Monday, February 18, 2008

Sergio! Sergio!

After my eviction from Jennifer's apartment, I was homeless. I went to work that day with a duffel bag and the newspaper, circling ads for rooms. The appearance of a duffel bag in an office always causes a commotion, and this office was pretty well geared for commotion anyways.

I was working on the Upper East Side, barely; we worked out of an apartment house on E. 62nd Street, just east of 3rd Avenue. Two apartments across the hall from each other, packed with telecommunications gear and eight or nine employees. We ran a calling card business; you know, the cards you buy at the corner store or the tacqueria that allow you to call long distance for cheaps. The business model was to buy minutes from AT&T and sell them on the cards. If we paid AT&T 6-and-a-quarter cents per minute, we made a fortune; if we paid six-and-a-half we lost our shirts. The company was run by two brothers, Victor and Raul, Venezuelans. Victor was the handsome, suave one, Raul the dark, funny, dangerous one. They were from one of Venezuela's richest families, and frequented places like "21", which seemed like something out of a dream.

The whole operation seemed shady; there was a closet full of binders of shell companies, maybe a hundred of them, and little stashes of serious cash in various drawers. I got the impression that the cash was there to tempt me, and if I took so much as a single bill I'd spend the rest of my life in a different time zone than my skin.

There was a third brother, Sergio, who was the black sheep of the family. I think that was his job title; all he did all day was sit with his feet up on his desk smoking furiously and reading the newspaper. We all smoked furiously; Victor the boss smoked cigars.

The office was a fire hazard in other ways too. Our primary lighting came from halogen torchieres with wobbly bases. They would fall over and burn the carpet. Once Victor stored a box of supplies on top of the stove in one of the kitchens (these were outfitted as ordinary apartments), only to fill the room with smoke shortly after as the gas pilot light in the burners ignited the box.

Despite the chaos of the office, Victor and Raul were fun to be around and fantastically loyal. The second they saw my duffel, they had their lawyer on speakerphone, who explained to me how stupid I was for vacating the apartment. Alas, it was done. But Victor said, "no, you can stay here until you find a place". So I moved into the apartment, sleeping on the sofa. The only drawback was that I had to be up and showered and dressed before anyone got there in the morning, about six AM.

The neighborhood was lovely; to the east, Madison, Lexington, Central Park and Midtown; to the west, the charming and leafy Upper East Side. I used the laundromat at the end of the block, and drank in the friendly bar on First. It was a lot closer to Brownies and the other clubs I was frequenting than my old place, too, seeing the Magnetic Fields, Holiday, and the Mad Scene play every other night. 125 blocks closer -- a feasible walk, even, from the East Village, which I did many times, either through the lonely wastelands of First Avenue past the United Nations, or the surprisingly varied neighborhoods up Second or Third, Lex or Park.

One day as the office was closing I was introduced to my new cross-hall roommate for the night: Miss Venezuela. She was the most beautiful creature I've ever seen to this day, achingly gorgeous, like a porcelain doll. She was going to be in one of the apartments, I was in the other. When I saw her in the morning I was suffering from a terrible hangover; she was still perfect. I wonder if I terrified her. She terrified me.

After a month of this kind of living the Alves brothers had a proposition: move in with Sergio. Sergio lived in the company apartment and his roommate was leaving. 14th Street between Second and First. My room was a shoebox -- eight feet wide, twelve feet long. Sergio's room was the living room, stood off from the tiny open kitchen and hall with rows of tall bookcases. His room was three times as big as mine.

Sergio lived there with his Japanese girlfriend Yuko, who came to the US for expensive dentistry and found a chainsmoking Venezuelan instead. Yuko was stereotypically Japanese, covering her mouth with her hand when she talked, laboring endlessly in the apartment, cringing before her master and now her master's new roommate. I was unnerved to come home to her scrubbing the floors and apologizing for not doing it well enough.

Sergio's main form of entertainment was watching war documentaries on his large-screen TV. The volume was always turned up. He also liked to engage in loud sex with Yuko, featuring lots of vigorous spanking and crying. I would cower in my room hearing the rumble and roar of thousands of B-17 bombers with the voiceover describing the destruction of Dresden down below, punctuated by loud slaps and Yuko screaming "Oh, Sergio, Oh, Oh, Sergio!" and Sergio himself demonstrating the kind of command and discipline that was denied him at his job. "You've been very BATT!" Whap. "Oh, Sergio! Sergio!" Whap. Grrrarr, boom, boom-boom, boom. WHAP!

New Yorkers spend most of their spare time going out. Now you know why.

Sergio also smoked pot continuously, and he had a little cocaine problem as well. When he and his friends were high, and after inviting me into his side of the apartment to enjoy the evening, he would get paranoid, and push me up against the wall, alternately threatening and cajoling me, don't tell Victor, don't tell Raul, you're not going to tell anyone are you, I swear to God I'll cut you, man, PLEASE don't tell them, here, you want some?

There was an Irish bar on the corner, an old-fashioned workingman's bar, not fancy at all, and cheap. Three dollars for a pint of Guinness, and in the grand New York tradition the barman buys you every third one. I have no idea if this bar or this tradition has survived the relentless gentrification of the city. I hope so. Where else are the telephone linesmen and delivery drivers going to drink? I sat in there for hours most nights, if nothing was going on, sipping the black stuff and reading at the bar, to avoid the seige of Sergio and his bellicose love life.

This was the apartment which Mrs. Fnarf came to visit again, in summer. We were engaged to be married by then. The discussion about where we would be living afterwards was very short. The 100 square foot room with no furniture except a bed and a bookcase, with Yuko and Sergio and his giant TV on the other side of the wall, did not make up for the excitement of having the East Village on my doorstep. On her first night, we walked down First and Avenue A as far as Houston, and when she realized she had to walk fourteen blocks back as well she threw water on me. New York was not to be.


Mary Jo said...

That was fun to read.

The whole thing was very interesting but he best part was when Mrs. Fnarf threw water on you.


Mr. Poe said...

"...Yuko, who came to the US for expensive dentistry and found a chainsmoking Venezuelan instead."

I don't know why, but I've been laughing about that line for the last twenty minutes.