, and he bore an odor of vitality on his skin, along with an afterthought of decay. I spoke in English with the tantalizing hints of Russian I had studied haphazardly at NYU, the foreign words like raisins shining out of a loaf. I mentally recorded some of the harder words for consultation with my non-digital Oxford Russian-English dictionary back home. I spoke about work, about my assets, about the 239,000 yuan-pegged dollars I owed Howard Shu ("Svoloch kitaichonok" ["Little Chinese swine"], my father rendered his opinion), about the most recent, fairly positive valuation of my 740-square-foot apartment on the Lower East Side, about all the monetary things that kept us fearful and connected. I gave him a photocopy of who I was, without telling him that I was unhappy and humiliated and often, just like him, all alone.
♥ As for me, I have never been to Russia. I have not had the chance to learn to love it and hate it the way my parents have. I have my own dying empire to contend with, and I do not wish for any other.
♥ I did not say anything. I learned back and watched the two women in my life look across a glossy Romanian table groaning beneath a plastic cover and twenty gallons of mayonnaise and canned fish. They were eyeing each other with a placid understanding. Sometimes mothers and girlfriends compete against one another, but that has never been my experience. It is quite easy for two smart women, no matter what the gap in their ages and backgrounds, to come to a complete agreement about me. This child, they seemed to be saying...
This child still needs to be brought up.
♥ I looked at Eunice. She was using my forty-second pause to bury her head into her äppärät. What was I even doing with this sleek digital creature? I felt, for the first time since her arrival in my life, truly mistaken.
♥ "I'm worried about dying," I said.
"And she makes you feel young?" Grace said.
"She makes me feel bald." I ran my hand through what was left.
"I like your hair," Grace said, gently pulling at the clump standing armed sentinel over my window's peak. "It's honest."
"I guess in some ridiculous way I think Eunice will let me live forever."
♥ A silence overtook the Cervix. I could hear nothing but the sound of my Xanax bottle being instinctually opened by three of my benumbed fingers, and then the scratch of the white pill descending my dry throat. We absorbed the Images and as a group of like-incomed people felt the short bursts of existential fear. That fear was temporarily replaced by a surge of empathy for those who were nominally our fellow New Yorkers. What was it like to be one of the dead or the about-to-be-dead? To be strafed from above in the middle of a city? To receive the quick understanding that your family was dying around you? Finally, the fear and the empathy were replaced by a different knowledge. The knowledge that it wouldn't happen to us. That what we were witnessing was not terrorism. That we were of good stock. That these bullets would discriminate.
♥ "There's eighteen people dead," he said, as if he had surprised himself. "They shot eighteen."
And I wondered about the excitement in his voice: What if Noah was secretly pleased that all this was happening? What if we all were? What if the violence was actually channeling our collective fear into a kind of momentary clarity, the clarity of being alive during conclusive times, the joy of being historically important by association? I could already envision myself excitedly proclaiming the news of how I had seen this dead Aziz bus driver in Central Park, had maybe even exchanged a smile with him or an urban whassup. Don't get me wrong, I felt the horror too, but..
♥ I lay in bed alone; Eunice again in the living room with her äppärät, with her teening and shopping, as the night turned black around us, as I realized, with a quiet gnawing pain, that when you took away my 239,000 yuan-pegged dollars, when you took away the complicated love of my parents and the mercurial comforts of my friends, when you took away my smelly books, I had nothing but the woman in the next room.
..I felt scared, not because of the military operation outside (in the end, they would never hurt people with my assets), but because I knew that I could never leave her. No matter how she treated me. No matter how bad she made me feel. Because in her anger and anxiety there was familiarity and relief. Because I understood those greenhorn southern-Californian immigrant families better than I could Grace's right-hearted Midwestern kin, the craving for money and respect, the mixture of entitlement and self-loathing, the hunger to be attractive, noticed, and admired. Because after Vishnu told me that Grace was pregnant ("ha-huh," he laughed awkwardly while bearing the news) I realized that the last door had closed for me. Because, unlike the slick and sly Amy Greenberg, Eunice had no idea what the hell she was doing. And neither did I.
♥ I call her malishka, or "little one" in Russian, a dangerous word only because it once spilled out of my parents' mouths, back when I was under three feet tall and their love for me was simple and true.
♥ When I arrived there, when her muscles tensed and clasped me, when her collarbone jutted out, when the spectacular late-June twilight detonated across my simple bedroom and she groaned with what I hoped was pleasure, I saw that there were at least two truths to my life. The truth of my existence and the truth of my demise. With my mind's eye floating over my bald spot and, beneath that, the thick tendrils of Eunice's mane spilling over three supportive pillows, I saw her strong, vital legs with their half-moon calves and between them the chalky white bulk of me moored, righted, held in place for life. I saw the tanned, boyish body beneath me, and the new summertime freckles, and the alert nipples that formed tight brown capsules between my fingers, and felt the melody of her garlicky, sweet, slightly turned breath—and I began, with the kind of insistence that brings out heart attacks in men six years older than myself, to plunge in and out of Eunice's tightness, a desperate animal growl filtering out of my lungs. Eunice's eyes, wet and compassionate, watched me do what I needed to do. Unlike others of her generation, she was not completely steeped in pornography, and so the instinct of sex came from somewhere else inside her; it spoke of the need for warmth instead of debasement. She lifted up her head, enveloping me with her own heat, and bit the soft protuberance of my lower lip. "Don't leave me, Lenny," she whispered into my ear. "Don't please ever leave me."
♥ OBJECT LESSON: My dad died about eighty klicks north of Karachi. He was a gunner and those are always the toughest assholes. But in the very last message I got right before they ambushed his ass he basically said, David, you are a dreamer and a disgrace and you'll never get your shit together, and I'll always fight everything you believe in, but I'll also never love anyone more than you, so if anything happens to me just keep going the way you are.
I think that's where we went wrong as a county. We were afraid to really fight each other, and so we devolved into this Bipartisan thing and this ARA thing. When we lost touch with how much we really hate each other, we also lost the responsibility for our common future. I think when the dust settles and the Bipartisans are history that's how we're going to live, as small units who don't agree. I don't know what we'll call it, political parties, military councils, city-states, but that's how it's going to be and we're not going to screw it up this time. It'll be like 1776 all over again.
♥ She was a touchstone of honest emotion, our Kelly. I took my turn petting her head and inhaling her. One day, if our race is to survive, we will have to figure out how to download her goodness and install it in our children.
♥ "Pointless loss of life," he said once installed at the dais, sipping eloquently from his thermos of unsweetened green tea, as we regarded him multiculturally from our plus reclining seats. "Loss of prestige for the country. Loss of tourist yuan. Loss of face for our leadership, as if they had any face to lose. And for what? Nothing has been achieved in Central Park. When will the Bipartisans realize that killing Low Net Worth Individuals will not reverse this country's trade deficit or cure our balance-of-payment problems?"
"Truth to power," Howard Shu brown-nosed behind him, but the rest of us remained quiet, perhaps too shocked by the latest turn of history to find succor even in Joshie's words.
♥ A great spidery web of defeat spread across her face—as if there lived below her neck a parasitic creature that gradually but purposefully removed all the elements that in human beings combine to form satisfaction and contentment. She was pretty, the features economical, the eyes evenly spaced, the nose strong and straight, but seeing her reminded me of approaching a reassembled piece of Greek or Roman pottery. You had to draw out the beauty and elegance of the design, but your eyes kept returning to the seams and the cracks filled with some dark cohesive substance, the missing handles and random pockmarks. It was an act of the imagination to see Mrs. Park as the person she had been before she met Dr. Park.
♥ I was caught unawares by the line "Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading? / Pleading for you and for me?" The English language was dying around us, Christianity was as unsatisfying and delusional an idea as it had ever been, but the effectiveness of the sentence—its clever mix of kitsch, guilt, and heartbreaking imagery, Jesus pleading for the attention and love of these put-upon Asian people—made me shudder. The awful thing was: They were beautiful words. For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for Jesus. Sorry that the miracles ascribed to him hadn't actually made a difference. Sorry that we were all alone in a universe where even our fathers would let us get nailed to a tree if they were so inclined, or cut our throats if so commanded—see under Isaac, another unfortunate Jewish shmuck.
♥ I wanted to get up and address the audience. "You have nothing to be ashamed of," I would say. "You are decent people. You are trying. Life is very difficult. If there is a burden on your heart, it will not be lifted here. Do not throw away the good. Take pride in the good. You are better than this angry man. You are better than Jesus Christ."
And then I would add: "We Jews, we thought all this stuff up, we invented this Big Lie from which all Christianity, all Western civilization, has sprung, because we too were ashamed. So much shame. The shame of being overpowered by stronger nations. The endless martyrdom. The wailing at the ancestors' graves. We could have done more for them! We let them down! The Second Temple burned. Korea burned. Our grandparents burned. So much shame! Get up off your knees. Do not throw away your heart. Keep your heart. Your heart is all that matters. Throw away your shame! Throw away your modesty! Throw away your ancestors! Throw away your fathers and self-appointed fathers that claim to be stewards of God. Throw away your shyness and the anger that lies just a few inches beneath. Do not believe the Judeo-Christian lie! Accept your thoughts! Accept your desires! Accept the truth! And if there is more than one truth, then learn to do the difficult work—learn to choose. You are good enough, you are human enough, to choose!
♥ He turned to me briefly as if I were his co-conspirator. I smiled at him, finding it impossible to ignore any gestures from this man, even if it meant siding with him against the innocent women at the table. That's what tyrants can do, I guess. They make you covet their attention; they make you confuse attention for mercy.
♥ I knew that, according to tradition, I had to allow Dr. Park to pay for the meal, but I went into my äppärät and transferred him three hundred yuan, the total of the bill, out of an unnamed account. I did not want his money. Even if my dreams were realized and I would marry Eunice someday, Dr. Park would always remain to me a stranger. After thirty-nine years of being alive, I had forgiven my parents for not knowing how to care for a child, but that was the depth of my forgiveness.
♥ This country is so stupid. Only spoiled white people could let something so good get so bad.
♥ Noah told me there's a day during the summer when the sun hits the broad avenues at such an angle that you experience the sensation of the whole city being flooded by a melancholy twentieth-century light, even the most prosaic, unloved buildings appearing bright and nuclear at the edge of your vision, and that when this happens you want to both cry for something lost and run out there and welcome the decline of the day. He made it sound like an urban rapture, his aging face taking on a careful glow, as if he was borrowing some of the light of which he spoke. I thought he was emoting when he said it, but his äppärät was at standby, he wasn't streaming: This was real enough. We were sitting in some crappy St. George café, oddly moved by the fact that there were still cafés out in the world, much less on Staten Island. "I'd love to see that," I said. "When does it happen exactly?"
"We missed it," Noah said. "It was late in June."
"Next year then," I said.
And then, like a perfect Media drama queen, Noah told me he expected to be dead by the next year. Something about the Restoration Authority, the Bipartisans, the price of biofuel, the decline of the tides—who can keep up anymore? That kind of ruined the effect of what he was saying about the light hitting the avenues just so. I wanted to tell him that he didn't have to strain for me, that I liked him exactly as he was: perfectly above average, angry but decent, just smart enough. I thought of Sammy the Elephant in the Bronx Zoo, his calmly depressive countenance, the way he approached extinction with both equanimity and unobtrusive despair. Maybe this was what Noah was jabbering about when he followed the light across the city. The fading light is us, and we are, for a moment so brief it can't even register on our äppärät screens, beautiful.
♥ We argued daily. She never backed down. A fighter to the very last. This is how a human being is forged after an unhappy early life. This is the independence of growing up, of standing up for yourself, even if against a phantom enemy.
♥ She did some äppärät work to get a sense of how things were selling around the world. Then she went over to a circle of black, identical-looking dresses and started clicking through them. Click, click, click, each hanger hitting the preceding one, making the sound of an abacus. She spent less than a full second on each dress, but each second seemed more meaningful than the hours she spent on AssLuxury viewing the same merchandise; each was an encounter with the real. Her face was steely, concentrated, the mouth slightly open. Here was the anxiety of choice, the pain of living without history, the pain of some higher need. I felt humbled by this world, awed by its religiosity, the attempt to extract meaning from an artifact that contained mostly thread. If only beauty could explain the world away. If only a nippleless bra could make it all work.
♥ I thought of how we had kissed in the Sheep Meadow on the day she moved in with me, how I had held her tiny person to me for a hundred slow beats, and how, for that entire time, I had thought death beside the point.
♥ He examined her as she passed through the door, preyed on the lightly tanned shoulders beneath the black cocktail-dress straps, then looked at me with numb understanding. Youth. A seemingly untrammeled from of energy. Beauty without nanotechnology. If only he knew how unhappy she was.
♥ The names alone. Soylent Green. Logan's Run. Here were Joshie's beginnings. A dystopian upper-class childhood in several elite American suburbs. Total immersion in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The twelve-year-old's first cognition of mortality, for the true subject of science fiction is death, not life. It will all end. The totality of it. The self-love. Not wanting to die. Wanting to live, but not sure why. Looking up at the nighttime sky, at the black eternity of outer space, amazed. Hating the parents. Wanting their love. Already an anxious sense of time passing, the staggered bathroom howls of grief for a deceased Pomeranian, young Joshie's stalwart and only best friend, felled by doggie cancer on a Chevy Chase lawn.
♥ My friends. My dear ones. We chatted in the typically funny-sad way of people in their very late thirties about the things that used to make us young as Amy passed around a real joint, seedless and moist, the kind that only Media people get.
♥ "The only peeps sure of themselves enough so that, com what may, the child will be loved and cared for and sheltered. Because they're good people. I know folks say that a lot—'They're good peeps, yo'—but there's the kind of plastic good, the kind of easy 'good' any of us can generate, and then there's this other, deep thing that is so hard for us to find anymore. Consistency. Day-to-day. Moving on. Taking stock. Never exploding. Channeling it all, that anger, that huge anger about what's happened to us as a people, channeling it into whatever-the-fuck. Keeping it away from the children, that's all I'm going to say."
♥ I settled into a memory of being maybe fourteen and passing by one of those then newly built NYU dormitories on First or Second Avenue, those multi-colored blobs with some kind of chicken-wing-type modernity pointedly hanging off the roof, and there were these smartly dressed girls just being young out by the building's lobby, and they smiled in tandem as I passed—not in jest, but because I was a normal-looking guy and it was a brilliant summer day, and we were all alive. I remember how happy I was (I decided to attend NYU on the spot), but how, after I had walked half a block away, I realized they were going to die and I was going to die and that the final result—nonexistence, erasure, none of this mattering in that "longest" of runs—would never appease me, never allow me to enjoy fully the happiness of friends I suspected I would one day acquire, friends like these people in front of me, celebrating an upcoming birth, laughing and drinking, passing into a new generation with their connectivity and decency intact, even as each years brought closer the unthinkable, those waking hours that began at nine post meridian and ended at three in the morning, those pulsing, mosquito-bitten hours of dread. How far I had come from my parents, born in a country built on corpses, how far I had come from their endless anxiety—oh, the blind luck of it all! And yet how little I had traveled away from them, the inability to grasp the present moment, to grab Grace by the shoulders and say, "Your happiness is mine."
♥ He looked at me with the easy hatred of the righteous. I had always been unsure of his affection for Amy Greenberg, and now I had no reason to doubt. He didn't love her. They were together for the obvious and timeless reason: It was slightly less painful than being alone.
♥ My body, flabby but real and nearly double Eunice's weight, huddled fully around her and angled us against the flow, my arms bearing the brunt of the advancing horde, the parade of young, scared people, the frontal mass of their floral body washes, the denseness of their inability to survive. Ahead of us, two Credit Poles smoldered in the gray pre-storm heat, their LED counters knocked out, sparks flying from their electronic innards.
I pushed my way forward, innate Russianness, ugliness, Jewishness, beating through my system—emergency, emergency, emergency—while inuring my precious cargo against any harm...
♥ We ran. It meant nothing. It all meant nothing. All the signs. The street names. The landmarks. Even here, amidst the kingdom of my fear, all I could think about was Eunice not loving me, losing her respect for me, Noah the decisive leader in a time when she was supposed to need me. Staten Island Bank & Trust. Against Da' Grain Barber Shop. Child Evangelism Fellowship. Staten Island Mental Health Society. The Verrazano Bridge. A&M Beauty Supplies, Planet Pleasure. Up and Growing Day Care. Feet, feet. Shards of data all around us, useless rankings, useless streams, useless communiqués from a world that was no longer to a world that would never be. I smelled garlic on Eunice's breath ad on her body. I confused it with life. I felt the small heft of a though that I could project at her back. The thought became a chanted mantra: "I love you, I love you, I love you."
♥ A single raven appeared above Noah and Amy's ferry. It lowered its golden beak, and its golden beak turned orange. Two missiles departed in rapid succession. One explosion, then two; the helicopter casually tuned and flew back in the direction of Manhattan.
A moment of nonscreaming, of complete äppärät silence, overtook the Guy V. Molinari, older people holding tight to their children, the young people lost in the pain of suddenly understanding their own extinction, tears cold and stinging in the sea breeze. And then, as the flames bloomed across the ferry's upper decks, as the John F. Kennedy reared up, split into two, disintegrated into the warm waters, as the first part of our lives, the false part, came to an end, the question we had forgotten to ask for so many years was finally shouted by one husky voice, stage left: "But why?"
♥ Noah. Three days after the Rupture. Instead of mourning, instead of grief, shallow memories of us sharing a joint on the gravel mounds of Washington Square, our early friendship as tenuous and goofy as a young love affair. Politics on our tongues, girls on our minds, just two guys from the suburbs, freshmen at NYU, Noah's already working on one of the last novels that will ever see print, I'm working on being the friend of someone like Noah. Are these memories even real? This is my life now. Dreams, nothing but dreams.
♥ And then, before she could summon an emotion and deny it in the same breath, I left.
♥ The deep hush of the morning after a failed thing-world coup seeped up from the streets and coated the silent towers. I was proud of New York, now more than ever, for it had survived something another city would have not: its own rage.
♥ How perfect they looked. How absolutely striking and up-to-the-minute and young. Even in the middle of calamity, their neuro-enhanced minds were working with alacrity, trying to solve the puzzle, trying to get back in. They had been prepared from an evolutionary perspective to lead exalted lives, and now civilization was folding up around them. Of all the rotten luck!
♥ As I stepped outside, the light hit me, the Noah light, the light that floods the city and leaves nothing but itself, the urban rapture. I closed my eyes, thinking that when I opened them the last week would simply fall away. ..The clouds came, and Noah's urban light turned to shadow the density of slate. My friend was gone.
♥ I was thinking about the word "truth." Whatever else could be said of Eunice Park, she was perfectly true.
♥ I wanted to run out of the apartment, into the impoverished Manhattan night. I missed my parents. In times of trouble, the weak seek the strong.
♥ The smell of sewage and a brown savage haze filtered through the windows, but I also heard the loud, screechy sound of human laughter and people yelling to one another on the street, friendly-like. It seemed to me that in some weird way a suburban place like Westbury, with its working- and middle-class folks, its Salvadorans and Southeast Asians and the like, was what New York City used to be when it was still a real place. There was something lovely about Old Country Road today, folks milling about, trading goods, eating papusas, young boys and girls wearing nothing, verballing one another with love.
♥ My father's arm was still around me, holding me in place, making me his.
♥ I patted my father's knee, wanting to impart comfort. He was wearing denims, old Reebok sneakers that I had bequeathed him, an Ocean Pacific T-shirt with a fading iron-on of some young southern-Californian surfers showing off their boogie boards (also from the Lenny Abramov teenage collection), along with plastic sunglasses covered by what looked like an oil slick. He was, in his own way, magnificent. The last American standing.
♥ There they stood in the morning, waiting for me by the landing with the same worried, submissive smiles that had carried them through half a lifetime in America, staring at me as if no one and nothing else existed in the world. The Abramovs. Tired and old, romantically mismatched, filled to the brim with hatreds imported and native, patriots of a disappeared country, lovers of cleanliness and thrift, tepid breeders of a single child, owners of difficult and disloyal bodies (hands professionally scalded with industrial cleansers and gnarled up with carpal tunnel), monarchs of anxiety, princes of unspeakably cruel realm, Mama and Papa, Papa and Mama, na vsegda, na vsegda, na vsegda, forever and ever and ever. No, I had not lost the capacity to care—incessantly, morbidly, instinctually, counterproductively—for the people who had made of me the disaster known as Lenny Abramov.
Who was I? A secular progressive? Perhaps. A liberal, whatever that even means anymore, maybe. But basically—at the end of the busted rainbow, at the end of the day, at the end of the empire—little more than my parents' son.
♥ Lenny. Will he ever forgive me?
I feel like a recycling bin sometimes, with all these things passing through me from one person to another, love, hate, seduction, attraction, repulsion, all of it. I wish I were stronger and more secure in myself so that I could really spend my life with a guy like Lenny. Because he has a different kind of strength than Joshie. He has the strength of his sweet tuna arms. He has the strength of putting his nose in my hair and calling it home. He has the strength to cry when I go down on him. Who IS Lenny? Who DOES that? Who will ever open up to me like that again? No one. Because it's too dangerous. Lenny is a dangerous man. Joshie is more powerful, but Lenny is much more dangerous.
All I wanted to do was have my parents take complete responsibility for how fucked up I am. I wanted them to admit that they did wrong. But that doesn't matter to me now.
Common unhappiness, as the doctor said, but also common responsibility.
I can't just be an abused little girl anymore. I have to be stronger than my father, stronger than Sally, stronger than Mommy.
I'm sorry, Lenny.
I love you.
♥ ..but when he mentioned family, I could think only of my father, my real father, the Long Island janitor with the impenetrable accent and true-to-life smells. My mind turned away from what Joshie was saying, and I pondered my father's humiliation. The humiliation of growing up a Jew in the Soviet Union, of cleaning piss-stained bathrooms in the States, of worshiping a country that would collapse as simply and inelegantly as the one he had abandoned.
♥ "We're all going to die," Grace Kim once said to me, echoing Nettie Fine. "You, me, Vishnu, Eunice, your boss, your clients, everyone." If any part of my diaries yields anything resembling the truth, it is Grace's lament. (Or perhaps it is no lament at all.)
♥ Oh, give it up, I thought. America's gone. All these years, and still a visceral hatred for a country that had destructed so suddenly, spectacularly, irreversibly. When would it end already? How long would we be forced to attend this malevolent wake? And then, before I could stop myself, I realized what was happening to me. I had begun to grieve. For all of us. For Joshie and Eunice and her parents and sister and Grillbitch a.k.a. Jenny Kang, and for the land that still shudders between Manhattan and Hermosa Beach.
♥ The young Italians grew annoyed by this sudden end to their levity. They stared at me, at each other, and then at the beautifully laid wooden floors leading out to the pergola, beyond which a tableau of olive trees and grain fields, arrested by winter, dreamed of a new life. For a while at least, no one said anything, and I was blessed with what I needed the most. Their silence, black and complete.