I have a degree in urban design. My friend Eduard picked semiotics. I made fun of him until he got a job at Euro Disney. I was a few months out of school, and no one had yet asked me to design a city. I guess I hadn't really thought it out. I had good ideas. Skate paths. Mirror buildings that would make some sun reflect into my apartment. And blimp taxis to get crosstown. You could hail them from the street with flare guns left tethered at the stops.
If I wanted to design cities, I had two options. I could hang around the UN cafeteria and hope to meet a benign dictator of a country that had suffered a major earthquake, who "liked my style." Or I could apply for a job with the city. I went downtown to fill out the forms. I told them I wanted to take a crack at Staten Island. I was signed up to take the civil service exam in October. It was June.
So I cleaned apartments. I'm usually temporary. Hired while someone went home because of immigration issues. People wanted me gone as soon as possible. A college grad house cleaner is bad luck to most people. People's kids would stop doing their homework once they found out. I made everyone so nervous that I started telling them I was a felon.
I could only bear to clean for a few hours. So I usually had time to read, sleep and go through their drawers. The minute they left the apartment, I found myself drawn to the bedroom where I'd go through closets, hampers and sock drawers while their pets watched me suspiciously. I found bank accounts. Mood medication. A second diaphragm hidden in a gym bag. I think it made me a better cleaner. The key to cleaning, like anything, is specificity.
By September, I still hadn't really prepared for an exam that required me to know if a proton is smaller than a neutron. Or not. Or what they were. So I had an idea. I needed to focus. I'd been living in the city for years and I'd never bought pot on the street. They used to offer it to my Dad when he visited and I think it pleased him. I think he wanted to buy some just to see if he still could negotiate a street sale.
A guy came up to me immediately. I asked for a dime. He put it in my hand. But it was the weirdest thing. He wouldn't take my money. Instead, he started giving me directions to Rockefeller Center. He pointed vaguely in that direction, and he disappeared.
I couldn't figure this out, until I looked to my right and saw a police car was now ten feet away. I started walking away from the park. And I heard "Hey you" in that way that you know they're talking to you. And I turn around and the cop on the passenger side is looking at me.
"What do you have in your hand?"
The trick is not to make them get out of the car says my roommate Mikey. Mikey actually ended up at the Tombs downtown for buying heroin on Fourth of July weekend. I went to see him on the way to the beach. He stood in a crowded holding pen and I gave him the best advice I could. I told him, "Lose the earring."
So he doesn't have to get out of the car, I walk over, and open my palm, act like a bad dog and wait to see what happens. "You know you're stupid?" I'm thinking—Yeah, I'm the only person stupid enough to be caught buying pot so no one will trust me to design a city—but instead I just said, "Yeah, I'm stupid." And he took my dime bag, tore it up so the pot blew around everywhere, a lot of it sticking to his hair, and told me to "Get lost."