[Editor's note: Chateau d'Yquem is an excerpt from an extraordinary novel in progress by Minc, set in September 2001, the third part published so far by Exquisite Pandemic. The first and second parts can be found in the E.P. Archive here and here.]
It took Len a bit of time to unlock the three locks on the massive metal door which proclaimed ‘Trashki Filmski Company’ strangely covered in dust as if it hadn’t been opened in eons, there at the end of the third-floor landing in some kind of commercial space on the edge of Chinatown.
Len put his weight against the door that burst free suddenly, almost hurtling him to the floor inside. Here, he switched on the light revealing a loft that was several stories high. The walls were built up with shelves full of equipment of all sorts, television monitors, yet on the other wall, the collection of books and records had somehow come down, as if some giant Godzilla had torn into them. Rows and rows of books had been upended. What lay inside was a shambles, desk upended, file cabinets torn open, files scattered everywhere, clothes and shoes littering the floor, tapes and dvds flung at every corner. Yet tacked up on the walls were the most marvellous movie posters, 8 ½, Ringu, the SEARCHERS. Up overhead was an old revolving fan, revolving.
“Some mess,” cried Len. He slammed the front door shut.
“Sclear?” inquired Ipod, if the fall of the Twin Towers barely a block away had caused this.
“No. I got crazy. Looking for X-Files, my kitty. Then later, the reel. The reel I had put together of Gia. The only one. I still can’t find it. You see how I tore the place apart.” Len was now descending towards the huge couch in the corner, at the same time indicating Ipod should join him there. Len took his camcorder off, laid it down, started to take off his jacket.
“Make yourself at home,” he announced. “You see, I was here when it happened. I get up early to have my espresso. I buy it at Jacks, you know, the discount place. Sometimes I get their challah bread, but Ma gives me a hard time. Says it’s inferior. Lucky Ma was in the Bronx with her sister Leah who just got outta surgery. But there was such an explosion. I mean, from right down the street. In a minute we were hit by a dark cloud. It came in and took over. I was choking, and then there was screaming. They got the Chinese sweat shop downstairs. They didn’t take it well at all. I don’t know how I got out. Everybody found a way to get out, somehow. Down the stairs and into the street. We kept going for miles. Running. Everyone was running for their life. We kept running until the sky cleared out, and we knew we were safe. Not knowing nothing. Lucky. We were lucky. Us.”
Lenny was silent then, jumping through the mess where strips of film hung on ropes. He took one of the cloths piled up on the floor and began gently wiping them off. He shook his head, sniffed, went on.
“I came back for my kitty. I wouldn’t just leave her here. The second I hit the stairs I heard this terrific mewling, howling. I found her stuck under the couch. I mean, she didn’t even fit there. I pulled her out, my X-Files. I had bought all sorts of treats for her. She was some big dustball, but luckily I keep gallons and gallons of water. I made her a kitty bath in the tub. It occurred to me then, what about my films, my life’s work, are they melted in the can, soldered into one big celluloid clump, and I went nuts, running around, opening up my canisters, but hey, they were okay, every last one of them. X-Files couldn’t contain herself, frolicking all over the place, barely dry. I had to give her another bath, wrap her up in Ma’s robe. Took her out, down the street. Showed her everything. Everybody wanted to meet her on the way, even some FBI guys in those weird jumpsuits. She was the big star at the checkpoint on fourteenth street. Superstar kitty. YEAH. Where is she? Where is she now? X-Files?!” There was a small miaou. ”She’s shy with strangers. Look, let me get some bedding. You take the couch, see?! You look like hell.”
“Tanks is right. With this guy Bush, we’re gonna see a lotta tanks. Even maybe by here.”
Sad cloth. Look. Humans underneath all soldered together. Ipod wonders then, is this all you get for crawling through the blizzards to find Lenny’s place?!
“ALL OF US, BUDDY!”
Isn’t that Giuliani’s voice? So, where is the emergency bunker? They say it was the first to go when the World Trade Center went. So it was upstairs from Lenny’s. Figures, Giuliani being the Voice of the Whirlwind.
“YOU THINK IT’S JUST YOU?”
There he is again, the ‘mayor-on-his-way-out-of-office-trying-to-get-all-the-credit,’ of course Ipod would never think it’s just him suffering, but how to explain that to such an egomaniac?
Could it be real, that a barelegged elderly woman in a print dress stood in the doorway to the next room smiling down at him, her wild hair backlit by heavy sunlight, or was he dreaming it? Could that have been Ma? Hours later, he sat up, picked up the t-shirt, khakis, fresh socks and large towel Len had left him on the arm of the sofa. He took off to find the bathroom. Barefoot was good if you didn’t step on anything. The big hairy kitty appeared, bounding at him, then bouncing off.
“X-Files. Pleasure to meet you.”
There were many cluttered rooms here, yet one small doorway promised a bathtub and a toilet. He was happy to lock himself inside immediately. Ipod took a bath and a shower at the same time in the old clawfoot tub. All sorts of ugly crud was coming off his skin and he felt weird looking at it. He stood up in the stream of water from the shower. Was this he, himself? All this sadness? He was crying, wailing then. Hugging himself. Innocence gone, or what? When would himself return? Lenny was giving him a chance to stay alive. He looked down to find his cameras, but realized they were there, safe by the couch where he left them.
Said the big note in the kitchen. He picked it up and kissed it, settled down to fresh bagels with soft cream cheese. Cheerios he loaded down with milk and extra sugar, even found bananas to cut in. He poured himself too much OJ. The coffeemaker was happily sucking away, the small radio belting out classical tunes. Here it was a warm sea of worn reflecting surfaces, the old steel table and soft sculptured fridge under a barrage of a million Post Its. The curtains were even frilly, with bright red apples and a green trim, yet loaded down with dust. The window looked down over fire escapes, dark gated windows. Even the cockroaches seemed well-fed, happy running up and down.
Wobbling as he stood, he realized how he needed to get back to sleep.
“You know I love you.”’
Was that an actual voice, or no? He reeled around.
He recalled laughing ecstatically, coming out the double doors of the massive kitchen into the lush shadowed foyer of the dining room. Windows. Windows on the World. His dream job. Stepping back to view the surveillance screens just off to the left. There were the views of many refrigerators, the various food stations, massive pantries under gates, lock and key on his massive keyring. Views of the large dining room, a soft sea of tables under massive windows, elegant nooks for staff that housed computers, glassware, silverware. A camera pointed at himself in shadow. He moved back and forth, watching himself in the camera.
‘Security views,’ he likes to call them. Digital numerals scurry over the top of the screens. A strange bluish light bathes each view. In just hours, there would be a crush of people on those screens, chefs, sous chefs, busboys, waiters, even clients.
Later in the day when the hubbub had died down, when the kitchen had thinned out, there was still a number of left- over plated desserts spread out. Gray came out from behind the salad station, took a quick look at the emptying dining room, then came to join him. Ipod took a teaspoonful of poached pears in crème Anglaise he himself had made earlier, slid it deliciously into his mouth. One for himself, then fed Gray the second spoonful. Ipod reached for the partially full bottle of Chateau D’Yquem Gray had just swiped off a table. Taking a swig, he passed it over. Ipod stood there smiling. Warmed, his eyes were shining.
As he had said into the cellphone, the very last of moments, he found himself saying it again.
“You know I love you.”
Blasted 'Ford Show,' his idiot role as a cranky middle schoolteacher now in its third season always finding a way to send his lost students into their dreams despite themselves. What if he hadn't landed the show? He'd be out there auditioning for years on end, like all the other poor bastards. Even old guys, like himself. How thankful could he be but for the revolution in television of new shows, in the wake of Hill Street Blues, Homicide, Law and Order. Think, Jerry Ohrbach led the way. Even more, the genius of the Sopranos blasting through.
Should Ford be thankful they decided to follow him out of the school room to the massive food pantry at the edge of Soho when he refused to budge an inch from his decision to work there? He felt it was the greatest honor working with the top chefs in the country, hundreds of volunteers, getting the meals out to the recovery teams. Why not televise it?
Cellphone rings. Alex would be blocks away, coming to pick him up four a.m. to go to the Site. Ford sniffs, turns the tv off, the earliest weather reports. Lights on bright everywhere, the bedroom a shambles of clothes and shoes, bedclothes. The kitchen a nightmare of dirty dishes, emptied takeout boxes, empty soda bottles. Slipping into his hoody, putting on a jacket. Looking down over the dark neighborhood, the garbage trucks already grinding away, Ford felt himself for a second as seen from the outside, windows blazing in the still darkness above Murray Hill before he switched off the lights and checked for his keys.
Ipod came out to find all the blinds had been taken down midafternoon. Len, sitting on the edge of the sofa was hugging a round film canister.
“I found it,” he cried, “the missing reel. Gia. My Gia.” He nodded towards the projector that had already been set up.
“Let’s see,” said Ipod.
“No reason to be,” Ipod found himself saying.
“You think?” Len kissed the canister, stood up, put it down.
A black street is seen while the massive room drowns in a soft darkness. A steady stream of cars ascends an icy bridge in the middle of the night. ‘Delancey,’ explains Len. We hear then the crunch of snow and ice underfoot, arriving at the door of a hip old bar. LANSKY’S, where the cameraman Len, ‘Meyer’s cousin’ as he explains, the ‘Isaac Babel of avantegarde film’ gets no laugh from the Israeli Russian punkheads patting him and his camera down at the door. Inside, he discovers boozy smoky rooms of old kitchen tables, low chairs, and graffiti, pounding noise passing as music. The only grace he found was a sultry almond- eyed waitress, an actress from Tel Aviv. He manages to interview her there with his camera. Her favorite actresses are Sasha Dadidov and Meryl Streep. Later, on his way out, after insisting she would be his Anna Karina, she objected, saying no, she would have none of that crap, that Godard had brutalized the woman. He found her minutes later, outside in a thin coat, gulping at a cig in the bracing dark night. She runs laughing hard, growling, hissing and clawing, at the camera.
The next section pictured her in Len’s sheets, giggling nonstop in full sunlight, playing with an earlier incarnation of X-Files and stepping down off the bed. Gathering the covers around her, she began singing ‘Second Hand Rose’ when the frame froze.
Pout in dark lipstick, heavy lidded, too much eyeliner. Closeup on her face overburdened with thick matte makeup. Walls scarred. She is listening as someone speaks to her in Russian. She undoes the heavy black bustier. Background voices in English, Hebrew. Doors heard opening and shutting. Girl comes by to give her a quick kiss, and we see the mirror in front of Gia. The girl is grabbed up and away by her escort. Gia grabs for a t-shirt while her breasts spill out. Tries to wipe the makeup off her face, takes a drag on her cigarette from time to time. Some talk at her in Hebrew, and she answers their questions.
Who points at himself, but the huge- clawed Len, a bear suit below the neck.
“Such a GOOD bear, your husband,” the Israeli suddenly switches to English.
“Not easy to tame,” these Americans,” laughs Gia.
“But you do GOOD job,” says the girl.
The camera catches Gia kissing his forehead. She stands up, packing up her small cosmetic case.
“I want to sleep,” she says.
“Soon. We’ll get home.”
Gia is yawning and yawning. People come by, take her hand, talk.
“Gia, home,” he cries impatiently.
“I will. I will.”
A peek at the ornate ballroom as they shuffle out. The old opulence with the falling plaster glows with morning light. So many white- clothed tables and chairs among the large columns, a small stage and concert piano. White angels ascend into the shocking pink and red of the flourished ceiling.
“I love this place,” she stops to muse.
“I know,” he says.
“Weddings. They hold so many weddings here. You know that?”
Outside the sun is bright. The glare off the cars is blinding. Everywhere here, the crowd leans on cars, lounges with drinks in hand.
“Don’t know how to go home?” Gia screams, insane with laughter. She runs at them, falling there on her knees. She has to be helped up, but no one can stop laughing.
Massive apartment houses slant under a dazzling sky.
“Sleep,” Gia says. The camera can’t seem to right itself.
“We can nap here in the sand,” says Len.
“The water,” she says. The water laps not so far from them. “I love the water.”
But they sleep. For minutes there is only the sound of their breathing, that of the tide.
Noisy sea of coffeeshop. An old guy, the waiter, runs by, bowed over. Gia cackles happily at the sight of him. The waiter stops, raises ecstatic eyes. Clank of plates, silverware. Gia sags over coffee and a donut in a small booth.
“Food. I told you get food.”
“Don’t nag. I prefer fake. I might throw up anyways.”
“Anyways is more accurate.”
“English is not accurate language.”
“Not at all accurate disease.”
“It’s not a disease.”
“Oh, how can you say such mean things?”
“I’m delirious, is all.”
“You are the disease.”
“You win, Gia. We go home.”
“You’re in love with yourself, your image.”
“No. It’s not true. I want to marry you.”
“Green card?!” she cried.
“Green card? Anything you want. Marry me.” He slid onto his knees on the floor. But Gia is laughing hysterically, ecstatically, taking his face up into her hands, kissing and kissing him.
But it got worse. The camera skittered, veered over the bed; a crying Gia.
“HOW DARE YOU?!” X-Files bounded or bounced over the covers. She slithered forward, and there was a loud crack as the lens shattered.
“Our souls are fucked,” Lenny’s voice came in strong and clear.
“No, no,” she was saying between sobs, “Yours. Your soul, not mine.”
Scowls up, chair tipping back for a second, Ford, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, raises his eyes from ‘A NATION CHALLENGED’ section of the New York Times, squints now at the cool stone floor, making out a few tables here and there, one guy sitting on a stool at the bar, joking with the bartender. A soft darkness of early evening is seen through the neon beer logos at the window.
Ruffles the paper, folds it and puts it down. Takes up the fork and stabs the last of the mushy french fries on his plate, ignoring the cold steak that stains the thick white bread with blood. Downs the last of his Smithwicks, yet gloats then, holding the mug lovingly to his chest. Thankful, nodding at this sweet refuge.
“SON,” he whispers loudly, reaching then for the small black moleskin notebook that sits by the Styron book at his side, almost pitching the plate to the other side of the table. “SON,” he says again. Louder now.
Opens the small notebook he found his son left in the cabin in the Vineyard months ago. Yes, trudging over the sand dunes, sinking in the long grass, talking, talking. Just him and Jess reminiscing early while the family slept. On their way to the local store to get breakfast for everyone. Actual talk about his first teachers. Jess now more aware because of his own kids, Ford’s darling grandkids. But then what else might get him away from the trading desk? Anything at all? Ford couldn’t recall much of that morning of fine sunlight, the talk and moves, tirelessness of the kids, the caution of the mother that irked him most. Jess seemed ridiculously exhausted. What was that about? They moved around the barbeque spit with such happiness, and certainly Ford’s wine coolers that evening weren’t allowing him memories at all. The kids going in and out of the sand until the meat was done, the corn charred. He grew quite giddy in that lawn chair, to drown something out. Was it pain? Pain of too many years crashing down too fast? He got up to go inside as the mosquitos were eating him alive. Lurching, he tripped on his granddaughter’s gym shoes, almost fell on Jess. They laughed and laughed.
Thanksgiving, Christmas. Figured he would get the notebook back to him. On the phone Jess said he could get another one. No bother. Hey, they aren’t cheap, he laughed back. Small pages parted to precise entries. Birthdays, anniversaries. Budget considerations. Where had Jess felt the need for the personal, if anywhere at all? And why so compliant when they told the traders to stay at their desks, to be left behind to die so hideously? Wasn’t that his, Ford’s fault, to create a child with such a fear of failure, a fear of being present in the world?
Imagine, the flawless backpack. The stop at Starbucks. Trains packed as usual. The instantaneous electronic opening of the entry gates to the company badge, packed elevators. God bless the daily grind. He cannot see, no matter how hard he tries, his son. His father, all our fathers, sons. All their eyes, but cannot see.
Flips through the many many empty pages, the shocking white onionskin. Pages that would be filled by the future. But, no.