By Dan Goldman
On the way back home from that pad thai, walking across the street from a crumbly building full of artist lofts, a thick Latina woman with two Yorkshire terriers on twin dog leashes starts screaming at her boyfriend. Her first blast is a knife of sound across the intersection, wobbling window panes, snapping necks to attention. Her man is taken aback and I am too; at first it’s anger but then it’s coming from deeper down inside her. Sorrow. A wail. We’re drawn in and cross the street to look.
With that moment’s peek I know I’ll never be able to unsee it: the woman is roaring up to the sky, arm-fat wobbling around her bones as she grips the flesh of her cheeks and pulls them down, making me think of war footage. The man is still stunned, staring down at the pavement. Yorkie #1 is pulling away from her but facing back, eyes wild and teeth bared for a yipping little kill. But it’s #2 that I can feel in my energy-body, on both sides of my skin. His skull is popped open like a walnut, one eye half-out of its socket, his life leaking out quick in a puddle underneath him. The dog is terrified, its mouth opens to whine its last but produces a gurgle. At this point I think to look away but can only do so in slo-mo, and from its eyeball hanging on a crimson thread, something tiny and terrible passes between us and without any control of my own I catch it with my own iris and it scuttles down into me.
The wailing woman calls to Jesus or the Cops or Anybody but no one answers but the boyfriend, whose arm around her is slapped off as she kneels down by her twitching doggie, still bellowing even after the twitching stops. There’s a crowd of onlookers, people with their hands over their mouths or their phones out, recording. From a window seven floors up, a piece of wood was thrown or dropped or blew off of something and popped her dog in the head. You could tell her screams the dog was a child to her, precious and unique though the other looked just like it. And a piece of wood fell out of a window and killed it, and there was no one to blame. No answer to her calls. Just a dead Yorkie on dirty pavement on an autumn afternoon. She had two anyways.
The blink of a thing that left from the dog surfaces somewhere behind my scrotum and forces itself against my bowels painfully, and in a tiny voice it shivered and whined: You have to get out of this city before it kills you too.
That dead dog whine in the deep darkness grew over a few months, formulating its position like a lawyer, gathering evidence and testimonials and justifications, and by the time I set the irreversible leaving-actions into motion, it became an escape, a declaration, even a mission statement:
The work that I do, I can do anywhere in the world. All I need is a laptop and internet access. No one would even know I’ve left New York as long as I keep tweeting and posting new work online.
And as the leaving rolled up in the night like guido revenge, part of me really wanted to test that; to actually and permanently leave the City without telling anyone. An experiment in teleportation via social media, faking a life still lived here: I bet my friends living even a few blocks away who I only saw once or twice a year would never even notice. I convinced myself they’d remain happy just to LIKE whatever nugget my digital ghost dropped into their reading streams as my physical heart beat on another continent. But in my last New York week, I went out and got a bit pickled and wistful one night and spilled the beans to my close friends.
Which become much later the crystal clear crux of the thing: that it’s never the place, it’s the people. Some cold sliver in me always maintained the opposite: this city’s wonderful, it’s the people I don’t like. Steeping too long in Brooklyn for the better part of eleven years, embittered by so many things that now seem… luxury to me: self-awareness, pretention, irony. But those were the things I loved when I’d first arrived myself: that every New Yorker had a mission, an agenda, their eye on some ball maybe known only to them. Everyone I’ve spoken to in São Paulo says the same thing: it’s an ugly and dangerous city, but you live here because this is where you can make the most money. Similarities to New York, sure… but New York City isn’t just the one thing. And therein should’ve been the first clue, first red alert: my tribe of art-conquerors, cunning-linguists, future-makers and reality-hackers, wherefore wert thou?
I’d visited São Paulo for the first time in 2007 and had a blast, in the way every place you visit on vacation is new-new-new: it’s my wife’s hometown and I’d no idea what a sprawling chaotic city she hailed from until I saw it from the air. Older than New York and literally ten times the size, funky and strange with pastel and deco touches, covered in spidery pixação (gang graffiti), my first blush about São Paulo was the Miami-as-Metropolis I’d always felt my hometown would someday grow into long after I’d gone. We stayed for three weeks, traveling around the country by plane and car to different points, and had a crazy wedding party thrown for us by her incredibly welcoming family. I was actually bummed when time came to return to New York, to our tiny overpriced studio-apartment-for-two and a thankless loop of struggle and hustle.
Once back, the most sensible quality-of-life salve we could slather on our Brooklyn was a new living space; both of us artists working from home, my 350sq foot bachelor studio wasn’t cutting it anymore. We moved into a crazy old waterfront factory into a larger space we could kinda almost afford on a good month, though there were more instant noodle-months than not.
The struggle aside, the two years we spent there were full of fighting with Hassidic landlords who’d rented us an illegal loft they refused to provide services on and leaking ceilings that ruined furniture and endangered studio equipment; it all became a joke to which the punchline was to close your eyes and hum “The Girl from Ipanema” to each other as some new facet of city life exploded in our faces. The joke became a dream, the dream a conversation, the conversation a plan, the plan a packing-up and getting-rid and go-go-go.
In a few weeks we’d given away all our worldly possessions but the computers and clothes and a few boxes of books and kitchen shit. We rented a minivan to drive down the coast to Florida and have Thanksgiving with my extended family there before flying to São Paulo and starting over.
Two years later, sitting on a used leather couch in an apartment in São Paulo, I want to rewind and return. Tropical birds chirp strange warbles outside my window but the romantic novelty’s proved itself to be just that. I close my eyes right now, still down here, and hit SAVE. There’s a map of veins on the insides of my eyelids, a dark red tangle far to the northeast labeled HOME.
When I fuck things up, I fuck them up spectacularly.
Next time: “A Month by the Sea”