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May 30, 2012

Reader Ryan Bonilla submitted this photo of  Who Town on the beach, the first in a series of photos sent in by fans of the book. Bonilla declares it “the perfect summer read.”

(**Excerpt from Chapter one below. This novel has been copyrighted and registered with the Writers’ Guild of America. Any reproduction of it — even in part — must be done with explicit permission of the author.)


The shoot – a dinner party of a hip crowd of twenty-somethings– had been scheduled in mid January, but the actual story was to be published two months later, at the end of March.

On that bright January afternoon, a wind that felt like bone-chilled fingers seduced its way into the neck of Sarah’s cashmere overcoat as she emerged from the steps of the  subway station at Franklin Street in Tribeca.

The blocks, long stretches of unadorned cement, made Sarah think ahead to hot summer afternoons, to imagine smoke rolling up from the ground when the sun pickled the air like a salty furnace.

Winter now whipped the entire city forward to conquer what would come next. No matter the season, there was never time to determine what was precious, and you couldn’t tell a garage door from an elevator lift. Both blanketed the entire area, a ten-block radius, with practical purpose.

Sarah rang floor three inside the metal elevator and was delivered there in one upward swoosh.  Like a rabbit hopping forward in haste, she rushed inside, immediately pulling out  her pad to jot down her impressions.

It was one of those industrial lofts that dotted the dusty blocks west of the Hudson River. At the turn of the Twentieth century, factory workers had filled these spaces, crammed in against their black sewing machines and button boxes.  In poor times, these 2,500 square feet would have fit a couple hundred toiling for their daily bread.  But today, they housed only Roxy, a five foot two whippet like creature who called herself an artist.

Most struggling artists, of course, no matter what genre — painter, sculptor, tee shirt designer, rapper, gold lame’ bag maker — could only afford to live — often in couples or groups — in the Greenpoint or Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn, or in Queens. In rarer instances, they herded to the Lower East Side, with Chinese landlords who charged a little over a thousand dollars a month for a one bedroom in a tenement. In those cases, tenants could expect bipolar shower-heads that varied from dripping icicles to scalding flames. Roaches and rodents traveled extinct radiator pipes, brought forth by the heavy musk of day old fish at pavement storefronts.

Anything bigger than a walk in closet in the gloriously hip neighborhoods below 23rd Street in Chelsea, Gramercy, East Village, West Village, Soho, Nolita, and Tribeca –replete with cafes and designer boutiques — was not for struggling artists. This was the land of  makeshift homes for yuppies with day jobs, rich kids, and celebrities.

At 25, Roxy had taken over the grand Tribeca loft. Her father, a real estate developer, had bought the building two years earlier and requested that Roxy move into one of the floors, to guard his investment.  So Roxy settled in, close to a handful of five star restaurants and a dry cleaner who charged fifteen dollars a shirt.

Tribeca residents valued privacy above all other neighborhood residents in Manhattan. The area still served as asylum for actors with mood disorders, men who lived primarily uptown but wanted secondary spaces for sexual affairs, and occasionally real artists who earned work/living spaces on the cheap in the Eighties. (The artists were allowed to stay as long as they could prove they actually created their art a few feet from where they boiled their eggs.)

Save for the few artists in rent stabilized live/work spaces, most of Roxy’s neighbors were paying rent of at least $8,000 a month for a loft.  Roxy paid $0.

And for $0 rent the space was filled with extravagant family inheritances, the most noticeable being a large wooden dining table with twelve settings, which Roxy nicked personally with various knives, from pocket varieties to turkey carvers. When acquaintances stayed the night, which they often did, Roxy would ask them to carve their initials into a bare spot.

This rectangle behemoth scarred like a sacrificial slab, greeted the eyes immediately upon arrival.  At at the center of the table, patchouli incense smoked through a burner.

To the right of the table, in an area known to most as the living room, sat two facing brown suede sofas, each atop oriental floor throws of peacock blue and white swirl.  Roxy had thrown Moroccan pillows on top and two cashmere blankets.  The ashen holes of cigarettes put out beneath the covers marred the edges of seat cushions.

New Yorkers shopped the 26th Street flea market – two black tar lots in Chelsea, lined with old lamps, furniture and bric a brac –  an authentic antique environment — often called Boho chic. But Roxy had taken her mother’s couches from a Park Avenue showroom uptown, each couch averaging  the base payment on a studio in downtown Manhattan  and a Beidermeir dining set, inherited from her maternal grandparents — then abused them until they became practically unrecognizable.

Roxy’s sculptures, all carved wooden stick figures, decorated with neon war paints and  adorned in various fabrics from silk, iridescent beads, and leather, were often distinguishable miniatures of her.  Even the male figures bore some quality attributable to Roxy, in features or stance. And on two wall shelves – each almost two feet across, situated behind the dining room carving table – several of them assumed various poses. A few stood, a couple sat cross-legged, two held onto their knees. Several adapted a hybrid pose of mini wrestlers, forearms intertwined, as if aimed to overthrow. But their chins were cocked in such a way that they hinted at planting a kiss on the other in any given moment.


A lacquered black Chinese screen – angled like an accordion –partially shielded the sleeping quarters from the dining area. And behind the partition, Roxy circled her bed, stopping every other step or so to examine it, while tilting her head from left to right, like a surveyor.

“Uh, hi,” Roxy said to Sarah, “I’m sorry I didn’t come out when I buzzed you in. I’m trying to arrange…” Her voice seemed to fade into the cushions.

“Why is your bed so high?” Sarah asked.

The  mattress, an odd short square — separate from the mahogany headboard that arched over it — stood four feet tall and was covered in mismatched silk throws.

“It’s Victorian. Dates back to 1870. ”

“Where’s Lola?” Asked Sarah.

Lola, an erotic film actress, was co-star of the shoot, and was nowhere to be seen.

“She locked herself in the bathroom. Lola likes to read on the toilet. She can stay in there for hours,” Roxy said.

The doorway buzzer erupted like a noisy hornet, causing Roxy to drop some pillows to the ground.

She slammed a red wall button to summon the garage door lift. A moment later it opened to three silver rolling racks – the wardrobe for the visuals that would accompany the story. The stylist stood behind a hanging purple boa, which hung like a cobra, threatening to strangle her tiny white neck.

When the stylist pushed the rolling racks forward, Sarah heard a snap. She glanced down and saw that the front wheel had rolled over one of Roxy’s wooden statuettes, which Roxy had placed on each side of the elevator door. A decapitated oblong knob head with white and red threads jutting from its crown, rolled across the floor.

Roxy, starting to pull at her hair, walked out from behind the accordion wall.

“You know, those pieces are fragile.” Her voice sounded trapped in a box. “That’s Effervescent.”

“Who?” the stylist asked.

“Isn’t it supposed to be a miniature version of you?” Asked Sarah.

Roxy tucked her chin.

“They say all art is inspired by self reflection. Each sculpture represents a particular mood, so I’ve named them accordingly: “Distressed, Malignant, Flamboyant…”

Lola emerged from the bathroom. Fat braided copper locks thinned the sides of her oval face.  She pulled a fresh Parliament from the front pocket of her red sateen kimono, as she crept behind Roxy.

“Flamboyant was her positive phase.” Lola’s voice cracked. She sucked out two drags, and flung the cigarette onto Roxy’s floor.

Roxy’s eyes remained fixed on Effervescent’s body, as it lay broken on the hardwood. It was now just a tiny red silk kimono with wooden toothpick legs. She knelt down and picked the beheaded body off the ground.

Roxy cradled the figurine in her left palm. The stylist began driving the racks to the far end of the oak table.  She hurled some indigo jeans at Roxy’s face.  “Put these on,” she commanded.

Still rocking the headless figurine in her palm, Roxy grabbed the jeans absentmindedly with her other hand.

Sarah didn’t feel that she had witnessed the destruction of valuable art but rather that she had watched a child crumble: the head of Roxy’s favorite doll had been torn off. Sarah wanted to mend Effervescent, to pull Roxy behind her accordion wall and discuss how the doll could be fixed. She thought about rushing out unnoticed, to buy some industrial strength glue, the kind of salve could mold steel beams together and could be found at every corner deli, next to the hanging packs of Chinese vitamins and square gum that resembled tiny bathroom tiles.

But the stylist, whose plucked black brows knitted together like inverted V’s, impatiently waved Sarah over to the far end of the table, where a hair dresser and make up artist had set up a couple stools and portable tables.  The stylist was dressing Lola.

“We’re putting Lola in black Rockla jeans and a silver chain mail halter. Sarah what do you think? Does it fit the image you’re trying to convey in this story?”

Sarah bit her lip. “Sure. Whatever works.”

Sarah wanted to place all of Roxy’s little images: Distressed, Malignant, Flamboyant, and even Effervescent — with a newly glued neck collar—on the oak dining table.  But her thoughts were interrupted by the heavy swoosh of pulleys.

The ensuing thud announced the arrival of the lift.  Like a vertical guillotine operating in reverse, its blades opened to the apartment and someone new stepped forward every few minutes. So Sarah consulted her list, checking off each one on her call sheet as she recognized them.

Lola’s slacker boyfriend, who looked like a mop topped rocker but collected empty beer bottles in a Brooklyn dive as a bar back, hoping to advance to bartender; a tee shirt designer/club promoter known only by an initial; a one time novelist who wrote a history of the punk movement that Roxy had met the week before; and a female model, who knew neither Lola or Roxy but was added at the last minute because — according to the stylist –”She looks good.”

Rick Five stepped out from the elevator blades and shuffled to the window overlooking Canal Street. He didn’t glance at Sarah. His typical black Converse high tops – the rocker’s original jump the stage shoe—led his way.

He cracked the window and lit up a cigarette, and the draft caused the hairs of Sarah’s forearms to sprout goose bumps.  The silver valve from the radiator behind the table had sprayed Sarah’s forehead with a balmy steam just minutes before. Now the sudden gust drew her to Rick.

Rick leaned in so close to the twelve-foot windows, it appeared as though he wanted to jump from one of them.

The pen slipped from Sarah’s fingers. To her, of them all, Rick counted more than the others as famous, at least in a tangential sense. Sarah scribbled on her notepad,  “Son of Rock Star.”

As a reporter, Sarah did not critique artistry. In fact, the paper discouraged her from delving too deeply.  Sarah was always waiting for someone discerning to call her on it, to tell her the articles were nothing more than celebrity fantasies that she and her editor had cooked up. But no one ever did.

In the beginning, Sarah proudly considered herself an explorer, a social anthropologist, finding those with enough  talent or style to crack the beau monde, those who were “other” than regular people.

But, after almost three years with the Tribune, Sarah’s subjects reminded her of the fireflies she used to collect in a jar in her yard as a kid.  All she did was net them. With a blunt knife, she’d punch holes in the lid, so the trapped insects could breathe while they danced in the container, illuminating her bedroom. And unless she set them free, they would fall to the bottom of the jar and die. Then, she’d flush them down the toilet and gather new ones.


One Comment leave one →
  1. GMPBOSEMAN permalink
    May 30, 2012 11:00 am

    This is a super alluring start and nice picture

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