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."
So I went to the bar where Mikey hangs out. I had two Molsons waiting for Mikey to finish dancing so I can tell him what happened. But Mikey is dancing with this incrediblybeautiful Korean woman in an antique dress, and blue Pumas. I have a thing for women in antique dresses. It doesn't always work. I've been to nursing homes and I didn't feel a thing.
Mikey can't dance. Because he learned to dance from Brian Ferry videos, he does this self-conscious thing like people are watching him. Finally, I join them and she dances with both of us in that awkward way where one woman orbits with two men. I tell Mikey the story as we all dance. And the first thing Mikey says after I finish is, "So that means you still have the money?"
Mikey leaves me with the girl and we dance. And I know I'm hooked because I have no idea what she looks like since I can't look at her too long. I'm like that. I won't try on clothes I can't afford. She has a copy of Colette in her pocket. They stop the music because some couple's fighting, and she smiles, kisses me on the mouth before I have time to react, and she murmurs, "I'll be back." She isn't. I call home. Mikey picks up on the 20th ring. He can't remember her name, so I have to wait a day or two and I keep asking him until he says "Bailey." And her first name?" "That's her first name." He doesn't know anything about her, or so he says. I start stopping by the bar each night about the same time, but she's never there.
All the Baileys I can Google are nine-years-olds in Utah. I put an ad in the Voice. One of those ads, that can't work. "We danced to Nine Inch Nails, and you were reading Colette. Please call... Small reward." I get fifteen calls the first day, and ten the next. None of them sound remotely like her. None of them are called Bailey. Mikey starts calling them back and asking them out. I come home now and Mikey's always on the phone speaking French.
I should be studying after I finish cleaning, but I find myself at the bar going through a white pages I found there for the name Bailey. I actually make it through in a week but I don't see her name because I skim. So I decide to start again by crossing off the names. This takes longer, but after a few weeks I find a Bailey in the "M"s. Downtown. I don't tell Mikey. Mikey's always at the bar anyway now sitting with one of the Colettes.
I don't call Bailey because I don't have success with calling. I have success with a clean shirt and surprise. Dropping by. It has to be in the daytime too. A surprise visit at night is just creepy. I wait till Saturday. And she's not home. I try again on a weekday. I break down and start calling. She's never home. And since I'm convinced she's going to forget who I am, I leave a message.
My call's not returned, but I pass my civil service exam. They call me about a design job at the airport. It sounds great. I can design anything I want as long as it's not too tall. But it won't start for a couple months so I'm still cleaning apartments.
And then one day in the middle of cleaning the mold and mildew in someone's shower with a toothbrush I found, I answer the door and there she is. Mikey gave her the address. I invite her in, and I pour us beers from their fridge and we sit on their terrace.
"So you like Colette?" I say. "Yeah, " she says. In all the preparation I forgot to actually read Colette. " She's French, right?" is all I can say after what seems like ten minutes. And we sit there drinking our beers.
And I wish I'd been listening when Mikey talked about Colette because I can't think of anything to say. And I find myself sitting in the sun thinking about kissing her again, and wonder if we could use the diaphragm in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Then I see she's playing with their dog and waving, saying goodbye. She leaves and I go back to cleaning the grout in the shower and their dog gives me a look as if to say even he would have known what to do.
is actually mostly a playwright. His plays (Back in Five, America First, Houston We Have a Problem and Playdate) have been performed at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Naked Angels, the Adobe, Dixon Place, Here and Westbeth Theatre. His screenplay Under My Skin won the Independent Feature Project screenwriting award. His play Legal Alien (Urban Stages) was produced in NYC and The Monkey Room (Magic Theatre) was produced in San Francisco. Kevin lives in Boreum Hill and works during the day for the AIDS research advocacy organization AVAC.